As the Christmas buzz subsided into the new year, Instructor training sessions began. Often before the first lessons went out, it was a chance to improve our skiing and teaching. The cloud of technicals that skiing had brought with it both began to clear and fog up more, simultaneously. It was great receiving feedback, improving my skiing with professionals, but also showed me how far this sport has to go. Another opportunity was the race series being held at the hill. A chance to compete through a dual slalom course of gates to improve your speed and coordination was a terrifying prospect, but turned out to be a lot of slightly competitive fun!
In a month of firsts, my housemate Jim and I gave Acroyoga a go. It is the art of balancing yoga, with one person flying and the other person the base, challenging balance, trust, strength and your ability not to laugh. We enjoyed practicing in our loft after class, much to the apprehensions of Monique who we enlisted to be our ‘spotter.’ We also joined the rock climbing gym and nights were spent hanging out, literally, and new arm muscles begun to make themselves known.
Lennart introduced us to Kaisersmann, a German pancake which fed the hungry few after an evening of night skiing, and with this many more evenings of sharing food followed. Tom prepared French crepes, we hosted BBQ’s and potluck dinners. Our amazing location on the hill could boast more than its outlook on the Rockies. It became full with laughter and ski school debriefs as people popped in and out. I hosted a murder mystery evening with 7 couples making up the detective and 6 suspects of a murder in the Scottish highlands. There was some shrewd acting, daft storylines and some very special detective note taking. Many laughs were had, but the detective got away undiscovered. With our appetite for murder whetted, we later had an evening of mafia, a similar style of bluffing and deception to kill off the villagers by the mafia whilst the villagers try to discover who is responsible. Another evening was spent doing Karaoke at the local bar. There was some classics belted out across the room. Jim and I did a duet of Dancing Queen.
The winter seemed as good a time as any to get on the road exploring. Fernie was first on the list, just over an hour down the road and home to Whistler friends, Will and Abi. Their resident mascot, the Griz, ensured lots of powdery snow was regularly delivered. In February Liam visited the Rockies. Whilst the skiing was great, the trip opened up our minds to the world of Dairy Queen Blizzards, an ice cream served upside down. Liam visited so many times during his trip that the server probably classed him as a close friend.
In February we were treated to a spell of minus 20. As much as you could layer up with 2 pairs of ski pants, the toes felt pretty vulnerable in ski boots. One way to warm up was to ski harder. One afternoon, a group of us skied out of bounds into the purple forest. It was an area of logs and trees, homemade jumps and find your own path. As we weren’t allowed there in uniform, Lennart and I had to turn our jackets inside out and be incognito.
Later in the month, Monique and I took a trip to visit Lake Louise where it was reaching a balmy minus 34 which led to many coffee breaks in-between runs. Lake Louise, just 3 hours north in the Banff National Park, was a beautiful spot for playful skiing. My cousin Rachel provided the excuse for the trip and Monique and I set off to explore the resort with the panoramic views of mountains and lakes. Joe and Jess organised for us to join them to stay at the famous and picturesque Fairmont Lake Louise with lakefront views of frozen wonderland. The Fairmont Chateau at the lakefront was built in 1911 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as the railway was joining Canada east to west. It was only ‘winterised’ in 1982 and continues to welcome the most well to do of guests. In our slippers and robes we enjoyed the life the other half live.
Kicking Horse lived up to its name. It kicked. Lennart and Marie’s idea of a warm up run would be a steep face of moguls to prepare for a hike into a bowl. It pushed my limits and I loved the adrenaline rush that followed. Although it hadn’t had much fresh snow, its steep faces were tempting enough to enjoy the climb which was followed by a descent in which you could choose your own adventure.
Forever a fan off assessment, I began preparing for my Level 2 ski instructor. This involved a course at Fernie focusing on teaching children which earned me some education credits. I then took 2 days of training at Sunshine in Banff, which coincided with some lovely fresh powder. Finally, with my support crew of Lennart and Marie, we travelled to Lake Louise for my assessment. There was an element of teaching, preparing to move on from teaching the basics, now improving the technique of intermediate skiers, as well as assessing the technicals of our skiing. It was great to learn from the others, but a relief to get the pass and be able to celebrate the end of a big season working on my skiing.
Now our road trips began to have a spring flavour. With the BC interior heating right up to 17 degrees it was skiing in t-shirts in March. Jim, Lennart and I joined Jeremy and Emeline to Castle mountain, a hidden gem which felt very remote. They had an area of steep, exciting terrain which filled our mornings, as well as an area of playful runs which we lapped once the snow turned to slush. The ’T Bar’ pub at the base offered board games and we managed to get competitive over a game of “Code Names” which was made even more hilarious by the cross communication of France, Germany, New Zealand and the UK.
Our final trip took the top spot as we ventured back to Nelson to ski Whitewater. Midweek, springtime skiing meant we were among only a handful enjoying the beautiful slopes. As Tom, Lennart and I all skied in parts of our ski school uniform, matching, I felt like I sneaked into some sort of badass gang. Especially when the others began throwing 360’s and I could just tag along behind pretending.
Kimberley is famous for its sunny days and has plenty of sunpits to enjoy this fact. Open topped igloos facing the sun drew locals to enjoy a few beverages at the end of a ski day. Claudia, Tom, Monique, Jim and I enjoyed being serenaded into the evening on one sunny night. On another evening after a long weekend of ski school, Lennart led the troops out of bounds to find our own spot to worship the sun. The beers were cold, the views were panoramic and the company was 5 star. It was something truly special to be in Kimberley with such an energetic and entertaining gang.
The same gang suggested a midnight hike up the mountain during the blood moon. Many people may suggest crazy ideas, these guys follow through. They organised everyone snow shoes, made flasks of hot chocolate and at 10.30pm we set off to the mountain. At 11pm we were still hiding from the grooming machines to make our break for the uptrack. At 11.30 we were on our way up, Jim and I on snow shoes with a snowboard strapped to our backs, Lennart with skins on his skis and Marie hiking in ski boots. Up and up we went until we arrived at the Kootenayhaus having earnt our view. We enjoyed it for an hour or so, before getting in the first turns of the day before the sun came up.
As the season drew to a close it was bittersweet. The penultimate weekend was Northstar days, a weekend of retro gear, mogul competitions and a history tour. Someone had combined my favourite things, history and skiing, and there was no way I wasn’t going to be there. Kimberley has a mining past, named after Kimberley South Africa which is the worlds largest gold mine, it was envisioned that Kimberley could be the something great. It turned out to be the largest lead zinc mine in the world and was mined for over 100 years. Led by a Kimberley local, we skied to discover a part of the old pulley which brought minerals and ore off the mountain to be loaded onto the train for transportation, steam donkeys and secret caves where the mountain was taken for samples. The town was not always “Kimberley” but 5 different districts governed separately.
Whilst the snow was struggling to stick around, the final few were there until the end. The day after the mountain closed was staff day and the mountain opened for staff to lap the Easter chair, the backside of the mountain. Everyone ended up in the sunpit at the end of the day, sharing a few drinks, reminiscing on winter days, soaking up the sun and, with the addition of transfer tattoos and stickers, decorating faces and helmets. By late afternoon we skied our final run of the mountain and made our way to the Stemwinder for dinner and drinks. The season felt like it had flown by, but the friendships felt lasting and little Kimberley had made a huge impression.