In the year 2000 I had been nominated numero uno by sales performance on ski holidays. There was not one thing that my clients could ask and I did not know, you would have believed I was a native to snow and the slalom. You could also be forgiven for thinking I had zero interest in skiing given my previous disaster in Scotland but no, this was a competition to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world. The thrill at winning was minutely over shadowed by a genuine ski lover who came second place having won a trip to Courchevel just across the water in France. Having come second quite rightly he should have been coming with me to Banff, Alberta, Canada but the company operated a no mix male/ female prize holiday rule so it was my decision.
After very little consideration, I replied, “I won 1st place” I explained, “I can go to France almost anytime, this is a once in a lifetime prize for anybody so I am accepting.” So 3rd place (female) came with me and 2 more friends booked on as staff getting a reduced rate for the room and flight and off we went. All my costs were covered, ski hire, lift pass, bus pass. I bought some very nice salapettes and a ski jacket and a bright pink hat, I invested in thermal underwear, gloves inside gloves and layers of vests but nothing, i repeat NOTHING could have prepared me for minus 20c!
Booked into economy class (first and last longhaul in a sardine seat) we whiled away the hours across the atlantic until we saw land again. I was in awe of the landscape on descent. Exiting the airport was a gasp of breath shock, freezing back home was at best minus 1, this was a whole extra 20 degrees c lower.
The hotel awaited us, it was quaint an rustic. Comfortable and clean on the high street of Banff, just across was the ski hire shop and a restaurant that encouraged me to try waffles and maple syrup for breakfast, it didn’t take much. Following breakfast we waited for the ski bus to take us to Norquay. What a wowser! Just like in the movies, it was so picturesque it was….. awesome! We went to get our passes and I was sent off to ski school. The magic carpet awaited me. This was fantastic!! I started at the bottom of the mountain, climbed about 20 metres and came back down. I had a great technique!
The next day, following my class, my friends came off the mountain which was teaming with people enjoying the slopes and found me in the lodge watching them all. It was an amazingly beautiful sight. They said they thought I was ready. Ready for what? Ready for a “really nice blue slope we found for you”.
This is what I was expecting
Here is what I got!
Here is how it felt
So we approached the chair. I had never been on one before. It hosted 4 people. We climbed on and started our ascension of Mount Norquay. Yet again my faith completely in the hands of skiing friends who knew me very well ……
Until…we were approaching the finish line, i could tell as I saw a small tower in the distance, my friends raised the safety bar and started shuffling their bottoms forward. “Hey what are you doing?” I asked very worriedly as we still looked to have 3000 feet below us as an empty void. “Move forward Kaz! We need to jump in a minute!” “Jump??? What the hell?” Knowing at this point there is no chance to change my mind, no warning, no prep, this is it! They knew I probably would have said no if they had explained it in detail so conspired to get me up the mountain…… to their peril.
This is a nice calm looking picture of that car, with people disembarking in a graceful manner. I on the other hand threw myself forward, missed my skis landing nicely and did a roll into the snow that any stunt woman worth her salt would have been impressed with!
Once up on my feet, my friends already headed off to the top of the slope, I gently coursed my way across to them, in a straight-ish line, this wasn’t so bad, my skill learning was really paying off.
Then I turned to the right and off I was, fast, forward, what a
Before I could pick up pace too much I threw myself down onto the snow, luckily there was a lot of powder up that mountain. I sat for a moment looking down this slope, this was no gently descent as promised, this was like throwing myself off a cliff!!! Ok, so it probably isn’t but if this wasn’t then I was never ever going to peek over a black run.
One of my friends decided to show off and in the time it took me to go a few metres and sidle over to the fenced side of the slop, she had gone alllllll the way down the mountain and back up on the car and then back to me in a ridiculously stupid manner of directing at me downhill and slamming herself into a brake just in time!! I screamed, i stopped breathing, I was sobbing and then I saw an angel….. he was dressed in a red cross jacket and he was skiing over to me. Problem was that as he was asking how i was doing and can he be of assistance, i was unable to speak, i was sobbing and trying to draw breath. What a stupid prank that stupid woman played. He left with them saying, yes she will be fine, no we don’t need your help thank you and yes we’ll make sure she puts her skis back on or side steps down the whole mountain in those boots!
That man had offered a skidoo to come pick me up! Yes, my eyes were pleading. No, my friends were saying. So, once I caught my breath I made it clear, they got me up here and they weren’t going to be leaving me up here which was basically wilderness with strangers zooming by and idiots like her zooming at me. All that progress in confidence skiing destroyed by this ridiculous notion of getting me in a place where I had no choice. Well i did have a choice, I had many choices and mine was to let someone else, an expert friend carry my skis down the mountain whilst I switched between skiing on flatter levels and sliding on my back on the steep parts of which there was many. It took 3 hours!
That was my ski career over for good. I dropped out of classes and took to sight seeing.
The Banff town was incredibly pretty, like the photo at the top of this blog, it really is picture postcard standard. There was a warning that if anyone was caught drunk in the town, they were locked up for a night and their photo printed in the paper the following Wednesday. I never tested out the stories validity.
I am borrowing photos from the internet for this whole story as I don’t remember even having a camera on this trip, it is clearly etched in my memory for its’ total elegance in nature.
We took the bus to Lake Louise, it was a ski village but we went for breakfast on a day out of no skiing, which was nice of the gang to do for me. Lake Louise was mesmerising.
The Grand Chateaux was incredible, the dining room was almost in the basement and was so old style, like going back in time for decades. The waitresses were dressed so theatrically, being a food lover, I was happy now, this is what I mean when I take a holiday! More about food soon!
Back on the bus and we went to Banff Springs Hotel.
This is the place I had dreamed of visiting. Such oppulence and beauty. For some celebrating their wedding day by getting married overlooking the lake it would be etched forever in their memory as it would mine because I watched!
We went to the restaurant overlooking the lake and the mountains and took a table in the wall length window and ordered coffee. 2 hours later I looked back at my coffee and then at my watch and had been lost in this world and picture for 2 whole hours! That’s the most amazing memory ever, of me just taking in nature in it’s most breath taking and spectacular form.
(No one who knows me and reads this will ever believe i could sit like this)
We took a really good look around and I promised I would come again one day in the summer, maybe one day I will.
Next stop, we walked from the hotel to the Upper Banff Hot Springs, this experience beats skiing any day of the week and luckily we were all packed suitably. With the snow falling down on our heads, we had been in, got changed and swam out into the spring.
Riding on the bus from these areas was incredible. A dwelling not seen for miles and suddenly a home! I was on bear alert, I never saw one. I did however see the odd Elk, native to the area and not uncommon to be seen wandering into the town of Banff.
We made it to Sunshine Village the next day. Taking what is known as a gondola which fascinated me with the name, it is a low riding cable car like a bubble which you sit in. This is by far the more civilised method of transport in a ski resort than any other I have tried or attempted. So I re-hired the skis and set off with the others. Who knew, maybe a change of scenery would be nice. It was lovely. I did ski a little in the town itself as the weather was blowing up a splendid snow storm and it was perfect. No need whatsoever to actually go skiing, it was wonderful!
As I rode in the gondola back down the mountain much later after lunch, my friends skiied merrily below me and we met together and returned by bus back to Banff for a regular evening out feasting in good ole’ Canadian style. I have to say, I adored the Canadian way.
Food was amazing and service!! We visited all the local places. One that stood out was Banff Grizzly House. The waiter service was like nothing I had experienced before and have a little since yet never quite so impactful. The waitress came over and introduced herself, “Hi, my name is Jane and I’ll be your server for tonight” That blew me away!!! Especially as she smiled, alot! Service in the UK sucks in comparison and right now, the UK, back home was what I was comparing it to. We ordered beer. By the pitcher! This was the norm. Sharing a pitcher with friends at a table. My love for my home for the last 15 years in Spain has been for the sharing at tables, I love it! Anyway, fabulous food, fabulous service.
There was another restaurant we booked for as a special treat and I cannot find it’s name. It was a table for 4, there was an old fashioned telephone on the table, on each table I noticed and when I enquired as to why, it was to call for table service and there was helpfully a list of table numbers so if you were a group of singletons, you could call upon another table! Get out of here!!!
So, back to the food. It was a type of fondu served on slabs of hot slate which had been in the oven for hours and raw foods. You took a fork and started cooking for yourself! I don’t believe it! I do now of course, I am so much older and
wiser well, let’s just say i’ve eaten alot of food in alot of places since but this left a huge impact. I guess first time everythings will always do that……indelibly leave a piece of itself etched into your heart as Banff did for me all those years ago.