Saturday, February 13, 2010

A lot more skiing

The ten days or so after returning from Bow Hut until departing Canada is a bit of a blur of various types of skiing & a few other activities. Having decided my arm had had enough rest (not exactly a medical opinion - more not wanting to miss the chance of any more skiing without testing it), the day after Bow Hut James & I headed up to Sunshine. We skiied a few runs off the top of Strawberry lift before I headed off to my second lesson - hoping to get a bit more control & more consistent parallel turns. I didn't have the instructor to myself this time, but three wasn't a bad sized class - & as last time, the lunch was huge & fantastic. During the course of the lesson I became a real skier & was bowled over by an out of control snowboarder. Apart from that it was good day with much improvement. A quiet DVD night with an ever filling lounge as people finished work (James) & got back from collecting new cars in Calgary (Megan & Alex). Megan had the rather exciting news that she was off for four days of heli-skiing courtesy of her new employers.

On Mark's last day on Canmore, he, Adele & I went to the Nordic Center for a spot of cross-country skiing. It turns out Mark is quite the accomplished skate skier & he spent a lot of time waiting for Adele & I as we slid along in the XC tracks (tracks groomed in the snow to fit the skinny XC skis in them). I had not been on XC skis before, so it took a little while to get used to them - I was fine as long as I was in the tracks, but when the tracks ran out it was quite difficult to stop in a hurry as the XC skis don't exactly have edges. Nonetheless I survived the 110 minute loop we did without falling over - XC skiing turned out to be quite the workout as you use the poles to propel you up the hills & along the flat & try to tie the propulsion with a gliding/skating action on the skis. Although enjoyable, it was a little boring being limited by my skill to the tracks; on the bright side, the day lodge serves a good plate of poutine. One last dip in the hot springs in Banff & we back to Canmore for our last dinner with Mark - at the Grizzly Paw. As well as making great beer (which I was not surprised about) they also make a good Ginger Beer - a rarity in North America - the sirloin was very good too. I said my goodbyes to Mark that evening as there was not much chance I was going to get up at half past four in the morning to do so. Sunday was pretty lazy as Adele & I spent the morning cleaning the cabin & the afternoon relaxing before moving back to James & Becca's house.

Becca got the day off work for her birthday, so unsurprisingly she, Adele & I were up to the hill to celebrate with a day of skiing. Over the course of the day we were joined by a few of her friends from working on the glacier over the previous summer. Sunshine had even managed to have a bit of fresh snow overnight to aid in the celebrations - not quite the metre Becca was asking for, but that may have been perhaps a little hopeful. Of course, we had masses of food & lunch was a pleasantly drawn out affair - it quickly wore off after a run or two. Twas a great day & I was able to explore some new lifts (new to me anyway) & didn't fall until the ski out to the car park when I accidentally took a side route that should have had a black diamond posted before it. The light at the top of Goat's Eye was really flat & the snow quite icy, but the second half of that mountain was great fun. After James cooked up another storm for the birthday dinner & then it was endless games of Monopoly Deal until Becca finally picked up a "It's My Birthday" card from the draw pile - Murphy of course saw that these cards were in short supply, & when they did come around they went in to the hands of other players.

While Adele was off climbing Cascade Falls (the formation of ice that we had seen from the TransCanada every time we drove to or past Banff) with Craig, I had a relaxing morning until Becca came home in the middle of a split shift with XC skis. After a large lunch of last night's left over roast, we were off to the Nordic Center (not before we had broken in to Scoobie [the Soobie - bare bones, but reliable Legacy] with a coat-hanger to retrieve the keys; honestly, who keeps the spare key to their car inside the car?) for another good workout. There were far fewer people on the trails this time, the sun was out & the temperature must have almost been reaching 0ÂșC - it was very pleasant. Unfortunately, the trails weren't quite as groomed and further away from the pavilion the snow was getting quite thin & at times we were skiing on a little grass. Still, we managed to hardly stop (except for the odd photo) & finished well worn out in forty minutes less than I had the previous time. XC skiing started to make a bit more sense.

For Adele's last full day in Canmore (sniff, sniff) we were of course back to Sunshine for a day on the slopes (well, Becca, Adele & I were - James was off super early to climb some multi-pitch piece of ice). There was more powder around up the hill than there had been two days previous & it continued to snow for most of the day. We had a pretty good day - although Becca seemed to have a target on her back & a big flashing neon sign attached to her helmet that said "Try & Crash in to ME"; to say she had a few close calls would be putting it mildly, I was not completely without blame in one of them but managed to cross behind her just avoiding what would have been a spectacular tangle. We spent a lot of time trying to find little tracks through the untouched powder in between trees - some were better trails than others, no-one managed to wrap themselves around a tree although some tried a little harder than others. Finding little jumps to hit also provided a good diversion from just skiing runs; of course Adele's last runs for this trip to Canada were off the top of Strawberry. Despite Megan having just returned from her four days of heli-skiing, we took her & Alex out dinner - ended up back at the Grizzly Paw after Adele & I rather rudely shot down the idea of sushi in flames. Adele & I were completely boring & both took the same option for mains that we had had on Saturday. I think the night will be remembered for Megan being so tired that she could hardly eat any of her pasta & me getting some of my own back on Adele - after having endured a month of conversations about gear & climbing, it was nice to have others around who would happily quote Blackadder, The Big Bang Theory & so on & Adele didn't have a clue as to what we were talking about. Not to mention Alex's rather amusing Communist Party T-Shirt - with the emphasis on 'Party'.
Adele had the rather gargantuan task of trying to pack all the gear she had bought over the last month in to her Macpac & a ski-bag before James, Becca, Adele & I headed off for yet more gear shopping in Calgary before heading to the airport to drop Adele off. Surprisingly, I took an early lead in the gear-buying stakes with a pair of shoes, a pocket knife & very pleasingly a replacement pen for my Swiss Army card (yes, I still have it if you are reading this Kate Southern - it's fantastic) - one of the most useful things in the card, at least it was until the ink ran out. Eventually, Adele found the jacket she'd been looking for for weeks & Becca got some elusive soft shell trousers (I quite happily relinquished my lead). A grand (had to get that word in once more) Indian dinner in Calgary & it was off to the airport for (dammit) goodbyes (& a few more TimBits of course).
The XC World Cup was in town over the weekend & Friday morning James & I headed out to the Nordic Center to catch a bit of the action. Now that Adele had left, the sun decided to shine all day & it was a glorious day. The event that day was the Free Technique (10 & 15 km for women & men respectively) - which was the skate style of XC skiing, not in tracks. We had enough time before James had to start work to see the sixty-odd women start & finish their time trials (staggered starts). Some of them were really quick, I was surprised to see a Kiwi out there - apparently she is living in Canmore, she got quite a cheer from us. There was a great crowd out & the ones around us were really chatty & helpful in explaining things about the sport & the competitors. Catching the shuttle back in to town it was funny to see the main street closed off & covered in one and a half feet of snow with XC tracks set in the sides - all part of the festivities. Back home for a quick lunch, James was off to work & I had the afternoon to myself - I seem to remember sleeping a bit before making an early dinner, Becca came home, we ate & headed to Norquay for a bit of night skiing. Norquay had just the one lift open with a couple of short floodlit runs coming back down to the daylodge. It was just as well the runs were quite wide as I probably would have plastered myself on to a tree if they were narrow - both the runs were quite fast & after a few quick runs down I started to work on my technique & stopping a bit more. It definitely novel skiing at night; we had a much easier drive home after the dust was wiped off Scoobie's headlights & our vision was increased by orders of magnitude. Picking James up from work we were off to watch some mixed-climbing at the local indoor rock wall; from what I could work out the competition was basically indoor rock climbing with ice axes to help. Only one competitor finished the route that we saw.

After good sleep-ins (Megan I think was still recovering from the heli-skiing) we rode the few kilometres to the Nordic Center to catch a bit more of the World Cup action. It was much more exciting the second day as the racing was head to head around a much shorter course - what we couldn't see live, we could see relayed on the big screen. Having six racers on the course at once, with only four sets of tracks led to a few entanglements. The biggest crashes were on a tight right-hander on the last down hill. It was interesting to see the different techniques that the racers used depending on the gradient they were on. In the gap before qualifying & the finals we left the bikes (it must be noted that this was my first bike ride of the year - in February! Shocking!) at the Nordic Center before heading down to town for no reason other than to lunch - my last bagel & chocolate chai at the Bagel Company. The racing was even better after lunch, with only three & a half minute races we were quickly through the quarters & semis & in to the finals. In both finals the champion completely dominated the field to win by a large margin - a Pole in the women's & a Swede in the men's. The biggest cheer of course was for the local Canadian who finished third in the women's. As an aside, I was very surprised at how many Kazakhs were competing - a lot of them made it in to the latter finals too.

With such a beautiful & warm day we couldn't waste the rest of it. A short drive from town & we were at the start of the track to the summit of Hi Lung (or Chinaman's Peak). It wasn't long before our shoes were shod with YakTraks - a wide rubber mesh surrounded by steel coil that enables one to walk on snow & ice, not quite as hardcore as crampons. We climbed pretty steadily for an hour before breaking through the tree line & the view towards Banff started to open up. After another twenty or thirty minutes of climbing through a mixture of snow, scree & slabs of rock we were at the summit looking out over Canmore, the Bow Valley, Kananaskis Country & up towards the summit of Lawrence Grassi. It was very still at the top & the sun was still out so we managed to keep warm - we had been shedding layers most of the way up as the weather was so good.
Sunday was also spent with Megan - she is the only person in Canmore that I know that has normal Saturday & Sunday weekends (& she's pretty cool too). After some indecision as to what to do with another stunner day close to Canmore (thinking of the head gasket on the way out in the Outback) we went & paid Becca a visit & hired light touring skis (a little bit wider than XC skis). Parking in the same lot as yesterday's walk to Hi Lung, but heading in the opposite direction we headed off (mostly) down the Goat Creek Track - this goes 19 km to Banff, but as we didn't have someone to meet us we decided to see how far we got in a couple of hours & then turn back. It wasn't long before I discovered that it is really hard to stop easily on these skis as there are no edges - it just so happened that the steepest hill of the day was heading down from the parking lot & I spent a fair chunk of it on the ground sliding. The trail was of course no where near as groomed & nice as those at the Nordic Center & of course the tracks were no set, rather just those that had been worn out by many previous tourers. This mean that were generally pretty shallow & usually disappeared altogether on the downhills. We kept up quite a reasonable pace & stopped for the occasional photograph as it was a beautiful area. Just before our two hour turnaround we reached the Spray River - the snow on the hand rails over the bridge has started to turn in to pretty cool crystals. Turning around, it was of course mostly uphill back up the valley - a few people we passed thought we were nuts & perhaps we were. But as it were, as I wasn't falling over so much & we weren't stopping to take duplicate photos we got back to the car in the same time as it took to get to the river. Believably, half way through the return journey I was beginning to feel the lack of lunch & my gliding technique was suffering - never mind, made it back quite alright & it was another great little adventure. Who would have thought so many different types of skis existed? Not me.
For my last full day in the Rockies, I was also keen to spend it at Sunshine. It turned out to be the clearest day that I had out there. I caught a ride up there with Craig & Kelly - we did a couple of runs off Wawa together before they headed out slack-country to do a little touring. I was keen to get my money's worth out of my lift pass for the day so I spent the day exploring bits of the hill that I hadn't been on yet & visiting favourites. As I was by myself with no one to keep up to or avoid, I was much slower than normal & could spend the time working on my turns & stops. There was also plenty of time to take photos of the spectacular mountains. It was also the quietest day that I had visited Sunshine - I don't think I waited for a lift all day. It was especially dead when I hit the lifts & slopes again after an early lunch - the few people that had been on the mountain were all still inside eating. It was bliss. The light and snow at the top of Goat's Eye was much better than it had been last week so I spent quite a bit of time on the blue runs there - a couple of the new ones were a bit steeper than I was used to, but I somehow managed without planting myself in the snow. After Craig & Kelly got back from their little mission we did a couple of hours of Angel, Tee Pee Town, Strawberry, Jack Rabbit & Wolverine together - some amusing moments going through the trees in various parts. When we left for the ski out at 4.30, we must pretty much had the run to ourselves - I did manage hit a big hole in Upper Canyon, but some how recovered. For the first time I managed to ride all ten lifts & not fall on a whole day on the hill. I even threw in a couple of easy black diamond runs - it turned out they were easier than some of the blue runs I'd been doing previously, go figure. Final dinner with Megan & Alex - which of course included a couple of Big Bang episodes - unfortunately, I discovered I quite like port, particularly the bottle I bought Alex, just as well I was leaving.

Not much of note on the Tuesday - somehow crammed all my gear in to my pack & small suitcase, a bit of cleaning of my room & bathroom; Becca kindly came home during her split shift & then dropped me to meet the shuttle. A few lasts - last A&W burger (they are pretty good) & last box of TimBits (these are pretty good to take on the plane - good snacks between the inadequate Air Canada meals). A great holiday - thanks especially to James & Becca, Megan & Alex, Adele, Mark, Craig & Kelly and the staff at Gear-Up for such a wonderful five weeks in & around Canmore. I would like to be back some time in the reasonably near future.

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