Ah! Winter in the Canadian Rockies.
Who would have guessed that a Brazilian would be so thrilled to spend winter in sub-zero temperatures sliding down the mountains on skis?
In order to understand my passion for this icy world, we will have to go back over two decades. I I began rock climbing in 1991, in native city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio is widely known as the best place in the world for urban climbing, with big walls and multi-pitch climbs within the city boundaries.
Five years later, I south to Bariloche, Argentina (much akin to the Rockies here in Canada). In Patagonia I began to learn about mountaineering, glacier traverse, crevasses and ice climbing. That was the first time I ever touched a glacier and was immediately fascinated by that white and cold world.
Starting from that mountaineering course, I travelled to high mountains around the globe. I have even stood on the summit of a few high mountains, including Aconcagua – the highest mountain in the Americas – just shy of 7000 meters.
Denali, Alaska’s iconic great mountain, is also on my summit list and was one of my most memorable expeditions. Despite minus 40 degree temperatures, we climb Denali’s glaciers during the almost endless summer sun!
On Denali, I had to use snowshoes because I was not a skier and could not manage to ski mountaineer on that wild and dangerous mountain. Even as an accomplished mountaineer I was simply not a skier, despite having tried a few runs in the alps. I was not terribly comfortable with the idea of sliding down a mountain at great speeds on two thin boards. Nevertheless, I remained open to the idea – if for no other reason, but for efficiency.
Fast-forward to 2005, My Brazilian husband and I secured Canadian residency and moved to the Great White North. I was already aware of Canadian winters and knew I had to embrace the lifestyle or go crazy! By choosing to live near the mountains, skiing was certainly high on my ‘to learn’ list, but I was cautious about costs.
My first job in Canada was at Mountain Equipment Coop (a shop we still frequent regularly) and through MEC I had free access to Canada Olympic Park. That whole winter I snow-plowed down the bunny hill!
With the same determination that took me to many high summits, I did not give up and gradually became a competent skier. I took a break from the slopes while I became a mom and welcomed my son to this cold, icy and white world we had chosen for him. At age three, I enrolled little Ian in his first ski lessons at Norquay, Banff, Alberta.
By age four Ian had an amazing experience with Ski NASA at Nakiska, Kananaskis, the resort developed for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. By the end of that season he was skiing down black diamond runs and through the glades (heavily treed areas).
That same year I finally moved beyond the snowplow and even bought my first used equipment. After another season at Nakiska we then travelled west to Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Sadly, this was a dramatic time for my family. We lost my husband and Ian’s father to pancreatic cancer. All alone and a single mother, I registered for some ski lessons through the Ladies’ Program. I also decided to invest in some good equipment. Not top of the line, but good enough to fit me properly.
The stop was at a ski shop in Banff called Soul and I had a great experience there, learning how to fit ski boots and buying a descent pair. I also tried two demo skis, and settle upon a short Fischer KOA 84 model that served me well for two seasons. My 15 year old niece now skis on them!
That first 9-week Ladies’ Program helped me to progress from a beginner / intermediate skier to an almost advanced level. In ski terms, from blue runs to serious moguls and black routes. In fact I improved so much that skiing quickly became my primary winter activity. I skied 40 times that season and enjoyed wonderful conditions at one of the biggest resorts in Canada.
I decided skiing would be my annual activity investment. I consistently buy our ski passes in June, when we can find the best prices. My pass is paid for in about ten visits, so you can imagine how cheap it was that year when I skied 40 days!
Ian always takes lessons at the beginning of the season to help his confidence. He is a solid expert-level skier, but has no interest in races. To keep up with him, I did another season of Ladies’ Program in Lake Louise and kept developing my skills. I did all this in my mid-forties knowing that it would be a matter of a few seasons when my son would surpass me for good.
This year we have season passes to Sunshine Village for the first time. I now feel entirely free to experience the entire mountain and love the good, natural snow.
My niece is living here and this is her first ski season. Having learned to ski as an adult, I gave her four full days of group lessons and she was lucky enough to end up with a private instructor. In under an month she progressed from a ‘pizza’ snowplow to black runs!
My son had his lessons as well and as an 8 year-old Canadian boy, he is comfortable in his new twin-tips powder skis, jumping around and going down anything in his path.
I bought used twin-tip Rossignol skis for this season, much longer than my ‘old’ ones and an amazing piece of gear that surprisingly, I was ready to use.
So, here I am, in my 11th year in Canada and my 4th ski season, 46 years young single mom enjoying the winter as my favourite season of the year. We are a month into this six-month season and I have already skied 13 days and more than 300 km of various terrain!
Let it snow, let is snow…