As we begin February here in the Canadian west, days are already becoming longer, although spring still feels very far away.
I leave February 7 for Panama and will surely enjoy the 30+ degree (90 F) weather that awaits. Nevertheless, I am a winter person and have just come back from a windy day of skiing at Sunshine Village where we took fun advantage of the new, heated Tee-Pee Town chairlift! This is the first heated chair in Canada – and what a pleasure, particularly on a windy winter day. A ‘warm’ thank you to our friend Kristian Haagaard 🙂
I am having so much fun skiing with Finn this year. Although hockey dominates his sporting schedule, he is already diving down the expert-only runs and reading the terrain magnificently.
Finn began skating and skiing at age three, so by 9 it is wonderful to see his natural balance and confidence – even on a surfboard.
During the latter two weeks of January, I had the pleasure of leading two ‘Winter Rockies’ tours for Travelsphere, a British company I have worked with for nearly 20 years.
While I take groups all over the world, I particularly enjoy sharing my home this time of year. Winter travellers have clearly not come looking for beach and warm, so in the stead, I get to focus on the season and the uncrowded beauty of this coldest season.
Although their tour is only 8 days long, we manage to explore both the well-known spots and those a little less discovered.
The tours began and ended at Calgary’s airport and involved three nights in Banff, two in Jasper and two at Lake Louise – best seen in the snowy winter months. I also managed to include a tour of Canmore – my home town, with a focus on the Canmore Nordic Centre – a world class x-country and biathlon venue, which is currently (Feb 4-7, 2016) hosting World Cup competitions.
On the second tour I also threw in a bonus visit to West Edmonton Mall – the largest entertainment and shopping centre anywhere. Of course this wasn’t particularly because of design, rather a result of circumstance….
In late January we had some unfortunate freezing rain which made paths and roads particularly icy and the snow pack extremely unstable. On my last night in Banff I was very concerned because a passenger had fallen on the ice. It was a terrible fall, straight back. The emergency responders in Banff were excellent and made the decision to move her to a more significant facility in Calgary. To Make a long and worrisome story brief, she received fantastically and, with her husband, joined the tour two days later at Lake Louise. Really – watch your step on the ice!
As I was settling into bed, I received a text from a good friend who works with Parks Canada; “If you are travelling north tomorrow, you’ll have to detour. The Icefield’s Parkway is closed due to avalanche.”
For reference, the Icefields Parkway is widely considered one of the most spectacular drives on earth. It connects Jasper with Lake Louise and Banff (in only a few hours). During winter there are no services open. It is perfect. Except when it closes.
So off we went, back towards Calgary, north through the prairies to Edmonton and around to Jasper from the east. Our 7 hour sight-seeing day became 11 hours. Honestly it is still la good experience. ‘Safety First’ is obvious, but I would have liked a bonus night in Edmonton to show off Alberta’s impressive, wintery capital.
The road re-opened the following day and the trip back to Lake Louise was as spectacular as hoped.
Of all my winter experiences so far this year, I have to give special praise to little Jasper. Our northern Rocky Mountain Town is about half the size of Banff and is uniquely isolated. four hours from Banff, four from Edmonton and five from Kamloops, Jasper has its own identity and purpose.
It is a major train hub for freight and passengers crossing the Yellowhead either to or from the Pacific Coast. We have jokingly said Jasper is a small drinking town with a train problem. It is so much more. Quiet and friendly, its valley in defined by iconic mountains, including Pyramid with its pinkish hue, due to mineral oxidizing.
I have travelled to Jasper since childhood and every year the community grows on me more and more. In fact, if it were closer to a major airport, I would seriously consider living there.
On this trip the temperature and light were perfect up in Jasper and the Town’s winter festivals were fun. Jasper honestly deserves a full blog as there is so much to do in the area around the community. I am not a fan of the new ‘Venture, Beyond’ branding (or our ‘Go Beyond‘) here in Canmore. Rather I will always think of Jasper as: Wonderful, by Nature. I’d rather stay.
Unfortunately January ended, for me, on a tragic note. Entirely out of the blue I/we lost a dear friend, Ian Haywood. A fellow guide, I have known Ian for many years and am missing him terribly. I did write a memorial and will put it somewhere on twomeytravel.com for safe keeping.
I learned of his tragic passing while staying at Lake Louise. He reminded me to live life to its fullest, but at this point that doesn’t really help. It hurts to lose someone this dear and I am so sad for his beloved wife, Kim. They had so many plans.
So I will be back in Central America, but will return to my mountains in March for Finn’s hockey playoffs and for more skiing. Warm thoughts to all of you. Live everyday and keep your loved ones close.