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To Ski or Not to Ski in North America

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4 March 2010

Joe Legate, Wexas Ski Expert and Partnership Manager, sets out to Canada to discover the best in North American skiing for the first time, inspired by the success of the Winter Olympics.

Intro

In Fernie, British Columbia

In Kimberley, British Columbia

The Verdict

Intro

You cannot have failed to miss the Winter Olympics over the past few weeks. Vancouver has been putting on quite a show. And I have been gripped.

Having lived and skied in Meribel, France for six months, I can safely say that I adore skiing in Europe and, until now, I had never even wanted to ski anywhere else. And why would you? Europe has it all, huge ski areas, beautiful mountain resorts, chalet culture, not forgetting a nice mug of Vin Chaud or Glühwein.

However, Canada has really risen to the Olympic challenge. I was glued to the screen every time I watched. There’s something about the Canadian’s passion, the way they support their team, the athletes all-or-nothing approach and the fierce competition. I found myself willing Canada on whenever there was no Team GB competitor and I was very pleased to see them reach an unprecedented tally of 14 gold medals.

So despite my scepticism about skiing outside of Europe, I am now drawn to it. And what better place to start than Canada – in an Olympic year.

So I’m booked. A week in the Canadian Rockies staying in two different resorts departing tomorrow, travelling with Wexas supplier Inghams. First stop: Fernie, to experience some of its famous steep slopes and deep powder. Kimberley is the second stop on my trip and has beautiful tree-lined pistes and the largest gladed skiing area in Canada. In short, I’m covering two extremes of skiing; challenging off-piste and sweeping groomed runs.

While in Canada I’ll be micro-blogging about my experiences, comparing it to my time spent in Europe; expect real-time updates and plenty of pictures! To keep up-to-date with how I find skiing in North America for the first time, simply follow Wexas on our Twitter page. And be sure to check back here, for the latest photos.

So back to the original question: Of course I’m going skiing. It’s winter!

See you on the slopes,

Joe Legate

Wexas Ski Expert and Partnership Manager.

In Fernie

After a long journey, the mountains of the Lizard Range finally came into view. It is an imposing sight. At first you look at it and think how am I going to ski that. But, as you get closer, you soon realise that the five bowls that make up Fernie Alpine Resort will offer all kinds of terrain.

Fernie is noticeably different to European ski towns in two respects:

  1. It only has 10 lifts.
  2. It is split in two – the hill (where you ski) and downtown (where the majority of locals and seasonaires live).

It is not unusual to find resorts in France that have well over 40 lifts and huge towns located way up in the Alps.

Neither of these differences should put you off. Fernie is well planned and thought out. The bowls mean that very few lifts give you access to a variety of terrains and runs for all abilities andd it also means that if, like most of us, you are travelling in a group of mixed ability you can all catch the same chair and then meet at the bottom after taking runs of varying difficulty and start swapping stories immediately.

Fernie is largely regarded as an experts resort, however, and while I wouldn’t want to teach my children (when I have some) how to ski here, there is enough on offer for the developing intermediate to make it an enjoyable challenge.

On our first day (Sunday), under glorious spring sunshine, we took an orientation tour for an hour and a half where our knowledgeable guide, Kelly, showed us just how to access all of the slopes on offer. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone coming to the resort.

We skied perfectly groomed pistes all morning and early afternoon until the sun had turned the lower slopes a little slushy. We took the opportunity to relax in our hotel, the 4–5-star Lizard Creek Lodge, enjoying swimming pool and hot tub, before venturing downtown for a steak dinner.

Monday could not have been more different. We woke to rain at the base of the mountain and the promise of snow higher up so we headed up to the upper slopes of the Currie Bowl to enjoy some of the more challenging skiing the resort has to offer before ending our day with a final run down the aptly named Sky Dive.

And so now, after an exhausting day, I’m off for a massage and gin.

Check back in a couple of days time when I’ll be in family-friendly Kimberley. In the meantime, please send any questions or suggestions you have to me using Twitter.

Bye for now,

Joe

In Kimberley

6.00 am is an awful time of day. With heavy eyes and even heavier luggage we met our transfer driver, Terri from Journeys West BC, who took us the 122km to Kimberley.

For two hours we were hooked, listening to Terri’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the flora and fauna. Carefully explaining which pine tree that normally sheds its leaves has kept them. As well as pointing out deer and elk at every opportunity.

Located in the Purcell Mountains, Kimberley looks considerably different to Fernie. Shaped more like a hill you could be forgiven for wondering if a ski slope even exists. But once on the mountain (for it definitely is one!), all becomes perfectly clear. The terrain provides wonderful wide pistes packed with rolls and dips keeping them interesting. And, unlike in Europe, the slopes are empty. Really empty. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to learn and develop my skiing technique here - not hampered or scared off by other mountain users.

The skiing here is incredibly enjoyable and for those of you who like cruising around a mountain this is the place to do it.

Blue skies and sun welcomed us on our first day, just like Fernie. From the top of the North Star chairlift we could see more than 50 kilometres to the central Rockies and I’m sure if they hadn’t been in the way we probably could have seen almost double or triple again.

Our second and third day were filled with snow, creating wonderful groomed conditions and enjoyable off-piste. All in all, a whole season’s weather in three days – just as in Fernie.

In Kimberley, we stayed in the Trickle Creek Lodge. Again, an amazing position slopeside meant getting to the slopes was no hardship. Again as in Fernie, downtown and the hill are separated either by a brisk 45-minute walk or by a 5-minute bus or taxi ride. The downtown area is quaint and also known as the Bavarian City of the Rockies (mainly to attract tourists); it is home to a number of themed restaurants and the world’s largest freestanding cuckoo clock.

After a great three days in Kimberley it was time to return home – a mere 5-hour coach transfer through national parks and then the 9-hour flight, perhaps the only downside of skiing here.

The Verdict

Overall I enjoyed my time in Canada greatly, with my only regret being that it was only for a week, especially as it is quite far to travel to. I truly cannot say that it is better or worse than Europe – just that it is different. However here are some points I picked up on:

  • In my opinion it may suit groups of mixed ability skiers more due to the variety of runs off the same lift, enabling you to all make your own way down before discussing it together on the way back up.
  • You should also consider that it takes much longer to get there, so if I was returning I would consider staying for at least ten days if not a fortnight.
  • While I was happy taking public transport between the downtown areas and the ski ‘hill’ you could also consider hiring a car. Parking is abundant on the mountain and it may provide you more flexibility in the resort.
  • Lift prices are relatively expensive, however, on my return to the UK I have been informed by Wexas supplier Inghams that in the 2010/2011 season they will be offering 2 for 1 lift passes in selected resorts (terms and conditions apply). Call a consultant for more details.

Travelling to the Central Canadian Rockies

I travelled with Inghams and Resorts of the Canadian Rockies to Fernie and Kimberley in British Columbia, flying from London Gatwick to Calgary International Airport. Transfers to and from resort were with Inghams and transfers between resorts with Journeys West BC. I stayed in the 4- to 5-star Lizard Creek Lodge in Fernie and the 4-star Trickle Creek Lodge in Kimberley - both were apartment/suite style accommodation suitable for self-catering.

Flying time is 8-9 hours and the time difference is GMT -7/6 hours.

A Final Warning

The 2010/2011 ski season in Europe is going to be a busy one. We know that European holidays will converge over February half term (19 February 2011) meaning that the slopes will be packed and accommodation in scarce supply, so if you are planning a trip skiing take my advice book early or go to Canada!

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