A Winter Wonderland

“Well, I know now. I know a little more how much a simple thing like a snowfall can mean to a person”
― Sylvia Plath

That familiar feeling came back instantly. I felt like a child on Christmas Eve again, except this time it was actually snowing instead of being boiling hot. I’m sitting on the airplane flying back home to Cape Town, suffering horridly from jet lag and blowing my nose loudly every five minutes, a consequence of having too much fun, but for the first time in a long time, I have run out of words. I honestly don’t know where to begin my story or where to end it. Canada…you’re beginning to make a habit of leaving me speechless.

It was just the four of us, the Dream Team as I’d like to call us, consisting of myself, my boyfriend Ben, Ben’s best friend Steve and Steve’s fiancé as well as my backseat bandit partner in crime, Alexia. It was the four of us, one big car, a few snowboards, a pair of ski’s, a lot of luggage and the open road. I would like to begin our epic journey in the picturesque little town of Banff, Alberta. It was everything that I had ever imagined Canada would be, log houses, the snow settled thick on the roof, smoke billowing out of the chimney’s, cars that couldn’t get any bigger and of course, surrounding us were the most spectacular snowy mountains that you have ever seen, the famous Rockies. After picking up our rental gear from the Ski Hub, we ate at a legendary little pizza place called Aardvark’s where I had one of the best pizza’s ever, and then proceeded our journey onwards to Lake Louise. And what a journey it was!

Due to my inability to condense this story into less than 20,000 words, I have decided that it would benefit everybody more if I listed my highlights of my trip, and of course would encourage any visitor, or even local, to undertake. Enough of that, let’s get started!

Lake Louise: Lake Louise is another picturesque little village that lies in the foothills of the towering mountains, however the problem is that if you blink you could drive right past the turnoff, but if you do happen to keep your eyes marginally open, you will be rewarded with some of the most beautiful sights that your eyes ever did see. After arriving at the Fairmont Chateau Hotel that towered over one side of the lake, we all hopped onto a sleigh ride. On the one side of the lake, there was an ice skating rink as well as the remains of ice sculptures, which had unfortunately melted due to the warm Chinook winds that recently thawed everything out. The mountains were just as huge and beautiful as pictures had revealed in the Summer except this time they were covered in fluffy white snow with a few frozen waterfalls standing still for a moment in time. My eyes were immediately captivated by the frosted trees that looked like they had been softly kissed by icing sugar and as the golden sun flashed between the branches, we continued forwards listening to the horses hooves crushing the freshly fallen snow. After a rude awakening to ‘the cold’, we quickly made our way inside the hotel for some refreshing cider and beer to warm us up. Alternatively, a hot drink also helps with this!

Snowboarding: After a refreshing sleep at the Deer Lodge in Lake Louise we woke up the following day to clear blue skies. Today it was time to prepare myself for snowboarding, the part I was most looking forward to! We set off on the short drive to Ski Louise where we were greeted by the legendary Taylor Jones and his brother and very talented snowboarder, Landon. After putting on the most amount of clothes that I had ever worn in my entire life combined including my helmet, goggles, Berghaus gloves and mittens, I felt like I had lost access to all my senses, my sight had turned orange, my hearing was muffled, my nose got lost somewhere between my goggles and balaclava and I couldn’t zip myself up without having to remove my mitts. Nevertheless, I was ready to tackle the whole mountain, but first…the bunny hill!

After a 2 hour snowboard lesson and many bum slides, knee falls, and wiping out hard and fast on ice after forgetting how to stop, I was soon whisked away by the rest of the gang to eat lunch at the surreal Whitehorn restaurant, an amazing restaurant near the top of the mountain that one can only access via ski lift and leave by boarding back down. This was not a welcoming thought…AT ALL! No one prepares you for how vast and big the mountain is, no one prepares you for how little you become when you’re standing at the top looking down, no one prepares you for how to dismount the ski lift without looking like a knob and no one prepares you how to tackle the hardest thought being, ‘How the HELL am I going to get back down?’ (There might have been harsher language going on inside my head). I battled to take everything in and to be honest I felt like I was in a little bit of shock followed by a side of the shakes. Luckily my instructor came down the mountain with me where I pretty much leafed my way down to the bottom followed by a sigh of relief and shaky legs as a reward for making it out alive.

We spent at least one day on all three slopes in the nearby area including Ski Louise, Norquay and my personal favourite, Sunshine Village. I absolutely loved it there! It all starts on a long gondola ride through the mountain that takes you up to the beginning of the ski lifts. The snow was fresh, light, dry, fluffy powder and it made my learning experience so much easier, the runs were longer and more forgiving and we even got caught in a baby blizzard up at the top, all adding to the fun of it, right? The best part for me was the fact that there were no queues and no crowds. It just sucks that I have to wait an entire year before I can think of doing it again!

Johnston Canyon – On our way to the Fox Hotel in Banff, we met up with a few instagrammers who showed us some local spots at a place called Johnston Canyon along the Bow Valley Parkway. The hike took about 3 hours due to icy footpaths and long photo stops, where we were rewarded by several large frozen waterfalls that ice climbers had decided to spend a day tackling, snow-frosted forests and crystal clear pools that had survived being frozen. This is almost a MUST for any visitor within the area.

Dog Sledding – I wasn’t sure what to expect! This stuff only happened in the movies right? Yet again, we drove another magnificent route in a national park to get to Spray Lakes in Canmore where our dog-sledding commenced. As we arrived, you could hear the dogs barking madly in anticipation to get running and to be honest I was a little hesitant at first about using dogs for our pleasure, but trust me, I quickly learnt that they live for running! I was bundled up in the sled which in my opinion was a great place to be, with six dog’s bums waving in my face for the duration of the journey. Ben was behind me helping our guide to stop and steer the sled, which is quite a tiresome job, let me assure you!IMG_7799

Peyto Lake – This was probably my favourite drive and unfortunately Peyto Lake was the only place that we had time to visit on this scenic drive called the Icefields Parkway. Yet again, it took place within Banff National Park, a result of why Alberta is in pristine condition, it feels as though there is a realisation that nature is greater than us and therefore needs all the respect that can be given by humans. The greatest part is that we didn’t see another vehicle for miles on end, and passed several frozen lakes with log cabins perched on the side, towering mountains in every direction, glaciers, the freshest snow that would be any snow-junkies dream and a few cross country skiers having a ball in the backcountry. We parked the car and walked about 10 minutes to Peyto Lake, a lake that is in the shape of a wolf. It was magnificent, there was absolutely no one around, just the eerie sound of the wind funneling through the trees and the snow being whipped around in circles as the wind passed us.

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Rockies Heli Tour – On our final day in Alberta, we were lucky enough to do a heli tour high above the rockies. The views, as you can imagine, were insane and we although visibility wasn’t great, we could see for miles all around us. Our pilot then decided to make a pit stop on the top of the mountain, where we turned the heli off and did some snow-shoeing and drank Bailey’s hot chocolate. My favourite is listening to the mountain rumble and crack, a little bit scary at times but just another friendly reminder that we are indeed mere ants in this vast ecosystem.

I’m afraid that this post does not do it justice. I can’t describe my feelings accurately or the sights or sounds of being in such a magnificent place. I can honestly say that this trip surpassed all expectations, it rose high above what I had ever experienced, and the mountains themselves are a powerful piece of nature that definitely has a humbling presence, they have the ability of bringing you back down the Earth.

A few thank you’s are in order particularly to Travel Alberta for making this trip possible for a student like me. In particular a huge thank you goes to our magical Canadian guardian angel and trip organiser, Nancy Smith, you really made this trip the best one. Another thank you to Taylor & Landon Jones for showing us around Lake Louise and for also introducing me to more Australians, after which I can confidently confirm that Alberta is a mini Australia. And lastly, a thank you to my surrogate family, Ben, Steve & Alexia, I wouldn’t have wanted to share it with anyone else.