Friday and Saturday and two long days’ skiing. Two phenomenal days’ skiing.
One major difference between the Alps where my skiing experience, albeit 20 years ago, has been limited to and Canada is that in the Alps the ‘resorts’ are almost entirely ‘ski-in, ski-out’. You either ski or walk to the ski-lifts which take you up to the pistes. In Banff you first catch a bus. In the case of Lake Louise the bus ride is 45 minutes from Banff. And it is a 10-15 minute walk to the bus.
Both Friday and Saturday we caught the early bus which meant being up at 07.00 and leaving the apartment before 08.30 to walk to the middle of town. In temperatures of -25oC !!! Have you ever had the tips of your ears become painful with cold within 2 minutes because you thought you were hard enough to not bother with a hat? Or had your hair nostrils develop hoarfrost? Believe me, that is how cold -25oC feels. I had experienced that depth of cold a number of times before in Wales. Like the time four of us climbed Snowdon when it was so cold that the waterfalls were frozen solid. Or when I climbed Cadair Idris when my sandwiches froze before I could finish them. But that was when we had real winters!
Most of the bus journey is along the Trans-Canada Highway. Very impressive. I mean very impressive!!! Cloudless blue sky. Amazing views of various peaks in the Rockies. Low-level temperature-inversion cloud striking across the massive snow-etched mountains. But the highlight of Friday’s bus trip was spotting wolf tracks crossing the frozen, snow-covered river and then seeing the wolf pack which made them. No pics I’m very sorry to say. But a real Wow! moment.
Then arrive at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. Because of the expected increase in numbers over the weekend and the very heavy visitor numbers expected over the Christmas period, the snow making equipment was working full blast.
The ski-lift took us through the temperature inversion cloud which was very, very cold and out into the sunshine above. I had decided to try to improve my lamentable technique by skiing the same run a number of times so I did that. The final section affords good views down to the main ski lodge which was particularly dramatic in the sunshine.
After a couple of ‘warming-up’ runs on my own we all went up to a higher point on the mountain well above the inversion cloud and skied down from there. The views of the peaks were dramatic. I know ‘dramatic’ is an overworked word but it really is an understating of the place.
Then Ruth and Tim went off to do some proper skiing while I pootled along with my own mediocre stuff. And saw an amazing phenomenon in the afternoon sun. The temperature was so low, a high of -15oC in Banff so considerably colder up in the mountains, that the air was full of falling ice crystals. Every bit of water vapour in the atmosphere was freezing out with spectacular result when viewed at high altitude with a low-angled sun.
Saturday was a repeat performance. I wore my hat which reduced the ear pain but the nasal hairs still froze en route to the bus. Major differences once at Lake Louise were that the ‘snow’ blowers were working overtime first half of the morning and there was a very marked increase in visitor numbers. But the skiing was just as good. And the views were even more breathtaking.
Then, as I started my second run of the afternoon, I eased round a curve in the piste and straight ahead was one of the most dramatic sights I have seen. The air was again full of tiny ice crystals making the air sparkle with tiny flecks of reflected light. But even more dramatic was what is known locally as a sun dog, ice halos around the sun when it is at low elevation. The scientific name is from the Greek parēlion, (παρήλιον), παρά(beside) + ήλιος(sun), “beside the sun”. Not as dramatic as in some instances perhaps but still very impressive. Photos cannot do justice to this, particularly taken by fingers which feel as if they going to drop off with cold when gloves are removed to operate the camera.
Despite this major distraction I got back down to the lodge fingers still attached even if screaming with pain and the rest of my body in one piece. I made it down fairly quickly if not at all stylishly. But the major attraction of skiing for me is being up in the high mountains in such fabulous and awe-inspiring conditions. Thank you God for making it and letting me see it.