I hadn’t been on a winter holiday in ages and being Canadian – antifreeze is in our blood after all – I decided to book myself a snowboard package to Banff, Alberta. I arrived in Calgary on a bright Saturday at noon, and proceeded through immigration where a rather sullen young woman at the checkpoint asked me:
“Are you traveling with someone?”
"Are you with a tour?"
"So you’re all by yourself?"
Feeling a touch lonely having no friends to speak of, I quickly remedied these feelings with a Tim Horton’s donut. Tim Horton is a national icon – a celebrated hockey player turned successful donut enterprise. I must say the donut did not disappoint. Experiencing a mild sugar high, I proceeded to the Sun Dog shuttle bus and off I went to try my luck on the slopes.
I had booked at the Banff Voyager Inn but learned I had been moved next door to its sister property, the Spruce Grove Inn. I much preferred this as the Spruce Grove had less of a party vibe and more of a rustic and relaxed atmosphere. My room was spacious and clean; I liked the view from my window – a classic snow capped peak sprinkled with pine trees and framed by an expansive blue sky. What a wonderful way to start my solo snowboarding adventure!
I had enrolled in a 3-day workshop through Ski where you spend one day at each of the three resorts in Banff National Park. The very nature of the program meant I would meet like-minded people and learn a new sport at the same time so I was very excited to get started. The first order of business was a trip to the rental shop.
Jeff, one of the snowboard rental shop employees asked me:
“Are you normal or goofy?” then proceeded to give me a gentle shove. I instinctively stepped forward on my right foot.
“Goofy like me!” he proclaimed. I am destined to be a goofy snowboarder, which I took to be a very good sign.
My first stop was to Lake Louise, which has 4,200 skiable (or in my case snowboardable) acres making it the largest resort in Banff National Park. I loaded my stylish neon snowboard onto the shuttle bus (fee included in program) and hopped aboard for the gorgeous 45-minute ride into the spectacular Canadian Rockies.
“Ok everyone, strap in”, announced David, our snowboard instructor. It was rather cumbersome attaching the board to just one foot and attempting to walk to the start of a very gentle incline. I spotted fellow goofy snowboarders and made my way over to join them. My classmates were British, some looked similarly anxious so I felt in good company. After gliding on basically flat terrain, we were ready to strap both feet in and try the bunny slope.
All of us were a little apprehensive picturing ourselves careening down the hill crashing into the beginner ski class, and further damaging the reputation of snowboarders everywhere! David advised us to stop thinking. Easier said than done, I thought to myself. I managed to stand up and lean on the edge of the board ever so gently repeating the mantra “Don’t think, just do” and steadily progressed down the slope in a zig zag manner only falling twice within 20 yards. Success!
Most of my fellow classmates had a similar accomplishment so we decided to celebrate afterwards at the classic Whisky Jack Lodge, located in the base area before catching the last shuttle back to Banff.
The second day I went to Sunshine Village Resort on an equally delightful bus ride through the mountains, spotting elk along the way. An interesting feature of this resort was the 30-minute gondola ride to the chairlifts. While riding above the glorious evergreens and fresh snow, I noticed snowboarders coasting steadily below – perhaps that would be me by day’s end! At the top, I ventured inside for a cup of tea and watched the falling snow. My thoughts soon drifted to a warm fireplace and mulled wine, but I pulled them back to the tasks at hand – conquering the chairlift and tackling a real hill!
David instructed us to warm up with a few runs on the bunny slopes. With heaps of self-confidence and soaring spirits, we paired off for a go on the chairlift. I glided down and waited for the next chair to whisk me away. No problem! I reached the top and then knocked down a classmate in my efforts to maintain my own balance. Onto the next hurdle of snowboarding down an actual hill which certainly looked less steep from the chairlift. We began cautiously carving broad turns in the snow. As it got steeper, we started to dig in our edges, rather tiring after several yards. Stop thinking, stop thinking ran through my head again. I managed a couple decent turns and made some steady progress down the hill until I finally reached the bottom and wiped out beautifully on the flattest part. Must have just got caught in a rut I told myself while laying face down in the snow.
I made it to the third and final day without any major injuries. Class started later that morning so I had time to walk downtown for breakfast. I wandered into the delightful Wild Flour Bakery and ordered a bowl of their Bow River Hot Cereal, a delicious blend of oatmeal and orchard fruit. Fueled by a healthy breakfast, I got my gear together and boarded the shuttle for Norquay, Alberta’s family resort and only 4 miles from the town of Banff.
The snow was rather crunchy underfoot, which did not inspire confidence. My classmates and I met up with David for the day’s instruction however, it was pretty much free rein on our last day together. The chairlift again presented a challenge – I fell and managed to almost knock over yet another classmate but he was very good-natured about it. The icy snow proved to be difficult as it was hard to control both speed and direction. I became a bit stressed which of course, led to my first tumble of the morning. The upside to all my tumbling and minor discomfort was the surrounding scenery. While seated squarely on the icy snow, I gazed at the awesome mountain vistas and realized how fortunate I was to be alive and well (albeit sore) in the Canadian Rockies.
I picked myself up with renewed vigor and continued sliding safely down the slope. After a couple more runs, we all congregated at the bottom for a group picture. Despite the bruises and sore muscles, we agreed it was a great learning experience in an amazing natural environment and I for one, would definitely be back.