Halfway down the snow-smeared fall line, it hits me: right now, on planet Earth, I could be the happiest soul alive.
It’s pretty cheesy, perhaps implausible, I know. But the entire morning has been dreamy. Gourmet coffee and blueberry pancakes in the fire-warmed lodge. Half a metre (1½ ft) of heaven-sent powder during the night. Now a forever-blue sky illuminating sawtooth peaks few eyes have seen. And the skiing — come on! — it’s ridiculous.
Amid glades of ghost-white trees sheeted with some of the purest snow in the world, I rhythmically (OK, occasionally) float into turn after turn, inhaling sweet white flakes that flutter in my face, all the way down the mountain, run after run. I’m cat-skiing — a form of backcountry skiing where you ride a quiet and comfortable snowcat up the mountain — at Island Lake Lodge in a fairly remote corner of the always-dumped-on Rocky Mountains in southeastern British Columbia. And, damn (I know it might not be cool for a grown man to admit this), I’m so happy, I suddenly burst out crying and laughing at the same time. No kidding.
To be honest, this isn’t the only time I’ve skied Canada and reached an emotionally overcharged state. My oldest son, who’s 12, and I (he boards, I ski) once had an unforgettable day of pigging out on powder at a little-known gem of a hill in southwest Alberta called Castle Mountain. There, regular dumps of snow — just a mere 9 m (30 ft) of it a year, or so — can make for some giddy days of front-country powder skiing that, especially at a lift-serviced resort, you’d never think possible. Hello, Canada!
When we pulled into the resort at 8:30 am, there was a full 38 cm (15 in) of virgin powder blanketing the slopes. (Like many of the top Canadian Rockies resorts — Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Kicking Horse and Fernie — Castle Mountain is an easy two- to three-hour drive from Calgary, AB where we live). All day long we poofed through champagne powder, swished and fell down mogul runs (we did our best), and bobbed down epic, cotton-soft fall lines. On the way home, I remember looking at my son, sleeping like a baby, and this proud dad’s eyes misted over as I realized I might never have a ski day so impossibly good again.
But then, I did. My brother-in-law, hurting from a recent job failure, asked me to join him at Mont Tremblant, QC. Readers of SKI magazine have voted Mont Tremblant, in the heart of the pastoral Laurentians, the No. 1 ski resort in eastern North America 11 years in a row.
We zigged and zagged down some of the finest front-side cruisers you can imagine and merrily picked our way through White Evil, Tremblant’s massive, world-renowned, snow-park system. I’d like to say we strung together a trifecta of inverted 980s, but that’d be pushing it. Then we slurped homemade soup and downed a bottle of wine over lunch in the charming Alpen-inspired pedestrian village… and slowed down considerably in the afternoon. On the final evening, we told stupid stories and laughed so hard we cried (what can I say?). It was priceless. He went home and liked his job again.
Yes, skiing can move me. And there’s nothing like Canadian peaks christened with snow. It doesn’t really matter where you are — Marble Mountain (a top-notch ski resort in Newfoundland), Mont Sainte Anne (close to historic Québec City, QC) or Powder King in British Columbia’s Pine Pass — Canada is home to some of the finest, fanciest and friendliest ski resorts on our planet.
There’s a reason why the Austrian National Ski team, the world’s No. 1 squad, chooses Canada (the fabulous Sun Peaks Resort) as its home training base. OK, the fact that Vancouver and Whistler, BC will host the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games (now that’s going to get emotional) might also factor into the decision. With 8,100-plus acres of skiing, two mountains and 38 lifts, Whistler/Blackcomb is North America’s largest (I’d argue, sexiest) ski resort. You have to see it to believe it — and be stirred to the core.
So the next time you’re shredding down Revelstoke or Rossland, look for a hippy-type guy weeping (for joy) on the slopes. That’ll be me. Pause, say hi, and, for the love of all things decent, give me a hug.