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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
As I gracefully used my nose, cheekbone and forehead to arrest my slide on the snow and ice, I really had to wonder what the hell had just happened.
Moments earlier I had be carving down a narrow track, completely In The Zone, then it all mysteriously went pear shaped. Very pear shaped. Mike shot out the standard “You okay?”, to which I replied “Yep” much too quickly. All I knew was that my major organs still held their “internal” status. Hopefully things would stay that way a little longer.
Let me rewind a little.
With Monday being a public holiday, it was just too tempting. Four leave days from work bought me a nine day weekend – here we go.
Mike and I had agreed to meet in Revelstoke for lunch on Saturday at non other than our favorite, McDonalds. Super excited to get our snowboarding together, we raced up to the hill and spent the afternoon riding North America’s biggest vertical (1,713 meters / 5,620 feet). I know those are just numbers, but trust me, they are really big numbers when you are coming down. I had ridden Revelstoke for one weekend, exactly a year earlier, since which time they’ve added a chairlift and extended the gondola. This has literally doubled the accessible terrain (now up to 3,031 acres). Looking up above North Bowl showed some of the craziest in-bounds terrain I have ever seen. We didn’t have time to hike up there, but did find some really nice soft snow in the lower bowl.
While on one of our 30 minutes descents (it felt sure that long) we unsuccessfully tried to occupy the same small patch of snow at the same time. I was in front, carving like a madman, going the kind of speed that says “Yep, this is too fast, which is just fast enough”. Mike was behind, doing exactly the same. Both trying to prove our carving supremacy to the other, the front position was highly valued. Unfortunately, Mike timed his overtaking maneuver just as we encountered a skier on the side of the track. The gap was a little smaller than he first thought, he later told me. Excellent. I didn’t even see it coming and went down like a ton of bricks – doing my best to qualify for the olympic gymnastics team.
While we gingerly picked ourselves up and checked limbs for mobility I couldn’t help notice the massive grin sported by the unfavorably located skier who had silently witnessed the whole incident. Must have been quite the spectacle.
Everything about the mountain just screams huge in a big way. Amazing.
As is pretty standard for a snowboarding road trip we headed straight for the public pool & hot tub which is always a great time. Our accommodations were at the Revelstoke Samesun Hostel; a cramped little hostel filled to capacity. The next morning it was difficult to leave when it was snowing, but were knew we were doing the right thing. Neither of us had ever been snowboarding in the heart of British Columbia, the Okanagan. Our first stop, Sun Peaks, had had around 25cm during the week and it showed. People in lift lines were smiling and laughing, parents were pulling infants around in toboggans. Everyone was having fun. We really enjoyed the day with some super long blue groomers and some great black and double black tree runs.
The T-Bar over the back turned out to be our favorite – the runs were not steep at all, just endless rolling hills of blue rated powder. We proudly freaked out more than a few squares riding two-up on the T-Bar – a feat not often achieved by two snowboarders.
An SUV stuck in the ditch provided the perfect opportunity for a Jeep show of force. It might be small, it might be lacking in power, but low range 4×4 at 4500 rpm is a force of nature. I dragged and dragged that SUV a good 20 meters uphill through the ditch. It was only mildly frustrating that it was still in the ditch, where we had to leave it.
Our goal for the next day was to ride Big White, some 170kms on unfamiliar roads in the dark. We both drove caffeine assisted stints and were completely exhausted upon arrival at the Kelowna Samesun Hostel. The hostel was really big, friendly and bright and best of all from our point of view it had really hot showers. Oh the wonders of a shower! I’m pretty sure I feel asleep before my head hit the pillow.
We got moving early the next morning, surprised in the rush hour traffic to see how big Kelowna actually is. We were just getting aquatinted with Big White when Mike broke his bindings, a pretty standard occurrence on Flow Bindings. A five minute fix back in the parking lot and some delicious muffins had us back on the slopes raring to go. It hadn’t actually snowed overnight but the Cliff Chair was wind-loaded to the point we had fresh tracks down a really steep chute and some fresh turns directly under the lift line. Some of the best turns I’ve ever had in fact.
The mountain itself is huge and has runs galore. We pushed ourselves doing a 15 foot cliff drop under one chair – both of us wimped out and sat down on the tails of our boards. Next time we’ll get it. Big White has a huge boarder cross track which we found at the end of the day. Really big banked corners and great big floating rollers – we could happily have ridden that all day smiling like idiots, trying not to repeat our earlier collision antics.
We had an easy 100km drive down to Vernon, which I was happy to finish in the daylight. We had planned to stay at the Samesun Vernon Hostel but found it closed many years prior. Luck was with us and we found a room at the Samesun up at Silverstar. A quick stop at Safeway allowed us to dine on chicken salad rolls and again we were overjoyed with a shower. The Hostel was again really roomy and bright and had about 60 kids from U Vic partying hard. Again I think I collapsed more than fell asleep.
Silverstar was another great resort – again lots of really great blue groomers to practice the carving on – and then a whole chair of very steep black and double black runs. The snow wasn’t up to it, so I really want to go back and hit it on a powder day. We went for a big walk up along the x-country ski trails and found a little pow right on the boundary fence. We found another nice drop under a chair (maybe 10 feet) and we both had no problems stomping this one. e-a-s-y. The beautiful blue sky day went by all to quickly and we found ourselves exhausted at the end of another great day of riding.
We initially planned to go back to Revelstoke for a couple of days but decided the snow just wasn’t up to it and we were way too exhausted by now. We casually rolled the 380kms back to Nelson chatting the entire way about plans for adventures in the future. We drove via the Fauquier ferry, the west side of which I had never been and the east side really close to Octopus Creek Hot Springs which eluded me this past summer.
I stayed at Mike’s place in Nelson and it was great to see Steve and Heather and the whole Whitewater crew again. Again we hit the public pool & hot tub and the fact that we knew half the people there just meant the stunts on the diving board twice as big. The snow at Whitewater was deteriorating pretty quickly, but we managed to find some soft spots on the summit side which had not been sun affected. Over the weekend was the Kootenay Cold Smoke Festival – a great community-like even for back-county enthusiasts. One evening was a film night that showcased locals who had filmed themselves on adventures of unimaginable scale – really really inspiring stuff. For some added smile-factor I won a ski bag in the door-prize-raffle. Now I just have to buy some skis to put in my nice new bag….
As part of the festival, my last day timed nicely with a cliff dropping competition. Backflip off a 40 foot cliff = champion in my book. Very cool stuff. I also managed to de-laminate my second snowboard for the season – I’m not sure how I do that but I do think it’s a skill. Filling it with epoxy and clamping it for 24 hours did the trick nicely. Late on Saturday I rolled out to Fernie, a very peaceful 300km.
The Fernie Hostel was filled to capacity and as a result was bustling with tails of extreme skiing and snowboarding.
I was up early and on to Castle Mountain for the last day of the trip. I was always wanted to go, hearing wonderful things and I was not disappointed at all. I not sure when it sunk in exactly, it might have been the narrow, winding, un-sealed road to the resort. Or maybe it was the “Mum & Pop” feeling of the place. Probably it was the home-made look of the chairlifts and the buildings. In any case, the mountain had a really friendly vibe about it. The kind that says “Welcome, have fun and we won’t judge you no matter what”. It was really hurting for snow so I was pretty restricted in where I could go, but it was clear to me it had amazing potential. Give it another meter of base and it would be one of the best mountains around, no doubt.
I am coming back – count on it.
All told I drove almost 3000 kms and hit 6 different resorts in 9 days. At times I was exhausted beyond recent memory with parts fading into a déjá vu like blur. One thing, however, is very clear in my mind; I remember smiling. Lots of smiling.