Smiling ’cause his jacket was waterproofed recently.
While our drive to Bellingham along the Trans-Canada Highway was sunny and clear, the next day’s forecast was wet. So wet that Mt. Baker’s snow report had the rare statement of ‘light rain’ at the base. That’s a forecast no ski marketer usually admits to, so we went up expecting a downpour. It wasn’t that bad. Wet snow, yes, and I quickly learned that I needed to re-waterproof my ski jacket and pants, but the terrain is super fun, and I finally had a chance to ski with my niece. That she insisted on skiing a double black diamond chute (her first) with us really capped off the day.
It also capped off a fun trip, since from there it was all about the marathon drive back to Tahoe, broken up with a few stops along the way.
Would I do it again? Absolutely - ski vacations are fun, and something we’ve not done often, seeing how we live in such an awesome ski destination like Tahoe. Though the next time I want to stop at some other smaller Oregon and California resorts, like Willamette Pass, Mt. Hood and Mt. Shasta Ski Park.
The Whitewater to Revelstoke leg of the trip was one of the longer drives, involving high mountain roads, beautiful scenery, some snow, and a ferry crossing. That was my favorite part of the drive, and not just because it was free.
We arrived in Revelstoke along with the snow, which resulted in our second official powder day of the trip. New snow + 5620 feet of vertical + high speed chairlifts meant that we quickly racked up vertical, along with face shots and grins. Revelstoke’s terrain includes some fun hiking, a ton of trees, and sustained steeps. That there was nothing resembling a lift line during our two days was further reason to love the place.
In its current incarnation, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is a new ski resort, only opened in 2007. Admittedly there was another smaller ski resort and a cat ski operation before that, so it’s not like skiing is new here. But it doesn’t come across as your typical destination ski resort. There’s no lodge around every corner, and not everything is groomed to perfection. Like Red and Whitewater, this is a skier’s mountain. And like those two resorts, there are a lot of people that drive up the Powder Highway to hit them all. We saw a few of the same people at the three resorts doing just what we did. So clearly this Powder Highway thing has caught on.
After two days of powder, steeps and trees, it was time to start the journey south. Our next stop was Bellingham to visit family and ski Mt. Baker. Having visited Bellingham numerous times over the past 4 years, I had never skied there, so I was super excited.
When you’re on a ski safari, it’s as much about the driving as it is the skiing. Getting from Red Mountain to Nelson, the closest town to Whitewater Ski Resort, was one of the shortest driving legs of the trip, a little over an hour. Our route took us through Trail B.C., which was the location of the JP Auclair’s creative urban ski segment in Sherpa Cinemas All.I.Can.
Nelson is a town I spent just enough time in last year to want to go back. It has many of the things I seek in a ski town – great coffee (Oso Negro), lots of ski shops, and a number of interesting restaurants. Oh, and a ski resort just outside of town, one known for great powder and great backcountry access. Win-win-win-win!
Just our luck we arrived in Nelson on the eve of a holiday – Family Day. It’s a new holiday for British Columbia, but new or not, local citizens took it very seriously. As such, all stores, including most restaurants, were closed, outside of the one located at the Hume Hotel, where we were staying (the newer rooms have great beds & groovy decor). Americans, particularly those of us living in resort towns, might learn from this example.
I was eager to ski Whitewater, as much to explore the terrain as to enjoy another awesome lunch. Our timing meant mid-week ‘crowds’ and a cloud layer up high, the latter which kept us gravitating towards the trees, and the former meaning there were not many people besides us in said trees.
Like Red Mountain, Whitewater doesn’t have a whole bunch of lifts, and ZERO high-speed quads. But its geography means that the two lifts we rode accessed a lot of fun (and steep) terrain. By lunchtime I had worked up an appetite, and since I had eaten well the last time we were here, I was looking forward to lunch. Whitewater’s Café is still as interesting and delicious as I remembered. We split an order of vegetarian poutine with yam fries that I was still talking about the next day. Were we not on a schedule to get to Revelstoke that night, I might have insisted on returning to Nelson to find the Whitewater cookbook with that recipe. As it was, we were on a mission ski safari.
After another few hours of endless turns past snow ghosts, we packed up in order to get to Revelstoke by dinner time.
From Wenatchee we headed north to the small town of Omak, which is near another small ski resort we didn’t hit – Loup Loup Ski Bowl – but it got us closer to the Canadian border, and our next destination, Red Mountain. Red’s located near Rossland, B.C., a mere 10 km from the U.S. border. It’s also part of the Powder Highway, and the official start to that part of our ski safari.
Red’s one of those ski resorts that’s a bit under the radar for many Californians. I’d heard of it as having great terrain, and remembered its tongue in cheek ad from a few years ago. Most people, when they asked me where we were headed, automatically assumed Whistler-Blackcomb, and when I mentioned Red Mountain and Whitewater, had never heard of them.
No steeps at Red either.
But as the ad so clearly states, Red sucks. So you definitely don’t want to check it out. No fun steeps, no easily accessed sidecountry, huge crowds, only 4,200 acres of terrain, and it has no personality.
Yeah. That’s it.
No powder snow either.
It sucked so much we spent two days there, including a day where a 15 minute hike resulted in some fun powder turns…days after a storm.
When much-anticipated plans to take a ski vacation to France didn’t quite pan out, we found ourselves looking north. Canada north. We had passports and fat skis, vacation time, and a yen to ski new terrain – ideally with new snow.
This idea wasn’t totally out of the blue. Last year’s trip to a backcountry lodge near Nelson, B.C. piqued our interest in exploring that part of the world, and an article in a ski magazine on the Powder Highway further encouraged us. The final straw was the dry and springlike weather in Tahoe, with a forecast that offered no immediate relief. So off we went.
First day of vacation – not bad.
Considering that Canadian border is nearly 1,000 miles from Tahoe, we decided to hit a few U.S. ski resorts on the way up. First stop was Bend, OR, to see N’s parents…and sneak in skiing at Mt. Bachelor. This is not a new resort to us – it’s where N learned to ski, and we’ve had more than a few memorable powder days there already. But to have fresh snow after weeks of sunshine and high pressure in California was a welcome start to vacation.
Short hike, big payoff.
From Bend we drove to the town of Wenatchee in eastern Washington. Located on the east side of the Cascades, it’s home to Mission Ridge, a 2,000 acre ski resort right outside of town. It’s not your typical PNW resort, in that there’s a lot of sunshine (300 days a year – like Tahoe) and the snow is drier than those resorts on the western side of the state. Like a few other ski resorts we visited, Mission Ridge does not boast villages or lodging. There’s a base lodge and a smaller lodge mid-mountain, but it was refreshingly simple – and the lift ticket rates reflected it ($53). Our timing was good, for a recent storm meant that fresh tracks could be had if you were willing to hike. And we were.
Fun terrain…and a bomber plane!
Mission Ridge’s terrain is varied, with plenty of advanced/expert steeps to keep us skiing until the end of the day. It offers night skiing as well, but we had to get on the road for the next stop on our ski safari.
Last week over cocktails a few friends and I decided to go hike Mt. Whitney this weekend. While none of us had actually actively trained for a day hike of that magnitude, a friend had a few permits, and we figured, why not? We cleared our calendars, booked a hotel, and in my case, tried to remember where the hiking poles were stored.
Cue to last night. While packing up my gear I managed to walk, barefoot, smack into the weightlifting bench, smashing my previously broken pinky toe. It hurt. A lot. And then it turned a nifty shade of black and blue.
This isn’t the first time I’ve managed to injure this toe before a hiking trip, so I’m not sure if it’s karma or some deep seated issues I have with hiking in the Sierra. But Mt. Whitney was decidedly more of a commitment than the last time round, even if it was much more spontaneous.
Predictably, I’m not driving down to Lone Pine today. Instead I’m icing my foot and contemplating whether I can put on my bike shoes.
The one tangible souvenir that I brought back from Canada during our recent backcountry ski vacation was a cookbook. The Whitewater Café Cookbook, to be precise. Whitewater is a ski area just outside Nelson, and we were strongly encouraged by our Calgarian comrades to stop there for lunch on our way back to the U.S. I should note that these Canadians are die-hard skiers, yet they were recommending that we stop by a ski resort not to ski, but to eat. That is a telling sign.
The Whitewater Café is not your run of the mill ski resort restaurant. It offers an incredibly varied and large menu for its size, featuring dishes that go beyond the greasy burgers and fries that are commonplace. Think bison burgers, homemade soups and a ton of tempting baked goods. The cookbook includes signature recipes like samosas (which someone made while we were at Powder Creek and I’m still dreaming about), granola bars, and the Glory Bowl, a rice and tofu bowl with the most addictive dressing.
I’ve become a fan of nutritional yeast of late, so the dressing for the latter was particularly interesting. But instead of going to the effort of cooking rice and tofu, I decided to riff on it with a salad. We’ve been home a little less than a month, and I’ve made this salad in some variation at least once a week. The dressing is that good!
In parsing the ingredients, it appears to be a version of the peanut sauce I use on noodles, albeit with less peanut butter and more nutritional yeast. The original recipe does call for tahini, but as that’s not something I keep on hand, I subbed out peanut butter and added a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, and it works just fine.
Glory Bowl Salad (Adapted from the Whitewater Café Cookbook)
5 oz spinach leaves, washed
½ cup grated carrots
½ cup grated cooked beet
Optional– ½ cup each diced cucumber, diced red pepper, blanched and chopped broccoli
¼ cup toasted and crumbled pistachios or pumpkin seeds (optional)
¼ cup feta, crumbled (optional)
Glory Bowl dressing to taste
Glory Bowl Dressing
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Braggs or soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
½ cup nutritional yeast
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
Blend all ingredients except oil in food processor. Add oil in a fine stream through the top of the food processor until emulsified.
Last week N and I packed up our skis, avalungs, skins & assorted backcountry gear and headed north to Canada. You see, we had reservations at the Powder Creek Lodge, a backcountry lodge located in the Purcells in southern British Columbia.
Skinning to the 'back door'
We’d talked about doing a backcountry hut trip for years, but never quite got around to it. After all, with such excellent terrain and conditions here, we got distracted. So I was grateful that N took the initiative and found a group that had 2 spots available. That he happened to pick one of the drier snow years at Lake Tahoe only made this trip more awesome.
The group we joined up with was primarily from Calgary, and many of them had been doing these trips together for years. Apparently there is no shortage of backcountry huts and lodges in this part of the world, so you can do a trip like this once a year and never stay at the same place twice! The Powder Creek Lodge is definitely a gem, located at about 7000 feet in a drainage east of Kootenay Lake, with electricity, heat, a fully functioning kitchen, and a sauna. And super comfortable beds.
To get there, we flew to Spokane, and then drove onto Nelson, a funky little town that N told me was where the film Roxanne was filmed. The evening we arrived gave us just enough time to grab dinner with the group and then sprint through the local supermarket to stock up on supplies. You see, our group was self-catered, which meant that each couple was responsible for cooking one dinner (including the ever-present ‘appies’, or appetizers) and one breakfast for 14. The next morning we were up early to rendezvouz with the helicopter, which met us at a location near the town of Kaslo north of Nelson, and from there it was a super short ride into Powder Creek.
While our group was self-catered, Powder Creek does provide a custodian for groups like ours, who handles important responsibilities like getting the wood-fired sauna ready in the afternoon, and monitoring the propane incinerating outhouse. Chris, our custodian, offered plenty of value adds, including hilarious stories and amazing samosas, and even helmet cam footage. The group itself was a varied lot, including 3 other women, which was a huge relief for me, as I had fears of trying to keep up with a pack of super-fit guys.
Ridgeline skin track leads to deep powder
There is some very interesting topography around Powder Creek, which meant we could find everything from longer descents in neighboring drainages, steep pitches above treeline and gentle meadow-skipping runs through forested areas, all within a short-ish distance of the lodge. We traversed ridgelines and skied wide open bowls, and I learned to farm turns, something we don’t need to do much of at Lake Tahoe. While we saw little new snow during our week there, the conditions were surprisingly good, with cold winter snow on most northerly aspects, and a snow pack that stabilized as the week went on. We had no weather days, so I was only limited by my physical fitness. I skied all 7 days, though I’ll be the first to admit that there were more than a few afternoons where I was eager to get back to the lodge, kick off my ski boots and enjoy the views from the comfort of the couches.
Views of the Purcells
It was truly a fantastic week. I boarded the outbound helicopter feeling like I gotten my backcountry powder skiing fix, along with 12 new friends and a slew of terrific memories.
From Paris we hopped on the TGV and headed southeast to Chamonix. This was another place where I had lived back in the last century. Not long after I left, I ended up buying a miniscule apartment with what was my life savings at the time. I assumed it would be my nest egg. Said nest egg was sold when N and I bought our first house in Tahoe. That was the only wise investment decision I have ever made.
Chamonix in 2011 is both same same and different different to the place I left twelve years ago. Like many mountain towns, there are plenty of people I know who are still there. They might have spouses and kids and mortgages now, but they stay for the same reasons I wanted to. The mountains. In the past decade the town has certainly changed and grown. There’s a MacDo now, a few more roundabouts getting into town, underground parking and a Chanel boutique. For me the most revelatory difference was the receding glaciers. They were quite a bit smaller than I remember. And I heard that they’ve even covered one.
We were in Chamonix to see friends and do some exploring. I’d found a small flat in Cham Sud, ironically in the same block as my old studio. The views of the rental were much better though, looking out towards the Aiguille du Midi.
Views from the bedroom in Chamonix
The mild weather was perfect for hiking, so I took N up to the Lac Blanc, which used to be my favorite hike. It’s a lot easier when the trams are running, as that shaves off 3000 feet of hiking. Alas, the off-season meant that the trams were closed, so we ended up climbing 4600 feet up and down. But the views were well worth it, even if I had difficulty walking the next day.
Lac Blanc's amazing views
Hiking down from Lac Blanc to Argentiere
The following day my friend H suggested we hike up to the top of the Montenvers Tramway, which is on the other side of the valley from Lac Blanc. It was a great way to see where we had been the day before, but the highlight of that hike was encountering this incongruous sight at the top – a golf cart filled with haphazardly stacked taxidermied creatures. H’s suggestion of a photo ended up being my favorite photo of the trip.
Dead animals in golf carts in the Alps - bien sur!
And really, after a photo like that, that’s pretty much it.
While it was a brief trip that didn’t include skiing, it was nice to be in Chamonix during the ‘intersaison’. It was less crowded and much quieter. Which I didn’t mind at all.
Many years ago I began my adult life here. Straight out of college, cluelessly optimistic, I landed a job with the South Korean delegation to UNESCO. (That’s a story for another time.)
Certainly nostalgia tinges all memories a certain shade of rose, but I remember my two years there as an exhilarating and free time of my life, hangovers notwithstanding. My fondness for the first place I lived as a post-college adult hasn’t lessened. It’s a city I’ve revisited over the years, albeit never often enough.
So a trip back was long overdue, especially since N and I had only spent a day there together the last time. I was excited, because for all the years, I wanted to see if I remembered metro stops, how to get to my friends’ flat, the name of my favorite pastry, and my rusty French.
For the most part my memory surprised me. The French came back, I found my friends’ flat with only a few wrong turns, and navigating the metro felt familiar. A lot felt familiar, which I didn’t expect, but I suppose it’s a form of muscle memory.
It was a lovely three days of catching up with friends, eating more bread and cheese than I should admit, and showing N my Paris. A pedestrian’s Paris. We walked for hours each day, past landmarks, through parks, shopping districts and the odd museum. Our soft mountain feet felt the effects of the concrete and cobblestones at the end of each day, but it’s my favorite way to see this city.
My Paris is unlikely to be everyone’s Paris, but in includes important-to-me places like the Marche de Mouffetard, the Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marche, the Ile St. Louis and the Parc Buttes-Chaumont. It includes crepes from an outdoor stand, lots of café time, and more than a few baguette sandwiches.
This time around it also included N. And that made it much more memorable.