It’s too far. Doesn’t it get really cold there? Why go all that way for a week when you could just go to the Alps? Just some of the comments and questions that came up whenever I said I wanted to ski in Canada.
But there’s supposed to be easy tree skiing and the scenery looks out-of-this-world, I’d say, still drawn by the idea. And, despite the naysayers, this February, I finally took the plunge, visiting two of Canada’s best known resorts, Whistler and Sun Peaks in British Columbia. Here’s what I learnt from my ski holiday in the big C – and everyone thinking of going should know.
1. Off piste isn’t scary
“We’ll just cut down between these trees, across that traverse and over to the run in the distance,” said my guide Drew from Extremely Canadian ski school in Whistler, pointing to what looked like an off-piste run. No safety briefing, no avalanche transceiver equipment.
But no problem. In Canada unlike in Europe, everything inside the ski area boundary is patrolled and made safe by the resort, including ungroomed snow between the marked pistes, steep couloirs, powder bowls and tree runs. Ropes mark the boundary, and anyone crossing those does so at their own risk, as in Europe. Apart from that, you can quite literally go anywhere and the sense of freedom was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
2. Ski instruction from native English speakers really helps
Most skiers and snowboarders will have endured a lesson in broken English at least once, but there’s no risk of that in Canada – yes they speak the same language! And I was relieved to find my near-beginner boyfriend Dan’s Northern humour proved a match with his Sun Peaks Sport School instructor Paul’s Canadian enthusiasm. And after a few days of instruction Dan was parallel turning and keen to tackle some bumps, and I’m convinced linguistic harmony had a lot to do with his fast progress.
3. The slopes are graded differently
A sense of dread rushed over me as I looked over a lip down the rest of the blue run – it had turned from smooth piste to an ungroomed mogul field. Dan had tackled blues with his instructor, but this was our first together. “Just take it easy,” I said tentatively – my mistake had been to think of this as a European blue run.
In Canada runs are graded green, blue or black diamond or double black diamond – there are no reds as in Europe – blues and single blacks can be like easy or tough reds. And not all pistes are bashed every day – there are the grooming reports each morning so you can check which are. For beginners, it was a pleasure to find easy green routes from the top of both resorts, so Dan didn’t miss out (and yes he did also manage that blue).
And as for ungroomed marked pistes – well, the thrill of skiing my first, covered in an ankle-deep layer of powder on a bluebird day, says it all. There’s a reason they call it ego snow – I immediately started wondering if maybe, just maybe, I am a good skier, and for that I will be eternally grateful to Canada.