It had been so long since I skied that I can’t actually figure out the exact number of years. I’m pretty sure it was at Lake Louise at some point in my early-20’s which would make it roughly, um, let’s see, 10+10, add the 90’s, carry the amount of beer I drank that weekend (a vague estimate, obviously), and that works out to… a long time. But with our “Staying in Canada!” winter still in full swing, this seemed like the perfect time to venture back onto the slopes to do some skiing in Invermere. I mean, even though it had been a while (understatement) I did ski quite a bit before that. In the 80’s mainly, which is why the last true ski jacket I remember having sported a whole collection of lift tags (so cool) and was bright purple with geometric slashes of pink and orange. Which, frighteningly, would be right back in style today.
Backing up a little bit first, though, we had to drive all the way from North Vancouver to Invermere, a long haul in decent weather, which is unfortunately something that doesn’t ever seem to exist on that highway. I have now driven over the Coquihalla Pass five times in my life, three times on this trip alone, and every single time there is a ridiculous blizzard taking place up there, making me wonder if it is actually one of the lesser known levels of hell – probably called “Slushy Passing Lanes and Semi-Trucks Climbing Hills Side by Side”. Roger’s Pass isn’t much better (on our way to Invermere we were repeatedly stopped due to avalanche problems and passed camouflage-clad parkies/rangers/soldiers/terrorists manning either avalanche guns or stealthily invading the upper reaches of Interior BC. And the other one, whatever it’s called, the pass between Revelstoke and Merritt, well, it sucks, too.
Anyway, expecting the worst, we decided to split the trip up with a night in Chase at the cheap, friendly Overlander Motel. After all the roomy, well-equipped AirBnBs we’ve enjoyed lately it was a sentimental reminder of what it’s like to stay in an honest-to-goodness roadside motel. A strangely loud mini-fridge stocked with two tiny bottles of water, a 1960’s hot plate and watching TV while lying on a bedspread that we were careful not to examine too closely.
Meanwhile, Invermere was a joy. Sure, it took a little time to adjust to all the brown dryness and icy trails after the lush green forests and muddy trails of the coast but, for all their differences, the one thing we can always count on is that we will always be staying within a stone’s throw of an A&W. Lake Windermere (aka a fat section of the Columbia River) was still mostly frozen when we arrived (featuring skating rinks, benches, ice fishing shacks and, of course, an old truck) and somewhat frozen when we left, although it was melting fast. The picturesque twin mountain ranges on either side of the valley guaranteed great views from everywhere except the deck of our apartment (which focused mainly on recycling bins and the hot tub dealer across the road).
Of course, now that we were much closer to Calgary (and Moose Jaw), we were even able to enjoy a little bit of, gasp, socializing, with two sets of friends visiting from Calgary and another from Moose Jaw (don’t tell me you didn’t see that one coming). Danny and Leanne rented a place near us for the weekend to “get the hell out and do something”, taking their kids skiing at Fairmont, then naively trusting us to lead them to the unofficial “waterfall hot springs” of Fairmont (more on those later) and allowing Laynni to film Ryland and Tatum performing ice sliding tricks for TikTok (in slow-motion, which I assume makes it even harder to balance). I simply enjoyed drinking beer on the beach in a borrowed camp chair with people who hadn’t heard everything I considered a joke (at least not since last summer).
We also caught up with Charlene Nieman, a friend from Waskesiu who, we eventually deduced, we had not seen since our wedding. Which wasn’t as long ago as the last time I skied but you definitely wouldn’t call it recent. Her and her husband actually own a place in Invermere, which meant they had all the necessary connections to provide a propane heater for that particular “drinks on the beach” session, plus a bunch of dogs running around. Finally, we also caught up with Kelly, a former work friend of Laynni’s, and her husband Tony for a few beer. And if you’ve been following us for any length of time you can probably figure out that that one – Laynni working at a normal job with other people – has also not happened in a long time. So, altogether, we had some really fun, nostalgic visits.
Meanwhile, besides those lazy afternoons of beer and misremembered stories, we spent most mornings doing small hikes, most afternoons working on this blog (Vancouver Island – consider yourself covered) and every 5th day or so found me careening down the side of a mountain only marginally in control of my destiny.
Skiing in Invermere
All in all, it went great. I bought a 5-pack of lift tickets for Panorama and I’m still alive to tell the tale, so, you know, success. It is a pretty huge hill (139 runs!) so there was no danger of getting bored. Even if I only started venturing back onto the black diamond runs the last couple days (with mixed results). Also, I’d forgotten how tired your thighs get skiing. Well, my thighs, anyway, not sure about normal thighs.
The main positives:
The mountain scenery up there is stunning and a few of the runs (Get Me Down, in particular) seem designed to be less about skiing and more about enjoying the best possible views (or distracting you into a fatal crash – I can’t speak to their motives).
I only went on weekdays and it was generally pretty quiet. Other than a few times on the first Friday afternoon – which happened to be about 10C and sunny, supposedly the best day of February to that point – I basically never waited for any of the lifts, just ski up, sit down, then let your mind go blank for the next ten minutes. Except to quietly chuckle every time the lift passed the big evergreen covered in bras.
I only wiped out a couple times, once a timid, getting-back-into-it fall onto my ass that caused no damage but, nonetheless, did result in one of my skis getting loose and making a break for it (the clever ones realize that if they stay on their side the brakes are meaningless). Nothing like not managing to keep my balance with the help of two functioning skis, then having to navigate the next few hundred metres on just one. The other crash was a bit nastier. On the bright side, it clearly illustrated the importance of maintaining concentration while hurtling downhill at high speed on a surprisingly icy early morning run, and how focusing on the task at hand is much more important than letting your mind wander into planning out the most efficient set of lifts and runs to get me close to the cleanest set of bathrooms. The downside was that when it all went sideways I chose to bring it all back under control – body, skis, poles, bulbous helmet and all – using just a single thumb. In hindsight, this wasn’t ideal. It did not go well. Not well at all. Even though it was my stubby thumb (obviously, my normal thumb was never going to be up to the task), it still didn’t stop me very quickly, it hurt quite a lot throughout the attempt and, as it turns out, remains in some pain to this day. Plus, it has turned a weird combination of black, blue and yellow that, I must say, I don’t really care for. It’s a gross, sickly yellow, like a toe wart, or the hair of a chain-smoking farmer, just the part that sticks out of his hat.
Still, 5 good days of skiing > 1 minor injury to a partially deformed digit.
Hiking in Invermere
We were pleasantly surprised at how many hikes we were able to do, even in winter, mainly thanks to our crampons/micro-spikes (rapidly earning a place on our must-carry list). Some of the trails still had lots of snow and ice, the others just had lots of ice, and they were all basically empty.
Mount Swansea Lookout offered up amazing views of the valley and mountains on a crystal-clear, sunny day.
Lower Bugaboo Falls were an impressive set of frozen waterfalls – very cool – although some parts were steep and icy enough that even our wicked metal spikes weren’t enough to keep us from sliding off the trail.
Old Coach Trail followed a picturesque ridge overlooking the valley, river and passing train.
The Along the Johnson is mountain biking trail that had no mountain bikers at this time of year but did feature awesome views of the hoodoos and Toby Creek. Confusingly, the Along the Johnson runs alongside Toby Creek, not the Johnson. Don’t worry, I’ve already registered a formal complaint.
Wilmer Wetlands was a nice hike on a day with gale-force winds. It won’t be remembered fondly, through no real fault of its own.
Juniper Trail goes up and over a big hill between Radium Hot Springs and Sinclair Falls with some good views.
Marble Canyon featured a shocking amount of snow for March but the photogenic little canyon was made even more spectacular by the huge, round mounds of snow and icy, frozen falls. We hiked there from the Paint Pots (fascinating coloured ponds that were somehow less fascinating in winter – what with being uniformly white) and along the trail, while looking down and walking at the same time, my normal routine, I suddenly ran headfirst into a half-fallen log with some sharp stubs of broken branches sticking out. First, I saw stars. Second, I made a weird grunting noise. Third, I landed on my back in the snow. Fourth, I moaned like a recently castrated calf. Just for a minute or so. Luckily, it wasn’t too serious, and we still managed to make it to Marble Canyon and enjoy the sights, even though I hadn’t expected to end up with blood in my toque, a band-aid stuck to my hair, a killer headache and, potentially, a new scar criss-crossing the one mysteriously acquired on a late night at the Long Branch many years ago. Hiking back past the clear, and vaguely pathetic, outline my prone body had left in the snow was kind of funny, though.
We could only go partway up to Stanley Glacier due to avalanche concerns, but it was far enough for Laynni to end up waist-deep in the snow after stepping off the trail to let some cross-country skiers pass, then for me to do the same under her close direction for the creation of a TikTok video. “Unconvincing”, was the verdict, at least until I tried to climb out and failed. Apparently that looked pretty real.
For Laynni’s birthday I went all out and let her convince me to go hot springs hopping. A saint, I know. First up were Lussier Hot Springs, where we had to navigate a tricky fence and icy trail (don’t worry, a campervan couple with wet hair and a beagle said it was fine), where we had the place to ourselves. These basic rock pools set into the side of a small river are very scenic, more warm than hot and, apparently, the perfect place for birthday photographs of Laynni enjoying the water while eating a celebratory cupcake that she purchased herself. Yes, I know, there’s a lot to unpack there.
Then we went to Fairmont Hot Springs. Which sounds pretty normal, at first, until I explain that we didn’t go to the regular hot springs, the ones made into pools with supervision and benches and towels and regular cleaning services. No, we went to what we have taken to calling the “waterfall hot springs”, located a treacherous 10-minute walk down an icy path, crossing a creek three times because of landslide damage, where an extraordinary waterfall comes tumbling off a tall cliff into a series of small rock pools. The views down the canyon to the valley and distant mountains are terrific, and equalled by those of the waterfall, pools and atmospheric steam. Perfect, right? Yes, as long as you can ignore the fact that this “waterfall” is actually just the runoff from the real hot springs above, the stuff that has already been used by paying guests of the hotel, then dechlorinated and sent back to nature, much less hot than it began, and with quite a few more used band-aids than you would ideally find floating next to you in a pool. Gorgeous photos, though.
Invermere was great. Skiing, hiking, soaking, drinking Bud Light in the sun while slouched in a camp chair gazing out over an icy lake listening to good friends bicker over real estate missteps, it really doesn’t get much better than that. Unless they sold Original 16 out here.
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