Thursday, March 17, 2011

Deeper USA & Canada: Part 1

I have always been an extremely keen skier and at the conclusion of my university studies in 2005 I was keen to hit the road and get out of Oz. During the year I organised to get my Canadian work visa. I had already spent time at Whistler and the resorts of the Okanagan and was keen to spend some time in the rockies. So the day after my final exam I was off on a plane to Calgary.

My time living in the Banff area was an amazing experience. I met some awesome people who have become my best friends now I am home. I worked for Sunshine Village and lived at the top of the gondola in the resort area. I did around 130 days on snow and managed to ski some of the crazy terrain in the area.

Using our reciprocal pass I also was able to ski Fernie, Kicking Horse, Castle, Big White Lake Louise, Panorama and also scored a day heli skiing with RK.

After leaving Canada I travelled through the US, Central & South America and finally ended up in the UK where I lived for a couple of years.

I have always wanted to return to the Banff area. My sister is on a similar mission as I was and is now living in Banff so this season was the perfect opportunity to head back. My parents were keen as well. Unfortunately, my long suffering girlfriend was unable to come as she is English and we are currently having visa issues that prevent her from leaving the country.

Day -1 – Jindabyne/Sydney
All adventures must have a beginning and mine started on day -1. I left my work at the top of Australia and drove to Cooma airport for my aeropelican flight. I had heard from friends that the plane was extraordinarily small but I was not prepared for the whipper snipper powered vehicle that materialised from the clouds and landed. The pilot / air hostess loaded our luggage and we were off to Sydney.

In Sydney I had a nice little surf at Sth Maroubra. I don’t get to Sydney too often so I took the opportunity to catch up with friends and my other sister. I spent the night at my olds house in Coogee.

Day 0 - Sydney
I got up for an early surf at Sth Maroubra for a final salt soaking before the trip. I then headed to a cousins café in Bronte for a final coffee hit. Flying out of Sydney was pretty uneventful.

Day 1 – LA/Bellingham
I arrived in LA at some crazy hour and got stuck in the friendly “Welcome to the USA” line with what seemed like hundreds of other bleary eyed people. Once through customs I had an hour to change terminals. While walking around I came upon this amazing piece of infrastructure.

Seriously what type of dog could use this?? Only in LA I suppose.

I flew Alaskan air to Seattle. They had wi-fi on the plane! Travelling has seriously changed in the last few years. Once in Seattle I got a shuttle to Bellingham.

Bellingham is a pretty cool uni town. I found this amazing whole food market to buy some dinner and had a wander round. I had a chat to a young homeless dude with a sign that read “looking for money to get high” I appreciated his honesty. I went back to the guesthouse I was staying at and organised my ride up to the mythical Mt Baker for the following day.

I took a photo of this sign, I wonder what happened to the fella?

Day 2 – Mt Baker
I have had this idea to ski Mt Baker stuck in my head for ages although I’m not sure where it came from. I had done some research at home and found a friendly local fella that runs a very cheap bus service from Bell to Baker. He normally only picks up at designated stops but offered to pick me up from the hotel.

I got picked up at 6:30am. The bus is an old modified school bus. I think it still had the kids on it as everyone on the bus was under 16. Seems like the local parents dump their kids on the bus for the weekend. Not to worry I scored a seat and settled in for the ride.

We arrived at Baker 1.5hrs later. My first site was of some of the crazy peaks of the cascades. I had new skis so I did a few groomers as a warm up and then headed up to the top to have a look around. The snow was hard packed but had a couple cm of fresh on top. I had a good morning exploring some of the crazy steeps and chutes, the dust on crust was hammering my poor unfit legs though.

I was trying to shoot some gopro down a nice glade and ate it doing a perfect head cartwheel. When I stopped, I checked my helmet and my camera was gone! What followed was half an hour digging to find the b*stard.

I could see some people heading out into the BC so decided to go for a bit of a look. I did a nice run down some dust to the main BC thoroughfare.

I was keen to test out my new marker f12’s so slapped the skins on and started hiking. Although I was alone, there were plenty of people wandering around to have a chat to. Being my first day I took it pretty cautious and followed the main track up valley.

I was looking at some skiers descending when I noticed a furry friend following them. Seems skiing with dogs is pretty popular in this part of the world. I then noticed another group of people snowshoeing with their dogs.

It was at this time that I looked at my watch and realised it was about 4am in oz, was I dreaming? I was half delirious but continued up the valley until I was at the top of a nice run. I got some good turns and skied nearly all the way back to the resort.

Once back at the resort I did a few more groomes, took some photos then met the bus at 4. I was shattered by this stage and slept most of the way back to Bellingham.

Day 3 – Bellingham/Seattle
I decided not to ski on day 3 as the weather had warmed up considerably and it was raining at Mt Baker. I spent the day checking out Bellingham, taking photos of the town and old decrepit port.

The weather wasn’t looking too good so I got a bus down to Seattle hoping to ski Crystal Mountain on Day 4.

Once in Seattle I checked into the coolest, and cleanest, hostel I have been too. Every room has been painted by a different artist, incredible stuff.

I spent the night walking around Seattle taking photos.

When I got back I checked my emails and my bus to the mountains had been cancelled! I was spewing, looked like another down day.

Day 4 – Seattle
I had a few plans for Seattle in case my bus was cancelled. First stop was Seattle Aquarium. It was pretty good but not as good as Vancouver which I had been too a back in 2006.

After the aquarium I spent some time wandering the markets and antique stores.

I made way to the mecca that is REI. I was looking for a shell but couldn’t find one I was keen on. Despite the climbing tower, mountain bike track and three levels I was a little underwhelmed, not sure why.

I noticed another store across the road, Feathered Friends, they had a much better BC range and awesome staff. They let me take as many stickers as I wanted and had an awesome mural on their wall.

Back in the hostel I met some people from Utah who were staying there and we went out for dinner and a few beers at a local jazz club.

Day 5 – Seattle/Vancouver
My time in the US was coming to an end. I had only managed one day skiing and was chomping at the bit to get back in the mountains. I spent another few hours wandering round Seattle then got a bus to Vancouver.

I stayed in Richmond close to the airport for my flight to Calgary on day 6. I am always interested to try local fast food so I gave A&W a crack. It was ok, not the best but not the worst.

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