I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve the experiences I’ve had, but I’m grateful. Now that the sentimentality’s out of the way, let me bring you up to speed on what amazing adventures I’ve had in the last few days.
It would make sense to do things in chronological order, but for the sake of grabbing your attention, let me tell you about what I did Thursday.
For my last morning in Silver Star, British Columbia, I’d planned to do a long ski. I had yet to connect the two nordic areas — Silver Star and Sovereign Lake — and I figured I could wake up early and manage the 2-hour loop.
A few things got in the way. For one, considering this is a working vacation, I had to do some work. By the time I wrapped up and stepped out on my — yep — balcony, I realized skiing any kind of long loop in time to check out would be tough. For the first time in several weeks, Silver Star had a powder day.
It was still snowing by the time I clicked into the only skis I brought, the good ol’ Madshus skate. And so I trekked out in four inches of snow, uphill of course, since I had to try that loop around the ski mountain.
That loop started out on an easy green, which was straight up an ungroomed alpine traverse trail. Thirty minutes later, I found myself at the T-bar, which runs to the summit. I thought about it, but decided to skate on — stopping every few strides and every single hill to catch my breath at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level.
At 9 a.m., few downhillers were out enjoying the powder, and as my tracks proved, I was the only one doing nordic. I knew the further out I ventured, the less chance of grooming there would be, yet for some reason I refused to turn around. I had glanced at the trail map before heading out and decided I wanted to see the summit.
A day earlier, the chairlift brought me there on a pair of rented alpine skis. But now, I wanted to conquer this mountain on my own two feet. I didn’t realize the amount of strength it would take me to get up there.
With the clock ticking faster and faster, I realized I was covering less ground. My heartrate was out of control, my face beat red, and yet I refused to turn around (if you know anything about me, this is a common thread).
Finally, one cross-country skier came zooming down the trail — an older man, Scandinavian or something. “You’re getting quite a workout,” he said, looking at me like I was some kind of idiot for doing the route this way, in these conditions, on skate skis.
I was an idiot.
Scanning his tracks for an indication of some kind of break for me, I was slightly disappointed when I saw that they never broke from their parallel path. It wasn’t all that surprising, though, considering where I was headed.
About an hour and 15 minutes after I started, I made it to the top of Silver Star Mountain at 6,280 feet. I snapped a quick photo of a tower to prove I was there (and the chairlift) and headed down. No time for nordic, I was going down the alpine side.
A bit tentative to begin with, I tucked in my shirt and hoped for the best. Despite heading down a green trail, it was pretty challenging carving on edgeless skinny skis. My thighs burned from several necessary snowplows, yet I only wiped out once.
A ski instructor looked at me as I narrowly avoided skiing off into the glades. I can only imagine what she was thinking. Within five minutes of reaching the summit, I was back to my home base and skied right up to my hotel. Breathing a sigh of relief for surviving in without eyewear in my thin tights and little nordic hat, I packed the skis away into the rental car.
Now I had done it all — or as least as much as I could fit in.
The day before on Wednesday, I spent the morning and early afternoon alpine skiing, then joined a master’s program at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre.
A 25-year-old in a master’s program? Hey, don’t knock it until you try it, especially when there’s an Olympian giving you pointers.
The head club coach at Sovereign Lake, Darren Derochie, who competed for Canada in the 1992 Winter Games, led the program — which started at 6:30 p.m. under the lights at the nordic center’s stadium. This Wednesday was double-pole night. Perfect, I thought. Let’s work those triceps.
The Sovereign Lake staff graciously lent me some classic gear and I joined the group of about 20 adults of ranging abilities and goals. Derochie and two other Sovereign Lake coaches divided the group by interests — if you wanted to work on stride, go here. New to double pole? Here. And experienced and craving a double-pole workout/tuneup? Come with Darren.
I floated among the groups, taking photos and videos and making mental notes about technique. I needed some work on my DP as well, and Derochie was eager to give it.
“Arms up even higher, Alex!” he shouted as I skied by him. “Don’t push the snow, flick it.”
For a session I had been up-in-the-air about attending, I was happy I joined Derochie and his master’s crew on the 20-degree evening. When I got cold, I double poled more, training the body and refreshing my memory on how to ski. Without a coach since high school, it helped.
How did I hear about this once-in-a-lifetime chance to ski with and get tips from an Olympian? Julie Melanson, Sovereign Lake’s communication director.
A professional mountain bike racer as well, she took me out for a recreational ski at Sovereign Lake on Tuesday. After venturing on the trails at Silver Star on my own on Monday (where it took me 10-minutes to go up one hill), I warned her to go easy on me at Sovereign Lake.
She did, helping me snap photos for FasterSkier along the way. We started on green, progressed to blue and ended with a short black — a perfect variety in about an hour or so of skiing. I tried to shoot some video, but the phone kept freezing up.
Julie said it was colder there than usual.
“We have a minus-10 rule,” she said.
That’s not negative 10-degrees Fahrenheit, but rather Celsius. Locals in Silver Star and Vernon don’t ski when it’s below 14 degrees Fahrenheit, she said. Why would you when the weather almost always around 30 degrees?
As I packed up to leave Silver Star, I felt a little pang of nostalgia, and I hadn’t even left yet. I’d be back, I resolved. There was more to ski, more powder to crush and more incredibly friendly locals to meet.
On the road, I found myself making good time to Kelowna. Despite the snow, the roads were dry the two cities outlying Silver Star — Vernon and the much-larger Kelowna. I was heading south, about five hours to Rossland, yet the drive involved me to go up into the mountains, away from the valley and its lakes and back into tough driving conditions.
It wasn’t horrible, you just had to be alert. It was a good thing I was, too, considering I saw a moose and two deer right off the side of the road in about a half hour. A little spooky to see at dusk, but I pushed on.
After a few hours, one of which I was stuck behind a large pickup going about half the the speed limit, I drove under the gate reading “Bonanza Pass.” Chains weren’t necessary, thank God, not sure what I would have done if they were. The road was decent, but as the incline increased, I wondered what was ahead of me.
As it turned out, another pass. About 30 kilometers — 18.6 miles — from Rossland (where Red Mountain and the second set of NorAm XC races are), I trekked up Strawberry Pass. (Bonanza Pass was also called Blueberry-Paulson, so these two made a pair).
After a slow and careful drive, I pulled into Rossland only to find that I had arrived well beyond the check-in time. I called the number listed, and they gave me the access code to a lock box.
Everything to that point had seemed like a little bit of an effort, yet from that moment on, it was gravy.
In the lock box, I found my registration material — four keys, all of which let me into a heated garage. There, I had a designated spot, and one elevator ride later, I was a few steps away from my home for the weekend.
As I opened the door to the rented condo unit at Red Mountain Resort, I held my breath. I knew it would be nice — I had been told it was a two-bedroom unit (completely unnecessary, but nice!). With one swipe of the key card, I was in, and the place nearly made me cry.
It was unlike anything I had ever seen before — like something straight out of a magazine. Aside from the two bedrooms and two bathrooms, there was granite kitchen, a big screen above a large fireplace and a private hot tub, accessible by either the living room or the master bedroom.
My mind swirled. I was overwhelmed.
The shower doubled as a sauna for crying out loud.
Now lying on the couch with my feet up and a heated-up cookie at my side, I know how lucky I am. I’m just trying to figure out what I did to deserve it.
A few minutes ago, I spilled chocolate on my shirt, and I’m not upset. Go figure.