At the beginning of this year ski-buzz ran a competition to win a once in a lifetime ski holiday to Alberta, Canada with Crystal Ski.
Over 850 entrants described why Alberta is such a superb destination for a winter sports holiday.
Adrian Farr came out victorious, winning a seven night dream ski holiday to the Canadian Rockies resorts of Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper. Here’s Adrian’s account of his incredible week in Alberta, which truly lived up to the maxim of a “once in a lifetime trip”…
Day One: Travelling to Banff, Canada
“The thought of going on a free luxury holiday was out of this world. However, the thought of going snowboarding in Canada, one of the best countries for snow, was something else entirely.
I’ve wanted to visit Canada for such a long time and now, I finally had the chance. I have heard and read a lot of amazing things about Alberta, things that I could not even imagine, until I saw them for myself.
Our journey to Calgary Airport was pleasant and stress free. Check in at Heathrow was surprisingly fast, giving us plenty of time for lunch and to browse around the duty free for some Jack Daniels. The hostesses at Air Canada were exceptionally helpful and made our flight very comfortable and relaxing. Luggage collection was the quickest I have ever had on any trip. It helped that our bags were unloaded first!
After collecting our rental car (a Dodge Caravan), we were on our way to Banff. The roads were long, straight and empty. Every car we saw was a massive 4×4 truck of some kind. It was a totally different drive in comparison to the UK and the rest of Europe.
Upon reaching the National Park we had a problem gaining access; however a phone call to one of the Crystal Reps quickly resolved the situation. The rep was very helpful throughout the week with any issues we had.
We arrived at our first hotel; The Fairmont Banff Springs.
It was in fact a Castle and looked spectacular. The size of this place was phenomenal. I felt totally out of place but quickly adapted to the luxury.
After a long day, the Queen-Size beds and divine comfort were very welcoming. I remember it as one of my best sleeps ever.
Day Two: Boarding in Norquay
After a well deserved lie-in, we went to pick up my snowboard from the rental shop. Expecting a bit of a queue like normal, we got to the shop an hour before the shuttle bus was due to leave for the ‘ski hills’, a Canadian term used to describe the pistes; doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!
To our surprise the shop was completely empty. I got my board set up and signed the paperwork and was done in less than 10 minutes. Wonderful!
To get warmed up and to ease ourselves back into boarding, we decided to go to the smaller and closer resort of Norquay for our first day on the mountains.
Up to the top, on the first chair lift we went. The warm sun beaming down on us, the sky as blue as the ocean, our feet strapped in to our bindings, the snow soft and fluffy beneath us, the air clean and fresh in our lungs.We were ready to do our first run; it was time.
Down we went. Adrenaline began pumping through my body. My turns were quick and confident. The cold breeze brushed my face. I had almost forgotten this feeling. It was magnificent.
Canada does not have red runs like Europe but blacks and double diamond blacks, which were a lot harder but definitely more enjoyable.
We did every run on the mountain and also enjoyed a spot of tubing. We also had a go in the snow park.
A great first day, although several embarrassing occurrences from both of us! Being taken out by a chair lift and getting thrown head first into a pile of snow next to a sheer drop was not one of my best moments! Oops.
This was all forgotten back at the hotel. There is nothing like relaxing after a hard day, in an outdoor heated swimming pool with a cold beer, captivated by the breathtaking panoramic mountain views. Perfect!
Day Three: Off-piste in Sunshine
This time, we went to the Sunshine Village resort. Although no sun to be found! A much colder day with lots of wind and fog but also heaps of snow too!
There were plenty more runs and they were much longer. Due to the low visibility we didn’t get to explore the whole mountain but we did plenty of exciting runs through the trees and even managed to get off piste for some glorious powder.
The fog was thick and everywhere was just white. It was difficult to see where the snow finished and the sky started. Judging our turns was much trickier; it was like boarding with our eyes closed. A strange sensation. There were a few tumbles between us!
This was my first attempt at going off piste and even though I couldn’t see more than two feet in front of me, I thoroughly enjoyed the amazing feeling of fresh snow beneath my board.
We had really begun to appreciate Canadian food and had already indulged ourselves with a few steaks and burgers. We opted for an Italian Restaurant for dinner on this day and I can honestly say the food we had was extraordinary. We had creamy chicken fettuccine and lamb & meatball rigatoni. Splendid!
Day Four: Button lifts in Lake Louise
The drive to Lake Louise was icy and unforgiving. We even saw a lorry that had crashed into a barrier and had its trailer hanging over the edge of the mountain.
I was too slow to get my camera out as we passed. Even so, it amazed me as to how well other countries deal with snow so much more effectively than Britain.
At the ski resort, I was faced with my greatest nemesis; the Button Lift! These things are no fun for snowboarders.
Thankfully I managed to complete the whole lift without falling off, yet I still hated every second of it, the thing moved about like a snake for at least 2 miles!
The powder at the top of the mountain was superb once again. At the bottom, we were faced with a steep run and got some serious speed on the way down.
At our new hotel, The Fairmont Château Lake Louise, we soon realised how much we missed the outdoor heated swimming pool.
However, we were blessed with a refreshing steam room which made up for it.
Day Five: Perfect conditions in Lake Louise
The view from our hotel window was astounding.
It was the first time we really got to appreciate the lake and the mountains overlooking it, as the sun had finally managed to re-emerge and we had deep blue skies once again.
The lake was frozen and covered in snow but the scene was like looking at an exquisite painting. We knew we were in for a good day on the slopes.
We explored the back of the mountain this time. It was more popular than the front and with good reason too. The runs were fantastic and eccentric at the same time.
One run in particular, that we found by mistake, went through the trees like a winding narrow corridor, just enough room to swing the board around from heel to toe and back again. It was like something from Alice in Wonderland.
It was so peaceful and an absolute delight to ride.
Back at the hotel we messed about on the frozen lake for a while. My friend Olly fell in several times after attempting to do a handstand for a photograph. I made him think I had not yet got the shot, so he had to keep trying. So funny. I am so evil!
We ended the day with several beers at the local pub.
Day Six: Head to Jasper National Park
An early start for the journey to Jasper. This was certainly the best 3 hour drive I have ever had in my life. The mountainous landscape was such a spectacle. We had mind-blowing 360-degree panoramic mountain views for the whole journey and the roads were completely empty.
The snow glistened with warm light as the sun rose from behind the peaks.
My new snowboard was of a higher standard than the last and felt great once I got used to it. After a few runs we managed to get ourselves lost on the mountain at Marmot Basin, the ski area for the town of Jasper. We went off piste and ended up in the back of beyond. Nothing to be seen but trees everywhere.
We wasted a bit of time trying to find our way back through the deep snow. It was like hiking through quick sand. Every step sinking me deeper than the last. It was a real test of fitness but also an adventure!
After finding some bear and wolf tracks, I had a bit more motivation and a few cautious glances over my shoulder, to check neither had crept up on me!
This hotel, The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, was much more different and had more of a ‘wild west’ feel to it. It was still as extraordinary as the others yet the views were even more special.
We spent the evening socialising with locals in a bar that brewed its own beer.
They were fascinated that we didn’t drive big cars in England and we got to learn some Canadian history and traditions.
Day Seven: Easter Sunday; our last day of Snowboarding
Sad faces all round; though we were determined to have the best day yet. The mountain at Marmot Basin was unexpectedly very empty and quiet. It was lush!
We went to a different part of the mountain and found a powder run that we wanted to try. However, there was no lift to get to it, so we had to climb!
It was almost vertical and there was no easy way up. The air was thin and every breath felt like my last. Once we got to the top, we realised how much it was worth the effort.
The views were something else. We celebrated our triumph and got to see a controlled avalanche in the distance. We decided that would be our next port of call.
I stuck my board over the edge and felt like I was launching myself into an abyss. My descent through the silky powder was exhilarating to say the least.
Up the next lift we went, where we started our second climb. Twice as steep as the last and twice as high. It was like a stairway to heaven. Upon reaching the summit, all we could do was sit in awe and admire the marvel before our eyes.
There are simply not enough words to describe the sheer beauty of this place. I could never take enough photos that would portray how impressive the scene was.
Absolutely breathtaking! We took in the sun’s rays for a while and then it was time to go.
The ride down through this magnificent powder was beyond imagination. My legs were completely fuelled by adrenaline.
I am delighted to say that it made an already fantastic holiday, into the best winter holiday I have ever had! It truly was a once in a lifetime trip and I am so grateful for the experience!
Many thanks go to the Crystal Team and the other companies that organised this outstanding and unforgettable holiday.
Written in loving memory of my right hand glove. Lost but not forgotten!”