As a kid, I loved winter. Now I think winter in the city sucks. And I’m not going to apologize for saying that. I need Vitamin D. And a lot of it to stay sane and happy through the winter months. On top of that, long distance running can be a cold and treacherous affair, while dressing for work is a pain in the ass – half dressed for the office; half dressed like a winter slob.
Recently, my son and I had the chance to escape the city for the mountains of Banff, Alberta, to visit my wife, who is working out west for a few months. I signed the lad up for 4 days at Tiny Tigers, an amazing daycare and ski-camp (he had never skied before), while I opted for a 3 over 5 day ski pass with rental (see details below).
The pass allowed me to ski any of the three big sites around Banff, but because my son’s camp was up in Sunshine Village, a 20 minute gondola ride from the mountain’s base, I opted to ski there exclusively. FYI: Sunshine is about 20 minutes by bus (free shuttle) from Banff, while Lake Louise is about 40 minutes north of Banff by bus.
Now, I’ll be honest. I hadn’t skied in 25+ years, so I was worried about breaking bones or totally destroying my back. But I’m also not a total idiot, so I promised myself to stick to the easy runs (green only) the first day, and if I was feeling good, I would allow myself tackle bigger challenges the next day.
Right off the bat, skiing was a total rush: the speed, the flow, the superb alpine vistas. Every time I told myself it was time to go inside to warm up, I’d chide myself: Come on, man! One more run. It feels so good! Who cares if it’s minus 15 plus windchill, and you have to wear 6 layers of clothes to stay un-frostbitten (literally). Every day, I was covering something like 6000 vertical metres of slopes and 40 kilometres of downhills. Thankfully, all those years spent trail running and going to the gym paid off on the slopes, with very little leg burn (mind you, if I’d spent more time on steeper technical terrain that would have been a totally different story).
The nice thing about a holiday like this is I not only had quality time with my wife and son, but I also got to have 6 hours a day to myself, while my son, who is almost 7, got six hours of social time with other kids, plus the thrill of skiing for four hours a day. It also gave us a chance to have our own experiences that we then got to share with each other at the end of the day.
And, if I’m honest with myself, I need downtime from being a parent while on holiday, otherwise it doesn’t feel so much like a vacation (that’s why I try to travel once or twice a year alone). My son travels well, but there are times he’ll whine about wanting to watch TV, while, say, the snow-covered Rockies stand before us. Or he sobs about wanting THIS and not THAT. It can be downright exhausting.
Still, I know he probably won’t remember those outbursts or the things he wanted but didn’t get. He’ll remember the experience of spending quality time with his mom and dad, skiing surrounded by the beauty of the Canadian Rockies, the sublime gondola ride and hike to the weather station above Banff (Sulphur Mountain), and probably even the small avalanche we witnessed while trekking across (the very) frozen Lake Louise. Those experiences build confidence, resilience, and hopefully a love and respect for the outdoors.
Oh, and the experience has also renewed my childhood love of winter and skiing (well, winter beyond the city limits, anyway).
Tiny Tigers ski camp for kids: https://www.skibanff.com/ski-ride/lessons-rentals/snow-school/kid-lessons
Ski passes: www.skibanff.com/ski-ride/passes/day-passes & https://www.skibig3.com/
Banff Gondola: https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/banff-gondola/
The Banff Airporter has a shuttle service to and from Calgary and Banff (www.banffairporter.com)
During ski season, Brewster buses run regular (and free) shuttles between Banff and the ski slopes of Sunshine and Lake Louise.
If you’re planning to go, the winter mountain air in Banff (alt: 1383m) is DRY, so be prepared for a clogged up nose and dry mouth at night. It significantly messed up my sleep, and my son was making some pretty weird nocturnal breathing sounds, too. But that’s a small price to pay for mountain bliss.