Every year in mid-March, the Rodeo Drive of the desert, El Paseo, holds a week-long salute to spring fashion. Haute fashion thrives in the heat of the Coachella Valley. But this being the greater Palm Springs area, which has always had a flair for entertainment, there’s more than couture going on under the big white tent. Don’t let the ladies with the white hair fool you.Palm Springs knows how to party! Which Dr. Deb Windham, wearing white, specializes in. The physician and artist is a renowned Coachella Valley personality.So is Karen Barone, half of the husband-and-wife artist duo Karen and Tony. The super cool horse sculpture behind her is one of their creations.As someone who spends a lot of time agonizing over my as-yet unpublished novel, I particularly liked that books were also part of the party. Fabulous Books, with its homage to Tinseltown allure, is a wonderful shop on the main drag in Palm Springs. After everyone got their cocktail on, it was time for the catwalk. The runway was rocking all week, but the Saks Fifth Avenue show, featuring top designers from McCartney to McQueen, is one of the highlights. Below are pics of some of my fave outfits for both women and men.I had one of the best seats in the house, right at the end of the runway.… with a pack of paparazzi behind me. Forgive the blurry action shot.Then it was on to the after-party at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert. There’s so much art in the desert, the museum needs an outpost just 12 miles away.Don’t tell the impeccably decked-out Francesco Santoro that I’ve been wearing the same outfit all week. The Beverly Hills handbag designer specializes in exotic skins like crocodile, ostrich and python. I tried to keep my threadbare Gucci out of sight.This party even gave a culture-boost to a break for the loo. I took the long way to the restroom so I could check out Red Sweater. Victor Rodriguez uses acrylic on canvas to show his daughter looking at a photo of Christy Turlington.Woman: can you believe how real she looks? Man: [wisely not saying anything].Joan by John Deandrea is beautiful and spooky at the same time.Ain’t no party like an El Paseo Fashion Week party! See you next year!
There are loads of deserts in this big ol’ world, but in Calgary, when we say we’re going to the desert, we mean Palm Springs. Or Palm Desert, Indio or any place in between. Although with the massive sprinkler systems here, it seems more oasis than desert. Flying in from the black, white and brown tones of a miserably long winter to the hi-def technicolor of the Coachella Valley, I felt like Dorothy when she realized she wasn’t in Kansas anymore.My first stop was the Eldorado Polo Club. During their season, January through the end of March, you can find a game being played just about any day of the week. Anyone can watch for free.On Sundays, see the match in style under the white tent of the Clubhouse, with table service for food and drinks.Or pull up your vehicle to the side of the field to tailgate.After, head to the other end of the club for a margarita at the Cantina. You never know who you’ll bump into. Chances are good it could be a Canadian, as evidenced by the ice hockey on the TV in the background. Or it could be country singer Pete Martinez, whose latest album was produced by Dave Matthews.Outside the Cantina, while the sun sets over Mount San Jacinto and the second highest mountain range in Southern California, there’s usually a desert dog who’s feeling social.Beyond the action of the games and the parties, there’s a quiet calm at the club. Tack rooms here had green roofs way before they became a LEEDS trend.Peep into a stall hidden by plywood and you might just find a foal like this one, five days old.On the track, grooms drift by, managing up to seven ponies at once.Up next, coverage of El Paseo Fashion Week and my attempt at a shopping spree that had nothing to do with fashion.
It’s the middle of April and the ski season is still going strong in the Canadian Rockies. Lake Louise Ski Resort, located in the heart of Banff National Park, is just a two-hour drive from Calgary.The Lodge of the Ten Peaks at the base could be the ultimate ski chalet. Those are hand-skinned logs btw. It is Canada’s second largest log structure. But (sorry!) I can’t tell you where to find the first largest. More on Canadian manners further down in this post.Once you’re on the hill, if you take a rest stop on the first run (like I tend to do) you may notice that you’re at the same altitude as the ski hill’s namesake: Lake Louise, still frozen and looking like it’s tilted. (Although that’s crazy, because lakes don’t tilt. I checked.) Can you see it across the valley? And yes, that would be the Valley of the Ten Peaks. If you’re a vintage currency collector, you may recognize the vista from two former versions of the Canadian twenty dollar bill.
Next, head to the lift that you can see just past my right foot.There’s plenty of room to stretch out on the Top of the World six passenger chair.At the top, aka Top Of The World, you have a double black option. I went for the poser option.Luckily there’s a green run down from every chair lift. And look at those Rockies!A handy sign tells you the distance to Tokyo and Cape Horn, just in case you feel like a long run. If you can tear yourself away from the epic spring ski conditions, check out the Whitehorn Lodge. It’s always been here, mid-mountain on the front side, but it was only just converted to an upscale restaurant this season. Normally the ski racks out front are packed, but we were here on a Monday. Nothing like eating lunch 6700 feet above sea level. Usually I just have beer and wings on a ski day, but the the Rocky Mountain Game Platter for Two at Whitehorn couldn’t be passed up. After a winter of snowboarding 4 different mountains in 3 different provinces/states, and sampling the restaurant fare with all associated mountain resorts, I now feel it is safe to say that I am a game platter expert. The air-dried buffalo, cured chimney sticks, peppered duck breast, artisan cheeses, figs, sun dried cranberries and raincoast crisps on this one qualify it as Awesome.
Just to keep it carnivorous, I followed it with the Bison Burger. At Whitehorn, it comes three ways: with blueberry compote and brie, roasted red pepper and goat cheese or bacon and cheddar. I hadn’t had a burger with blueberry jam before, so I gave it a try. Delicious. The bison is locally sourced. The only other high-end mid-mountain dining option I’ve tried in recent memory was at Jackson Hole. Couloir may use Kobe beef in their burgers instead of bison, but Whitehorn is a lot closer to home. It’s not pictured here, but the inside of the lodge has been nicely decorated with wood accents on the walls and tables with amazing views.With a belly full of food and enough libations to inspire your inner Robert-Redford-from-Downhill-Racer, take a fast one down the front side. The Grizzly Express Gondolas will float you up to the top in minutes.From there, if you head over to the back side, you can pick your poison: green, blue or black diamond.The Larch Chair will take you up another peak. With 4200 skiable acres, Lake Louise is one of the largest ski resorts in North America.Back at the base, there’s nothing like having a beer at the end of the day — right by the lift. I took this after they’d closed up shop. With blazing sun at 5:30 pm, I wasn’t the only one lingering in the 10 degree temps. (That’s Celsius, folks).This being Canada, even the No Smoking signs are super polite.The lifts will keep running at Lake Louise until May 11. Saturdays they’re open til 5pm. Then they shut down … and open for summer season just three days later. Which will probably go for ages, since they have still have a 200 cm base. See you soon, Lake Louise! Hopefully on another day when it’s so sunny and bright I need my goggles on, even after I take my snowboard off.
When you overnight at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, you can make first tracks in the morning. Or, if you wake up late, like me, and barely manage to get out of your room by the 11am checkout time, you’ll discover that you can still get a breakfast croissant at Java Lift. With enjoyable midday temps.Added bonus to sitting outside? The mochas here come with marshmallows.With the lift for Mount Standish just ten steps away, it seemed like a natural choice for the first run of the day. At the summit of Mount Standish, the clear view of the BC Rockies made our mission clear: it was a bluebird day to ride the provincial border.Turns out there’s a lift for that.As you ride up, you cross into British Columbia — the Beautiful, as their license plates say.Two towers later, you’re safely back in Wild Rose Country.These are our Alps: the Canadian Rockies.Without the drive to the hill or the gondola ride to the lifts, a half day felt like a full day. It also felt like it deserved a few beers, which, as you know, are my favorite thing to imbibe at Trappers Saloon. Or outside Trappers Saloon. A relaxing ride down Banff Avenue (a green run, although downloading on the gondola was also an option) would reunite us with our luggage at the base lodge. And with the massive snowstorms lately, the skiing should be just as satisfying right through closing day on May 19.
After a day on the slopes, should you choose to forgo your option to go home and stay at a Sunshine Mountain Lodge fantasy suite (apologies to both The Bachelor and the Lodge) … first you tub, then you dine. The hotel claims they have the largest outdoor hot tub in Banff, but I would go even further and say it’s probably the biggest in the province. With the admirable masonry of the high stone walls to block the wind, bring a brew (in a can, not glass) and sink in.After you towel off and slip into something less waterproof, there are several dining options to choose from. If you’re feeling rowdy, you can walk 20 steps from the hotel to Trappers. You can enjoy casual fare inside the Lodge at the Chimney Corner Lounge and Sports Bar. Or you can upscale your evening to the more formal Eagle’s Nest Dining Room, where the chef will start you off with an amuse bouche. We split the Caesar Salad on the excellent advice of our excellent server (Aussie, of course, like almost all the staff here), because it would have been too much for one person, if you’re intent on several courses. It had just the right amount of dressing (over-saucing is a constant dining concern for me) and an added touch of crisped pancetta.This is my Pained Blogger look as I take a shot of the Dreaded Food Porn. Normally I try to avoid it. There’s nothing I hate more than whipping out my camera during a meal. It’s just so rude! Plus my Venison Osso Bucco (incredibly tender and tasty) and Risotto is getting cold. But at the Eagle’s Nest Dining Room, the food takes center stage. Except for the lovely log beams, the room itself is not the ultimate in ambience. It doesn’t detract from the experience because the service and the food, which are top-notch, are what it’s all about. Except for when you desire a dining photo that doesn’t scream Food Blog 101.For dessert, we decided on a change of scenery, and our waitress kindly accommodated. This is when I realized the Chimney Corner Lounge is called that for a reason. The focal point of this classic ski-lodge lounge is the enormous chimney. Another intimate sitting area with a separate fireplace sprang from the same rocked-in chimney to our right. I was going to check out the other sides to see if there were even more fireplaces, but then I got too comfy, sated with the most incredible piece of chocolate cake. It could be the walnuts that made it so delicious. Or perhaps the vanilla creme on the side. I was also dazzled by the spotlight illuminating the deer so perfectly. Please excuse the lack of full reportage of the chimney situation.
Time to roll on back to our room to get a good night’s sleep for the ski out tomorrow.
After drooling over it all day from the chairlift, we finally got to see the inside of our premier room in the new West Wing (important info to remember if you book, since the main lodge rooms aren’t as new). In case you need it, there’s also a queen Murphy bed efficiently hidden beside the sitting area. The bedding was super-comfortable on the main bed.I’d call the bathroom decor rustic modern… … with products that stressed that the hotel is eco-boutique luxury lodging. Hard to tell with the slightly wack perspective going on here, but the item on the right is lip balm. Nice touch since Banff is possibly even drier than Calgary, which seems to have the driest climate in North America. Even nicer, not pictured, is the HUMIDIFIER THAT COMES WITH THE ROOM. Had to do all caps there because I believe every hotel in Alberta should offer this, but usually they don’t. Buen trabajo, Sunshine Mountain Lodge!The Lodge offers ski lockers but we didn’t quite make it there. Hopefully we won’t get in trouble once these photos go up. Look how careful we were not to scratch anything, SML! Especially those lovely heated floors.View from Room 105.You can also see the main part of the lodge with the restaurants. The hot tub is hidden below the stone wall…… which poses the challenging apres-ski question of the day: hot tub first? Or cheese plate by the fire? The fromage was just too tempting. But one small quibble as I nibble: the super-eco gas fireplace had a timer that automatically turned it off after ten minutes. I agree it should have an auto shut-off at some point, but how about twenty?
Sunshine Mountain Lodge is the only ski-in, ski-out accommodation in Banff National Park. The easy button starts from the moment you pull up to the base lodge, bypassing all the day visitors who’ve parked a mile away.Inside, there’s a comfy sitting area to organize your luggage. Yes, the leopard-print suitcase is mine. Changing rooms and restrooms are just around the corner. Once you check in at the counter, leave all your bags behind. They will be whisked up to your room at the Lodge.You’ll be smiling on the gondola because the only thing you need to worry about now is your snowboard or skis. However, FYI, you won’t be smiling if you attempt to check in to the hotel after the gondola shuts down at 5pm, since it’s the only way to get up to the Lodge. Don’t be late! Unless it’s a Friday, when you have until 10pm.After the 13-minute gondie ride, you’ll arrive at the heart of Sunshine Village. This is where the lifts to the ski runs are, and Mad Trapper’s Saloon, one of my fave mountain lunch stops in the world. The food there isn’t mind-blowing, but damn it tastes good when washed down with a Corona in the middle of a ski-day. If you’re not totally mesmerized by the magic of the unicorn eye on my Gnu base, you’ll see Sunshine Mountain Lodge behind me.Looking back from the Strawberry high-speed quad, you can see the Lodge is truly nestled in the Canadian Rockies, at 7200 feet.The Standish Lift goes right by the new West Wing of the hotel. From the chair you can see right into the two-story loft rooms, so I’d advise holding back on naked streaking up and down the stairs until the lifts close at 4pm.For Kendra Sonia, whose family bought the resort in 1981, Sunshine Village was her playpen growing up. She showed us some of her favorite runs, while kindly going slow enough so I could keep up. The Village is actually three mountains with 12 lifts and more than 3300 acres of skiable terrain. Riding with Kendra made me realize how much of the resort I hadn’t seen before, even though I’ve been here several times.Kendra even gave me some tips, which gave me the confidence to take the chair up Goat’s Eye for the first time. I offer photographic proof of my arrival to an elevation of 9200 feet.Just when my thighs and calves were starting to tremble, it was finally time to begin the apres. Next up, Room 105.
For the third and final post of Girls’ Trip to Seattle, some random stuff I enjoyed around town.Craving a croissant? Head to Le Panier on Pike Place, right across from the public market. It’s worth fighting the crowds for a seat.No one’s really fighting anyhow, since everyone is in their flaky, buttery, caffeinated happy place. Nice manicure, Emily! And that LV bag would put me in a happy place even sans croissant.I’m not gonna go on about the fish tossing, since I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but Pike Place Market is also a wonderful place to pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers and locally grown eats. Walk over a few blocks and you’ll find the significant stripes that surround Banana Republic’s coolest rehab, converting the old Coliseum Theater into a retail mecca that on this occasion had some hot pink cords discounted 75% that I could not resist.Even those who claim to abhor malls, like myself, will be charmed by the University Village Shopping Centre in Seattle. Shops line the streets, while lane-ways in between are pedestrian only. Umbrella stands on every corner offer a caring nod to the reality of the ecosystem here.The ultimate proof I was in Seattle: a Microsoft Store. Located across from the Apple Store. And totally empty. Kidding! I took this photo after closing time. Still… Once you go Mac, you never go back.Besides my general mall malaise, I’m not one for chain eateries, but the Joey Restaurant Group is Canadian. Turns out Joey Kitchen has made a few forays into the Evergreen State. This is their flagship Washington location at Uni Village.With the ultimate Canadian touch inside: washrooms is Canuck for restrooms.And the Great Wheel rolls on. See you on the next spin, Seattle!
Wondering when I was going to make good on that long-lost threat to post Part Two of Seattle Girls’ Trip? Wonder no more! After a ridiculous delay, here it is. To be followed, maybe even tomorrow, by Part Three!Tucked into a corner of the Seattle Four Seasons’ art-filled lobby is ART Restaurant. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel full of ocean view rooms, the restaurant is a destination in its own right, offering a taste of that five-star service along with its tasty food.The first clue that this dining experience would be inextricably linked to the lighting was the sign.Inspired by the ferris wheel lurking outside on the Seattle waterfront, perhaps? This is the ART Lounge, which could be the definition of Mood Lighting.Waiting for your table at the bar near the soft glow of those LED-infused shelves, if you checked your coat, you’ll discover even the minor details are not minus aesthetics.As I perused the locavore menu, the green sheen in the air made sense. Any Pacific Northwest restaurant worth its west coast salt requires a market-to-table philosophy. Besides, Pike Place Market is practically right next door. Nor did I notice the subtle switch to a tangerine hue as the appetizers arrived. I was too busy inhaling the Potato Gnocchi with chanterelles and melted leeks as well as the Crazy Salad, which was not psycho but a delightful fresh mix of local greens. Home-made tortilla chips arrived in the brown paper with the sticker, which I thought was a little casual for a Four Seasons… but that didn’t stop me from wolfing them down. To the left of my wineglass, you can see the Dungeness Crab Cake Bites peeking out of the brown paper in their black pot. Heads up: they are deep-fried, which I did not expect. I prefer my Dungeness to taste like crab, not breading.It was after the appetizers were cleared that I really became obsessed with the radiance of the room. It reminded me of the spectrum lighting of the Muttart Conservatory glass pyramids in Edmonton, of all places. I used to stare down at those I. M. Pei-ish designs during desolate winter nights (that would be November through May) from my condo.Just because I have three wine glasses lined up here, don’t start thinking it was my vision. Because look! The color changed again. Back to the food. Emily, my dining companion, was in Locavore Carnivore mode, so she had the 8-ounce Beef Tenderloin but ducked out of the picture just in time. So annoying to dine with a blogger. I had the Seared Kodiak Halibut: Fennel, Miscela. Both dishes were delish.For dessert we split a Warm Cup O’ Chocolate Cake. Lovely.When the spectrum pivoted to pink…… I know it was a good time to leave, since my pants matched the current luminosity. But……before I got too smug about the tandem incandescence, it changed again.Rolling out to the steamy cityscape, I tried to resist admiring the Big Wheel, but it would become a constant thread throughout my Girls’ Weekend in Seattle. Now, after a night dining within the artful glow of ART, it seems like a perfect pairing.
Now that Valentine’s Day is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to spend some quality time with the girlfriends. I recently met up with one of my besties in the USA, for a girls’ weekend in Seattle. We arrived in the heart of downtown via the ferry from Bainbridge Island. Check out the new ferris wheel spinning on prime waterfront real estate. Taking a cue from the other cities in the ferris wheel club, like Singapore and London, Seattle built this baby in 2012. It costs 13 bucks for a ride on the Great Wheel, the official name, which I googled, because it was not uttered by anyone during our entire Girls’ Weekend. We resisted in the name of priorities: shopping.Instead, we drove off the ferry and a few blocks to our hotel, just down the street from that other iconic Seattle symbol I have never been to, the Space Needle. I don’t know what it is about cities and their towers (even Calgary has one) but it’s interesting to see the changing of the guard in the status symbol department from phallus to unity.If you’re not on a five-star budget but you require a hotel that’s hip enough to be your base camp for a weekend of dining and shopping, Hotel Andra is a good choice. Given a Swedish name to emphasize the Scandinavian decor – that “A” is supposed to have an umlaut over it – the boutique hotel opened in 2004.The rooms may not be the most stylish in the world (after all, Sweden has given us Ikea, not B&B Italia) but they are uncluttered, huge and have everything you may need, from a desk and flatscreen…… to a bar area, to a separate beauty area that doubles as a walk-through to the closet (not shown)…… to a modern bathroom…… with Swedish products, of course.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, the heart of the Seattle shopping district was bustling! On a late Saturday afternoon, I almost thought I was in New York. The buzz was that good. Seattle, I didn’t think you had it in you.Everywhere you turned, something was going on. I found this talented cellist outside Barneys. The Barney’s itself was a little disappointing — much smaller than San Francisco’s, and of course tiny compared to the flagship store in New York. But there was almost every shop you could ever want.We all know Seattle is the original Starbucks city. Which of course made me want a different brand — I’m always so contrary. But I was like a lemming to the sales, shopping up a storm. That Vicky’s Secret bag may be small, but it contains a lot of undies.The cool store window award goes to…… British fashion retailer All Saints.Here’s a rare and exclusive shot of my elusive friend Emily, who is beautiful but hates being photographed. Gotcha journalism, courtesy of yours truly. Sorry Emily. Yes, that’s right, I’m saying it in the most passive-aggressive Canadian way. I don’t mean it. You look wonderful, and besides, I need to include it —proof that this was indeed a girls’ weekend.The bargains were so good we actually ran out of time before we ran out of money. Back to the hotel, now lit up in moody blue. Or Blue Besos blue?No time to relax in the lofty lobby… we’re got to do a quick change to be on time for our dinner reservations. Next up, Art Restaurant & Lounge. Mmmm.