Driving into Whitefish, Montana in December is like driving into a ski town postcard from the Seventies, as long as you substitute cowboy hats for toques and save the melted fromage for cheeseburgers instead of fondue.Nestled in the Northern Montana Rockies just 25 miles from Glacier National Park, Whitefish is a destination that keeps adrenalin junkies sated year-round. But even if you don’t come to Whitefish for an Official Activity, you could happily while away the hours in the town center, brimming with independently owned shops, untouched by McDonalds, Starbucks or Walmart. This particular weekend, the weather is more winter than wonderland, so window-shopping isn’t the most comfortable option……unless you have a natural fur coat, like this guy loitering on Central Avenue in front of Montana Coffee Traders. He’s onto something, though, because a mocha stop here will help you power through any weather. And the warmth of Whitefish residents melts away any remaining frosty residue.The view is a constant reminder of why we drove six hours from Calgary to be here (the winter roads added an hour to the travel time, but the border was a breeze). Look at those untouched runs on Big Mountain. Tomorrow is the opening day of the season at Whitefish Mountain Resort.Even from the less scenic side, the Lodge at Whitefish Lake looks good. And so does the hotel’s white Suburban, which comes in handy for chauffeur-driven 3-minute jaunts to town and 10-minute drives to the hill.Inside, the lobby of the Lodge is like Christmas morning — if your Christmas morning includes a 99 room waterfront mansion. Still, it feels homey… probably because the Lodge is owned and operated by a fourth generation Montana family, the Averills.Sculptures and paintings don’t detract from the cozy feel, even though there’s enough to fill a small museum. All are discreetly for sale.The Averills take their art so seriously that even the main floor ATM blends into the aesthetic. As someone who is obsessed with aesthetic, I fully support this attention to detail. Next up: details on Whitefish at night!
My blog posts this summer have been the Most Sporadic Ever. I can only offer excuses, excuses, excuses. So I’ll skip them and move on to my most recent nature break in Windermere, BC. Being from British Columbia myself, you’d think I would have heard of this place, but it took moving to Calgary to put it on my radar.The lake retreat on the western side of the Rockies is only a quick 3-hour zip from Calgary, which takes you through Banff and its famous animal overpasses. I took this photo while driving — please ignore the bugs on my windshield. Or don’t. Those are Rocky-sized bugs.Back to the beauty. Turns out the lake isn’t really a lake, it’s actually a wide part of the Columbia River. It’s also part of the Columbia River Wetlands, one of the longest undisturbed wetland ecosystems found in North America, stretching over 180 km. Sorry, my American friends (I say in that passive-aggressive Canadian way) you’ll have to do the conversion yourself. I’m feeling especially bad at math tonight.
Meanwhile, the rugged, natural beauty shines beyond metrics. I saw a few developers’ signs claiming ownership, but so far the hills are forested and “community” free.There are no schedules in Windermere. Nor any hotels that I could recommend. It’s the type of place where, if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a friend’s cottage, you go. And if a thunderstorm scares the butterflies away for a while, there’s always a good board game to keep you busy.The Hoodoo Hike on the west side of the lake was my favorite. Thanks to the Nature Trust of British Columbia, this conservation property provides a vital migration corridor for all kinds of critters, including grizzlies, badgers and woodpeckers. I didn’t see any of them, but I did spot the most gigantic juniper trees. Until this hike I thought my gin martinis came from bushes, not trees.But even at the foot of the Purcell Mountains, it’s not all nature all the time. In the nearby town of Invermere (no one could tell me why all the towns end in mere here) the stacks at the Book Bar are wonderful to stock up on dock and deck reading.Your BBQ will never go wrong. German settlers in the area still make an impact with the incredible quality of their grillable items.And tucked in behind the tall grasses and trees, it’s the Kicking Horse coffee factory.The fair trade organic roast is so popular with the locals, they don’t waste any time getting in line. Pausing to remove your bike helmet could delay your extra-bold cup of Kick Ass.Hopefully my one-woman movement to bring the bandana back from burglary chic to boho style won’t be successful. I’m going to have to imbue more passion for fashion into my sunblock statement. Shirt, Michael Stars. Shorts, Mossimo Supply Co. Hat, Calgary Polo Club.Miss you already, Windermere!
Think you have to go to South Beach to enjoy a poolside mojito with piped-in DJ sounds of summer? Don’t book that flight to Miami just yet. Here in Calgary, Hotel Arts is the destination for bikini-clad bevvie-sipping hotties looking to cool off.Now that most post-flood cleanup scenes like this are in the past and the crowds from Stampede have corralled elsewhere…… the pool at Hotel Arts is one of the verrry attractive reasons to party in Calgary. One of the first boutique hotels to hit Cowtown, it did an Ace Hotel-worthy conversion of the Holiday Inn in 2005. Look beyond the exposed skin and you’ll notice a camera crew shooting video and still shots.It’s part an Tourism Calgary campaign currently running nationwide: We’re Open! The subtext being that the water is in the pool, not on the streets anymore. Welcome tourists! Of course Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is the star of the campaign. This photo, taken by Chris Bolin (who was enjoying the sunshine after covering the floods for the Globe and Mail) was snapped right after I interviewed the mayor on the hottest, sweatiest day of the year so far… 37 degrees Celsius. Watch the finished video here. Meanwhile, as the sun bakes into our backs, I feel like I can speak for the both of us here: we’d rather be in the pool with the We’re Open guy.
The festivities associated with the world’s largest rodeo aren’t limited to the Stampede grounds. Everywhere you turn in Calgary, someone’s throwing a party. And chances are it will be in a parking lot.Throw down a hay bale and some cowboy tchotchkes and you’re ready for a roundup.The Calgary Home + Design Show isn’t until September 19th, but that’s no reason not to have a Stampede party. The way Show Manager Jill Kivett and Amanda Haines of Reformation PR rock their daisy dukes and boots, it makes you think this is not their first rodeo.Before Stampede I had lofty plans of wearing a different cowboy hat for every blog post, but as the days on the dusty road start to blur together, I’m leaning on the ol’ wild rose lid a lot. At this point, I’m more concerned with pacing myself. Early in the day, with those cowprint balloons above my head, I’m exuding a respectable healthiness. Kinda like that yogurt commercial.The smartest strategy to maintain a semblance of sobriety is to eat a big meal. With Gaucho Brazillian BBQ providing the best grub of the week, it wasn’t hard to do.It’s hard to leave when the western wear is this good, but another parking lot was calling my name. My Stampede name. Which I haven’t thought of yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with a great one next week, once the chucks champs have packed up their wagons. Ran into this purple pardner on the way to Jim Pattison’s party. A brief bicep battle was the only appropriate reaction.Inside, more cowboy accoutrements than I could sling a gun at. Stampede is kind of like Halloween, except everyone is wearing the same costume. Except for that dude in the red plaid shirt who photobombed with aplomb.This cowgirl kindly allowed me to take a picture of her booty.And, in the Wearing a Ten Gallon Hat Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Play Bagpipes category, Calgary’s finest showed up for a little pipe and drums. Highland dancing officers proved there’s more ways to bust a move than the two-step.Bye bye, Amber Big Plume, from Tsuu T’ina Nation, the 2013 Calgary Stampede Indian Princess. Gotta git to the next!This sake glass is where it started to get sloppy. Maybe it was because I took a break from the parking lots to get some sushi at Zen8. But more likely it was because the sushi corralled me toward the VIP suites at the biggest parking lot party of them all. Giddyup!Happy Stampede indeed. During this marathon 10-day event that turns all Calgarians into cattle drivers, rodeo champions or barrel-racing princesses, all chutes seem to lead to the Cowboys Tent. Which led me to Outrider Steve Sirianni, who, being from Vegas, moonlights as Executive Director of Slots at the Monte Carlo Casino. I’m feeling lucky!
Time flies when you’re evacuated! The Calgary Stampede is well underway, in keeping with their “Come Hell or High Water” pledge, and continues til Sunday. It had to happen. It’s like the New Orleans Saints winning the Superbowl after Katrina, although the timing was on hyper fast forward. Even though some of us in the dark, damp and powerless neighborhoods may be wondering if city inspectors have forsaken us for deep-fried butter on the midway, all we can do is trade our rubber boots for cowboy boots — mud be damned!Stampede starts with a good set of boots. Hopefully this cowgirl got back to the farm before the downpour that set off more flash floods. It’s been a rainy start to the rowdy roundup.Okay, okay, I’ll lighten up. Just because bartenders like this make it easy. The pose was his idea, btw. Meanwhile, can you spot the two clues that this photo was taken in Canada? Hint: look at the money, honey. And the sign for bladder relief.The famed Cowboys Tent, on the edge of the Stampede Grounds, was a veritable style corral.Check out the cowgirl cannister clutch.The devil is in the details. Or at Stampede, is it the corporate presence? Because this buckaroo didn’t win his buckle at the rodeo.Bumped into Conservative Cowboy Lindsay Blackett, who has made the leap from culture to construction. Somewhere along the way he must have stopped at a politically correct dude ranch. I predict a public service comeback.Then the music got louder and leather-encased toes started tapping.Tulle and tall boots are a license to twirl.Ten gallon hats as far as the eye could see. Totally depending on how far your eyes could focus.Boot scootin’ through crushed Corona cans.It’s official. It’s a party! Lace shirt, Guess. Little black dress, Bebe. Belt, strategic cowboy-meets-Indian combo. Happy Stampede!
Wondering where the ferris wheel is? Recognize this view without the crowd? In honor of Coachella’s final weekend, I thought I’d post my own moment here. It was last year, after spending an afternoon watching high-goal matches at Empire Polo Club, the week before the desert music festival was scheduled to begin. Following the final game and the final glass of champagne in the field-side cabana, it was time to cross the grass to the players’ party on the other side. Just before sunset, the view was so pretty, I had to stop for a minute to take it in: a shape-shifting oasis for both polo and music fans alike.
The scenery here in the Canadian Rockies is so beautiful – but apres ski I really, really just want to see a beer. Or two. Today I delayed the hops gratification by taking the apres off the mountain, into downtown Banff. Conveniently located on the main drag, Banff Avenue, this brewpub makes their beer on site, with local glacial water and all the minerals that come with it. I’m sure there are vitamins in there too.Brew with a view. Banff Ave Blonde Ale brings me back to my roots. If only touching them up was as easy as drinking this mild kosch style ale, the first beer ever to be handcrafted in Banff. Mmmm. Hasta luego, Banff! I’ll be back.
Of the three ski resorts in Banff, Sunshine is my favorite. Although since I’ve only been to Lake Louise twice and I’ve never skied Norquay, I have to admit I’m not really qualified to make this statement. But isn’t that the beauty of having a blog? The gondola takes you from the parking lot to the base of three hills. But at the end of the day, there’s more than enough snow to ride Banff Ave trail back to your car. In fact, today’s a huge powder day.Even though the clouds are obscuring the mega magnificent view usually to be had up here, Cookie’s got me covered. In Alberta, the sun always comes out at some point.Mix it up at the top of Mount Standish Express high speed quad. Do a few turns in British Columbia.Here comes the sun – I see some semblance of a shadow. And a white gourd — no, wait, that’s my Helli Hansen ski jacket. I am not down with this non-svelte silhouette. I gotta get a new jacket. But I’ve been saying that for years. Just avert your eyes and look at the B-Pro instead. Mmm… Gnu… Or that view of the Rockies! Meanwhile, you might notice there’s not much of a downward grade on this particular stretch of snow. At Sunshine, it’s good to bring a skier along so you can catch a ride by hanging onto one of their poles when you hit a flat spot. There’s a few of them here.Here’s another view to look out for at Mad Trapper’s Saloon. Just don’t let it startle you as you tilt your head up to take a swig of that midday beer. Built in 1928 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, you have to stop by this log cabin for lunch. Trappers makes a mean burger and it’s old-school ski vibe all the way. On the final day of the season (May 20 this year), the balcony is the best place to watch the Slush Cup. I didn’t fall! I was taking a break… … to take this photo. I can’t get enough of these Skittle-colored gondies. Luckily there’s still a month and a half left in the season. Next up: apres ski.
The mountains bring out the carnivore in me. It starts with the clothes. Suede boots, made in Italy. I paid a lot of money for them at an intriguing little boutique in San Francisco, but I can’t even brag about them because they have no designer name… anywhere. Who does that? However, I remember the shop’s name. Paolo Shoes in Hayes Valley. Check it out next time you’re there. Suede handbag, Gucci. Dress, Max Studio. Coat, Armani Exchange. Shearling hat, A Vintage Affair in Calgary. Because a hat like this makes sense when you’re surrounded by snow. You can’t hear my grumbling tummy, but I’m smiling through the hunger pangs. Luckily downtown Banff has a number of incredible restaurants less than a five minute drive from the Juniper Hotel.So many places in Banff are all about using natural recovered local materials, like the Maple Leaf Grille. I dig this wall.More than that, I dig their Game Platter. With a selection of bison, elk, beef and duck sausage and charcuterie, it’s a carnivore’s cult list. There might have been some bunny in there too. With local cheeses and tomatoes thrown in, I was pretty much in edible heaven while eating this. Which is good, because tomorrow I’ll need the calories. Come back manana for a little boarding, Banff style.
Perched above Highway 1, the Juniper Hotel has one of the most incredible views in Banff.Tucked into the side of the hill at the base of Mount Norquay, it’s not an automatic association when the ski vacation thought bubble starts forming above my head. But it should be.The vista from Room 210. The second floor here is the top floor. Mount Rundle is mesmerizing in late afternoon, its color palette changing from moment to moment. However, if you manage to tear yourself away, there are lessons to be learned and libations to be had downstairs. The hotel has an extensive art collection, inspired by Banff history. Here, in the Heritage Hallway, is a first nations saddle circa 1880, made from leather, fur and rawhide. Even if you’re not the museum type, you still have an incentive to visit, because the hallway leads to the bar.Called the Timberline Hotel when it was built in 1955, the sleek low-rise structure is different from the typical gingerbread house chalet you find in ski towns. Modernist design mingles with materials native to the Bow Valley, like Rundle stone and recycled fir timbers. If you’re going to indulge in a guilty pleasure like drinking, it’s nice to offset it with the eco-design of the Juniper Bistro Lounge.Normally I’m a wine drinker. Maybe it’s the name of the hotel, maybe it’s the Mad-Men-meets-apres-ski vibe, but there’s something about this lounge that inspires a martini. Perfectly chilled with my favorite and hard-to-find Victoria Gin, it hit the spot. Then so did another.During the second martini I stopped caring about my hat-head and allowed the paparazzi a moment full access, even though momentarily I did not have access to a brush. Luckily they lost interest before I hit the hot tub. No photographic evidence. But one of the best jacuzzi views of all time. Umm… not of me. The mountains!