As unbelievable as it may seem with summer-strength sunshine blazing in Calgary, there’s plenty of snow in Lake Louise. The mountains are still open for top-to-bottom runs. Deer Lodge, just a five-minute drive from the ski hill, is the perfect location for a last hurrah spring skiing weekend getaway.Staying at Deer Lodge is like traveling back in time, to the era when this fabulous woman went boating on Lake Louise (just a few minutes up the road from the hotel). You’ll find photos like these all over the rustic hotel, which opened in 1925, after welcoming guests for two years as a teahouse.If you stay here, know going in that the operating word here is rustic, and that the main aspect of the lodge’s charm. This is not a five-star hotel. There’s no room service, and no elevators. After climbing three flights to the top floor of the Tower, we found the Crosby Room, full of delightful nooks, nary a television in sight. It’s named for Gertrude Crosby, the original founder of the lodge who opened it to bust the exclusive the Chateau had on the area.The bed, with its super-thick down duvet, was tucked into its own alcove…… with this glorious view of the Victoria Glacier. Which definitely made up for the Scald Warning sign in the bathroom. With the charm of original hand hewn logs comes original plumbing. Although, fyi, I didn’t find it dangerous. I kept the temperature warm instead of hot, and experienced a few cold shots instead of scalding.The charm carries through to the bar, the restaurant, the games room and the library, where ivories are available for guests to tickle. I found one television, downstairs with the pool and foosball tables….. but who wants to watch TV in the Canadian Rockies, when there are a stack of books and games for fireside entertainment?Up next, did I pay attention to this sign on Lake Louise? How did I possibly entertain myself without easy access to television? How was the snowboarding this late in the year? And what about apres ski at Deer Lodge? Hint on that last one: so good that I will probably break my food porn rule. Again.
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.
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?
On a freezing cold evening last Thursday in Calgary, where we’ve been subject to an unusually lengthy slog of sub-zero temperatures sans chinooks, the Christine Klassen Gallery celebrated its new location on 50th Avenue SE, just east of Macleod Trail. No one seemed to mind that the gallery has moved from its downtown design district location. The free parking is a siren song. Nor was the lack of coat-check an issue. It was too cold inside to take them off anyhow. But the generously stocked bar kept us all warm enough to relegate our mittens to our pockets.The opening coincided with EXPOSURE 2014. The photography festival celebrates its first 10 years with Decade, an exhibition of photography curated by Vincent Varga. Decade is a showcase of mostly new works from a cross-section of accomplished photographers who have already been involved with Exposure.Keeping the focus on the important stuff here, the ART, I’d like to say that I’m not smiling because of the wine. Nor is it because I’m having a particularly good hair day (a rare occurrence). It’s actually because I found a photo that summed up my previous weekend.This 1955 photo by Fred Herzog encapsulates my carnivorous stay in Banff, where I binged on bison, elk and wild boar pate. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Meatateria is there anymore. Or it would have been high-priority on the itinerary.I loved this striking photo with Edvard Munch-ish clouds roiling above the Rockies.A bold use of blank space in Danny Singer’s photo, Bassano Summer Sky, gave it a painting-like appearance.The bonus of being at the Christine Klassen Gallery was being able to see her other exhibitions, like this photo by Colin Smith, who integrates trippy reflections into his prints. Meanwhile, Exposure continues for the rest of the month, in galleries in Banff, Canmore and Calgary.
The next day it was time to say goodbye to Buffalo Mountain Lodge, part of Canadian Rockies Mountain Resorts’ collection of rustic lodges and contemporary restaurants. Tucked away on Tunnel Mountain, even with free wifi and parking, the lodge seemed miles away from civilizaton. Yet it’s just a five-minute drive to the hustle and bustle of Banff Avenue.Although your commute may be extended if you slow down for wild animal photo ops, which are almost guaranteed when you go to Banff.In the charming mountain town of Banff, on the corner of Bear and Caribou (most of the streets in town are named for animals) you’re positioned to begin Romantic Activity #6: Gallery Tour.At Canada House Gallery, they have an enormous selection of works by Canadian artists. After 40 years the gallery is still a powerful presence in the Canadian art scene. Many buyers drive in from Edmonton or Calgary to Banff, not for the ski hills, but the art.Even though I’m a sucker for any art featuring a horse, look carefully at the paintings in the background. They’re a sneak peek from the Animal Farm reception at the gallery this Saturday, Feb.8. Painter Grant Leier will be in attendance. Further down Bear Street you’ll find the Willock and Sax Gallery, which carries Western Canadian art, focusing on our fine Alberta artists. And in the other direction is the Whyte Museum. Which I fully intend to visit one day.If you’re running out of time, like we were, keep your eyes peeled for the public art sprinkled throughout Banff. Currently, some displays are more patriotic in nature. Yeah!Even if you’re rushing to hit the highway, you can still carve out time for a coffee from Wild Flour Bakery, since it too is on Bear Street. Not only do their goodies taste delicious (I recommend the mint Nanaimo bar: not too creamy, not too minty, with a thick layer of solid chocolate on top and a bottom layer that doesn’t flake apart. Can you tell I’m a connoisseur? I have to be! I grew up a short ferry ride away from Nanaimo) they are all kinds of gluten-free, vegan and artisan.
On Day 2 of our romantic retreat to Banff, it was beautiful — and almost unbearably cold. Suddenly, admiring the view from Room 1108 at Buffalo Mountain Lodge…… ,with its lofty timber ceiling, seemed more important than going snowboarding. Definitely more romantic. But you can only stare at the ceiling for so long. What’s a winter trip to Banff without a trip to the skihill? Even if it’s -18 Celsius at the base, not counting windchill? Surely there’s something romantic about facing frigid adversity together.At Sunshine Village, this snowboarder sucks back some nicotine to face the day. However, in keeping with the gondola theme of Banff Romance, I’m going to recommend heading into the building on the left. Located ten steps from the gondola, the base lodge has super-hot coffee and a nice selection of muffins and sandwiches. Which works out well, because the gondola ride is the perfect length to enjoy a coffee and a muffin.After the gondola, we opted to get on the Angel Express quad, which sails past the Bra Tree. Note to self: stock up on colorful skivvies before Valentine’s Day.It was a good day to be a panda. That suit had to offer some extra protection against the extreme cold.A sign helpfully reminds skiers that there are other, warmer places in the world. But it was time for Romantic Activity #4: Snowboarding. So I took a few runs in the name of love. Care to join us, Bono?With the lack of fresh snow recently, I was surprised to find the groomers weren’t icy at all. Even still, the ridiculously cold temperatures drove us inside after just a few runs. In the Day Lodge, I tried to re-hydrate, but the cashier wanted me to pay 25 cents for the paper cup. I didn’t have a quarter. I didn’t see any water fountains. The cashier took a hard line on my lack of coinage and refused to give me the tap water. Is that even legal?
Skiers paying $85 to ski Sunshine Village should have a free water option. Put out some jugs and plastic glasses, Sunshine.
A few days after this was posted, Sunshine’s Director of Sales & Marketing emailed me to say: “We have since followed up with our staff to remind this is NOT our policy.”
With a bad taste left in my mouth from the Day Lodge (literally!) we chose Mad Trappers for lunch (pictured above). Located in a classic old log-cabin near four lifts, it’s a wonderful place to get a beer and contemplate your next run. Even while you’re still wearing your jacket and toque. Because on a day like this one, there’s just no point taking it off.A few wisps of clouds marred my perfect view of the Rockies. Better stop taking photos and start riding. Because no matter what the temperature may be, any day spent on a snowboard is a good day!Back at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, even the roaring fire in the lobby lounge, with alcohol in close proximity, couldn’t keep me from…… Romantic Activity #5: Winter Hot Tubbing. The nice thing about this one is Buffalo Mountain Lodge has the hooks for your towels and robes inside a little room just steps from the tub. Very important when the temperature is still plunging.After a day facing the elements, the last thing we wanted to do was fight them to find dinner. Luckily the Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant at the lodge, allowing us to dine under beams untainted by nails. (Really! It’s an old-fashioned construction thing.) To start, we nibbled on the Charcuterie Board, a Banff bonanza of Elk Salami, Smoked Buffalo, Smoked Peppered Duck Breast and Wild Boar Pâté (to die for), among other things. For my entree, I had the rack of lamb, cooked just the way I like it, medium rare. Nice, but not mind-blowing. Next time I think I’ll try the Northern Caribou. The seared medallions of meat are a house specialty.
The good new is… Look at my nose! This camera doesn’t pick up the details that are still bugging me, but the skin graft scar is starting to settle down. Also, I’m getting a little better at the coverup action. A lot of the time I go with concealer only — no foundation or powder, which can accentuate the lumps and lines instead of hiding them. Today I’m using Lancome’s Maquicomplet in the Camee shade, which is darker than my actual skin tone, but seems to do well against the scar, which is still a little red. The creamy liquid is enriched with a hydrating botanical complex, antioxidant protection and light-diverting agents, which seems to be a magical combo for me. Also, it never gets flaky. Which is good because I have enough stuff going on with my beak right now.
Meanwhile, the bad news is… Crutches! I thought twice about revealing this, concerned that regular readers may start to think I have major bad medical mojo. That would be one way of looking at it, especially since someone mentioned that my warranty must be up. But I prefer to think that I am renewing it. In this case, a toe alignment issue (aka brutal mutant bunion) meant there was no way around it: the operation had to be done. But with this color blocking going on, this post had to be done. I’m loving this royal blue shirt, especially now that I’ve realized I don’t have to wait for a flat abs day to wear it, if I layer something flowy underneath. The brand is confusingly called Ttee, so good luck googling that one. I picked it up at Anthropologie, which always has unique casual wear. Grey shirt, Armani Exchange. Skinny pants, Mossimo for Target — USA Target since they still haven’t opened in Calgary yet. Shoes, Adidas. I tried to channel Marilyn from the time she sprained her ankle while filming in Banff, but she makes the crutches look sexier than I ever could. However — you know what she didn’t have? An Aircast!! But let’s face it, even with the suspiciously Nike-like air technology, there is no style going on here at all. For $160, you’d think I could at least get a choice in colors. That’s right, my American friends! Canadian healthcare has a lot of good points, but every once in a while, the government decides you’re on your own when it comes to paying for parts of it. And the medical supply store knows you don’t have time to go online and buy the cast for $84.99. However, I digress from the real issue here: if your toes are going to be peeping out from any type of cast, whether it has foam-filled air cells or not, they better be pretty. Luckily I stocked up on a couple of bottles from L’Oreal’s Colour Riche Trend Setter Collection: Crazy For Chic, left, and Members Only, right. My toes are wearing Members Only. Take that, Marilyn! Meanwhile, let’s both ignore the guy on the walk sign behind me, making it look easy.
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!