BARBIE IN THE SNOW
Leonie Mani mixes green, gold and white for an Australia Day with an icy-cold difference
’ VE grown up with salt on my face, sun on my back and sand between my toes. January has always meant holidays exploring ocean rock pools or playing in the gentle blue of Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay.
So why am I changing hemispheres, crossing the Pacific, trading sunlight for Vancouver’s leaden skies?
Maybe I’m bowing to the god of travel, keeping the faith that he enriches and enlightens, but this crusade’s also about rekindling an old friendship, sharing family experiences and forging technicolour memories for our 10-yearold daughter. This year I’ll gladly swap a bikini tan for a goggles tan.
In Victoria, on Vancouver Island, the landmark buildings are carpeted in snow but we bathe in the warmth of our Canadian friend’s embrace. We swap family photos and news, memories and tears, laughter and lies that we haven’t changed a bit. Perhaps it’s true an old friend is worth two new friends.
Adventure finally beckons. The runway at Kelowna is ghostly white and soft snow falls along the easy 45-minute climb to our mountain resort, elevation 1755m. The ascent is so unlike our own Victorian high country; no hairpin bends to negotiate, no deep ravines wrapped tightly in eucalypts.
It’s a huge investment in faith, hope and money to travel this far chasing long runs and good snow, but Big White lives up to our Canadian fantasy, a fairytale village with gingerbread houses iced in white, sunset bonfires and twinkling lights.
Our room at the White Crystal Inn overlooks a main street shared by pedestrians, skiers and boarders.
The skiing experience is best described in negatives: no ice, no lift queues, no shortage of postcard views. Light, dry snow keeps topping up the 118 runs. We feel blessed, tasting the champagne powder the brochures rave about. With an average of -6C it’s colder than skiing in Australia, but who wouldn’t suffer icy toes for 2m of this perfection?
After a few cloudy days, the sky clears and snow sparkles like diamond chips in the sunshine. Surely the Red Sea has parted to let us into paradise? Near the summit, wide open spaces invite us to chart our own course through the so-called snow ghosts, trees completely blanketed in hard-packed snow that’s been sculpted by wind. It’s an eerie, lunar landscape suspended above the clouds, a blinding flash against the interminable blue yonder.
Our Aussie accent is no novelty here. More than half the staff are young Australians and on January 26 they treat us to an unexpected spectacle of camaraderie and tongue-in-cheek national identity.
It’s Bondi Beach meets Rocky Mountain High. Hundreds gather in the village centre dressed in board shorts and singlets, footy jumpers (AFL outnumbering NRL) and Victoria Bitter towels, some with Aussie flags for cloaks or inflatable kangaroos tethered to their boards.
The village swims in green and gold mixed with red, white and blue as shouts of ‘‘ Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!’’ gain momentum. We belt out Waltzing Matilda before joining the parade down to the Snow Ghost Express for a chilly ride to the top.
Emboldened by the odd stubby, a brave horde of bare-legged surfies heads off, scraping and bumping, gliding and jumping down the challenging Kangaroo run, then back through the village for a barbecue and tippity-cricket in the Happy Valley car park.
I lap up the spirit and freedom of what I’ve just witnessed. Yes, there is a god of travel after all.
Cool dudes: The Aussie contingent celebrates at Big White