Leonie Mani mixes green, gold and white for an Aus­tralia Day with an icy-cold dif­fer­ence

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Canada & Alaska -

’ 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.


Pic­ture: Leonie Mani

Cool dudes: The Aussie con­tin­gent cel­e­brates at Big White

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