FROZEN AS­SETS

Peter Hardy is im­pressed by New­found­land, North Amer­ica’s most un­usual and pris­tine ski des­ti­na­tion

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

IN­HOS­PITABLE is the ad­jec­tive that springs chill­ingly to mind as I re­luc­tantly aban­don the warm fug of the snow­cat to be­gin my de­scent of the Blo­mi­don Moun­tains in New­found­land.

A salt-laden gale blow­ing in from the At­lantic threat­ens to lift me off my feet be­fore I can kick the wet snow from my boots and click into my bind­ings. Glenn, my guide, is only just vis­i­ble through the swirling pea­souper. Even on the ini­tially gen­tle slope of the bit­terly ex­posed ridge on which I find my­self, the lack of vis­i­bil­ity is so dis­ori­ent­ing, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to tell down from up. My hel­met and gog­gles are swiftly coated in a film of ice. The wind­chill fac­tor tests my ski cloth­ing to the man­u­fac­turer’s lim­its.

But per­se­ver­ance is the only op­tion. Once out of the wind and in the shel­ter of a steep gully, we find a cache of deep and dry pow­der. We can only feel it rather than see it as we ski down into the tree line of gnarled larch and gale-twisted spruce, and on to­wards the ocean shore.

Then, on the fifth run, the clouds lift dra­mat­i­cally and a weak win­try af­ter­noon sun re­veals the Blo­mi­dons in all their primeval glory.

This is one of those rare places where the earth’s crust is so thin that the raw man­tle is ex­posed: table­tops and crazy crusted slopes of a rock called peri­dotite. It sup­ports no veg­e­ta­tion in sum­mer but is the sup­port­ing act for fab­u­lous win­ter snow.

Spir­its soar in the sun­light. We swoop down West Side Char­lie’s and pick our way care­fully down The Sands, a set of per­ilous 40-de­gree slopes on the far side of Brook Gorge. In re­al­ity, in­hos­pitable is a wholly in­ap­pro­pri­ate de­scrip­tion of the most un­usual North Amer­i­can ski des­ti­na­tion. No one could be more wel­com­ing than the New­fies, who are open­ing their doors to a win­ter tourism that is bet­ter de­fined as rugged and de­light­fully un­com­mer­cialised. You cer­tainly don’t need fron­tier spirit. The Blo­mi­dons apart, New­found­land’s west coast is es­sen­tially a fam­ily des­ti­na­tion.

New­found­land, which may have es­caped your ed­u­ca­tion as much as it had mine, is the world’s 16th largest is­land and, to­gether with neigh­bour­ing Labrador, didn’t be­come part of Canada un­til 1949.

It was once renowned for its cod, which was har­vested in prodi­gious quan­ti­ties off the New­found­land Banks by Bri­tish and Bre­ton fish­er­men. It’s fair to say that, un­til now, one of Canada’s least pop­u­lated prov­inces has not been fa­mous for much else, apart from the film­ing of E. An­nie Proulx’s novel The Ship­ping News and a bot­tom­less pit of hill­billy jokes.

New­found­land’s scant celebrity roll­call in­cludes Cluny Macpher­son, who in 1915 in­vented the gas­mask, and Shan­non Tweed, an ac­tor who ap­peared as Play­mate of the Month in a 1981 edi­tion of Play­boy mag­a­zine. How­ever, all that seems about to change, fol­low­ing the ex­traor­di­nar­ily am­bi­tious prop­erty de­vel­op­ment dur­ing the past five years of Hum­ber Val­ley Re­sort at the north­ern end of Deer Lake.

El­e­gant tim­ber-framed homes that would pass for man­sions else­where are tucked away along the shore­line on a private es­tate. It is reached by a bridge across the Hum­ber River, fa­mous for its salmon fish­ing. Each home stands on a large block in the pinewoods, and the num­ber of bed­rooms ranges from three to seven. They come com­plete with Amer­i­canstyle kitchens, hot tubs and saunas.

Rarely have I stayed in such spa­cious, rural ski sur­round­ings and never at such a mod­est price. Hum­ber Val­ley has been de­signed as a year-round re­sort with the em­pha­sis on its par-72 golf course, kayak­ing, fish­ing, hunt­ing and a wide range of sum­mer ac­tiv­i­ties.

Most own­ers put their prop­er­ties into the rental pool, al­low­ing vis­i­tors to stay in un­ex­pected lux­ury dur­ing the less pop­u­lar win­ter months.

The main alpine ski­ing takes place a 10-minute drive away along the Tran­sCana­dian High­way — an­other car in sight is the near­est you get to a traf­fic jam — at Mar­ble Moun­tain. It’s not a Ver­bier or a Val d’Isere, but its four lifts serve a wide variety of runs spread across 70ha of ter­rain. I rec­om­mend user-friendly Mar­ble for begin­ners, low-in­ter­me­di­ates and par­tic­u­larly for fam­i­lies. The friendly tu­ition is of a high stan­dard and it has its own lift for novices. Mar­ble Moun­tain Snow School takes chil­dren from three years and has a su­per­vised play area.

More ac­com­plished skiers and rid­ers will find that dou­ble black di­a­mond runs such as Au­to­bahn and Boomerang, along with high­speed cruis­ing on Corkscrew, will hold their at­ten­tion for at least a cou­ple of days.

But the real at­trac­tion is the cat-ski­ing, which takes place a 30-minute drive away, above the Bay of Is­lands and the town of Cor­ner Brook. You can also cross-coun­try ski near Mar­ble Moun­tain on 48km of groomed trails. But you don’t have to con­fine your hol­i­day to ski­ing. Other ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude snow­shoe­ing, snow-kit­ing and ice-climb­ing.

Snow­mo­biles pro­vide the only means of win­ter trans­port in much of the in­te­rior, which is criss­crossed by 1200km of trails. We spend a mem­o­rable evening driv­ing 20km into the mid­dle of nowhere for hot drinks around a blaz­ing bon­fire. You don’t need a li­cence but, with a top speed of 80km/h, you do need lots of com­mon­sense.

A sight­see­ing he­li­copter ride across the is­land shows how sparsely pop­u­lated the re­gion is. In a one-hour flight we see no sign of life among the frozen wood­lands and soar­ing sea­side cliffs apart from a half-dozen gi­ant moose. This is one of the last out­posts of the un­com­mer­cialised ski hol­i­day.

As Brian Dobbin, owner of Hum­ber Val­ley Re­sort, puts it: ‘‘ I want to go some­where au­then­tic and not have, like in Dis­ney World, 230,000 of my clos­est friends there with me.’’ Daily Tele­graph

Check­list

Ski Sa­fari of­fers pack­ages; a hire car is rec­om­mended for the 20-minute trans­fer from the air­port to the re­sort and for reach­ing the ski area. Mar­ble Moun­tain has a self-ser­vice restau­rant in the base lodge. Hum­ber Val­ley has its own Beach House Restau­rant, with great lob­sters. Less for­mal fare can be found in Sully’s Pub. Straw­berry Hill Re­sort at nearby Lit­tle Rapids pro­vides al­ter­na­tive five-star ac­com­mo­da­tion and fine food. www.hum­ber­val­ley.com www.ski­mar­ble.com www.skisa­fari.com www.straw­ber­ry­hill.net www.catski­ing.net www.cabox.ca www.mynew­found­land.ca

Pow­der power: Mar­ble Moun­tain, a fam­i­lyfriendly re­sort in New­found­land, boasts 70ha of trails and ter­rain

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