Tales from the bunny hill and beyond
WHEN a young skier wants to get gnarly on the slopes, there’s only one solution — strap on a snowboard.
You can carve your way down the mountain on the latest hightech skis, but there’s a certain “surfer dude” vibe you only give off on a board.
That was the decision my son, Alex, 14, made when we went out to visit his cousins in Calgary two weeks ago for our (almost) annual trip to the mountains. He had surfed a couple of years ago in Hawaii and used to ride his skateboard to school, so he figured it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.
Those are two advantages I didn’t have when I first learned to snowboard 20 years ago.
First, it was all so new there were no instructors. We’d all go to the top of the hill, wipe out getting off the chairlift and then try and surf our way down the hill, pausing only to laugh at the incredible head-smacking wipeouts we all had.
Nobody gave a second thought to head injuries then. If you didn’t know what you were doing — and we didn’t — it was easy to catch an edge and whack the back of your head one nanosecond later. I’m convinced our group suffered multiple concussions and didn’t even know it. Wait, what? Alex’s instructor was Robin Edwards, a native of Scotland who has been teaching snowboarding for 10 years, the last two years at Sunshine.
He says his youngest students are about seven or eight, most of whom have started off on skis. He is quick to point out skiing and snowboarding are very similar activities with a couple of key differences.
“We’re using gravity in the same way to pull us down the hill and we’re using edging in the same way. What’s played a role, too, she says.
That’s not to ignore the fact the sheer number of snowboarders have enabled many ski hills to pull in record profits over the past two decades.
Gallagher says no matter how long you’ve skied, if you’re a flatlander, there’s nothing wrong with taking a lesson when get back into the thin mountain air.
“You can get bad habits when you do your own thing. When you get tired, you get lazy and then you start using parts of your body that you shouldn’t and you can get injured,” she says.
“Lessons are a great refresher. As you get older, you need to adapt to what your body can do. You’re less flexible and when you fall really badly, it hurts more and you’re out for longer.”
Even though Western Canada has been unusually warm for the better part of two months, you’d never know it once you get on the gondola at Sunshine. The resort has had several major dumps of snow while people are sunning themselves some 90 minutes away in Calgary.
“We’re so lucky to have had snow for so long. It can be way above zero (degrees) and you’re still skiing. It’s amazing,” Gallagher says.
Sunshine will remain open until the Victoria Day long weekend.
There are few sporting situations as miserable as going up windy day in the middle of winter. Undoubtedly, it affected some of the activity off the Teepee Town Village in Banff over the years, but that will soon change. The 36-year-old chairlift — the coldest and slowest on the mountain — was recently torn down and construction has begun on what will be Canada’s first heated chairlift. With seating for four, it will feature heated seats, tinted bubble cover and foot rests. “This kind of chairlift is huge in Europe,” says Lindsay Gallagher, media and marketing co-ordinator at Sunshine. “Skiing is an expensive sport. It’s nice to be able to put in a new lift to say ‘thank you’ to our customers.”