… so I thought I'd share what we've been doing in the Canadian snow! As you might imagine, Canada takes the whole snow thing rather in its stride, even though Vancouver itself doesn't often get more than a dusting. And after last winter's warmth and lack of snow (remembering the stories of snow being trucked or helicoptered to Olympic venues), we weren't sure we'd see any in the city at all. However, during our trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, November's interminable rain turned to snow and we heard tales of slush, bus crashes, transport chaos and all the bad news that Britain offers when similarly afflicted. That said, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter were evidence of the fact that Canadians were getting out and enjoying the snow.
As we waited for the local bus which marked the final leg of our journey back to Vancouver from Las Vegas, a few flakes fluttered down, illuminated by the street light. The next morning, it soon became apparent why our borrowed apartment had got so cold overnight: Vancouver was hiding under 3 or 4 inches of snow!
This is me locking up on our way out to move house by bus in the snow. This is a garage; the flat is above the car parking space! Suffice to say we're in a *nice* area!
I'm 31 and yet still, if given the opportunity, I'll go and prance in a bit of untouched snow
Now, despite all the gloom of the news bulletins, Canadian mostly just put their winter tyres on their cars (or chains if they're in the middle of nowhere or drive a massive truck), shovel the pavement outside their house (legal requirement, apparently) and swap their rubber boots (never call them wellies, you get funny looks) for winter boots.
Off with the rubber boots, worn in November's rain…
… and on with the winter boots, for a bit more warmth and traction.
All this early snow meant I was keen to get out on snowshoes again. Earlier this year we ended up at Mount Seymour on the trails they groom within the resort, but this year, insider knowledge (a.k.a. Rebecca Hardie, outdoor adventurer of the year) took us up and into the provincial park adjoining the resort, to climb Dog Mountain. It was a popular destination for an early winter outing and we had a great time trekking the 2.5km trail (with a few diversions into the deep powder) and back again. Despite the trail being well prepared, it's surprisingly tiring and I was grateful for the tea and cake we refreshed ourselves with as darkness fell.
On the way up the trail, diverting through an amazing forest of bent and bowed frozen trees…
And looking very pleased with myself on the top of Dog Mountain. I think I'm happy that I'm about to eat my sandwich, I was starving.
Given the amount of snow that the mountains around Vancouver have received, we decided to get out and get a bit of skiing/boarding while we had a few days off with no plans in town. During the Olympics last year, Cypress Mountain was a virtual no-go zone so we took the opportunity to get into the hills above West Vancouver and try a few runs. An early start saw us on the resort bus at 7.45am; no public transport goes to Cypress, so you're over a barrel to the tune of $23 each. We arrived into the resort after 9am and having hired some skis (for me) and bought our passes, we hit the slopes just before 10am. Not something that we feel Nottingham is ever likely to offer its residents…
The cloud was low over the hills so sadly we missed out on the famed views down towards the city, though we did catch a glimpse of the Howe Sound and Bowen Island during a break in the fog. Conditions were icy with much of the resort yet to fully open or be groomed, and the lights were on all day to try and compensate for the incredibly flat light, which made lumps and bumps invisible. Possibly the least enjoyable moment of the day was during an attempt to find a piste (later found to be closed) with minimal visibility and non-existent signposting; Dave headed off, coping with moguls the size of termite mounds on a rapidly steepening slope while I did the cowardly thing and clambered sideways on my skis until I found a more bearable piste. I didn't do a great job of communicating this to Dave and he graciously awaited my arrival at his stopping point for a good 15 minutes, until he realised I wasn't coming. Without our usual walkie talkies, we had to resort to mobile phones to establish that neither of us were dead or seriously injured. At least there was a happy ending on this occasion but it did provide the lowlight of the day.
Dave contemplates the long ride back to town while his wife photographs him with one knee in the snow
Cypress was also the venue for another venture into winter sports; cross country skiing. I'd often sat on a ski lift in European resorts, admiring the beautifully carved parallel lines of the cross country ski route, and had wanted to have a go during our first winter here. All I knew about it was that you had to be old (preferably over 60) and wear a silly hat (you know the ones, the seam goes front to back creating three little weird peaks. I'm fairly sure my dad knows what I'm talking about, I remember him wearing one). Dave's entire knowledge of the sport came from working on the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which meant he assumed it was the hardest sport ever, since all competitors seemingly vomited as soon as they crossed the finish line. Accordingly, he refused to have anything to do with my plans and it was left to outdoors buddy Rebecca to accompany me back up the hill and out on some ludicrously skinny skis.
Sometimes it is refreshing to have to learn something completely from scratch. Sometimes, however, it is a complete pain to have to learn how to attach the boots (flimsy and fabric) to the binding on the ski, particularly since it's cold now you've taken your gloves off to have a fiddle at it. I was amazed at how difficult I found it to get any sort of flow or rhythm as I laboured up the slopes, easily overtaken by the children (turns out you don't have to be old, though they did wear silly hats). The experience itself alternated between hard work (ungainly clambering uphill, wondering if I can stay in the lovely parallel tracks or if I have to herringbone it) and utterly terrifying – gliding downhill, unable to lift my skis out of the tracks to control my speed, rapidly gathering speed and simply hoping I don't wipe out or encounter an obstacle. This terror reached its apogee on our last run in, down an untracked and fairly wide (though fairly steep, for a beginner) piste which was busy with traffic. In my attempt to retain my patchy snowplough, and avoid the numerous other beginners, I lost control, skidded down the slope and threw myself to the ground. I managed not to take out the unimpressed woman who I reached, although my skis did end up over hers – thankfully, one of us knew what they were doing and remained upright. All the way back down the winding road to town I chuckled as I remembered what a wally I must have looked like. I also shifted uncomfortably in my seat as I realised where exactly I was going to be bruised.
My partner in crime, ninja snowshoer Rebecca and I simultaneously remain upright on cross country skis!
Our most recent snowy outing was yesterday up to Whistler. We've been watching weather reports like hawks as we've planned to head towards British Columbia's interior to check out the 'Powder Highway' area; however, Whistler is only two hours down the road and has had twice as much snow so with yet another early morning under our belts (don't worry, we're not making a habit of it) we set off down the stunning Sea to Sky highway. The Stawamus Chief in Squamish was sprinkled with snow and icicles lined the roadside. In Whistler village, the temperature was around freezing and the snow of the previous few days had compacted pretty nicely, providing us with glorious conditions under a blue sky. Best of all (for me), a second hand pair of skis identical to the ones I loved last winter were procured for a bargain price! I spent the day with an enormous grin on my face, feeling the closest I've ever felt to flying. Even as the sky darkened with the clouds of impending snow, and the icy patches on the slopes surfaced, I couldn't stop smiling, and the empty pistes meant I could fly down to lifts without queues and get in as many runs as possible. It was a day that felt like a real stolen pleasure. If only the snow in Britain could provide the same happiness to its residents.