Category: Slopeside Journeys

Five Fab Finds in Golden, BC: Exploring Kicking Horse country

Cradled between both the Rocky Mountain and Columbia Mountain ranges, Golden is about a 3-hour drive from Calgary airport (or 1.5 hours west of Banff) along the Trans Canada Highway. Golden idyllically sits at the junction of frigid (4ºc) glacier-fed Kicking Horse River— famous for its whitewater rafting—and the Columbia River, that feeds the Columbia wetlands—the largest intact wetlands in North America, and a popular destination for paddle-boarders and nature enthusiasts. If that’s not enough to inspire a visit to this four-season destination, Golden is within a short drive of no fewer than six spectacular National Parks: Banff, Glacier, Jasper, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke and Yoho.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that Golden is just 14 km away from the fourth-highest vertical drop in North America, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, which is famous for its ‘steep and deep’ dry white “Champagne” powder.

Unlike Banff, one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations, Golden is regarded as an authentic mountain town, untouched by commercialism. Don’t expect to find an Old Spaghetti Factory or a Patagonia shop here, but you will find everything you need, including some fantastic family-run dining establishments, galleries featuring BC artists and a friendly ‘Northern Exposure’ –like vibe (dating myself here) where the locals know each other by name and they are eager to greet newcomers.

“People living in Golden are more known for what they do AFTER work, rather than FOR work,” explains Andy Brown, communications coordinator for Golden.

And with so many activities to explore here, it is easy to why the motto ‘GOLDEN RULES,’ rings true for both visiting adventure seekers and the outdoor enthusiasts who settle into the Golden way of life.

1. Walking with wolves at Northern Lights Wolf Centre

Yes, that’s right. About a 20-minute drive outside of Golden, awaits a unique and unforgettable wildlife experience. You can actually book a small group to go for a stroll with these often-misunderstood canids. You meet at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre, and receive a 25-minute interpretative talk about grey wolves and the dynamic role they play as a keystone species in the environment. You learn how to behave around the wolves when you go on the off-leash hike with the qualified handlers. On the hike – the only one of its kind in Canada – you explore mountain trails and streams while the wolves are free to frolic through the woods, and they sure do treat you just like one of their own pack members. They jump up on you and provide the ultimate Instagram moment with a little food coaxing. You must allow them to approach you, as you are on wolf terms at the centre. Kneeling is a sign of aggression, so you must always stand up if they are close. You learn about the social hierarchy of the pack, how they communicate with sounds, scents and body postures, and that they like to eat moose, caribou and mountain sheep. Did you know wolves are born with blue eyes, which then turn yellow after three months?  To book a session with the wolves and for more information visit

2. Big mountain snowmobiling

Looking out my window at the Prestige Inn, I see no fewer than 12 snowmobiles trailored up in the parking lot.  Golden is a major Canadian sledding destination with over 240 kms of groomed trails. Families and those new to the sport can motor through well-established and breathtaking trails while for the more advanced, the possibilities for steep and remote excursions are boundless. The Quartz Creek trail, about 20 minutes west of Golden along Highway 1, is ideal for newbies although there are areas where you need to hug the inside lanes to avoid dropping off the edges. It’s an 80 km round trip with a warming cabin half way. Our guide from Golden Snowmobile Rentals took us past the cabin into deep powder to demonstate the endless possibilities of wide-open terrain. To get kitted out for a family mountain adventure, visit Kim (who grew up in Lorne Park) and Aaron Bernasconi at

3. Going steep and deep at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Owned and operated by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR), Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is only 14 km from Golden. Opening in 2000, Kicking Horse is British Columbia’s second newest resort. Ballast Nedam (the builders of the Confederation Bridge in PEI) developed the four-season destination featuring: North America’s highest altitude dining at Eagle Eye Restaurant, the Golden Eagle Express gondola that ascends 3,700 feet to an 8,000-foot summit, three luxurious hotels, as well as ski-on-ski-off chalet accommodations at its base. The mountain boasts 2,800 skiable acres, 650-700 cm snowfall a season thanks to its northeast aspect, and the fourth highest vertical drop in North America (4,133 ft). Some describe it as an upside down mountain with expansive terrain at the top, with numerous powder runs from the north and south ridges. These are mostly fed by the one gondola. It is considered a more advanced skier’s resort – some say it’s the most challenging in Canada, but intermediates can head to the Alpine Bowl and ski virtually alone in decent powder. Advanced skiers should head to Stairway to Heaven quad  for steep and deep Champagne powder.

4. Character dining destinations

For a small town, Golden serves up a wealth of dining options. Morning fuellers include the whimsical Big Bend Café with its mountain-sized breakfasts 40 types of hot sauce and no fewer than six Eggs Benny options; the Bluebird Café, a popular stop to grab a packed lunch en route to the trails; and the intoxicatingly aromatic Bean Bag Coffee Roasters with its friendly staff and certified organic fairly traded coffee beans. I recommend the Wetcat (espresso and French Roast) to boost your day! After your long day of outdoor activities there are several fantastic dining options. Whitetooth Mountain Bistro delivers casual elegance on gorgeously grained butcher block tables, Eleven22 is in a century home that bubbles over with local art exhibits, and is ideal for both intimate or family dining. Chef Konan Mar impresses with his creative culinary diversity. The Island Restaurant provides a relaxed vibe an serves up world cuisine in a log building with  mountain views. They also have gluten-free options.

Jitas Cafe

5. Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre

Golden is a hot spot for nordic skiing and Dawn Mountain at Kicking Horse has over 33 spectacular kilometres of groomed skate and classic cross country ski trails, suitable for everyone from beginner to expert. Facilities include the Dawn Mountain Chalet, a heated day lodge, rental shop, plus a kitchenette and lounge area. Trails are well groomed, picturesque and if you are alone, they are silent aside from a cracking branch or two. Temperatures are 4 degrees lower than reported in the town of Golden. When it’s raining in Golden it could be snowing at Dawn Mountian!

Terry Lankstead visited Golden, BC on a press trip sponsored by, Tourism Golden and Destination BC.

Ski the French Alps: Spring skiing at Club Med Peisey-Vallandry

lead-photo What is your dream ski destination? If you ask an Ontario skier, more than likely the response is either the Rockies, or the Alps. Of course, the East offers fantastic mountain experiences but the slopes of Europe and the West, conjure up the stuff of alpine dreams.

With this in mind, having the chance to experience spring skiing in the southern French Alps, and my first-ever stay at Club Med, is a steep and deep dream come true.

Although it is recognized as the second largest ski domain in the world, behind the renowned, Three Valleys – also in the French Alps – I had never heard of Paradiski in the Tarentaise Valley. But after spending three days exploring the monstrous terrain of the combined three resorts, Peisey-Vallandry, Les Arcs and La Plagne, this destination can only be described as an epic ski experience.

Getting there 

Our journey begins with an Air Canada flight to Geneva (now Lyon is also an option) from Toronto Pearson via a brief stopover in Montreal. To my excitement my name is called for an upgrade and priority boarding. So, while economy passengers struggle with the overhead bins, I get to be that annoying person sipping champagne, while attempting to figure out all the seat settings in my own personal flight pod. The seats are armed with every feature imaginable, including multi-faceted lumbar support and numerous leg and headrest settings. The best part is being able to lay flat and enjoy quality zzz’s. This is as stress-free as flying can be. Then come the hot towels, followed by a selection of charcuterie and apropos French cheeses. All of this pampering that includes a stop in the Maple Leaf Lounge – for complimentary everything – in Montreal, contributes to the excitement that the French Alps are not far away.

In Geneva, an awaiting shuttle, included in the Club Med ski package, takes us on a two-and a-half-hour journey through picturesque French villages. The most impressive of these towns is Annecy, known as little Venice for its abundance of canals. Dating back to 3000 BC, the town boasts a Medieval castle and welcomes 1.5 million visitors a year. They are drawn to the idyllic mountainous setting of the slender Lac Annecy, which winds its way 14 km past a scattering of quaint alpine villages. Para-gliders are riding the mountain thermals above, and sailboats are harnessing the wind below. It is a spectacular sight, but if you’re the driver, keep your eyes glued to the road, as the sharp bends will rival the F1 course at Monaco. This area is also known for its 13 km scenic cycling path along the west side of the lake.


The Alps

As we edge closer to our destination, the tree-covered mountains resemble sponge dabs of dark and light green, interrupted by white flowering apple trees, and farmsteads that dot the landscape. The Alps rise sharper than the Canadian Rockies and dwellings abound here, unlike in Western Canada’s unfettered wilderness. The Alps span 1,200 km from the Mediterranean to the Danube with 24 peaks upwards of 4,000 metres. The Highest is Mont Blanc at 4,800 m, towering in the Vanoise National Park and dominating the view from most runs at Paradiski. 

Now in the heart of the Tarentaise Valley within the park, we ascend a sharply winding road with no less than 20 hairpin switchbacks, and it is important on this final approach, to keep your eyes on the horizon or you may revisit that ham and brie baguette you had at the airport. This is the stuff of a James Bond car chase, as it seems like our van could topple over the edge at any turn. I marvel at the possibility there could be a huge resort at the end of this journey. But a few minutes later there it is, amongst the larch and spruce, settled in at 1,600 metres (5,250 feet), our final destination, Club Med Peisey-Vallandry.

Upon arrival, we are welcomed by spiritous and colourful G.O.s, short for Gentils Organisateurs (Genteel Organizers) decked out in shiny robin’s-egg blue down jackets – most of them unzipped. It’s a warm spring day in the Alps, bright yellow daffodils and forsythia are in full bloom with (to my dismay) no traces of snow at the actual resort. But I step around the corner and a breathtaking range of snow-capped peaks reaffirms there is more skiing to be had.




A typical ski day at Club Med begins leisurely around 8 a.m. with a lavish breakfast buffet in the main dining room. Here we fuel up with European fare, including crepes, perfectly scrambled as well as individually pan-fried eggs, fresh baked croissants, fruit, local artisanal breads, cheeses and mostly any item imaginable. Combined with a few double espressos, there is no better way to ready for an alpine adventure.

Fully sated, we grab our gear from the locker area, and ascend a ramp leading to the base lift. This seemingly normal routine is carried off with great pomp and circumstance at Club Med. I feel like a pro athlete about to walk out to the stadium, as the ramp is flanked by G.O.s beaming with enthusiasm. An ‘Old-World’ French vibe is very much at play here, with gentleman G.O.’s helping moms and children with their skis on the left side, and lady G.O.’s providing hugs and air kisses to dads on the right. It’s a playful way to get pumped for the day.

Once outside, I’m greeted with more G.O.s handing out mini flutes of olive liquid. “Quest ce que c’est?” I ask, exploiting the limit of my grade 13 French. “It is Génépi, a local liqueur,” explains the G.O. in a beautiful French accent. It’s is derived from the flowers of artemisia that grace the mountains of the Savoy region.

Riding the first chairlift, birdsong is echoing across the wooded slopes. I am feeling a few butterflies mixed in with the espresso and Génépi mostly because I’ve been recruited into the expert skier group (yikes!).

Yes, included with your Club Med stay is 4-5 hours per day with a mountain guide, whom provides both level-appropriate lessons and in-depth knowledge of Paradiski’s epic terrain. Our guide is Francois and he explains in French that combined with altitudes ranging from 1,250 to 3,250 metres Peisey-Vallandry, Les Arcs and La Plagne cover more than 425 kilometres with 246 pistes, but I use the term ‘pistes’ here loosely, as it seems like you can pretty much ski anywhere. Peisey has defined tree-lined pistes but mostly everywhere else is a giant white playground.

On day one, Francois assesses our abilities and talks about leaning into ‘zee’ slope and jump-turning on ‘zee’ steeps. He advises we tighten our bindings up one Din setting to avoid a runaway ski, and he greatly advises us with deadpan humour and broken English, “it eez best not to fall, up in zee alpine.” This is met with sideways glances and nervous laughter, mostly from me. We move on to Les Arcs, which is comprised of four high-altitude villages, guaranteeing quality snow throughout the spring season. This area has epic views of Mont Blanc, and enough terrain to challenge skiers of all levels.

I forego the Kronenbourg at lunch because I fear Francois is going to be tougher on us after lunch. He takes us back to Les Arcs, and over to Aiguile Rouge (the Red Needle), its highest peak (3,227m). It seems a drop-in from anywhere will get you down to a lift.

The next day, Francois takes us traversing off-piste at 3,200 metres to Bellecote glacier at La Plagne, a colossal resort connected by the world’s largest aerial tram, the Vanoise Express. La Plagne, comprising over 200 kms of trails and no less than 11 villages, is known for its extensive intermediate runs, but this is not the case where we are headed. This is the highlight of our ski tour, although at first it has me on edge, I am truly in uncharted waters and feel a little out of my depth. Before tackling the 40-degree vertical of the Couloir des Canadiens (a chute or passage first skied by some Canadian soldiers) Francois speaks gravely in French, and Ottawa Life’s Karen Temple, translates. She explains, only moving her lips, “ummm, apparently a skier died just over near that rock last week, and also we should be very cautious because in some places the snow could give way to a deep crevasse from which there is little chance of escape.” At that point, I decided I would follow behind most of the others.

As it turns out, the traverse is the scariest part and once I get used to the rhythm of the jump turns, I’m miraculously keeping it together with the group. Francois explains if you find yourself falling helplessly try to manouvre your head into an uphill position rather than sliding head first (good advice).

Soon after, my ski catches on what turns out to be a treetop (that’s how deep the snow is). My ski releases and I find myself sliding several metres on my back head first, but manage to turn uphill as per Francois’ advice. The final descent ends with some hiking along a mountain stream and through the woods to a waiting shuttle bus back to Peisey.

Paradiski is serviced by a staggering 171 lifts, including 15 varied kinds of gondolas, from intimate four-seaters, to high-capacity cable cars and the groundbreaking (or ground-defying rather) Vanoise Express, which holds 200 passengers and transports skiers across the Tarentaise Valley from Peisey-Vallandry to La Plagne. I say groundbreaking, because when this double-decker cable-car – with two units operating independant of each other– opened in 2003, it enabled the creation of the second largest ski domain in the world, spanning 1,800 metres across the valley. This 5-8 minute journey, suspended 380 metres above the ground is well worth the trip for the spectacular views of the Savoie region, Paradiski and the Tarentaise Valley. It is a must-do when staying in the region.

After taking a final few runs and umpteen scene captures, we head back to the deck at Club Med to catch the remaining rays of the day while finally enjoying that Kronenbourg.

lesarcsgondolaLife at Club Med Peisey-Vallandry

At the end of the day, families are reconnecting to compare experiences and we are enjoying Mojitos and some après apps including meats, local cheeses (there are at least four) and breads. Children are running around with handfuls of chips and parents are sipping cocktails and tucking into wheels of brie. The chatter escalates with an air of satisfaction. Peisey-Vallandry caters to families like no other, and in 2015 this Club Med was chosen by TripAdvisor as the Best Family Resort in France.

As a cover band is playing Neil Young, children are laughing, libations are flowing and everyone is noshing before freshening up for dinner and nightly activities.

Some head down to the heated indoor-outdoor pool, saunas and steam rooms while others luxuriate in the CARITA spa or get a relaxing après ski massage. I leapt at the opportunity to experience a full body relaxation massage and the hour went by in the blink of an eye.

Refreshed for dinner, I change into as-all-white-as-I-can-get, for our dinner theme night at La Vanoise dining room. Wardrobe and cuisine theme nights are a tradition at Club Meds worldwide, although they have relaxed that at Peisey where pretty much anything goes. The cultural theme is Morocco and the Moroccan food station radiates a party-like atmosphere. It is spearheaded by Merlin, the always upbeat, resort manager (called the Chef de village – Club Med calls its resorts, villages). She is serving a tangy, slightly spicy dish of chicken and couscous from a tagine. Merlin’s exuberant personality elicits smiles wherever she goes. And when it’s show time—7 different shows are performed at Club Med throughout the lengthy ski season – after dinner on the main stage, she is leading the charge along with other performing G.O.’s (short for Gentils Organisateurs (Genteel Organizers. TWe catch the tail end of the Latin Fiesta show, after a dinner upstairs at La Perra Menta. This alternative to the buffet is an authentic French dining experience with a ski chalet motif, and offers a more intimate atmosphere than the main dining area. Raclette featuring duck, chicken, beef and peppers, and a cheese fondue are enjoyed here, along with charcuterie and their famous Savoyard salad – a regional salad with Jambon cru (country ham), mushrooms, lettuce, walnuts, apple, celery and endive. Dinner

here, is included in your Club Med package but make sure you book 24 hours in advance. I recommend the tiramisu. It will give you that energy jolt needed for the after-show party and late night dancing downstairs at La Varet.

When you are ready to retire, a spacious room awaits all turned down with red and gold accents. There’s enough furniture to entertain a second family and enough storage to conceal a caravan of skiwear. You can luxuriate on the comfy bed watching British and continental cable or enjoy a cocktail on a private balcony, many with mountain views.

A ski package at the four trident, Club Med Peisey Vallandry includes: ski pass, lessons, all meals, accommodations, open bar, flight, transfers from the airports at Geneva or Lyon, shows, non-ski activities, and important at a family resort —free childcare for children under 4. There are programs that cater to each age group for an extra fee and if you want, you need not see your children from 9am to 9pm. I’m sure they will be happy about that too.




There is a great deal to see and do throughout the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region, from hiking, snowshoeing, and XC skiing to Nordic walking, fat biking and dog sledding. Or explore the region, known as the pantry of France because of its wealth of meadows, orchards, vineyards and no fewer than 40,000 farms. It is considered the nation’s top gastronomic region with seven chefs with 3 stars and 82 restaurants with Michelin stars. Nearby Lyon, is the second largest city of France and the capital of the region. Peisey-Vallandry is located within the  Savoie department of the region, which until 1860 was once part of Italy.  The Savoie is famous for its wine and cheese production and on any given night there are no fewer than a dozen local cheeses on hand at Club Med.  These include Reblochon, Savoie Gruyere, Tomme de Savoie and of course the famous Beaufort.

After a hike to a beautiful mountainside Baroque chapel called Notre Dame des Vernettes, a highlight is visiting the Poccard farm at Chalet Alpage, which produces 80 tons of Beaufort cheese and 1000 litres of the highest elevation milk (regarded as Europe’s finest) per year. Valued for its quality, Beaufort, a pale yellow gruyere style cheese, is produced by Tarentaise or Tarine cows, which are adept at high altitude (over 2,000 metres) grazing.

I purchase a kilo in town for 17 Euros, but I have seen it sold at GTA cheese mongers for between $75 and $100 CDN. per kilo.

Back in Canada, customs allows you to bring in one kilo of cheese and that serves as my prized souvenir from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps. Well, that and my wide-eyed tales of skiing and staying at Club Med Peisey-Vallandry.

Terry Lankstead visited the French Alps on a press trip sponsored by, Atout France, Club Med, Air Canada and Tourisme Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

Panorama: Pure Canada

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There is nothing anyone could say that would have prepared me for the sheer spectacle about to unfold as our shuttle driver Takuya, pulls out of the Calgary airport arrivals level. But before we begin our four-hour journey that takes in the Banff and Kootenay national parks, as well as the (blink-and-you’ll-miss-it) Radium Hot Springs, en-route to BC’s Powder Highway, I think back to my check-in at Pearson.

Watching my ski bag disappear into the oversized baggage scanner, a cameraman with numerous flight cases politely tells me to go ahead and asks me where I am headed.

“Panorama!” I blurt out without hesitation thanks to the caffeine coursing through my system.

“Oh, sweet,” he replies.

“Yeah, I’ve never been there or even to the Rockies for that matter,” I respond a little embarrassed.

“Oh, it’s awesome! I’m from Calgary and I ski there all the time,” he declares.

I was already looking forward to visiting a mountain that once hosted the Crazy Canucks back in the eighties but a ringing endorsement from a local with first-hand experience is reassuring.

Along with Rob Knodel, a sports editor from the Winnipeg Free Press, and two other Invermere-bound passengers, we are on our way in an “extendo-van” shuttle from YYC.

Panorama offers two daily direct 311km shuttle rides to and from the airport along a picturesque portion of British Columbia’s Powder Highway (95). Aptly named, because it journeys through the powder-rich Kootenay Region past eight of BC’s major ski areas, including: Fernie, Kimberley, Revelstoke, Whitewater, Kicking Horse, Silver Star, Red Mountain and of course our destination, Panorama.

Rob has been to Panorama as well as several major (compared to Ontario they are all major) Western ski stops more than a few times and makes for a perfect travel companion (I talk his ear off for hours, the poor fellow). He, along with a woman from Moose Jaw visiting her son in Invermere—the main town ten minutes outside of Panorama Resort—become my unofficial tour guides through the first stage of this journey. And the ooh-ing and aah-ing begins just 15-minutes away from the airport when the Olympic freestyle ski facility comes into view. Beyond that is an unencumbered albeit distant, view of mountain-shaped clouds.

“Hang on, those aren’t clouds. Those are actual mountains. Is that the Rockies?” I shriek, as others cover their ears.


As the peaks begin to consume the view through our windshield, my eyes begin to well up with sheer elation at the spectacle. “This is Canada,” I blurt out. It was a proud moment as I subtley dry my cheeks with my fleece. I know this sounds pathetic but it is truly an experience I will never forget. Veteran Rocky Mountain visitors, Moose Jaw Mum (I’ll call her) and Rob are rather amused to watch the ‘Big-mountain newbie’ frantically snapping and tweeting. “This view never gets tired,” she says. “But it is always nice to see it appreciated for the first time.”


Banff Pitstop

An hour-and-a-half outside of Calgary lies the storybook village of Banff, where we make a brief pitstop at a Tim Hortons (of all places). A gentleman with a Cockney accent serves me a large with milk and a steak sandwich whilst I look through the frosty windows at one of Canada’s quintessential ski villages. Banff is smaller than I imagined but oozes alpine charm. Backpackers and four-wheeled ski racks abound as this town is home to iconic ski destinations, Lake Louise, Norquay and Sunshine Village.

Although time here is brief, I get the feeling this would be a great place to spend a few hours, if not ski a few days before heading to Panorama. Continuing through Banff National Park, winding our way through imposing mountain-scapes that seemingly emanate from the roadside, I feel a little vulnerable in our van. Expecting boulders, an avalanche, or a big horn sheep to come tumbling down upon us, I lament the lack of wildlife. Aside for a solitary raptor, I have yet to spot a single wild creature. Moose Jaw Mum explains that moose fences and bridges have greatly reduced regrettable encounters of four-wheeled steel with horned creatures, bears and such. But I still hold out hope of spotting something on this journey. Shortly after Banff continuing on Highway 95 we pass beneath sheer cliff walls and steam rising from the Radium Hot Springs Mineral Pools at the south entrance of Kootenay National Park. I ponder that this would be another fine place break a journey. The thriving BC vacation hotspot is located in the Windermere Valley on the Columbia River between the Rocky Mountains and the Purcells, but it is the Purcells we are heading for and once you reach Radium, you know Panorama is not far away.


It’s dusk and as our shuttle bus rounds a bend we come upon a vehicle with brake lights blazing. Swerving to avoid, I get that wildlife sighting I was hoping for; a gorgeous stag and doe leap across our path and our driver aptly swerves back onto the right side of the road. Our hearts are pumping, adrenaline is rushing and we look at each other in shock. Takuya admirably keeps the vehicle on the snow-covered road. Full marks to him for getting us to our destination in one piece.

Hanging a right off the Powder Highway allows us a spectacular view of Lake Windermere, which is a major recreation destination for those who live and work in the area, as well as Nordic ski  and skating enthusiasts. In winter the lake features the nation’s longest natural maintained skating loop as well as a Nordic ski track. The adjacent town of Invermere is home to most of the staff at Panorama. It is also a nightlife and restaurant destination only 18 km from the mountain resort.

First impressions

Pulling up to Panorama Resort, we drive under a gondola connecting the lower and upper villages. The glittering lights, rooftop snowdrifts and familiar crunch of snow underfoot as we disembark, helps to establish an intimate alpine village atmosphere.

I enter my one-bedroom suite and dash over to the picture window to open the curtains, revealing a view of après skiers luxuriating in the Panorama’s steaming hot pools. I glance up, and the rest of the window is consumed by white fingers of broad ski runs cascading down from a summit too high for the window frame. Night has fallen but the lower mountain is still brightly lit thanks to a 1200-ft night-ski run off the Mile High Quad.

The resort itself has come a long way. Open in ’62 with a warming hut, rope tow and parking lot, Panorama now boasts one of North America’s top ten biggest vertical descents at 4019 feet, more than 120 runs and a village gondola connecting the upper village (developed by Intrawest in the mid-nineties) with the original lower village (developed by the Cascade Group in the eighties).

It takes three lifts to reach the summit but the views as you ascend are epic and overwhelming. Panorama is famous for its spectacular fall line views. I am completely spoiled with this resort as my first BIG-mountain experience.

The panoramic vista of the Purcell Mountains drenched in sunlight is a jaw-dropping feast for the eyes, as my entire sightline is consumed by snow-covered peaks and valleys. The same goes for the top of the Summit Quad where you overlook a spectacular carpet of mountaintops before you descend one of several double black diamond (expert terrain) runs with names like Trigger, Gun Barrel and Zone 2, providing challenging steeps leading to pillowy moguls.

EpicView Panoramic1

Double Blacks

Their motto is Pure Canada 

It takes your breath away, literally. Their motto rings in my head as I look out from the top of the Champagne Express Quad to a pure Canadian panorama. It’s a spectacular brochure-worthy view; the kind that tourist bureaus relish for attracting visitors. And attract it does. Brits, Irish and Aussies abound and I also meet an exchange student from Spain. He is taking avalanche studies in Golden, BC but says he snowboards at Panorama every chance he gets.

From the summit, our mountain guides, Scott, Scott and Jason lead us down a single black; the aptly named View of 1000 Peaks, which presents fast, winding, somewhat narrow heart-pounding adventure with epic views, descending about a thousand feet before you get a breather with a few intermediate options like Lariesser Lane leading to more blacks like Downhill, which received its name for being a segment of Panorama’s World Cup course in the eighties.

Indeed, our first run from the summit does not disappoint, the snow is lighter than in the East and easily negotiated with all-mountain skis. Leave your Ontario carvers at home.

By the time we get down to the Mile-One Quad at the base we have descended an incredible 4000 feet of vertical, but my thighs are as content as the permanent grin on my face. WOW! After a rest and regroup we head back up to the top of Champagne and over to Sun Bowl in search of deeper pow. This is intermediate and advanced terrain with treed fall lines leading to the Sunbird chair and the newly-built Greywolf Clubhouse/Cliffhanger Restaurant where we stop for lunch.

appetizers_Cliffhanger Greywolf Lodge

Greywolf Clubhouse

The views from their picture windows highlight the beautiful alpine setting whilst heavy stone accents, timbered rafters, BC craft brews and a delectable menu complete the upscale ski chalet vibe. At the Cliffhanger Restaurant we have Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, an Arancini golden deep fried risotto ball stuffed with mozzarella, Crab Cake with chunky caper dill remoulade and a crisp fennel slaw before tucking into a mouth-watering AAA NY Striploin with peppercorn sauce. Partner with a Lone Wolf IPA from Fernie or the Mount Begbie Tall Timber Ale and make sure you have some fresh Kicking Horse Kick Ass Dark coffee before heading back out.

What’s new

New last season, the $5 million Greywolf Clubhouse represents part of the Resort’s $10 million investment into improved infrastructure and facilities, including a new quad chairlift, a carpet/conveyor lift for beginners and state-of-the-art snowmaking technology that allows the resort to guarantee skiing at Christmas.

According to Steve Paccagnan Panorama’s President and CEO, “the new tagline ‘Pure Canada,’ emphasizes the biggest reason why people visit -for an authentic, Canadian mountain experience. Welcoming and approachable, Panorama’s new vision echoes the attributes of a world-class resort that attracts visitors from across the globe.”

Steve and Jamie

Panorama caters for all ages and interests. Guests can relax in the largest slope-side hot pools in Canada or venture a short five minutes from the Village to Toby Creek Adventures for a guided snowmobile tour to a historic mine site. Since acquiring the Nordic Centre the resort has seen a steady increase in cross country ski traffic, as well the fat-biking craze is very alive and well at Panorama.

ScottMorgan_TayntonBowl Summit_MtnCarpet

The Mountain

Stats like 4019 vertical feet, 120 trails and 2,847 acres of terrain are impressive but the scale of the resort isn’t really apparent until you stand on the summit and see it first hand.

From the there do a 180 and take a five-minute hike to Taynton Bowl. Until recently, only accessible by helicopter Taynton is Panorama’s crowning jewel especially when it’s “puking powder” as marketing manager and avid boarder, Scott Morgan gleefully describes. I tentatively “drop in,” to this fairly steep all natural bowl, behind the more experienced mountain guides and Western media powder hounds. Turn, turn, turn, avoid exposed rock, plummet a few feet, turn, turn, breathe, stop. My thighs are ready to explode. It isn’t such a great powder day but I can imagine the steeps when deep, would be an absolute blast. Today however, it takes every ounce of focus to get to the bottom unscathed, albeit breathless and overheating.

Steve continues to explain to the media at RK Heliski, “We hear it all the time, ‘These mountains are magical.’ We say, ‘Go ahead, call it magic.’ But behind the magic is our firm belief that a winter vacation should be a vacation. That a mountain resort should be a resort. That those who journey to join us should be treated as special guests.”

I spent the better part of the following day alone to commune with the mountain and local insiders. Connor, a lift operator originally from New Zealand, is here on his day off. He lives in Invermere and he advises I head to the summit, take View of 1000 Peaks to Messerlis Mile to Zehnder. I do my best to negotiate this epic winding route and I’m yipping and hollering to, um, no one. Yes, it’s a powder day and I seemingly have the mountain to myself. That’s the thing in BC. When you ski the big mountains, it is way less congested, (aside from Whistler of course). If my ski partner, Rob was here, I would head back to Taynton Bowl, but he was off heli-skiing!


rk heli-skiing right from the village

Yes that’s right, Panorama is one of the only resorts in Canada offering heli-ski tours from its base. It can’t get any more convenient to experience fresh fallen untravelled pow with breathtaking mountain backdrops. rk heliski is an easy 5-10 minute walk from the gondola station in Panorama’s lower village.

If you are in a group headed for Panorama it is best to book an rk heli-experience before you head to the Rockies but if you are there with the family and you want to forget skiing over existing tracks and riding chairlifts for the day, you can just call up to see when they can fit you in on one of their incredible ski experiences. rk has the second most heli terrain in BC, with 1500 sq kilometres of terrain and 900 runs.

With daily tours and the option to set up private tours, their experienced ski-guides chaperone adventure seekers through endless untracked fresh powder.

Yes, my new media buddy, Rob from the Free Press is lucky enough to experience a spectacular powder day high atop the Purcells. But before the chopper leaves the ground, Rob must go through a detailed mountain safety training session at the heli-ski lodge. This includes how to use an avalanche probe (a long tent post device) a radio, how to assemble the shovel and an explanation about how the day will unfold.

Rob has heli-skied before and on the way back to the airport I ask him what he thought of the rk experience. “Heli skiing never gets old,” he says, “and I was up there with a bunch of first timers, so it felt as fresh as the powder. What an amazing day!” he beamed.

I will have to take his word for it, but rest assured, when I return to the Kootenay Region it is a must-do. What could be better than naturally fallen fresh tracks, steep and deep. You can experience it all at Panorama.

Pure Canada.

Le Massif de Charlevoix


story  Terry Lankstead   photographs Le Massif de Charlevoix

Over the din of players taping up shin pads and discussing ski trips, I  announce to the Friday night hockey crew that I’m going on a ski trip. At this point, Mississauga’s Greg Blackhurst leans out from the end of a row of middle-aged dads grunting over their skate laces.

“Ahhh, Le Massif?” asks Greg, a perennial mountain man by nature. If it involves a mountain bike trail or ski hill, chances are he has done it. “You’re gonna love it,” he exclaims, with his eyebrows at attention and grinning from ear to ear. “They have the best snow in Quebec and,”  he pauses, “the food,…the food, the food, the food,” he declares as his eyes grow wider and wider. I thought they were going to pop right out of his skull.

I was already looking forward to the experience but that sealed it, as we got up to take to the ice.


Finding your way to the  Charlevoix area, just an hour north of Quebec City, via a 9-hour drive from the GTA, is fairly straightforward. Just head east to Montreal and keep going for three hours until you reach Quebec City. Then hang a left and head northwest on Route 138 and watch out for moose. Although the province has cleverly erected fences that channel wayward moose to tunnel underpasses, there are still some giant hoofed mammals that disregard the signs, according to Katherine Laflamme, press liason for Le Massif de Charlevoix.

Fortunately, I only experience this final approach road as I am lucky enough to fly the one-hour from Pearson to Quebec, where I am met by an extremely informative driver, Steve. His English is stellar– I expected Quebeckers in this area to be primarily French speaking – and his knowledge of the area is thorough, to be conservative. It turns out he is also an area tour guide.

Steve points out a number of notable sights including Ile d’Orleans, an agricultural island accessible only by bridge in addition to the spectacular Montmorency Falls, which apparently is usually a giant icicle this time of year. He also gestures towards the exit for the famous ice hotel and explains that you must be very hardy to stay the night, or to be able to hold it until morning. Apparently, going to the bathroom is an Amazing Race-like challenge. Translation: It’s a cold trip to the lavatory.

The drive from Quebec is “tres spectacle,” with the eastern arm of the Laurentians on the left side dropping off to the ice-floe parade of the mighty Saint Lawrence River on the right.

Following the winding river northeast, the unfolding mountain landscape of pines, birches, and covered porches becomes increasingly cloaked in white, sending this skier’s pulse into anticipatory overdrive. The closer the km markers count down to Le Massif, the higher the RPMs on the excitement gauge.



Reading an inspiring Ski Canada article about the rapid evolution of Le Massif, hugely and justifiably credited to the vision of Cirque Du Soleil co-founder Daniel Gauthier and his love for the Charlevoix, I can not wait to experience his dream first hand. Selling his Cirque shares in 2000 enabled Gauthier to invest $9-million to purchase Le Massif and $230-million later, the resort is well on its way to becoming a world-class ski destination. Recently, Le Massif was chosen Travel and Leisure’s ‘Top 13 Most Interesting Destinations to Visit,’ one of The New York Times’ ‘46 Places to visit around the Globe’ and won the SBC Resort Guide Editors’ Choice Award for the Best Terrain in the East.  According to Condé Nast Traveler readers, Le Massif de Charlevoix is the third most beautiful mountain in Canada.

Formed by an exploding meteorite 350 million years ago, the Charlevoix valley is idyllic with sea and mountain views, sprawling farms and quaint villages. The view from Le Massif becomes even more impressive as you carve your way down. My mountain guide, Alexis recommends Le Petit Rivière (named after the closest town Petite-Rivière-Saint-François) as one of their best scenic runs.  On this intermediate groomer you can seemingly ski right down into the Saint Lawrence. I had to keep stopping to capture the views and catch my breath. The mountain offers numerous picturesque summit-to-base intermediate and advanced runs and there is enough to challenge experts as well. They even have a triple black diamond run (super steep) if you are up to it.



At 770m Le Massif claims the highest vertical east of the Canadian Rockies. And if you are looking for the best chance to experience a powder day in the east, Le Massif is your best bet with an average annual snowfall of 645 cm.  There was a decent amount of snow when I was there in early January and most of it natural. Snowmaking comes into play at the bottom tenth of the mountain where a warmer microclimate courtesy of the salty Saint Lawrence reduces the frequency of fresh pow. So the bottom can become a bit icy late in the day if mother nature has not been kind.

No worries for icy bottoms though, because uniquely at Le Massif, many of the beginner runs (including learn-to-ride classes) are at the summit, along with parking and the main lodge. Newbies need not feel restricted to the base of the mountain. Yes, if you are driving you can park at the top and start your day with a warmup run rather than a gondola lineup. Although, lineups at the base only happen during peak days over the Holidays and Quebec school break.

Le Massif is still a bit of a secret to the masses, so I advise getting there before the word is out and Daniel Gauthier’s big plans for the resort are complete. This way you can experience the resort in its infancy and say, “I remember when there was nothing at the base but a gondola for the train…”



Le Massif is in a transitional phase right now. It is still growing. In place at the moment are chalets near the summit, some private slopeside residences, a luxurious summer gastronomic train journey from Quebec City and a scenic train ride taking skiers and boarders from the base of the mountain to Le Massif’s world-renowned Hotel La Ferme

I highly recommend this trip to the mountain if you are staying in the quaint restaurant and-boutique-rich Baie St. Paul. This village is teeming with galleries, overflowing with art and creativity at every turn. In fact, when I was there, the galleries outnumbered the visitors. The village served as an ideal setting for Gauthier and his friend Guy Laliberte to hold their art and performance festivals that eventually led to the birth of Cirque du Soleil.




The train shuttle is a perfect beginning to an outing never to be forgotten. My itinerary says take the shuttle to Le Massif and meet Stephanie Morneau at the top of the gondola for a ‘rodeling’ or ‘descente en luge’ experience. The train conductor said I will love it and will want to do it more than once. Stephanie welcomes me with a grin and we ascend the final few hundred metres on a snow cat.  I am given a traditional wooden (Vermont–crafted) runner sled with inch-thick plastic, moulded to the runners for less resistance. I am also handed a helmet and ski goggles (must be worn). Our guide explains ‘en Francais,’ about the steering technique and potential hazards whilst Stephanie translates for me quietly as I am the only Anglophone in the group of roughly 20.

So, you get on this sled and you line up side by side and in rows like at the start of the 100m sprint. When they give the signal you push with your arms and legs just like an Olympic luger until you begin North America’s longest sled ride at 7.5 km.

Soon after, you realise you should have paid more attention to the steering and braking demo as you careen down a winding snow course. Sitting astride the sled, I lean on my right butt cheek and dig in my left boot to take a sharp left, then regain my balance for a straightaway before leaning into a right turn that sends me into a snow bank. What a riot! This is so much fun. Stephanie leaves me in her snow-dust and we reconvene at a mid-way cabin. A quick ‘chocolate chaud’ and face de-icing happens here. When you dig in your boots, the snow gives you a school playground-like face wash, but once you get the hang of it in the second half of the journey, that sensation is greatly reduced. Travel as in-or-out of control as you can handle but be prepared for the second half of the ride, which is steeper and faster! The whole experience is as Canadian as it gets and once it’s over, you will want to get on the lift and go again. I imagine how much fun it would be with the family or a group of friends. The whole experience takes about two hours and aside from the fantastic skiing, rodeling is a Le Massif de Charlevoix MUST DO! Check out some of the video experience on YouTube and our Facebook page.


Already established is a sprawling 145-room, 5-pavillion contemporary rural-themed hotel and the train shuttle from the hotel along the Saint Lawrence to the chairlift, but there are even bigger plans coming.

Vision 2020 will see eight additional ski in-and-out condo buildings at the base, 122 units total, whose rooftops will mimic the cracked and broken ice shards of the Saint Lawrence. In keeping with the Le Massif philosophy to blend in with nature rather than offer a stark contrast to the environment, the wooden-sided village units will appear to be buried under huge sheets of ice. Ranging from studios to three-bedroom condos and including ground level amenities, each building will be completely separate allowing for easy pedestrian flow.  Also, recently announced, similar to their resorts in the French Alps (featured in this issue), a Club Med will be coming to Le Massif with a projected 300 rooms. It will be the first Club Med in Canada.



The new condo units designed by ABCP architects in Quebec City will be built with local materials and involve local artisans. The same approach was used for Hôtel  La Ferme. Katherine explains as she tours me around the hotel’s farm-themed pavillions that Gauthier wanted to prevent the hotel from becoming “the elephant in the porcelain room.”  “By involving as many local farmers and artisans as possible, the hotel becomes part of the close-knit community rather than at odds with it.” You can see the community involvement throughout the five pavillion units. Items like soap that is recycled by a Baie Ste. Paul soapmaker and pillows, rugs and linens crafted by a woman in the market, add to the local flavour of the hotel.

Until it burned down in 2007, the farm was the largest working wooden farm in Canada. The site was occupied for 80 years by the Little Franciscans of Mary, and when Gauthier purchased it in 2005 it was owned by the Filion family.  Each pavillion represents a farm building that once stood there and features a decidedly different vibe, design and décor. It is this synergy of contemporary design with a nod to the rustic wooden farm elements that has garnered worldwide attention. This includes three prestigious awards from Conde Nast Traveller Europe where it made their lists of ‘154 Best New Hotels in the World,’ ‘Best New Family-Friendly Hotels’ and ‘Best New Hotels under $300.’ In addition to 145 rooms and lofts, Hôtel La Ferme includes a railway station, a skating track, multifunctional venue, six meeting rooms, a spa, a gym, a café, a bar-lounge and an interactive restaurant experience.

Le Labours restaurant showcasing Charlevoix terroir products and cuisine du marché, is a foodie’s dream. Either Chef Etienne or Chef Sylvain from Toulouse, France will prepare your meal right before your eyes. This unique approach allows patrons to interact with the chef, who’s more than happy to explain the preparation process and the derivation of each element of the meal. I enjoyed L’agneau braise de Tommy avec ragout d’haricots.  This is melt-in-your-mouth lamb served on a bed of garlic-scape-infused baked beans and zucchini. The lamb is reared on-site by local sheep farmer, Tommy and the rest of the produce is from the local market. In summer, most of the vegetables are yielded from the hotel’s fields. I wash it all down with a strong blonde brew similar to a Belgian Pale Ale from Baie Ste. Paul’s Microbrasserie Charlevoix. Called Flacatoune, which according to Chef Etienne means beer in the local vernacular, this 7% ale packs a slightly sour but fruity punch with a dry finish. I highly recommend it. For dessert, I enjoy ‘Pudding Chomeur.’ It is a highly sought-after Charlevoix favourite prepared by in-house Parisian pastry chef, Vincent Solange. Chomeur is a mix of maple syrup, brown sugar and flour that is baked on top and soaked within a brioche. One of the sweetest desserts I have ever tasted, pudding chomeur is another of the many highlights of this visit.



Complete your ski day with a relaxing visit to the hotel’s Spa du Verger. Here you can experience le circuit, which is both soothing and invigorating. Immerse yourself into their massive 103-degree hot pool and take in the pastoral scenery of the valley, then plunge into a 45-degree Celsius cooling tank polar-bear-dip style, then dash inside to your waiting robe and tranquility room where you think about nothing or ponder the gnarly powder you ripped through earlier. Then, hydrate before starting the second phase of le circuit with a visit to the eucalyptus steam room. Once warmed inside and out, subject your skin to an ice cube scrub, return to the tranquility room, then sauna, then ice scrub and repeat as often as you so desire. Le circuit gets the blood circulating. Combine with a massage and you will be ready for those first tracks the next morning!

The following evening, after a spectacular day of skiing at Le Massif, I share a satisfying après meal at Le Bercail with Katherine. A ski trip to Quebec would not be complete without an après feast of charcuterie and local cheeses. This time I enjoy Microbrasserie Charlevoix’s Dominus Vobiscum Double. A strong (8%) trappist style ale, it complemented the dish with its spicy dark fruity overtones, as good if not better than a Chimay. I can’t get enough of the chomeur so I opt for the ‘Pizza Chomeur’ this time. It is the same idea as the pudding, except pizza dough is used instead. It goes down sickly sweet. As sweet as my visit to Le Massif!

I can’t wait to return to the Charlevoix to experience the more challenging side of the mountain and for more of “the food, the food, the food!”

Ski Vermont: Exploring Killington, Stowe and the Mad River Valley

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Having visited the breathtakingly beautiful Green Mountain State on family vacations and a few Guy-getaways to Killington, I think I have a grasp on all that Vermont has to offer. It turns out this can’t be farther from the truth. As my precious days there unfold, I discover there is so much more to the billboard-free land of covered bridges, winding rivers and picturesque mountain villages. Oh yes, there is also magnificent skiing, all just a short flight away.

Porter Escapes

Waiting in the lounge for my flight to Burlington to be announced, I see strangers striking up conversations and others fiddling with various electronic devices. There is a sense of calm as flights are announced and passengers make their way to the gates. It’s my first time flyingPorter Airlines and the experience is very civilised. I was so relaxed, I half expected an airport employee to come around offering foot massages – not that I needed one, but maybe after a few days on the slopes…

A half-hour into the flight I realise I haven’t reclined my seat as there is ample leg room. Then no sooner am I stretching out comes the signal to prepare for landing and move all seats into their upright positions. I gaze out the window at the twinkling Christmas lights of the city of Burlington below and I cannot believe it is already time to land. The flight from Toronto, although Porter says takes 70 minutes, only takes 50 minutes this trip. There must have been a heck of a tail wind.

Vermont’s Largest City

Combining a sophisticated college hipness with New England village charm, Burlington is Vermont’s largest city with about 40,000 residents. It has ample eating and drinking options as well as anything else you might think you need, including a record shop. Its streets at night are bustling with shoppers and bar-hoppers especially in the Church Street marketplace, an open-air brick-paved street mall with historic buildings, buskers and hundreds of shops, restaurants and cafes. All of this, just a short drive away from several of Vermont’s top ski resorts.

This visit takes me to some of the state’s most well-known ski destinations including the “Beast of the East,” Killington Resort, aptly nicknamed because it boasts the most skiable terrain in Eastern North America with 92 miles of trails if you include Pico, its sister mountain.

Killington is a scenic hour and a half drive south from Burlington airport either down Highway 89 or along the more scenic Route 7, meandering through quaint New England villages like Middlebury, Brandon, Pittford and Shelburne. If you have the time, the Shelburne Museum is worth a visit to experience Vermont vernacular paintings, folk art, textiles, toys and more. There’s even a covered bridge.

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The Beast of the East: Killington, VT

Pulling up to the Killington Grand Hotel and eyeing the breathtaking Snowdon Peak – which at 3592 feet is only the fourth highest of Killington’s six mountain peaks – will give any snow carver, goosebumps. Powder hounds will want to shoulder their skis across the pedestrian bridge to the Snowshed lift while taking in the spectacular snow-capped mountain view. The Killington Peak summit is 4241 feet with an impressive vertical drop of 3050 feet, second highest to Whiteface in Lake Placid, NY (in the East).

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.39.33 PMThe resort itself is monstrous with 1509 skiable acres and new this year, an extra 500 acres of glade skiing. Rob Megnin, journeyman ski instructor and Killington Resort’s director of marketing and sales confidently declares, “I would put it up against any resort including those in the West. We’ve opened up the whole mountain this year. Our team has spent the off-season clearing 500 acres of freshly skiable wooded terrain, and for a different experience a shuttle bus away from the Grand is Pico Mountain.”
Pico is a great place to ski when Killington gets crowded, although their “crowded” does not compare to Ontario’s.

Killington’s terrain is hugely diverse, from extreme steeps and moguls to wide relaxed groomers. The mountain gets an average of 250 inches of natural snow per year. According to marketing manager Michael Joseph, “This year we were skiing on the 25th of October and expect to be skiing into June.“

Of all the peaks, Bear Mountain has the most challenging terrain and coolest vibe, while Snowden and Ramshead are great for families and taking advantage of the learn to ski or ride program – awarded “Best Learn To Program” by Ski Area Management magazine. Ramsheadhas fast and wide intermediate runs perfect for schussing or carving. Timberline terrain park is fun small jumps and jibs for park newbies, and the Squeeze Play intermediate glades where trees are wider apart and the forest echoes with whoops and yelps.

At Killington Peak if you are looking to log a ton of fast medium-length runs, head to the North Ridge Triple Chair and ski Rime with some natural medium-sized moguls or Reason, where you can go as fast or controlled as you want. It’s sheer Blue run bliss!! And for an exhilarating Black to Blue run experience try Needles Eye at Skye Peak.

One of the hottest destinations at Killington this year is the highly anticipated brand new Peak Lodge. Located at the top of the cow manure-powered K1 Gondola, the highest summit lodge in Vermont boasts panoramic views and an upscale menu. The giant picture-windows frame majestic views of the Green Mountains. On a clear day you can see Mt. Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont’s highest peak.

Killington is regarded as Vermont’s busiest resort due to its proximity to major cities such as Boston and New York. For this reason, the bars, clubs and restaurants on the five-mile long access road are abundant and lively. Enjoy their mouthwatering New York Strip Peppercorn steak (steaks are their specialty) and the jaw-dropping salad bar selection at The Wobbly Barn, then people-watch or dance the night away in the club-like atmosphere upstairs. The Wobbly is turning 50 this year. Take in quality Top 40/Dance bands on three floors at the Pickle Barrel (not to be confused with the restaurant chain here) or head over to JAX for a more intimate live music setting, arcade games or a laundry emergency. Outback Pizza is also excellent for live music, and pizza of course.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.40.51 PMBeer, Bourbon and Bridges

Watching the ‘Beast in the East’ fade away through the rear window of an AWD vehicle (strongly advised in Vermont), Sarah Wojcik, Ski Vermont’s director of public affairs explains that there is much more to the state than moguls and maple syrup. We drive beside winding rivers, past rustic barns and covered bridges as Sarah explains about the state’s 30 micro-breweries, local bourbons and cheese-making prowess. On this trip I try a few of the award-winning hoppier IPAs byLong Trail, Fiddlehead and Otter Creek and none of them disappoint. There are dozens, including Heady Topper by The Alchemist in Waterbury, recently chosen best beer in the world by Beer Advocate Magazine. It’s apparently a hot commodity in Vermont – hard to find because The Alchemist can’t keep up with the demand for this double IPA.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.40.19 PMThe river flows north in the Mad River Valley

About an hour north of Killington and just 45 minutes from Burlington, the picture-perfect town of Warren is set on the banks of the Mad River, so called because it flows north, according to Eric Friedman, marketing director at Mad River Glen ski area. With a church on the hill overlooking a covered bridge and the valley, Warren’s quintessentially Vermont beauty inspires the region’s abundant community of artists.

Visit the Warren Store for a quick bite. Set in a century-old farmhouse with creaking plank floors and a central hotstove, the store has delicious and healthy farm to table sandwiches prepared on their freshly baked breads.
Like Warren, equidistant from Sugarbush (about 10 minutes) is the town of Waitsfield. Here you will find a movie house, restaurants and no fewer than six bakeries. Stop by Lareau Farm, the original home of Vermont’s famous American Flatbread pizza. It is all natural and baked in a wood-fired earthen oven. They are only open Thursday to Sunday from 5pm-9:30pm, and they don’t take reservations.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.41.13 PMScreen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.39.55 PMSugarbush

Once nicknamed Mascara Mountain, because it was a glamorous ski destination for New York models and socialites including Andy Warhol,Sugarbush Resort opened in 1958. Glen Ellen, beside it, opened 50 years ago in 1964 and amalgamated with Sugarbush in 1979. In 2001 it was renamed Mount Ellen at Sugarbush, which is comprised of three main peaks and three smaller peaks. Mount Ellen has their highest vertical drop, the second largest in Vermont at 2,600 feet, followed byLincoln Peak at 2,400’ and Castlerock at 2,267 feet. Owned bySummit Ventures since 2001, whose majority owner is former Merril Lynch executive Win Smith, Sugarbush boasts 53 miles (85km) of trails and 18 lifts.  Let’s face it – you will not be bored skiing here.

At Sugarbush, you effectively have two ski experiences. At Lincoln Peak, overlooking a natural bowl of skiing deliciousness, the terrain offers something for everyone. To start, try Jester from top to bottom. It’s a winding scenic Intermediate/Blue run that provides some perspective on the area as well as a lot of short turning opportunity. The trails are delightful with numerous lookouts and they all end up at the same chairlift, so experienced and inexperienced riders can hook up each time at the bottom. For experts only, Sugarbush marketing director, Candice White recommends the all-natural conditions atCastlerock Peak. Here you may run into chief recreational officer John Egan plummeting from a rock face and ripping up some pow. John has starred in dozens of Warren Miller ski films.

If things get busy on the Lincoln side or you are looking for a change of atmosphere, hop on the two-mile long Slide Brook Express Quadfrom North Lynx Peak and head over to Mount Ellen. Vermont’s highest chairlift gives you access to 39 more trails spanning everything from steeps to wide-open groomers and beginner runs. Lines are shortest here and this is where many Mad River Valley locals enjoy skiing.

The original Sugarbush side is based at Lincoln Peak Village with its traditional Vermont architecture blending in with mountains. Here you will find two lodges and luxurious slopeside accommodations at Clay Brook Hotel & Residences with a spectacular scenic outdoor heated pool and hot tub, as well as Timbers restaurant with simple but delicious menu options. I recommended their classic egg sandwich with Vermont cheddar before hitting the slopes in the morning. And if Bourbon is your thing, try the extremely smooth Vermont Spirits’ #14at Timbers after an out of this world moonlit Cat ski experience.

Sugarbush has a warm, welcoming family vibe and its proximity to two storybook villages make it an ideal getaway for families or for romance.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.40.30 PMMad River Glen, Ski It If You Can

If you are looking for something arguably more off piste, Mad River Glen ski area is just the ticket. Ripping it old style with all natural snow, their motto is “Mad River Glen, Ski It If You Can.” You may have read this on one of their famous bumper stickers. They have been seen the world over. In the traditional cabin-style lodge there is a Mad wall featuring photos of Mad River Glen enthusiasts posing with the sticker. It was recently pictured in Afghanistan and on the International Space Station!

After 20 years skiing Mad River Glen, no one is more passionate or enthusiastic about the experience than their marketing director, Eric Friedman. Eric beams as he explains,“The narrow winding natural terrain combined with the only single chair lift south of Alaska and most of its original outbuildings are reasons why Mad River is a heritage designated ski area. But mostly the recognition has come from the way the runs have been cut. All the trails meander and end at the same place. At Mad River the snow falls from the heavens and not the hoses. The mossy and grassy slopes are what make this possible. There is little to no grooming.”

Boarders take note. Mad River is one of only three mountains in Vermont designated exclusively for skiers. Eric cuts effortlessly through the powder and natural moguls on several runs that chew me up and spit me out. He also points out a chalet with its own chairlift. Whose is it? The Rockefellers. A run is named after them.

Great vibe. Great runs. Great views. If you are up for a challenge, you must ski Mad River…if you can.

Waterbury – Vermont’s Epicentre

Continuing up VT 100, Vermont’s longest highway, which accesses almost every major ski resort in the state, we arrive in Waterbury in 25 minutes. This thriving community is somewhat of an epicentre being 25 minutes or less from Sugarbush, Mad River, Stowe and Burlington. I say thriving, because it is home to several major Vermont brands including: Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Cheese, Lake Champlain Chocolatesand Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

Arguably, Vermont’s most well-known brand, Green Mountain Coffee is the world’s largest producer of fair trade coffee over the past three years. GMCR produces 64 million pounds of fair trade coffee annually and their purchase of Keurig in 2006 has them partnered withStarbucks, VanHoutte, Dunkin Donuts, Timothy’s and Tim Hortons to name just a few. Their headquarters is a beautifully restored 1875 active Amtrak train station. Take a tour to learn all you ever want to know about the life of a coffee bean, Green Mountain Coffee’s 34-year history,  its commitment to the community and the communities that grow their coffee.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.41.03 PMThe Hills are Alive in Stowe

Just 10 minutes from Waterbury is the bustling ski village of Stowe. An area so beautiful it lured the Von Trapp family to settle there. They saw it  as the closest thing to living in Austria. You can almost hear Maria yodelling as you drive past the alpine architecture of local Inns and shops.

If you say you are headed to Stowe, most people don’t ask “where’s that?” The name is synonymous with ski vacation. In 2008 the luxurious sprawling Stowe Mountain Lodge by Destination Hotels was established with a Vermont-Alpine look and feel at the base of Stowe Mountain Resort. The stunning resort pays respect to the Vermont traditions of utilizing local artisan foods and products and embracing the tranquility of nature. There is also a performing arts centre and games centre for the kids. Future plans include more commercial business, condos and a massive skating rink.

The lodge is dog-friendly and of course people friendly. Upon our arrival at Stowe Mountain Lodge, PR and social media manager, Leslie Kilgore whisks out our press group to the scenic patio to partake in a lantern lighting ceremony. We get to help light 26 lanterns (representing all the nationalities of the winter season staff) and watch them take flight over Mt. Mansfield. This is a spectacular introduction to the thoughtful care and approach at Stowe. They even had the Canadian flag flying out front!

Over breakfast in the farm to table-inspired Solstice Restaurant, Jeff Wise, marketing director for Stowe Mountain Resort beams enthusiastically with his love for the area. He explains (as I enjoy the delicious Lobster Benny) that as a boarder he feels Stowe is the East’s “best mountain for snowboarders because of the grade.”  After skiing numerous runs, I agree there are little to no flats.

Over the course of our week in Vermont, the conditions were fantastic at all resorts, but the slightly lighter snow at Stowe was wondrous perfection. The magnificent horseshoe-shaped panorama of Mount Mansfield (Vermont’s highest) and Spruce Peak allow for a full sun ski day. Catch the morning light on the “front four” and work your way right for mid-day sun at the gondola, then bask in sunshine at Spruce Peak to finish off the day. Make sure you wear sunblock.

There is enough varied terrain to keep everyone happy. From epic expert runs like the renowned “front four” Goat, National, Liftline andStarr, to groomed cruisers like the exhilarating Perry Merrill, super-wide Gondolier and Sunrise. Try Ridgeview if you love to make short turns. Take the Gulch run for natural medium moguls and if glades are your thing, give Nosedive a try.

People were skiing and cutting trails at Stowe in the early 1900s but the first lift was installed in 1946. The area has entertained the world ever since.

The main town is about six miles from the mountain resort and there are more than 70 shops and numerous restaurants to explore. A visit to the Cold Hollow Cider Mill is a must to sample cider donuts and fresh cider right out of the vat. This quintessential Vermont store also has every Vermont product imaginable from Maple syrup to artisanal salsa and woven slippers.

Accommodations at Stowe Mountain Lodge are lavish and some visitors stay there because they claim the sheets are incredibly soft. They are. And you can buy them at the Lodge store. A picturesque outdoor heated pool and hot tubs await you after a full ski day. A relaxing foot and calf massage at the Health and Wellness spa is also highly recommended.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 8.41.23 PMAs we head out of Stowe for the airport, Ski Vermont’s Sarah Wojcik springs one last surprise on the group. She takes us to the BluebirdTavern in Burlington where the manager has set aside a few cans ofThe Alchemist’s Vermont famous Heady Topper. After some oysters and a day of skiing at Stowe, it was certainly heady and bursting with apricot flavour. Is it the best beer in the world? You will have to go and find out. TJ


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