Highlights of Skiing North America’s top ski resorts back-to-back on the Mountain Collective Pass
BY: Lori Knowles PHOTOGRAPHY: Peter Gilbert
Thank heaven for Fairmont. After four weeks zig-zagging the Canadian and U.S. West this winter in an RV so small we had to knock on the door to exit the washroom, the marble-lined loo in the Fairmont Vancouver Airport was manna from the gods. We arrived so provoked and soaked by Pacific Northwest rainwater I fear we appeared as deranged as Heath Ledger’s angry, sopping Joker in The Dark Knight. Never underestimate the rain-abilities of British Columbia and Washington State, the last leg of our Mountain Collective ski journey. With The Betty White (our RV) safely back in her Vancouver CanaDream garage, the very first thing we did at the Fairmont was fill the tub with warm soapy water. Luxury never felt so good.
En route from Colorado to British Columbia over Washington’s dreaded Snoqualmie Pass — mist hanging low, raindrops slithering down The Betty White’s ample windshield — the #FuntasticSkiFour had loads of time to consider the highlights of our six-week trip. Skiing nearly a dozen resorts in a row — majors like Sun Valley, Whistler, Snowbird, Jackson Hole, and Taos — had its tasty advantages. It was a little like sampling 31 types of ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins in a single go. By skiing several resorts back to back we were able to taste their differing flavours. All of it was yummy, of course, but we discovered our favourites. We also confirmed what I already suspected: skiing is better than ice cream.
Highlight No.1: Beautiful Views, Beautiful People
There are many ski resorts of great beauty: Zermatt, Cortina, Portillo, the glaciers of Whistler. When you pair their natural good looks with a winning personality, it’s a match made in heaven. Taos Ski Valley has that endearing combination. The red rock and sand-coloured adobe architecture set against New Mexico’s snow-white mountains is a sight to behold. Add in the kindness, joviality, artistry, and inner-beauty of the people of Taos and you’ve got a ski destination we can’t wait to get back to.
Highlight No.2: Still Wild in the West
The U.S. West was wild once, I would argue that in some parts it still is. Jackson Hole, Wyoming is about as feral as a luxe ski resort of 2016 can get. From its chutes, rocks, bumps, and steep faces to the aggressivity of its macho skiers stampeding for the tram on powder mornings, scary Jackson Hole got our hearts a-pumping… we enjoyed skiing it nonetheless. As John Wayne once said: “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”
Highlight No. 3: The Queen of Comfort
I once wrote a story about Idaho’s Sun Valley in which I traced its star-studded Hollywood start—early visits on skinny skis from Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and the like. Our return this season revealed something I missed: its comfort. With its plethora of leather sofas and stone fireplaces, Sun Valley has the ski world’s most comfortable cafeterias and on-mountain ski lodges. Yes, better, even, than Vail and Lech.
Highlight No. 4: The Late David Bowie Award
Although it’s not a member of the Mountain Collective pass (at least, not yet), BC’s Revelstoke Mountain Resort proved a trip highlight for many reasons, including its wizardry at combining lift-served with cat- and heli-skiing. If that Platinum card is searing a hole in your pocket while boarding the gondola next time you’re in Revy, a snowcat or chopper can swoop in and scoop you out of the lift line. In the immortal words of David Bowie: Wham Bam Thank you Ma’am… it all happens without unbuckling your boots or unfastening your helmet.
Highlight No.3: The Snowmass Factor
When it comes to family-friendly skiing, Aspen’s Snowmass is dialed in: accessible slopeside accommodation, family après-ski activities, plus broad, comfortable, snow-laden slopes that offer ample turning space for all levels of skiers. In a family of four with differing styles, two can head into the trees and two can ski the groomed. You’ll meet at the base of the lift, guaranteed. I’ve tried it. It works.
Highlight No.4: Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing
There’s nothing like all-natural snow. As an Ontario skier, there have been seasons I’ve bowed down to The Brilliant One who invented snowmaking. But truly, snow as Mother Nature intended is where it’s at. In skiing across Alberta, BC, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico this winter, Banff’s Sunshine Village proved to have the softest all-natural stuff. With an annual snowfall average of nine metres and advanced snow-farming techniques, Sunshine says it’s in need of only two snow guns, and those are situated on the lower mountain. Up high, Mother Nature’s version of snow-making at Sunshine is superb. As Marvin Gaye used to sing: ain’t nothing like the real thing baby…
Highlight No.5: North America’s Best Views
An honourable mention goes to Alberta’s Lake Louise Ski Area. Its 10-peak Rocky Mountain vista from the Top of the World lift remains one of North America’s best, no question. Combine that with the genuine feeling of being Royalty as you wander past the suits of armour in the great halls of the castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs and you’ve got a unique experience in the skiing world.
Highlight No.6: Don’t Mess With Me
Utah’s Alta/Snowbird wins the dubious prize for being situated at the end of one of the most twisted, barf-inducing access roads in ski country. The winding drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon is brief but memorable, especially when experienced on a shuttle bus. It’s remarkable how quickly a ski shuttle will clear when a rider (such as me) threatens to yak. The driver was so happy to see the back of us, he gave us the ride for free. That takes nothing away from the skiing, which, by the way, is fabulous. When skied back-to-back, Alta and Snowbird — antagonistic neighbours in the way Blackcomb and Whistler once were (popular bumper sticker: Alta is for skiers who can’t afford a Snowbird Pass) — offer diverse, challenging, and far-reaching terrain that is just as memorable as the bus ride. To the smartly-dressed middle-aged male skier who stole my nine-year-old daughter’s uneaten pizza off her plate at Snowbird as she turned away to put ice in her cup, I say: How are those new cold sores working for you?
Highlight No.7: There’s No Place Like Home
Call me a patriot, but folks, it’s hard to beat the terrain at Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb. Really hard. Thanks to this job of mine, I’ve been lucky to ski at more than a few overseas snow resorts. Thanks to this Mountain Collective tour, I’ve now skied most of North America. Pair Whistler’s vast, varied terrain with an El Niño weather system as we did this season, and you’ve got skier’s gold, I tell you… skier’s gold. Dorothy said it best: “There’s no place like home.”
Highlight No. 8: The Ultimate Prize
And finally, the ultimate prize has to go to my husband, Peter Gilbert. Not only did the man go along with my hair-brained idea to cross North America in a rented RV in the dead of winter over six weeks with two bickering kids seated in the rear at the RV’s dining room table… but he also drove, navigated, dumped sewage, hooked-up, gassed-up, and repaired the beast-sized Betty White alone, as I was busy writing. All this while taking photos, teaching grade 8 math to our son, and teaching the entire grade 4 curriculum—in French—to our daughter. Need I mention, Peter doesn’t speak French? More impressive still, Peter was addressed as “Mr. Knowles” by pretty much everyone throughout the journey, yet he never once complained or corrected. Yes, I think I’ll keep him.
And with that, the Funtastic Four bids you adieu…. At least until next ski season when we plan to rent an RV and do it all again, this time in Russia’s Caucasus mountains.
Am I kidding?
P.S. A warm and special thank you to Head skis, Columbia outerwear, Gordini gloves, and Unite2 luggage for equipping the entire Funtastic Four with gear to make this ski trip fun, warm, and comfortable. Another huge thanks to Fairmont and Four Seasons for giving us cozy, luxurious breaks from The Betty White. And finally, we’re grateful to the men and women of S-Media and the Canadian Ski Council for taking a chance on publishing our words and photos, and doing so with such professionalism.