BY: Dave Fonda PHOTOGRAPHY: Dru Kennedy

 

“Here,” Ashley says as she hands me a great, gooey slab of fresh mille-feuille. “You have to try this.”Ten minutes ago, I didn’t know Ashley from Adam. Now we’re best pastry pals, sharing a custard cream at the Enterprise Rental Car counter at Deer Lake Regional Airport, where she works. Ashley’s been telling me about places to see and things to do while visiting the west coast of Canada’s easternmost province, starting with this fine pastry. It’s 1 a.m. I’m jet-lagged. I’m famished. And I honestly don’t know what I’m enjoying more: the conversation, the mille-feuille or this strange moment of “almost awkward friendliness.”

Ten minutes ago, I didn’t know Ashley from Adam. Now we’re best pastry pals, sharing a custard cream at the Enterprise Rental Car counter at Deer Lake Regional Airport, where she works. Ashley’s been telling me about places to see and things to do while visiting the west coast of Canada’s easternmost province, starting with this fine pastry. It’s 1 a.m. I’m jet-lagged. I’m famished. And I honestly don’t know what I’m enjoying more: the conversation, the mille-feuille or this strange moment of “almost awkward friendliness.”

Cole Fawcett, the sales and accommodations manager at Marble Mountain, introduced me to that phrase. An “almost awkward friendliness” is what most CFAs (that’s “come from aways”) feel in the face of Newfie hospitality and charm. Newfies don’t just make you feel welcome and right at home – they’re so incredibly nice, they make you wish Newfoundland were your home. Maybe that’s why so many people are now deplaning the redeye from Toronto. They’re all coming home to this awkwardly friendly and achingly beautiful place; most, it seems, are oil patch workers who can’t stomach being away for more than a two-week stretch. One visit and you’ll understand why.

When Ashley said “you have to try this,” she could just as easily have been talking about sipping an Iceberg beer from the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company, exploring nearby Gros Morne National Park, snowmobiling in the Blomidon (Blow Me Down) Mountains, attending a neighbourly boil up, fly fishing along the Humber River or, my personal favourite, skiing Marble Mountain.

I first skied Marble eight years ago, as the doubly unfortunate Sir Paul McCartney and his then-wife, Heather Mills, debated a feisty Premier Danny Williams on CNN. The M&Ms were doomed the minute they mistook Prince Edward Island for Newfoundland. The much-touted Great Seal Hunt debate was a bloody rout, and everyone I met was overjoyed. Of course, Newfoundland had much to celebrate back then.

The East Coast was gushing with oil, and the western side of the island had become a magnet for wealthy Irish investors shopping for affordable country estates. The Humber River valley was booming with the sounds of mansions springing up. The airport was then called Deer Lake International, and air carriers were offering direct flights to London Gatwick. All that ended when the Celtic Tiger collapsed. Fortunes vanished overnight and, in the aftermath, savvy locals snapped up abandoned palaces and all the treasures therein for a song.

Standing here, chatting with Ashley, I wonder what else has changed since those heady, fat days.

After a great night’s sleep at Marble Villas, Atlantic Canada’s only on-mountain accommodations, I wake to a light dusting of fresh snow under a heavenly blue sky. I dress, click on my skis and skate over to the Marble Mountain Lodge for breakfast. It’s a huge, imposing, painted grey wood affair that was built by an unflappable Corner Brook lawyer turned provincial premier named Clyde Wells.

Inside, its storied knotty pine walls are covered with vintage skis and period black and white photographs. One, dated 1972, shows a young Nancy Green. In her youthful exuberance, Nancy declared Marble the “best skiing east of the Rockies.” Though she’s never stopped disavowing that claim, the fact is Marble serves up some mighty wonderful skiing.

“When the conditions at Marble are on,” Fawcett says, “you won’t find more exciting skiing anywhere in the East. There are bigger mountains with more vertical and way more runs. There are even a couple where you can ski above the tree line. You can