Former racer finds solace in the wonders of the mountains, along with mascara-wearing ripper GFs on a girls-only trip on the Powder Highway
BY: Claire Challen. Photography: Paul Morrison
I always vowed to return to each resort I had visited as a ski racer or coach, to enjoy simply as a skier; a tourist following my own docket.
In my early days of ski racing, I skied all over the world but had only seen the insides of hotels and a handful of ski trails, salted to a firmness most people avoid. But I’d never truly experienced skiing until I hung up those stiff boards and parked my two-sizes-too-small race boots in the free pile at the dump. Nevertheless, the day I skied in my final race, I felt my insides weeping with an ache so deep I didn’t know how I would ever recover. I always vowed to return to each resort I had visited as a ski racer or coach, to enjoy simply as a skier; a tourist following my own docket. Ski hard, but take part in all the other bounty that ski resorts and towns offer without the repercussions of a 5am morning run or 7am lift load. This vow was to be my salvation. It would make my years of ski racing worth something. I would ski for fun. A lot. And enjoy après without a curfew.
In order to excel, a girl needed to throw femininity out the window and embrace the walk, talk and attitude of her male teammates. That was the world order back then. The fastest girl preferred to be one of the guys: her life mission to hang with them, or better yet, beat them on and off the slopes. Rarely found was a gentle, petite girl winning ski races. Now with the likes of media-sensation Lindsey Vonn gracing covers of sports and fashion magazines, girls can be as feminine as they want to be and still kick butt in their sport. Now it’s more acceptable to truly BE a girl – whether hucking your chick meat from what was previously hucked-by-men-only cliffs, throwing huge tricks in the park, or tearing up the downhill course with highlighted locks and doe-eyes enhanced by lenses of pink. A girl can be a knock-your-socks off bombshell in the looks department and she may blow your mind if she can ski too.
On this day, I was headed out on the Powder Highway in the Kootenays in southern B.C., a 15-passenger van full to busting with three other girls and just enough room to sit down and buckle up. My travel companions were physically tough but perfectly feminine, mountain-loving girls. We would loosely follow the Nonstop Ski and Snowboard company’s route from Calgary to Kicking Horse and then Fernie. Surrounded by gear bags, likely filled with numerous wardrobe options and hair styling implements tucked away amidst the bulging duffel bags.
All different backgrounds brought together for one week with a solid common ground – our love for skiing and riding the mountains. I was about to embark on a girls’ ski trip. No racing involved, unless you include competing for that last piece of chocolate or scoop of ice cream.
Skier girls are a different breed and also the type of girl I connect with best. It’s that innate toughness, a simplicity of desire to ski as much as possible and the attitude that there are no rules regarding a girl’s role in this world. It’s okay to take up the axe and chop the firewood, see who can climb that tree the quickest, shotgun a can of pilsner and release the after-effects. Absolutely healthy most of the time, but that doesn’t mean she’s afraid to mow down a tray of poutine once in a while. This is the kind of girl who can be wined and dined, treated like a gentle flower, and she’ll love it. But wake up the following day and challenge her to a chinese downhill, and she’ll love that too. One of the cool parts of skiing for me is meeting like-minded souls who have a love for the mountains and relish the freedom and challenge that skiing can bring. Connected even before we met through our shared love of skiing, we’d find the connection drew deeper as we explored our penchant for fine dining, good wine, laughter and chocolate throughout our week together. All in Western Canada for the same reason – namely the love of the mountains – these girls and I were going to get along just fine.
Teacher, skydiver and snowboard-park princess Emily Park is heading into her eighth gap year from the UK and sixth winter as an instructor for Nonstop. At first she was quiet, choosing her words carefully, but underneath her calm exterior is a tigress who wants to throw herself out of an airplane whenever anyone will open the door. She’ll tell it like it is, even if that means telling you that your hair looks scruffy and you probably don’t want your photo taken looking like that.
Detail oriented, open and friendly, Nonstop’s marketing gal Christy Sutherland exchanged her job at the Australian Department of Defence for a quieter life in the Kootenays. It’s never a good idea to embark on a ski trip unless equipped with your own personal undercover ninja who could bust out some life-saving manoeuvres, should the need arise. Christy’s mad life skills, which I could only imagine, combined with a winning smile took a load off my mind. Like a true Aussie, she always made sure we had enough liquid sustenance in case we should need it.
Determined to move to B.C. from the time she was a wee dot in the UK, Jen Mitchell began her B.C. days as an instructor and moved up the ranks to ski school supervisor in Fernie. Jen’s character was a perfect fit and Nonstop easily persuaded her to join as a host/instructor, where she inspired new recruits to seize any opportunity to stay in the Kootenays. Taking advantage of ever expanding Fernie, Jen also has her own home painting business which helps to satisfy her entrepreneurial side. Spin bike instructor and mountain bike enthusiast too, this gal is game for pretty much anything you might throw her way. And if you want to have a giggle, she’s a good one to get you there.
Bubbles & Meat
We cruised into Kicking Horse to tuck into some pub fare at slope-side Winston’s, fuelling up with jugs of ale and specialty burgers. Our local host – ticket window Andy, Kicking Horse’s one-man marketing army and RMR marketing guy Matt Mosteller – filled the room with inspired life stories of sacrifice, ski bum style. A far cry from racing days where the chat would have been in the form of a team meeting discussing the wax and choosing the line. My stomach would have been aflutter with nerves, but the only thing it was full of now was beer bubbles and meat. Lush Mountain accommodation had provided us lodging in a glorious chalet. With just four of us, it was huge – three expansive floors connected with a flowing staircase fit for a girl to make a ball-gown entrance – or in our case, our matching powder blue long underwear and knee high ski socks. Sorry boys, there was no pillow fight.
Making up for the lack of ch