Canada/USA Road Trip – March 14th
to April 13th2014
miles through two Countries (Canada and USA), two Provinces (Alberta and British Columbia), 4 States (Washington, Idaho, Montana
and Wyoming) and four brilliant ski areas, namely Red Mountain Resort at Rossland, BC, Schweitzer
Mountain at Sandpoint, Idaho, Discovery Basin at Phillipsburg, Montana and ending at Big Sky/Moonlight Basin south of Bozeman,
The basis of
this trip had been in my head since returning from our last North America trip back in April 2012 but I did not start to book
all the individual parts and put it together until late last summer. As always travelling with two young children, now aged
7 and 4 poses a lot of questions and it is important to think every part of the trip through in a thorough manner to ensure
it all goes as smoothly as possible. Although both Craig and Anya have travelled a lot it still seemed like we were setting
out on a Polar expedition with all the kit we had to take, even though I had tried to cut down as much as possible.
The kids now have their own skis, boots and all that goes with it but with some careful packing it was all ready to go.
I have found it helpful to split the whole trip up into smaller sections
and see each one as a challenge and as an achievement when it’s completed.
We had looked at flight options to get us across the Atlantic to Calgary
and back and ended up flying again with Air Transat and booked through Canadian Affair. The options of flying direct from
a Scottish airport are now non existant so it was always going to mean a trip south. We used Easyjet from Glasgow to Gatwick
North terminal (flights for 4 and luggage cost £280), we then took the train to the south terminal and booked in at
the Hilton for the night.
Flight ideas for our next trip
include flying with Icelandair via Reykjavik and having an overnight stopover or flying to Newark and then getting an internal
flight to Missoula or Bozeman in Montana.
Transat check in at Gatwick was good and the kids are enrolled in their free kids club and one of the benefits is priority
check in so that was helpful in speeding things up.
arrival at Calgary airport around 12 noon we had the usual fairly long wait to clear customs and immigration before collecting
our bags and heading over to the car hire desks. We had booked a minivan through Canadian Affair and it was supplied by Hertz.
It was nearly an hour before it was ready. We had a Chrysler Town and Country Minivan, this had rear seats that folded down
flat giving us a large luggage storage space, the kids also had plenty of room and it had sliding rear doors so there was
no chance of them getting out and hitting any vehicles parked next to us. So we set of for Dead Mans Flats near Canmore to
spend the night at the Copperstone resort ($189 for a 2 bedroom suite). The accommodation is very good there but there is
no restaurant or bar but there is a really good outdoor hot tub. We drove the 2 miles along the road to Canmore to get dinner.
The next day it was sleety rain when we set out on the long drive down to Rossland. Had
breakfast in Canmore then headed towards Banff and onto H93 down to Radium Hot Springs. It began to snow pretty heavily and
the car did not have winter tyres ! but we made it over , got fuel and drove to Cranbrook for lunch. It was then on towards
the Kootenay pass (Creston– Salmo) but the signs were saying 2 hour delays, so with no winter tyres we decided to head
up to Kootenay Bay for the ferry over to Balfour. Typically we arrived just as the ferry pulled out, so it was down onto the
beach for a walk, it was about a 90 minute wait till we got the 3.40pm crossing. Got across and drove via Nelson and Castlegar
to Red Mountain arriving just before 6pm.
Resort, BC, Canada.
We love Red Mountain and this
was us back here for about our 10th visit. We had booked our accommodation for the next two weeks through red reservations
via email and phone. They do a deal outwith peak season where you can stay for 4 nights and get 3 free, this also applies
to lift tickets. We stayed in the Silvertip Lodge, it’s about 200m walk to the base area either along the road or down
the side of the piste and is nearly ski to the door. We had a large unit with two bedrooms, the kids had a double bed and
huge bunk beds in their room, there was a massive lounge/kitchen and two bathrooms with underfloor heating and a washing machine/tumble
drier as well as our own private hot tub out on the balcony. There is also a ski locker for each unit as well as an underground
heated car park. We did not need the ski locker as we managed to get one at the daylodge and this saved carrying the childrens
kit back and forward each day.
our last visit Craig is now too old for Kindercare but as it was Spring break they had ski camps going on that worked out
great value. They could do either full or half days. Most days he had an instructor for himself or with only one or two others,
his skiing improved dramatically and he also had two days on a learn to board camp where he was able to master the basics.
Anya was in Kindercare with the lovely Jenny Nash and her small team, it’s such a warm and friendly place that it is
difficult to keep the kids away. While in “Jenny’s Hut” she would get a ski lesson every day, mostly it
was on her own and they have some wonderful instructors who are so good with the little ones, she was even skiing down Red
Mountain from the old Red chair before the end of our visit.
since our last visit the resort has opened up a lot of new terrain with the Grey Mountain Chair being put in
last summer. From the top of the lift at 2048m there is limitless options, head left and there are nice cruising blues through
the trees or go right and there are steep double black diamond runs. Snow was a bit thin in places and a lot of work still
needs to be done this summer with clearing tree stumps, fallen timber etc. There are also a lot of new easier runs that have
been cut and will open in the future. There is a small snack hut at bottom of Grey chair called “Wiener Takes All”
which sells a variety of sausages , coffee, soft drinks etc at reasonable prices. Paradise Lodge on Granite Mountain is a
lovely place to stop for food or drinks at anytime but on a sunny day it is lovely to sit outside on the deck having lunch
and taking in the views. At the base there is Sourdough Alley which is a cafeteria selling the usual burgers, Pizza, Poutine
etc and upstairs there is Rafters bar which has a child friendly area so you can eat as a family and have a beer at the end
of the day. Outside there is a large open deck and on sunny afternoons there is a lovely vibe as people chill after a great
There are plenty of really
good places to eat both at Red Mountain and down in Rossland as well as the legendary Collander Italian family restaurant
down in Trail. The Rock Cut pub and restaurant is located just down the road from the ski hill on way to Rossland and always
has a good and varied menu with lots of good beers on tap. Dinner for the four of us would be around C$ 70 including drinks.
Most local beers were around $5 to $6 per pint. We never got to the Gypsy at Red restaurant this time but had a lovely meal
at Gabriella’s in the mountain village. It’s an Italian restaurant and we had a two course meal with beer and
a bottle of wine for the four of us for $110. Seafood Rissotto ($20), Lasagne ($18), Wine ($28). The very best meal of the
stay at Red was at the Garage restaurant down in Rossland, we had ate really well here in the past and booked it for a family
dinner with relatives who were over from Vancouver for the weekend and from Trail. It’s not the largest of places but
the food is exceptional. A meal here takes time as everything is prepared fresh and is beautifully presented.
I had a huge rack of lamb ($25.95) and it was as good as it gets served with lovely vegetables. The total bill
for eight adults was $375 and included wine at $115. At lunch time the Pizza in Rafters is excellent ($18) and
easily feeds 3 people washed down with a beer ($5.75).
In the town of Rossland itself there are 3 or 4 really nice coffee shops
including The Grind and Café Books, Butch Boutry’s Ski shop, Rossvegas Board shop, a bank, post office, several
gift shops, the Prestige Inn with bar and restaurant, two liquor stores, hardware store, as well as the excellent Ferrero
foods supermarket. There is also the Flying Steamshovel pub which serves good food and often has live bands playing in the
evening. There is now a free shuttle bus running all day and in to the early evening from the ski hill to town. You can also
book it for later on at a cost of $45 to take you back home (good value when there are a few of you).
I could write so much about this brilliant ski hill and its beautiful
town of Rossland so can I please plead once again for Dave and Chris to give this place a full page in future editions….it
Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho, USA.
We left Rossland on Friday 28th March which was a full
week before Red Mountains closing day. We drove to Salmo then headed south to the border crossing at Nelway. The US immigration
and customs officers were very friendly and after paying our $6 each for 90 day visitors visa’s we were on our way in
less than 20 minutes. We got onto I-31 and drove to Sandpoint and up to Schweitzer Mountain. It was snowing heavily when we
checked in at the Selkirk Lodge, right in the heart of the village. Our 3 night stay cost $533 for a suite with two doubles
and a bunk above the second double, there was a small kitchen area and a bathroom and a table and chairs where we ate breakfast.
There are also outdoor hot tubs and a heated outdoor swimming pool. We took a walk to the ticket office and it
was cheaper to get an end of season “spring fling” ticket ($120) valid for another two weeks rather than buy day
tickets for the weekend. Quite a few of the smaller resorts in this part of the world have special end of season deals and
it’s well worth looking on their websites to see what special offers they have.
The kindercare at Schweitzer is excellent, a big area that is well
organized and run by friendly, helpful people. Anya had two days here and went out each morning for a 2 hour lesson ($70 full
day inc lunch). Craig joined the kids kruizers and skied all day with a great instructor and one other in the class all for
$80. This allowed Jill and myself plenty of time to explore and take in the great views of beautiful Lake Pend Orielle. Full
day tickets normally cost $71. The Outback bowl is the place to head after new snow has fallen, with great lines to be had
from the snow ghost double chair. The Outback Inn is always warm and welcoming and a great place to stop for a mid morning
coffee or hot chocolate.($2.50 each) and a Cheeseburger costs just $7.50.
ski hill has just celebrated being 50 years old and is an undiscovered gem in the Idaho panhandle. It’s all contained
within just under 3000 acres of glades , open bowls and nice wide groomed trails as well as a decent terrain park. They also
have floodlit night skiing at certain times throughout the season. There is also snow tubing on holiday dates and weekends.
The Chimney Rock bar/restaurant is located in the Selkirk Lodge complex and serves
very good food. It’s also very good value and we ate here on all 3 nights. Sirloin steaks ($28.95) were excellent, Venison
Pie ($22.95) and Sea Food Pasta ($24.95) were some of the dishes we had. Kids menu cost $7.95 for two courses and a drink.
There was also a decent wine list. Beers on tap cost between $3.75 and $5.00 a pint.
The resort base area is quite small but as well as the Chimney Rock
there is also the Lakeview Cafeteria, Sams Ally Pizza, Tap’s Lounge and the lively Pucci’s pub where it was great
to have a beer with the locals (most come up for the weekend from Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene). There are a couple of
shops in the village selling skis, boards, clothing and a village market shop for groceries.
Discovery Basin, Montana, USA.
We left Sandpoint after a great weekend and headed down towards Coeur d’Alene and onto I-90
heading east. We stopped at the town of Kellogg for lunch, we had hoped to stay here and ski Silver Mountain but time did
not allow on this trip but it will be skied next time along with Turner Mountain near Libby.
The highway is a lovely scenic drive to Missoula and at Drummond we cut off and headed south to Phillipsburg. We arrived
at the old historic Broadway Hotel in the centre of town and were met by the owner Sue (originally from England ), she made
us most welcome and gave us the keys to the “Miners Snug”. It’s a quaint little two bedroom cottage just
behind the hotel, its got a large bathroom, full kitchen and lounge as well as a garden to the rear with a BBQ. Sue also gave
us discounted lift tickets to ski Discovery Basin, they are normally $40 for a day ticket but we got them for $21. Discovery
also offer a bargain ticket available from start of March which allows you to ski for the rest of the season (closing date
– April 6th) and the whole of the following season all for $279.
The town of Phillipsburg at first sight seems spread out, disjointed
and a bit unappealing but when you take a closer look it is a remarkable place with some of the nicest people you will ever
meet. The Candy Store is a kids delight with thousands of different sweets all displayed beautifully, Jill and the kids were
in there every day I think ! There is also the Sapphire Gem shop where you can buy a bag of local gravel and wash it and hunt
for sapphires . It cost $25 a bag but Craig and Anya got gems worth quite bit more than that. They
value them and you can either sell them back or take them home. There are a few shops in the town selling some lovely pieces
of jewellery. There is also the Phillipsburg brewing Company where you can talk to the master brewer and sample the ales produced
in its own lovely bar. The town has a number of restaurants and we had a lovely dinner at the Silver Mill. It is a place full
of real character with a kids play area full of old and fascinating toys from a bygone era. Dinner including drinks was just
$77 for the 4 of us. On the way into town there is the Sunshine Station, where you can buy fuel, groceries, play pool, drink
beer at the bar and have a lovely meal. Really good steaks and soup and salad. A few beers and dinner for 4 was normally less
25 minute drive from Phillipsburg past frozen Georgetown Lake up to the ski hill on Mount Rumsey. Discovery Basin has a base
elevation of 5770ft and a top height of 8150ft. It’s all contained in 694 acres. There is a lovely base lodge a short
walk from the parking lot where the ticket office, ski school, lockers, rental shop, retail shop are located on the lower
level while upstairs (or via the elevator) is a large seated cafeteria and bar. The ski area has two distinct sides, the front
side has the best beginner, early intermediate terrain you could wish for. Really wide green and blue runs that were beautifully
groomed, accessed from either the Anaconda or Jubilee chairs. The views from the top are also excellent. But it is the backside
of the area where the action is really at. Except for a couple of nice wide blue runs it is all black or double black diamond
terrain (there is even a triple black diamond run called Russell). Most of the area is accessed from two ridges on Rumsey
Mountain and on our trip the snow was deep and in good condition, this side of the area is sheltered from the sun so the snow
stays good for much longer. There are some brilliant steep pitches such as “Good Finger”, “Bad Finger”,
“Snaggle Tooth” and “Terminator”. It’s so quiet that often the only other person you would see
would be the liftie at the bottom of the Limelight chair. At this side of the mountain there is also the Granite chair and
further down they have the Silver Chief chair (closed on our visit) which goes to another yet to be developed base area, plans
are afoot to put in a new access road to this base area from Phillipsburg which would mean a 10 minute drive rather than 25
minute drive to the action. This could happen in time for opening of the 2015/16 season. I can’t praise this little
hill highly enough, you soon get to know all the locals who ski it and work there and after a week you leave having made lots
of new friends.
The only downside was that
on our first day we arrived at Kindercare with Anya and there were no other kids there, the place is normally used by local
families at weekends and is not geared up to look after international tourists. She did not want to be left but it was not
a problem as she skied with us and our friends and had a great time. We also had offers from local people to both take the
kids skiing with them for a couple of hours and to do babysitting. Craig got to ski his first black diamond and double black
diamond runs with myself and my good friend Quinten from Aberdeen who spends 5 weeks out here every winter. He has skied almost
every open ski hill/resort in the western states and he rates Discovery as one of the very best, and I would agree.
Big Sky/Moonlight Basin, Montana, USA.
It was with great sadness when we left Phillipsburg but
we know we will be returning on our next trip. We headed out of town and through Anaconda and back onto I-90 heading further
east through Montana, we stopped at the small town of Whitehall for lunch and to fuel up the car. We were soon leaving the
highway at Belgrade and heading down beside the Gallatin River to Big Sky. We had heard mixed reviews about Huntley Lodge
but decided to book it as it had the best room options for us. We got a 3 bedroom suite which had 2 queen beds
downstairs and a raised sitting area, a small fridge, microwave and tv and another loft area with a queen bed. We were on
the top floor and at the end of the corridor which made it a bit quieter. The building is not new and there are a few area
that really need upgrading but we found it ideal for us. The main lobby and reception area is really nice with lots of pictures
of the early days and its founder Chet Huntley as well as a huge Grizzly bear statue. We got a package
that included lift tickets and these were waiting for us when we checked – in. The car parking is a short
drive away but you return to the lodge via an underground tunnel. Breakfast was also included each morning and was very good.
Lots of choice and plenty of it.
out in the evening was limited to about 4 places. We enjoyed M R Hummers Grill and they did a good kids menu and I had a really
nice Rib eye steak for $27. The Italian Grill ( Andiamo) is a nice place but was a little more expensive, the service was
good and fairly quick (which you want with two young kids who are tired after a day skiing). Caesar Salad ($9), Clam Linguine
($29), Lasagne ($19), Kids meals were $18 each for a main course, ice cream and a drink. The only negative thing I found was
the cutlery, the most awkward forks and knives I have ever had to eat with. Bill came to $115 and that was just soft drinks
and one Belgian beer ($5.50). The main apres bar at the base area is Whiskey Jacksand it was also a decent place to eat, the
menu is mostly tex –mex but good value. We ate here a couple of nights. Burritos ($14.95), Rio Bravo Chicken ($12.95),
Caesar Salad with Chicken breast ($14.95), Burgers from $9.75 and Bison Tamales at $17. Pints of Cold Smoke were $5.50 and
Moose Drool at $5. It was a nice atmosphere with sport on a number of big screen televisions.
The previous afternoon we had a walk round to Kindercare and got the kids signed up. They both
did full days for most of the week and it was good value. It is very well run and spacious with lots of toys, games and arts
and crafts stuff for the kids when they are not out skiing. The bill for the week was $600 for the two of them and they had
2.5 hour lessons every day, most of the time Anya had a private one to one lesson but Craig got skiing with others his own
age. They enjoyed it so much that they did not want to come out at the end of the day. If this had been the only place we
were staying on a week or ten day trip we would have felt guilty about not skiing with the kids but we had already been skiing
for over three weeks and had seen them progress so well we were happy to pick them up at 4.30pm after we had dropped off our
own kit and had been for an apres beer in Whiskey Jacks.
It is so true what they say, this must be the quietest international resort
you could visit. Most of the time we skied without seeing another soul, the snow was good and we had most of the trails to
ourselves. Our first day we explored the easy terrain on Andesite Mountain, Spirit Mountain and Flat Iron Mountain before
lunch as the visibility was not good, we had soup ($4.95) and a bowl of Chilli ($7.50) at the daylodge cafeteria which was
really tasty. We then spent time on ungroomed, nice powder from the Shedhorn and Dakota chairs, it’s lovely and quiet
over there and it snowed most of the afternoon so we hardly saw any other tracks. The only downside is that getting back to
the base is really only on flattish blue runs.
day we made our way to the Lone Peak Triple and had knee deep powder everywhere, great run from the Challenger chair (a quick
get off required and not a lot of room in the deep snow) down Little Tree and then round to Moonlight Basin. The Subaru Freeride
world qualifiers were taking place on the Headwaters and we got a great view of the competitors from the Lone Tree chair.
For lunch we headed down to the impressive Moonlight Lodge. It’s a really stunning place inside. We had a lovely lunch
at a table by the window in the Rock Creek Grill, I had the Bison Pasta ($17) which was tender and plentiful while Jill had
a lovely Bison burger ($16) washed down by a nice pint of Cold Smoke draught ($6). Headed back over to Big Sky for an easy
cruising afternoon using the Swift Current quad, but snow lower down was becoming slow and sticky so we called it a day by
day my friend Quinten drove over from Phillipsburg to ski with us, he knows Big Sky pretty well so we set out for the Tram
to go to top of Lone Peak (11166ft). It was a beautiful, clear and sunny spring day and the views from the top were spectacular
in all directions. It had the feel of being high up in the Alps rather than in Montana. A lot of the terrain up here requires
carrying transceiver, probe and shovel , riding with a partner and signing out. We made our way down Liberty Bowl in great
snow before heading round to the Headwaters at Moonlight. We accessed the area via the Six shooter chair then
a short hike to the Headwaters double chair. At the top the area is quite exposed and windblown, looks a bit like being up
on the Cairngorm plateau. We steadily made our way round by the lifties hut and traversed through the rocks to Cold Spring.
The Headwaters consist of about 15 double black diamond chutes which are all quite narrow. It’s one at a time but as
soon as you make your first turn you begin to flow and your skis get covered in sluff and in no time you are at the bottom
into Stillwater bowl with an appetite for more. We headed to the quiet Madison base for lunch at the Headwaters Grill. We
sat outside and had lovely soup ($7.95) and a beer. I love this area, as well as the challenging Headwaters there are some
lovely blue and black runs through the trees where you really feel alone and miles from civilisation but they all end up back
at bottom of Six shooter chair.
our last day the kids came out to ski with us in the morning and we did have the whole of Spirit Mountain to ourselves, the
easy blue and green runs from the Sacajawea and Lewis and Clark chairs were a bit slow where they had been exposed to the
sun but on the steeper sections we were impressed by just how well both Craig (7) and Anya (4) could ski. Their
progress over the Month was nothing short of amazing and they would have never reached the same standard over the same period
of time in Europe. They had top instructors at all the areas we skied, all of whom were very enthusiastic and made both kids
want to get out skiing. Also at Big Sky they were given tags that attached beside their lift passes, these were updated
each day with what they had achieved and what they still needed to work on. We packed in early and took the afternoon off
for a drive down to West Yellowstone to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre. It was $25 admission and Craig went with
one of the keepers to lay out food for the bears. They only rehome Bears and Wolves who would not survive in the wild and
it’s a place I could easily have spent longer at.
We had a long drive north on leaving Big Sky but again it was very scenic
as we made our way to Helena and on to Great Falls. We crossed back into Canada at the Sweetgrass border crossing, this is
a main route between the countries and we had a wait of around 30 mins before getting over. We drove to Brooks where we spent
two nights in the Super 8 Hotelin town. We had never stayed in any of this chains hotels before but it was very good. I had
prepaid £179 for two nights ( inc breakfast). The room had two double beds and a pull out sofa bed as well as a fridge
and microwave. There was also a swimming pool with a big slide to keep the kids happy.
We spent a day at the Dinosaur Provincial Park. There was plenty to see and do, an interactive
educational centre with lots of exhibits then a walk through the Hoodoos and other weird desert rock formations as well as
a drive through in the car. A cheap day out at only C$10 for us all.
back from Calgary with Air Transat. Flight left at 2.30pm local time and the kids were awake for the whole 8 hours, they arrived
in Gatwick shattered and we had a 5 hour wait to get the Easyjet flight back to Glasgow (£280). If the overnight flight
from Calgary had left later (like the Air Canada flights) the kids would have been more likely to sleep.
This had been a very successful and rewarding trip for us all and I am sure both Craig and Anya
will remember all the adventures they had for a very long time.
Next year we are going to Gressoney with Ski Esprit in January and
hopefully another week later on in the season too. 2016 will be our next trans North American trip and will take in Red Mountain,
Discovery Basin, Bridger Bowl, Great Divide, Silver Mountain and Turner Mountain.