Canada Road Trip 2006(part1)

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This trip had been planned and booked well in advance. In fact I started to organize it when we arrived back from Canada in early March 2005.
Sunday 19th Feb 2006.
We were packed and ready to go so we left Dumfries at 16.50 for the drive up to Glasgow. We stayed the night at the Erskine Bridge Hotel. This place is now a bit dated but had excellent staff and at only 59 for a nights bed and breakfast and 15 days car parking it was a bargain. After a couple of beers it was of to bed but I was too excited about the trip to get a real good nights sleep !

Erskine Bridge Hotel

Mon 20th Feb 2006.
We were up early and went down for breakfast. We were the only two in the dinning room and we enjoyed an excellent hot buffet breakfast,just what we needed to set us up for what is always a very long day. The minibus arrived and we were soon at Glasgow airport. It was then the usual struggle to the check-in desk with our masses of luggage. We are able to check in all the way through to Calgary but the BMI staff tried to get an extra 15 each for snowboard carriage. I complained and said this was all booked before he new charge came in and that I was not willing to pay it. They backed down and we were on our way and arrived at London Heathrow on time. We had been given seats for the transatlantic flight while in Glasgow but they were not together so we went to the Air Canada desk to see if we could change them. In the end when we were at the departure gate we got seats together. The flight across was pretty uneventfull and I was feeling ok when we landed in Calgary pretty much on the scheduled time. I was releived when all our luggage appeared and we made our way to the car hire desks where we picked up the keys for a Grand Jeep Cherokee the same as we had last Winter. Jill was a named driver this time so we made sure that we could adjust the seat for her.

Thrifty Car Rental (Canada)

We were soon on our way out of the Airport and heading South on Highway 2. There was a real heavy snow shower as we set out but it soon passed and we had nice clear skys all the way after that as we headed out through the Calgary suburbs and down towards Fort McLeod. It was a nice drive on a very straight road with nice scenery as the sun went down. We had the vast Alberta Prairies on the Left and away over to the Right was the Eastern edge of the Canadian Rockies.
We stopped at the small town of High River for a quick bite to eat then it was on down to Highway 3 West and along towards Pincher Creek. As darkness fell a lot of windblown snow was drifting across the road, it was eerie and made driving difficult at times. Once through Pincher Creek we followed the signs for Beaver Mines and Castle Mountain until we came to Buckhorn Road. We had a 2km drive up this track in the wilderness until we arrived at Aspen Grove. It was 7.15 and the journey from Glasgow had been very good without any real problems. We were shown to our room which was excellent then had a coffee and a chat to the owners John and Helen before retiring early for the night.

Aspen Grove B&B - Beaver Mines,Alberta

Tues 21st Feb 2006
We woke early but refreshed after a comfortable and quiet nights sleep. Had a look out onto the patio and could really see how far out in the wilderness we were. The house is surrounded by forest with nice views over the mountains.
We went through for breakfast and sat down with the other guests who were all from Alberta and were out for a few days Skiing at Castle Mountain. Breakfast was brilliant with lots of nice waffles,cream,berries,bacon etc. This is a lovely house and I would certainly stay here again when we return to this area in future years. We payed the bill and bought our lift tickets here too which saved us a few Dollars ($37.50 instead of $48.00) before saying goodbye and heading along the road on the short drive to Castle Mountain. On our visit Castle was said to have the best snow conditions in Alberta. This place has developed over the last few years from when it was known as Westcastle Ski area. I had heard good things about the place and I was surprised just how good the infrastructure was as soon as we arrived at the base area car park. The main hill and lifts to the front looked impressive and the area has a vertical rise of 863m. There are a few nice houses and condos spread out along from the base area which are all well located in the trees. Castle will never become a major resort simply because of its location and its remoteness although it is less than 3 hours drive from Calgary. My first impressions were good.

There were a few vehicles at the base but it was certainly not busy. The main part of the hill is accessed by two long chairs and a T-bar (which can be avoided as it runs along side one of the chairs). We made our way to the Sundance triple chair (445m vert) where we were greeted by the friendliest liftie ever. The lady had a few words and a big hug for everyone before they got on the chair and was keen to know which runs you had done and to offer advise on where the best snow could be found,excellent. From the top of the chair it was a short distance across to the top chair. The Tamarack chair (420m vert) takes you up to the top of a huge bowl where there are limitless options off to both the right and left. We checked out the runs to the right side first where there is amix of blue and black runs which drop down through the bowl towards the treeline and back to the base. The snow was in fine condition.

It had clouded over this morning and we now had a few snow flurries and quite cold temperatures to contend with. We then paid a visit to the base lodge. This is an impressive and fairly large building where yet again all the people were very friendly and pleased to see you. Prices for food and drink here are very reasonable and nothing near as expensive as Whistler or Banff/Lake Louise. Also down at the base area there is a hire/repair shop and a small retail shop and another seperate Pub/grill but it was closed on our visit.

After our coffee break it was back up to the top to explore the black diamond runs down from the other side of the Tamarack chair. Runs like Drifter,Showdown and Trapper were all excellent and Jill and I had these virtually to ourselves. The snow was hard packed powder with around 5cm of fresh on top which made for an excellent riding surface. I would love to have had more time here as the "Chutes" area has some fine challenging terrain which all drops back down to a traverse back to the base area past the learners area and some of the homes and condos.

Sadly our time at Castle was passing far too quick and as we had another long drive in front of us that afternoon we headed down to the daylodge for lunch.
We enjoyed our short day here and will certainly return. The resort is going to be opening up another new area on Haig Ridge which will provide a lot more beginner and intermediate terrain.
There are a few nice B&Bs like the one way stayed in and there is also a small Hotel/Hostel situated at the entrance to the base area. Other than that the nearest town is Pincher Creek where there is more options and is also close to another small hill called Pass Powderkeg.

Castle Mountain Resort

So we were on our way for the long journey to Rossland.
The weather initially was cloudy with light snow flurries so we made good time. Got fuel at Blairmore and then headed over the Crowsnest pass and down towards Fernie. The Ski hill was looking good from the road and its a shame we had no time to spend a day on the hill. It is now about 5 years since we boarded at Fernie and this is about the 3rd time since then that we have just driven past.The longest part of this journey always seems to be between Fernie and Cranbrook before heading through Yahk Provincial park and over to Creston just North of the Idaho border. Going over the Kootenay pass the snow became quite heavy and the road was quite tricky in places so it was pleasing to get to the top before heading down towards Salmo. From here we did not have long to go before driving down to Trail and then onto the winding road to Rossland and up to the Rams Head Inn at Red where we arrived by 5.45pm ( the hours time difference from Mountain time to Coastal time was in our favour).

We were greeted by Greg and Tauna and given the same lovely room as last year (Room D). We were soon unpacked and heading down to the Rock Cut for dinner. As usual I ate too much but it washed down with a nice jug of beer and it was away to bed exhausted by 10pm.

Wed 22nd Feb 2006
It had started to snow by 7am and by breakfast time it was getting quite heavy. We had Blueberry pancakes for breakfast then got our kit gathered together and made our way over to the base area. It was nice to walk through a car park frozen and covered in snow again as last year it was like taking a mud bath !
We bought 4 out of 5 day passes as this was going to fit in with our day with Big Red Cats on Friday. The tickets had been pre-booked in the UK which makes them slightly cheaper. We were nice and early and near the front of the lift line for the Silverlode chair.

We were soon off the first chair and onto the short cruise with one foot strapped in down to the Motherlode chair. This is a slow old chair which seems to take forever to get to the top of Granite Mountain at a height of 2075m and the last 150m can be exposed to the elements and the wind can force the chair to close. There was a bit of wind up here this morning and later on the chair was stopped for a while but by that time we had made fresh tracks in about 10cm of nice powder down to the Paradise chair.For the next hour or so we had lots of superb sport in this area with fresh tracks everytime. Where was everybody ?

We then decided it was time to go for a hot chocolate in Paradise Lodge. This is a great place,full of friendly people with a large open log fire which is ideal for getting a warm up and for drying wet gloves out.

Back in 2004 when we first came to board at Red we decided to take advantage of the free Mountain hosts who you can team up with at the base and who will show you around the area. This is a good idea at Red as it is a place which at first can be difficult to find your way around,especially on Granite Mountain where you can drop off the top in a 360' circle and the trail map just does not do the area justice.
We met up with Andy and he gave us a real good insight to Red and told us a lot about the history of the place. The following Winter we did not see Andy on the hill but we were delighted to see him in Paradise Lodge this morning. He had no problem remembering us, including our names and what we done for a living. Andy is a great character and it was brilliant to meet up with him again.

After leaving Andy we made our way back down to the base area via the cruisy "Long Squaw" run. It was then back up to the top of the Motherlode chair and along "Buffalo Ridge" and some nice snow on "Granite Towers".

Down from Buffalo Ridge on Granite Mountain.

We had a nice lunch down at the base lodge then a few gentle runs to finish off our first day back at Red. Got back to the Rams Head Inn and had a nice soak in the hot tub before getting ready to go down to Trail for Dinner.
It was great to meet up again with Bill,Joan and Susan.
We had a nice dinner and then a few good laughs as some old stories and tales were told. A great day and I fell asleep as soon as I hit the pillow tonight.

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