top of page

Growing up on the slopes

Jan 18, 2017

I am a second-generation Calgarian. That means I grew up with the Rocky Mountains at my doorstep, with skiing being synonymous with winter. When my brother, sister and I were small, our parents would take us to the Paskapoo Slopes (also known as Canada Olympic Park, or the "Poo Glacier") to practice our "pizzas" (where you make your skis into a V shape to slow down) and "French fries" (those super classy parallel ski turns you see the pros doing).

But instead of an opportunity to practice safe-skiing techniques, it was really an opportunity for my siblings and I to see who was daring enough to go from the top of the chairlift to the bottom without turning once. When we got a bit bigger, we graduated to Wintergreen, a hill just outside of Calgary in the foothills. With season passes for night skiing, we went from school to car to slopes, eating McDonald's for dinner on the way to the hill, all three of us ending up asleep in the back seat on the way home at 9 p.m.

As we grew, our ski ambitions grew as well. We got season passes to bigger resorts such as Nakiska and Fortress in the mountains, and finally to the massive terrain and steep vertical drops of Sunshine and Lake Louise.

I was an avid (rabid?) skier, pounding on my parents' door at 6 a.m. "It's all about first chair!" I cried out, wanting to hit the slopes before the crowds arrived. Happily, this resulted in them passing the car keys to me so I could make the 90-minute drive with my siblings and one or two equally enamored ski buddies.

One day, when I was in high school, my parents informed me that I was welcome to continue my ski habit – at my own expense. Facing the high cost of a lift pass, my friends and I turned to the backcountry. Without lifts, we'd hike or skin up the mountain to ski down – we'd "earn our turns" as it's called. We took up telemark skiing, which is downhill with extra-sturdy cross-country gear. (If you've ever seen someone gliding down the hill doing lunges, that's telemarking.)Backcountry skiing meant no crowds, free access and untracked snow, which quickly gave us a thirst for the kind of powder that never occurs on a ski hill.

All this open terrain left me disdainful of resort skiing, where corduroy (machine-groomed runs) prevailed.

Eventually, I married my best ski buddy (he's also a pretty mean mountain biker and an absolute goat on a mountain scramble). We started having babies, which placed us into more cross-country terrain as we didn't want to expose our little ones to avalanche hazards.

As we accumulated children, we frequently took them on cross-country outings from their very first winter. Mary (now 7), Gordon (5) and Evan (now 3) each took their turn riding in a polk (a sled that you drag when you ski).

Now our kids were third-generation Calgarians – skiing was their birthright! I was excited to get Mary on downhill skis, but balked at the price to take a little one out to the Poo Glacier where I'd taken my first turns.

Then we moved from Calgary to Fort McMurray, a seven-hour drive north. Now, Fort McMurray probably doesn't conjure up images as the ski capital of North America. But out of curiosity and boredom one day, my husband and I loaded up our Suburban with all three kids and headed out to Vista Ridge – a ski hill and tube park. The first oddity was that the parking lot is at the top of the 375-metre-high river bank. Unlike mountain skiing, where you park at the bottom of the hill, river-valley skiing, where you often park at the top, is super weird.

Still, Vista Ridge had a classic ski lodge, but with way fewer people. And friendlier ones. This, I felt, was absolutely the Wintergreen of my youth. We bought a family lift ticket (and here that's defined as lift tickets for two adults and as many kids as you happen to bring); rental gear for everyone was the same price as one adult ticket at one of the big mountain resorts farther south.

My daughter, on her first ride up the bunny hill's magic carpet, said she would never cross-country ski again. Once she got her ski legs, my husband took her and Gordon down to the chairlift, which accessed some steeper runs and the terrain park. Gordon sported a massive grin as he flew between his dad's legs over the teeter-totter stunt and some small jumps. "Again! Again! Again!" he cried.

My littlest was a bunny-hill junky, happy to high-five the lift attendant and have mom drag him back to the magic carpet once he'd swooped down.

Suddenly, we became downhill skiers once again. And the kids discovered that same wild excitement of my youth, getting to the hill for first chair and staying until the lifts close. My grin was so wide, I didn't mind that my teeth were freezing as I watched my kids revel in the exhilaration, freedom and shared experience of a day outside, being together with people they love.

5 views0 comments


bottom of page