We woke up in Lake Louise on Sunday morning to discover that it had snowed overnight. Growing up in places where snow was always a rare and exciting commodity, my first instinct upon realizing that it was still coming down was to rush out of the front doors of the Deer Lodge, make a snow angel in the parking lot, and then throw half a dozen snowballs at unsuspecting passersby. But we were due at 8:30am at Sunshine Village for our second day of skiing, so instead I just caught a few snowflakes on my tongue and hummed the theme to The Snowman under my breath while watching Sean load the bags into the car.
Driving through a light snowfall---Sean told me it was "just a flurry" and I swear I thought he called it a McFlurry; note to self, must stop spending so much time watching commercials for McDonalds---we came across two men shoveling snow in the middle of the road, and one of them held up their hand for us to stop. All of a sudden, right in front of us, two (then four, then eight, then fourteen, then twenty) cross-country skiiers sped straight across the road in front of our car, poles glistening in the half-dark. It was freezing, it was snowing, and it wasn't even eight o'clock on a Saturday morning yet, and here was this group of hardy warriors, voluntarily zipping through the gloom on two slippery poles. I have learned an awful lot about Canadians during my short time in Banff so far: they are supremely kind, dryly funny, and unfailingly friendly and gracious. But the more time I spend here, the more I'm realizing that I really need to add another adjective to my list: Canadians are HARDCORE.
When we arrived at Sunshine Village, the snow was still coming down a little, and as we stood in line for the gondola---to ski Sunshine, you must first take a 20-minute ride up to the base of the mountain, you see, during which you are packed into the gondola car with seven of your new best friends---there was a palpable feeling of excitement in the air. Sure, waiting in line is never going to be fun, but when you're waiting in line to do something you're super psyched about---look at me, with the snowboarder lingo!---the waiting isn't just bearable, it basically becomes a non-issue. See, look how happy I look, even with my ski boots pinching me something wicked and the snow coming down in my face!
The line moved fast, and soon we were at the top of the mountain, ready to head down at top speed. Internet, I must tell you that I have never been as cold in my life as I was at the top of that mountain, nor as anxious about skiing my way down it. The wind was blowing like crazy, whipping up snow into our faces, and the entire world looked like one enormous snow globe. I could see about five feet in front of me, and all around me, everything had been blanked out by snow, like someone had taken an enormous stick of White-Out to the world. But oh, it was a thing to behold: Sunshine, you see, is plenty big enough to disperse the huge crowds it attracts, and while we'd been part of a huge moving mass of people at the top of the mountain, as soon as I got going on my way down, I didn't see another person until the end of it. It was peacefully, eerily, fantastically beautiful.
Also beautiful was the behemoth of a burger Sean ordered at the Chimney Corner Lounge on the top of the mountain; the minute I saw it, I a) regretted not ordering one myself, and b) morphed into one of those embarrassing people who takes pictures of food in restaurants.
But hey, until you've forced down a rubbery fifteen dollar bagel served by a pimply youth who just wants to give you your change and get out on the mountain again, you haven't experienced typical ski lodge cuisine, and to find something so different from that, so---how should I put this?----actually appealing....well, that's huge, and I could have stayed in the Chimney Corner Lodge all afternoon if I'd wanted to, eating plate after plate of crispy sweet potato fries.
But my ski instructor was waiting for me, and holy fleece-lined handwarmers, I cannot say enough good things about the instructor I had at Sunshine. His name was Glen and he was from just outside Birmingham in England, and the thing about Glen was that he just didn't take any crap from me. "Lean forward!" he'd shout, and I'd shout "I am leaning forward!" and he'd shout "You're not leaning forward!" and he'd be totally right, of course, because I wouldn't be leaning forward, at least not the in the way he'd showed me.
And that's kind of the way we went for an hour or so---Glen basically re-teaching me to ski and not letting me get away with being lazy about it---and by the end of our time together, I felt like I'd attended an intensive two-day ski session followed by an intensive two-day confidence-boosting workshop, because the difference in the way I skiied---in the way I felt about skiing---was just incredible. Suddenly it all made sense, like the way driving a car makes sense when you finally figure out how it works, why the clutch is there in the first place, how to stop stalling in the middle of the road. Suddenly I was in control of my skis, rather than just trying to keep them parallel and hoping for the best with every turn. And after we'd made the 25-minute run down from the top of the mountain at the end of the day---Glen wanted to take the gondola back down, the wimp, but I was so pumped up that I convinced him we should ski instead---the adrenaline rush was still so strong that I went straight out to the parking lot and did this:
Seriously, if you find yourself in Banff and you want an amazing teacher at Sunshine Village, email me and I'll give you Glen's number and email address. In case you can't tell from my exuberant star jump there, I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.
I'm also pretty loved up on Sunshine Village and on Banff in general, and hey, on the whole of Alberta, really. People are kind and friendly and patient here in a way I can't put my finger on. They're not jerks on the slopes, and trust me, I've seen my share of jerks on the slopes. The food is phenomenal, the cold really isn't too brutal once you master the art of layering, and everywhere you go, the scenery hits you in the face and knocks you flat on the back with its beauty. In fact, every evil dictator and stressed-out world leader should visit Banff, that's what I think, because how could you ever be angry or unhappy or itching to start wars when every turn you take in the car looks like this?
You couldn't, that's how. Wow, I think I just found a way to solve world peace.