Snow fun @ Whistler, Canadian Rockies & Lake Tahoe
"Part 1 - Vancouver"
After much anticipation, I embarked on the loooong flight (21 hours) from Singapore to Vancouver, with stopovers at Narita & Portland. Northwest Airline juz launched the new personal in-flight system which made my flight more bearable -- watched a few movies in between naps and meals. Arrived in Vancouver airport at 12pm on a small plane from Portland -- I was sitting beside the propeller and really glad that we landed safely :) Collected a couple of booklets from the tourist info and headed straight for the downtown area on the YVR Airporter (shuttle bus between airport and downtown). Check-in to HI Vancouver Downtown -- clean, tidy and located in a safe neighbourhood. Time to check out the city -- but the weather was gloomy with clouds hanging low. Heeding advise from fellow VT members, I skipped my plan to go for sight-seeing tours and book a seat in a chartered van to head out to Whistler early next morning. I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for ski gears -- walked from store to store and finally got myself a NorthFace beanie with ear warmer (so that I can do away with my ear muff while skiing).
It started to rain in the evening -- the best thing to do was to sit myself in a warm restaurant and tuck into a good meal. My friend, Yuzhi, strongly recommended an authentic Japanese restaurant, Guu, at the cross section of Thurlow and Robson Street. After an hour wait, I got a seat at the counter and watched the chefs cooked up a feast and the waitresses happily shouting orders to the chefs. I picked 2 dishes from the hand-written menu (in Japanese and English) -- sharkfins with jelly fish as appetizer and beef sukiyaki as main course. Yummy -- would prefer to eat the egg raw for the sukiyaki though :) My roommates were asleep by the time I got back from dinner at 9pm -- boy, some people sleep real early! After a hot shower, I had an early night at 10pm. As I normally sleep for ard 6 hours daily, I woke up at 4am -- cun do much at such unearthly hours... The hostel served free breakfast -- good spread of bread, buns, cereals, coffee, tea, juices etc. Chatted with a German lady and Austrialian girl -- both on long holiday for 3-6 months (how I envy them!).
"Part 2 - Whistler"
The chartered van by Big Foot arrived promptly at 9.30am and moved on to pick up another 3 guys(Chile) from another hostel, SameSun. On the way to Whistler, we had interesting discussions on politics, policy, culture etc -- the Chileans dunno where Singapore is located and that English is our first language :) Weather was gloomy and we didn't see much on the famous Sea-to-Sky highway. Traffic was smooth and the road was in good condition (no snow), we arrived at the Shoestring Lodge before noon. My bed was not ready until 4pm. so I took a stroll to explore the area and collect my ski lift ticket & rental equipment(booked online months ahead). The North Village, Whistler Village and Upper Village are 10-15min easy walk from one another and are lined with blocks of condos and many restaurants & pubs. With juz a few days from Christmas, the villages were decorated with festive ornaments. Many people were chilling out on the porch of restaurants -- hmm, why are they not on the slopes?? Well, I knew the reason when I saw the base of the Whistler mountain -- grass patch was still visible and there was no snow at the base! Oh, how disappointing -- I was expecting heaps of snow... Learnt from my roommates (2 European guys and an English girl) later that it was dumping snow a couple of weeks earlier and stopped snowing for the past 1 week - the mountain top was icy and not ski-able. Oh well, I juz have to make the most of it...
To improve my skills, I signed up for a Level 3-4 lesson to start off my ski holiday. My group was led by an instructor from Sendai, Japan and consisted of 5 ladies from Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. The queue to the Olympic station was horrendous ? thank goodness that ski school had priority queue! We were taught how to shift our weight, jump before making a turn and ski with graceful movements etc. At the end of the lesson, I was able to ski parallel with more confident ?? But the lesson ended with skiing over a stretch of rocky trail due to lack of snow -- we were glad that our skis were rented! The queues to get down to the base via gondola and chair lift were super long -- practically not skiable for the trails that went right to the base of the mountain as there were still have visible grass patches!
As my friends (Philip, Terence & Yuzhi) would be arriving from Chicago later that night, I checked in to our rental condo at Whistler Village that evening. Windwhistle is located about 5 minutes walk from the base of Whistler Mountain and grocery & wine store right downstairs. Our condo is an apartment with 1-bedroom, 2 bathrooms, living room with fireplace, well-equipped kitchenette and balcony with views of Whistler Mountains (pls see pics for visuals). Only minus point is that there is a bar downstairs -- we didn't hear a thing though (too tired after skiing and feasting).
Being first-time skiers, my friends signed up for the beginner lesson while I was off skiing solo at Whistler Mountain. Met up with them for lunch at Blackcomb and took some candid shots of their ski lesson -- wedge, fall, collide etc. Tried to ski from the top of Blackcomb Mountain but the condition was as bad -- skiing over rocks most of the time! Met many people on the chair lifts and all expressed great disappointment at the snow condition. We spent our last day at Whistler Mountain -- the snow-making machine at the Olympic station improved the condition of the trails slightly. To comfort ourselves with the lack of snow, our nights were feasting time ? sampled the great variety of international cuisine in the village :)
The guys rented a car and gave the gals a lift to Kamloops where we could catch a connecting bus to Jasper. It was a beautiful sunny day -- very scenic drive and we even made a stop for a short hike to a frozen lake. While the gals continued the journey to Jasper, the guys carried on their journey to Vancouver, stopping at Salmon Arm.
"Part 3 - Canadian Rockies"
After a restless night on the coach, we arrived in Jasper at 6.20am. It was freezing cold and we found out that our hostel (HI Jasper) was not within walking distance - we gotta take a cab as it was in the mist of the forest! We went for an ice walk at Maligne Canyon and spent Christmas day skiing at Marmot Basin (snow was much better than Whistler!). It was a quiet Christmas Eve at the hostel - not many guests around. Oh, had 2 little mishaps while skiing. First was when I attempted to take a T-bar via a black run to the top of the mountain (the chair lift was closed due to strong wind). Halfway through, my skis crossed and I tumbled down the slope - in the process, 2 more persons behind me were knocked down! So embarrassing! Then, I accidentally skied straight over a morgul, fell, hit the ground on the back of my head and black out. When I woke up later, I was lying on the snow and hidden by the trees (no one saw/found me)! Goodness - could have freeze to death! Moral of the story -ski with a partner!
On Boxing day, we took the Sundog Tour's Daily connector to Banff - driving through the Icefield Parkway. The driver made a stop at a strategic spot for us to take pictures -- too bad my pictures cun paint the true beauty of the icefield! We arrived in SameSun Backpacker hostel -- our shared 6-bed dorm was in a mess and we cun even located our beds (later that night, we met our room mates - a Japanese guy and an Euporean guy). We spent the next day skiing at Lake Lousie - that was the coldest weather (-20 degrees C!!) I have ever skied in. Everyone was heading back to the lodge to "defrost" our hands and legs by the fireplace after every 2-3 runs! Brghhh? Luckily, the weather was bright and sunny on the following day. We took a wildlife and Lake Louise tour with Discover Banff Tours and they gave us a free lunch at Old Spaghetti Factory. Though the scenery was beautiful, our pictures didn't do justice to what we saw ? most of our pictures where in hues of blue - maybe the sky was too blue?! ??
"Part 4 - Horse riding @ Summerland"
Our next stop was a horse ranch in Summerland. We took a night coach from Banff -- unforgettable experience as we had to stand in the cold waiting for our 1am coach. The bus station closes at 10pm! We found one of the door unlocked and went in to shield from the cold outside -- maybe that triggered the security alarm, we were soon chased out of the station when the security officer arrived to check. After a 10-hour ride, we were glad to see Jochen, the owner of the Wildhorse Ranch, who was waiting for us at the bus station. On the short drive to ranch, we heard from Jochen abt the tsumani that wrecked Asia -- we lost touch of news for the past 2 weeks and was shocked to hear the massive damages and lost of lifes! We were warmly welcomed by his wife, Brigitta at the ranch -- a beautiful log house and tastefully decorated. After a yummy breakfast, we set off to visit the ice wineries in Kelowna -- Jochen was the destinated driver and we tasted some of the best ice wines in the region (Canada is famous for it?s ice wine). We finally had to stop at the 3rd winery as we bought too many bottles of wines at each stop -- if we continue, we may not be able to carry them home! Imagine riding a horse through the snow covered plains? Well, we did that -- Brigitta led us on a 1-hour trail. It was Yuzhi first experience on a horse -- alright initially as her horse juz followed Brigitta. When I went off to ride at a faster pace, her horse followed mine and she got throw off the horse! Luckily, she landed on soft snow and was unhurt but a bit shaken. Oblivious of what had happened, I was trotting/cantering away until my horse stopped to wait for the rest to catch up. After a long wait, we backtrace the trail -- it was then that I found out what happened! It was then that I realized we were not wearing helmets! Oh, realized how pamper I was by the riding lodge that I frequent in west Malaysia. After Brigitta saddled the horse, she asked me to mount the horse. I naively said I only know how to get up the horse on a raised platform! Could see the disbelief in her eyes, she patiently teach me how to mount the horse, with a push from her.
Jochen and his family were originally from Germany. So we requested for a German dinner that night. We had a good chat with them while tucking in to a tasty dinner. Some more guests arrived later in the evening and we were in awe at their discussion of buying acres of land. We retired to our room early as we were leaving the next morning. It was a "major" task to pack the wines into our backpacks -- managed to helped Yuzhi maximize the space and squeezed in 4-6 of ice wines! We had a really good night sleep -- it had been a tiring week of travel on the road and sleep at the hostel wasn?t as comfortable. After another yummy breakfast, we bid farewell to our hosts and head on back to Vancouver. We had dinner at Guu -- ordered more dishes to share. The next morning, I took a flight to San Francisco for the final leg of my holiday.
"Part 5 - Mill Valley & Lake Tahoe, California"
My Japanese friend, Mamiko, whom we met at a Yosemite camping trip in 2000, was studying at Berkeley. We signed up with an outdoor group for a ski trip at Lake Tahoe over the New Year holiday. Her friend, Greg, has a family cabin at Lake Tahoe and he was very nice to give us a lift there. They came to pick me up from SFO airport and we made a stop at his parent?s place at Walnut Creek to swap car -- it was expected to snow heavily and his dad's 4x4 Lexus was better. Indeed, we were caught in a snow storm on the way and the highway was closed. Thanks to the GPS system in the car, we took the surface road and arrived in Truckee after 4-5 hours drive. Greg recommended a fusion restaurant, Dragonfly, and we stopped for dinner -- very interesting food. Our car was covered by a thick layer of snow by the time we finished dinner. It was dark and we couldn't find the cabin of the outdoor group in the heavy snow storm. We decided to spend the night at Greg's cabin and rejoin the group the next morning. Juz when we reached the driveway of Greg?s cabin, the car got stuck in the snow. Unable to move the car, we left the car on the road. Greg?s cabin was nice and cosy -- rooms are big and spacious.
The next morning, we spent the whole morning trying to get the car out from the driveway -- neighbors from nearby cabin and car passing by came to help. Weather was sunny and beautiful with fresh snow from the storm -- how I yearn to be at the ski slopes! Was totally helpless as we tried all sorts of methods to get the car out. Finally, it took 10 persons and a tow from another car to accomplish the mission. We got to the ski slope at 12 noon -- was told that they were closing at 3pm as it was New Year's Eve. I decided to give it a miss -- still have New Year's Day to ski. We finally found the cabin of the outdoor group and met a bunch of people. Food and wine kept flowing throughout the night. After the toast when clock striked 12, most of us went to bed -- everyone was keen on getting a good night sleep for next day skiing. The weather was bad - snowing heavily(low visibility) and very windy. After some debate on where to ski under such weather condition, we head on to Squaw Valley. To our dismay, only a few chair lifts were in operation due to the wind condition. Well, my ski holiday started with no snow at Whistler and too much snow at Tahoe!
I moved back to Greg's cabin that night -- as we were heading back to SF the next morning. I knew Bill from a technical course in Silicon Valley and met his father, Wally, at their Thanksgiving dinner in 2000. We kept in touch for the years that followed. Upon hearing that I would be in the bay area during New Year, Wally invited me to stay at his place in Mill Valley. Bill came over for a visit and it was a lot of catching up over dinner and wine (as we had not met for more than 4 years)! We spent the next morning driving to SF to get Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts and stopped by a horse ranch (didn't get to trail ride due to the muddy road condition). Wally's girlfriend, Rosie, made lunch for us -- barley soup (very yummy!). She is a bubbly lady and we had a good chat over lunch. While Wally took a nap, Rosie drove me to REI for shopping -- I happily grab a waterproof jacket, polar fleece, quick dry t-shirts and a pair of mitten with liners (for my next ski holiday). We then went for a short walk to catch the sunset with the view of Golden Gate Bridge. After happy hour (wine and snack at 5pm), Wally brought us to the best chicken restaurant in Mill Valley -- very tender chicken indeed ?? We made a stop at the supermarket on the way back after dinner -- more shopping for me, clam chowder soup and Californian wine. I spent the rest of the night stuffing all my shopping goodies into my already-full backpack.
The next morning, Wally sent me to the airport -- many thanks to him for being such a wonderful host! After spending 3 weeks on the road, I was ready to go home. Hmm, I continued with more shopping at the SFO airport and Narita Airport -- finally boarded the plane with 5 pieces of hand language!
Check out more pics in my online album canada_usa_dec04 @