Monthly Archives: January 2013

2013
01/23

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WINTER LUXURY Blantyre Delivers Country Charm, Tudor Elegance and Superb Cuisine

By JR Rosenthal

Blantyre Dining Room

Blantyre Dining Room   

If Noel Coward and Ian Fleming were still alive today I’ve no doubt that Blantyre, a country-house hotel and Relais & Cheateaux property in Lenox, Massachusetts, would be their favorite escape from the rigors of writing plays, smoking Chesterfields and inventing English cultural icons like James Bond.

Blantyre may well be the last of the elegant, formal hotel properties in New England. Male guests are asked to wear jackets and ties at dinner. You can walk through the front door and take a time-tunnel-trip to an era when dressing with panache was an expression of elegant living, and formality was not a dirty word but, rather, a lifestyle choice.

Before showcasing the services that set Blantyre apart, here’s a brief description of its architectural splendor: “A meandering driveway leads from the front gates by graceful turns to the porte cochere. Inside, a 34-by-28-foot living room, with its beamed ceiling and massive fireplace at one end, is both authentically Tudor and very much like the heart of a Free or Shingle house.

Yum

Yum

“The black-oak paneling runs up the walls, and the upper third was finished to the ceiling in red leather decorated with trophy animal heads. The huge center table came from the Marquand Collection, and the remaining furniture was copied from pieces at Hatfield House” {Houses of the Berkshires 1870-1930, Acanthus Press}.

Add to this description the fresh-cut flowers, overstuffed chairs, leaded glass windows and rich, burnished woods and you get an idea of Blantyre’s unique ambience. With eight beautifully furnished guest rooms and suites (many with fireplaces) on the second floor, Blantyre offers comfort, style and a staff that is second to none in the accommodations

Tonights Canape - Boulette de Boeuf with Fennel Puree

Tonights Canape – Boulette de Boeuf with Fennel Puree

industry today.

Simon Piers Dewar transitioned last year from his role as a brilliant chef to running the day-to-day operations at Blantyre. “The goal is to make sure that the guests get absolutely everything they need,” said Dewar, who is both intelligent and thoughtful about his role in overseeing the property. “Blantyre has to stand for something, setting a gold standard, greater than what you’d expect to find anywhere else.”

French Technique Speaks with a Local Accent

Chef Arnaud Cotar handles the kitchen at Blantyre with the ease of Diana Rigg playing Medea in London’s West End Theatre District. Cotar, who served as sous chef for 11 years during the reign of Christopher Brooks at Blantyre, took over as executive chef last year and has kept things ticking along quite nicely. The food reflects French technique with American—specifically local/New England—ingredients and produce.

NT brings you a sampling of dishes on the current menu, with a few comments to put the excellence of the meal in proper perspective:

 

Cod

Cod

Starters

LOBSTER BISQUE with Parsnip, Scituate Lobster and Black Garlic

The black garlic is the ingredient that makes all the other elements work together in harmony. The lobster is rich and perfectly cooked.

SAUTEED VEAL SWEETBREADS with Wild Mushroom Agnolotti, Pearl Onion, Madeira

Who but Cotar would have made beautiful homemade pasta stuffed with aromatic wild mushrooms to complement the texture of the sweetbreads? Genius!

PRESSED LA BELLE FARM FOIE GRAS with Toasted Raisin Brioche and Pickled Pear

The foie gras is as lovely and complex as anything you’d find in the best restaurants in Lyon or Paris.

Main Courses

Chef Arnaud Cotar

Chef Arnaud Cotar

BRAISED RHODE ISLAND MONKFISH with Saffron Risotto and Fennel

The locally-sourced fish, when paired with the saffron and fennel, is light and flavorful.

BONELESS LAMB RACK with Chickpea Croquette, Swiss Chard, Black Olive and Yellow Pepper Romesco

This dish has a Mediterranean flair with spices and the crust on the lamb makes taking each bite a sensual pleasure.   

MILLBROOK FARM VENISON LOIN with Medjoul date, Endive, Confit Carrot, Poivrade Sauce

The venison exudes bold flavors that can only be enjoyed with a glass of Duckhorn Merlot. The nuances of the dates steal the show!

 

Canapes

Canapes

 

IF YOU GO

The winter is a very special time at Blantyre, with the option of arranging a gourmet Snow B-B-Q for a party of 8 or more, and the cozy charm and warmth of this Tudor gem.

For reservations for lodging or dining:

Blantyre

16 Blantyre Road

Lenox, MASS 01240

Phone: 413-637-3556

welcome@blantyre.com

reservations@blantyre.com

www.blantyre.com

 

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2013
01/15

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Malaga to Morocco Aboard a Clipper Ship

By Linda Buchanan Allen

Photos by Linda and Boyd Allen

The Star Flyer

The Star Flyer

 

Namina sinks to her knees and bows her forehead to touch the floor.  She mutters a prayer in Arabic while we watch, just a bit uncomfortable with the idea that we are witnessing something too private.  But she’s not self-conscious, and when her prayer is complete, Namina rises back up and smiles easily at us, as if she has gone away and returned to find us waiting for her.  She motions with her hands for our group to gather closer around.  About twenty of us are touring the Hassan II Mosque together, which sits at water’s edge in Casablanca (yes, that Casablanca, which in real life is a fairly rough shipping town).   We have sailed here from Malaga, Spain aboard the Star Flyer, one of three clipper ships owned and operated by the Swedish company Star Clippers.  Casablanca is the first stop on our week-long adventure on the tall ship that will also include stops at Tangier and Gibraltar as well as Cadiz and Motril, Spain.

Namina, our tour guide for Casablanca, sports a blue shawl wrapped around her head and neck with a short blue caftan—the dress of a modern Arab woman.  “You can wear this with jeans or leggings,” she says.  She explains that Arab women cover their head and neck but show their face and hands.  They leave the house, get educated, go to work.  Berber women, on the other hand, live much more conservatively:  They cover every bit of flesh but one or both eyes; they rarely leave the house for fear of encountering strangers or foreigners, especially men.  I detect a glint of pride in Namina’s description of her own modern lifestyle.  She continues the tour, leading us down marble stairs from the cavernous main worship area to a lower level where two types of hamman, or purification bath, are located for worshippers to complete the obligatory ablutions before prayer.  These may involve everything from massaging the scalp with argan oil to washing the face and hands with sand if water is not available.  Namina gestures to show us in what sequence and direction the ablutions must take place—but emphasizes that all of these rules are guidelines for Moroccan Muslims, not mandates.  “To pray five times a day is suggested,” she says.  “But it is not required.”  She wants us to understand how tolerant Morocco is—without pointing directly to other countries or regions where fundamental Islamic law is, indeed, law.

 

The Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

The Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

When we file back up two flights of stairs into the sunlight where we blink at the towering structure of marble, cedar, stucco and tile, Namina tells us that 15,000 laborers built the whole thing between 1987 and 1993, at a total cost of somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion.  The Hassan II Mosque isn’t old, but it is impressive, a massive green tower standing guard over the harbor.  “Green is the color of hope,” Namina points out.

 

Standing in the courtyard outside the mosque my father remarks quietly, “Every American should see this.”  I know he is thinking of 9/11 when he says this, and I understand what he means:  Many Americans still equate Islam with violence, and cannot separate the average citizen from a terrorist.   I appreciate his sentiment but I am more impressed by something else.  At age 87, my father still wants to learn about other people, even if he doesn’t understand their language or customs; he and his wife have signed onto the clipper ship with my husband and me, eager for the adventure.

Yesterday, when we spotted the four masts of the Star Flyer rocking gently against the sky at the new pier in Malaga, my husband Boyd and I fought the urge to sprint toward the gangway.  I glanced at my dad for a reaction to his first sight of the boat—I thought his eyes crinkled, but he didn’t walk any faster.  He pulled both his suitcase and my stepmother’s along the concrete sidewalk, insisting he could handle this fine.  I squelched the urge to help.  In fact, it didn’t take long to check in with the white-uniformed crew and board the 300-foot-long ship, which holds only 170 passengers.  (By evening, we learned that only 108 travelers had boarded, giving us even more elbow room.)  This was Boyd’s and my second trip aboard the Star Flyer, which explained our earlier giddiness. We wanted Russ and Shirley to love it too.   Night fell as we tucked into our first five-course dinner in the elegant but cozy ship dining room.   Above us on deck, the crew scurried back and forth, readying for departure.  On each of the next seven nights, waiters would offer a choice of appetizers, soups and salads, entrees and desserts—ranging from crispy roast duck to spicy Spanish bouillabaisse to rich chocolate ice cream.  (On board, all meals are included except drinks—a glass of wine costs about $5.)  At 10:00 p.m. we joined our fellow passengers on deck as the crew cast off the lines tethering us to the pier and the Star Flyer eased into the harbor under brilliant bouquets of stars twinkling in the black sky.  In the distance, Malaga’s historic Alcazabar Castle glowed against the dark hill.

We sail all night and awake off the coast of Africa.  In the morning, we crowd the rail to catch our first glimpse of Morocco across a gun-metal sea.  After a breakfast of sizzling omelets, thick bacon and fresh watermelon slices, along with an assortment of iced pastries and dense breads smeared with real butter—all chased down by hot black coffee and sweet glasses of orange juice—we’re ready to take on anything.  Over the ship’s intercom, Ximena, the Star Flyer’s cruise director, calls us to the deck for the day’s briefing.

 

“Welcome,” she greets us in English.  Then “Wilkommen” and “Bonjour.”  Every Star Clippers cruise director must speak fluently three major languages:  English, German and French.  Each morning and evening, he or she briefs the passengers on upcoming excursions, evening events, onboard entertainment (such as crab races, ship trivia and pirate night) and suggestions for independent shore activities—in three languages.  Life on board the Star Flyer is relaxed and informal—we aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere, so we don’t mind the three-language speech, and even pick up a few words here and there of the other languages.  Shortly thereafter, Captain Klaus stages the required evacuation drill, and all the necessary details of orientation are complete.

We have all day to play aboard the ship as we skim the coast of Morocco toward Casablanca.  Boyd deftly climbs the rigging to the crow’s nest to shoot photos, and later we both crab-walk out onto the net below the dolphin striker where we watch the water race below us.  We decide not to tell Russ about either of these activities.  We know he’d jump at the chance, even though he had a heart valve replacement only six months before.  Sometimes keeping mum is the best strategy for avoiding disaster.  But there are plenty of other things to do on our day at sea, which passes like a gently rocking dream.   We watch the rugged coastline roll by, read a few pages from our books, and chat with other passengers— from England, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands.  Many are on their second, fourth, even sixth Star Clippers trip—there’s something addictive about traveling aboard a four-masted tall ship, even when the engine is chugging.  When the sails unfurl and the engine cuts out, it’s downright glorious to ride the sea powered by the rhythmic swish of the bow slicing through whitecaps.

Boyd climbs the rigging of the Star Flyer

Boyd climbs the rigging of the Star Flyer

Conditions are just right, so the cruise director summons us to the tender for a chance to take photos of the ship under full sail.  I poke Russ in the arm.  “You don’t want to miss this,” I say.  That’s all he needs to hear. Russ and Shirley follow our heels down the swaying gangway to the wildly rocking tender.  Russ almost trips while trying to step into the tender but he makes it and hangs on tight as the tender speeds away from the Star Flyer.  The ocean is rougher than it looks from the deck of the ship, and the tender rides rolling swells while we snap photos of the magnificent 300-foot-long clipper ship as it cuts through the pewter sea.  We are lucky to get these photos—not every voyage presents the right circumstances for this.  Russ takes in all the action without a camera—he has our promise of photos when we get home.

Then we reach Morocco—a day in Casablanca and a day in Tangier.  In Tangier, our guide Mohammed collects us in a sun-drenched courtyard with the Arabic yodel “Yella Yella Yella,” which seems to mean: “Hello, come with me.”    Walking swiftly in a flowing white robe, he threads us through a maze of whitewashed stucco homes and cramped streets, past open markets offering whole plucked chickens, unidentifiable fruit and leafy greens, potatoes, olives, currants and shelf upon shelf of canned and bottled concoctions.  We pass a barbershop and a milliner.  We visit a tea shop where we are served hot, sweet tea and cookies. We walk through the Medina, stopping at various ancient buildings.  Last, we make our way to the cooperative where three floors of local pottery, leather jackets and purses, handmade jewelry, embroidered linens, teas and oils are displayed for our choice.  A salesman quickly spots me inspecting the brightly colored pottery dishes, vases and tureens.  “First I give you the price,” he instructs cheerfully.  “Then we bargain.”  We both laugh and set about haggling over one particular water jug and bowl combination.  He keeps trying to add other items but I stand my ground, as if guarding my turf.  Periodically we burst out laughing. We finally arrive at a price that’s half of the asking price.  I know he has won in the deal, but I don’t mind.

Back on board, we compare treasures, order glasses of white wine from the deck bar, and stroll the perimeter of the ship.  We’ve got our sea legs by now, and we’ve eased into a rhythm of late and leisurely European dinners.  As the sun drops to the horizon like a burnished doubloon, Captain Klaus—a thick, crusty German with a dusting of white stubble—appears holding a set of bagpipes against his chest.  This—besides sailing—is his other passion.  In fact, when on land he lives in Scotland.  We know this because Russ has peppered the captain with questions—about his job, his life, his sailing career.  Captain Klaus toasts all returning passengers (Boyd and me among them) and serenades us with the strains of traditional bagpipe tunes.  Later he and the crew, who hail from roughly 20 different countries, will scatter themselves among us in the dining room to eat a friendly but quick meal (turning down offers of wine or cocktails) and return to duty.

Russ, Linda and Shirley in the piano bar of the Star Flyer

Russ, Linda and Shirley in the piano bar of the Star Flyer

For the rest of the week, the Star Flyer glides along the Spanish coast making stops at Cadiz, Gibraltar, and Motril before returning to Malaga.  Some of the passengers take organized excursions ashore while others opt to wander the streets, restaurants and shops on their own.  At Gibraltar, Russ and Shirley join the Star Flyer guided excursion through the Great Siege Tunnels. (The tunnels were built deep inside the rock by British soldiers in the late 1700s to thwart the Great Siege by France and Spain, then augmented under Winston Churchill during World War II, and opened to the public in 2005.)  We decide to catch the funicular (cable car) to the summit of Gibraltar to see the view and commune with the famous Barbary apes.  Yes, apes really do swarm over the upper reaches of the rock.  They will leap onto the hood of a car or the top of a person’s head.  They will bite if you try to feed or touch them.  But if you watch quietly, you’ll see an entire society in action—family groups, friends, teachers, and students.  A parent grooms a child, a friend drapes an arm casually over the shoulder of a companion, two youngsters chase each other through the thicket.   We walk down the winding road below the precipice as apes dart back and forth in front of us, until we reach the invisible end of their territory and we realize they are no longer with us.  So we head back to the bustling cobblestone streets and jockey for an outdoor table at a pub where they serve traditional British fish and chips—and a good glass of lager.

At Cadiz, Russ and Shirley opt for the long bus journey to Seville with its spectacular esplanade while Boyd and I explore the streets of Cadiz and the local museum which houses artifacts from the Phoenicians—shards of pottery and tools, replicas of their slender, graceful boats, and a pair of mummies.  Finally, at the Andalusian port of Motril we make the trip to Granada and its romantic walled Alhambra.

Meanwhile, each night on the Star Flyer the wine flows as the crew offers entertainment that probably doesn’t meet the specs of a major cruise ship but which we find as hilarious as the inside jokes and antics of our own families.    It turns out that Danny the bartender can really sing.  And the Star Flyer version of Trivial Pursuit is highly competitive (our team wins a bottle of red wine).    When measures of dance music begin waft out from the piano bar, Russ winks at Shirley and takes her hand.  They whirl cheek to cheek across the deck as the ship bobs softly under the brightest stars in the Mediterranean sky.

 

The Alhambra-- Granada, Spain

The Alhambra– Granada, Spain

If You Go:

Visit the Star Clippers Web site at:  www.starclippers.com, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.  For information call:  1-800-442-0551 or email: info@starclippers.com.  You can book a Star Clippers cruise either directly or through your travel agent.  The company offers advance-booking discounts ranging from 25 percent to 45 percent, with additional promotions on airfare and hotel accommodations.  Unlike a major cruise line, Star Clippers only operates three boats—which limits where the boats are sailing at any given time.

 

Generally the level of walking difficulty on shore ranges from easy to moderate.  For those who might have trouble with the steep gangway and boarding the tender at mooring sites, check to see whether a particular itinerary docks at ports or moorings.  Shipboard attire is casual, but the captain suggests dresses or slacks for women at dinner, and slacks with polo or dress shirts for men (jackets are not required).

 

2013
01/15

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Skiing Alberta’s Rockies: A Vermonter Heads West

By Bill Scheller

Photos by the Author

Atop Saddleback Ridge, 8,300‘, Lake Louise Mountain Resort

Atop Saddleback Ridge, 8,300‘, Lake Louise Mountain Resort

I was standing near the top of Mount Whitehorn, 8,650’ up in the Alberta Rockies, because I was tired of packed powder.

 

That old New England term has always seemed like an oxymoron: once it’s packed, how can it be powder anymore?  This isn’t just a semantic quibble — “packed powder” can also be an outright prevarication, often translated far more accurately, here in the East, as “ice.”

 

I’m not a disloyal Vermonter.  As much as the next person, I’m happy at Stowe or Smugglers Notch on a good day, defined as a day when I’m not about to plunge down a steeply inclined skating rink.  They can pack powder in the Green Mountains as well as our sort of powder can be packed.  But like all but the most provincial Eastern diehards, I’ve always wanted to ski the Rockies.  Higher mountains, drier air, trails way above treeline, powder left blissfully unpacked … it’s a powerful allure, and a New Englander eventually has to give in.

Lake Louise Mountain Resort- It’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail

Lake Louise Mountain Resort- It’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail

 

Lake Louise Mountain Resort, sprawled across Mount Whitehorn and a cluster of lesser peaks and ridges just ten minutes from the eponymous lake and the splendid Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, threads 139 runs (not counting its powdery back bowls) and nine lifts across 4,200 acres of wonderfully varied terrain.  That’s big enough, by any standard, but it seemed a lot bigger on the morning I met my guide, Tracy Bruns, and headed up the Grizzly Express Gondola.  This was because it was uncharacteristically cloudy that day, and I couldn’t get a handle on our surroundings.  Whenever a patch of sky would clear, another peak or pinnacle would drift into view, each loftier than the last, until I had the impression that the Grizzly was a gondola into another dimension.

 

The remarkable thing was that once I got my skis under me and began to follow Tracy down the intermediate-level Wapta trail, I found myself in an altogether familiar dimension, although one that had been spectacularly transformed.  My great Alberta revelation was that you don’t step off a lift at these resorts and suddenly find yourself waist-deep in powder.  There are plenty of great groomed cruising trails, yet with a vital difference: this is powder of a different order, packed firm but with plenty of give, and remarkably forgiving of even less-than-exquisitely executed turns (after nearly 25 years of skiing, spread over the past 50, I still don’t do exquisite; that was Tracy’s department).

 

Temple Lodge, 6,608’, Lake Louise Mountain Resort

Temple Lodge, 6,608’, Lake Louise Mountain Resort

Another revelation was the abundance of intermediate trails that originated at elevations just as high as the start of the World Cup Men’s Downhill Run, a part of the Cup tour’s annual circuit.  This made for cruising runs that were just that – long, looping routes to the base (at 5,400’, loftier than the highest summit in Vermont) with plenty of room for dips, drops, and curves, for open vistas and descents into Whitehorn’s lower forested reaches.  For the first time in my skiing life, I wasn’t counting runs, not even unconsciously – each run was long enough to be several, especially when accessed by multiple lifts.  The seamlessness of the experience was also helped by the virtual absence of lift lines – “five minutes is usually the longest wait time,” Tracy told me, “and in midweek, you can walk right on.”  Lift capacity at Lake Louise is 1,600 skiers per hour, a limit set by Parks Canada as part of its stewardship of the vast Banff National Park which encompasses the resort and more than 2500 square miles of the surrounding mountains and Bow River valley.

 

 

Those beautifully groomed cruising trails were lovely, but I had to try the famous Rockies powder – “champagne” powder, as it’s always called, because of the near-effervescent lightness caused by a ratio of air to water that is far higher than in more humid winter climates.  It was up there, all right, fluffily carpeting an array of bowls and gullies that were, on the resort map, strewn with the black diamonds and double diamonds that indicate routes reserved for the most advanced skiers.  “We’ve got six gullies that we open in sequence, depending on avalanche danger,” Tracy told me.  “We’re very proactive in avalanche control, because the demand is there to ski that kind of terrain.  Our patrol, with the help of Parks Canada, sets off avalanches by firing or dropping bombs from “avalaunchers,” or what we call “potato guns” – the reference being to the hair-spray-powered spud shooters that, we discovered, both Tracy’s and my sons had built.

 

The author, fresh off the Grizzly Express Gondola, Lake Louise                         Mountain Resort

The author, fresh off the Grizzly Express Gondola, Lake Louise Mountain Resort

Parks Canada also takes meticulous care of the environment in Canada’s oldest national park.  Wildlife thrives here, including the bighorn sheep that sometimes appear, early in the ski season, under the 6-Pack Express chairlift.  “You can also see grizzlies on the lower mountain, down below treeline, but not during the season,” Tracy told me.  “The minute we’re closed in the spring, they move right in.”

 

But there was one intermediate run from the top of Whitehorn, tucked alongside an array of double diamonds called the “Ultimate Steeps.”   It was the Boomerang, and the way to reach it was by taking a lift called the Summit Platter, which we had to reach by taking a six-passenger chairlift to a point between Whitehorn’s summit and Saddleback Ridge, then cruising down an intermediate run to the lift loading area.  The Platter is a Poma lift, aka a “platterpull.”  I hadn’t been on one since I was a kid, and I hadn’t missed the experience.  You ride a Poma by slipping a platter about eight inches across between your legs and tightening your haunches around it; it’s suspended from a line attached to a cable, which tugs you along while your skis stay planted on the ground – ideally, within the tracks that everyone else’s skis have made.  Off we went, with Tracy looking back every now and then to see if I was still there.  This seemed nicely solicitous but unnecessary, until I saw the guy in front of Tracy take a dive right off the track, letting go of his platter and flopping out of her way.  The damned things are tricky, and you don’t get a chance to recover if your skis get out from under you.

 

Main Lodge, Lake Louise Mountain Resort, built with logs harvested       during cutting of glades trails

Main Lodge, Lake Louise Mountain Resort, built with logs harvested during cutting of glades trails

The platter is the ultimate thigh workout.  By the time we got to the top, I felt as if I could crack Brazil nuts between my knees. But once we had shuffled over to the lip of the Boomerang, I was thinking  more about getting down that about how I’d gotten up.  The snow was only about knee deep, but powder, I discovered, does two things to you at once: it slows you down on a steep incline, but that same braking action also makes it trickier to pull off a broad turn.  Of course, the trick is not to want to make broad turns, and to check your speed with those tight swivelly carves I was watching Tracy execute as she showed the way down what was less a trail than a suggestion on an open-faced incline, a somewhat-less-than-ultimate steep.

 

I took off, swept through one or two turns I wasn’t proud of, and planted myself into the snow on the third.  Getting up was dicey, since the usual method of planting my poles on my uphill side was useless: the poles just kept going, down into champagne that had probably been uncorked three months earlier.  I more or less flopped upright, and made a lame excuse about my goggles fogging.  Then Tracy gave me a fine bit of powder advice.  “Take your weight off the downhill ski as you go through the turn,” she said.  “And hold your hands out forward.”  It worked – I got down out of the fluff without taking another dive, or having to probe for the bowels of Alberta with my poles.  It was the best and most concise lesson I’d been given since I’d been told to “bend mit die knees” in 1958.

 

Summit station, Continental Divide Express lift, Sunshine Village

Summit station, Continental Divide Express lift, Sunshine Village

Lunch at Lake Louise is one of those “Are we really going to bother going back out on the slopes?” experiences.  The massive base Lodge of the Ten Peaks, crafted of logs harvested during the cutting of glade trails on the mountain just above, harbors not only the usual frenetic ski cafeteria, but a handsome upstairs room with three serving stations – pasta, carving, and soup-and-salad.  After a fortifying bowl of chili and a big Caesar salad, though, I did head back onto the slopes – not up into the powdery steeps, ultimate or otherwise, but down a friendly series of groomers that began atop Saddleback Ridge.  I finished up – Tracy had had to leave, or else her heart might have been in her throat – with a descent of the World Cup Ladies’ Downhill, not so bad if done as a series of gentlemanly (not World-Cup ladylike) traverses.  But that wasn’t what sent me back to my Jacuzzi tub at the Chateau Lake Louise.  No, it was a mid-afternoon cup of tea in the lodge, where a cut from Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way” album was piping through the sound system.  Over the course of my skiing life, I’d seen lodge music go from Austrian folk songs to grunge rock, and this was a decided improvement.

 

 

Next day, I took a longer drive to Sunshine Village, a ski resort about 45 minutes east of Lake Louise via the Trans-Canada Highway (it’s actually much closer to the town of Banff, making local accommodations such as the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel – or the inn at Sunshine itself – a more convenient lodging choice if this were to be a visitor’s exclusive skiing venue).  Sunshine is another colossus, with some 107 runs and 12 lifts spread over three mountains – Goats Eye, Lookout, and Standish.  With the weather having reverted to the typical Alberta winter clarity appropriate to the resort’s name, my guide Annie Yoja took me from the base lodge to the village via an eight-passenger gondola reputed to be the world’s fastest.  Unique to the Alberta Rockies – and certainly not all that common elsewhere in the skiing world – Sunshine’s lodging and dining nexus isn’t down at the base by the parking lot, but well up Lookout Mountain at an elevation exceeding 7,000’.  “You can check in when you arrive at the base,” Annie explained, “then head up on the gondola, transfer to another lift, and ski all day before you ever set foot in your room.”  Sure enough, over by the inn I saw snowmobile-riding bellhops unloading luggage belonging to guests who were already up on the slopes.

 

The Continental Divide Express lift straddles the Alberta – British Columbia border

The Continental Divide Express lift straddles the Alberta – British Columbia border

It was a gloriously sunny day, with the skies and reflected snowlight growing brighter still as we took the Angel Express chair from the village to a point just below the summit of Lookout Mountain.  This turned out to be a lift to a lift, indirectly – getting off, we slipped down a combination of intermediate / black diamond trails (one ethereally named “Angel Flight”) to the loading gate of the Continental Divide Express, a chair accessible only by skiing from lifts originating farther below.  This was no flight-of-fancy name: the lift actually does roughly straddle the Continental Divide, and the provincial border as well.  Part way up, we passes a stanchion that bore a placard reading “Welcome to Beautiful British Columbia.”  Another, grander signpost for B.C. loomed to the west – Mt. Assiniboine, nearly 12,000’ in height, dominated a sea of snowy, craggy peaks that ranged in every direction.  Having memorized the horizons at my home ski haunts, I found it a novel problem to have to keep my eye on where I was going at these gorgeously situated resorts.

 

I knew where I wasn’t going.  “It’s about a 15 minute walk from where you get off the Divide lift to the Delirium Dive wall,” Annie told me.  “It’s open when conditions allow it.”  I looked at my trail map; there were two black diamonds on the wall, and the caveat, “Special Restrictions Apply.”  That sounded innocuous enough, like the conditions on an airline ticket sale, but there was nothing innocuous about the powdery plunges I took note of the next time I had a good view from the village.  “Have you done any of them?” I asked Annie.  “Only the one on the far left,” she answered.

 

We took a civilized route, fashioned out of three or four cruisers that took us under the Divide lift and back down to the village; from there, we wandered down to the Goats Eye Express lift to explore the mountain of the same name (for a look at the layout of all of these peaks, lifts, and trails, here and at Lake Louise, visit the websites listed at the end of this article).  Goats Eye is heavy black diamond territory, but with a seemingly endless zigzag cruiser called the Sunshine Coast, a great appetite-rouser just before our lunch – fish and chips, built around a fresh and flaky haddock filet – at the Chimney Corner restaurant in the village’s Sunshine Inn.

 

Ski in – ski out lodging and dining at Sunshine Village, 7.082’

Ski in – ski out lodging and dining at Sunshine Village, 7.082’

There were big comfortable Morris chairs by the fire at the restaurant, but I wasn’t going to be lulled the way Miles Davis had lulled me the day before.  Annie had arranged an afternoon experience that I wasn’t so sure of at first, but that was just intriguing enough to try.  Snow-biking is exactly what it sounds like: you get on an apparatus resembling a bicycle with skis instead of wheels, buckle on two separate skis only slightly longer than your boots, and head down the hill.  Phil Morley, my instructor, started off by giving me what I would have thought was counterintuitive advice.  “You don’t use the skis on your feet to hold yourself up or steer,” he said.  “And you hardly turn the handlebar at all.  Just hold your feet close to the bike, lean into turns, like on a motorcycle, and when you want to stop, arch around sharply and look uphill.”  The damnedest thing was that it worked just like Phil said, and after two runs with him — one on a straightaway where we must have hit 40 miles an hour — I was on my own.  I can’t remember the last thing I picked up so quickly.  The best part was when someone asked, “Where are the brakes?,” and I coolly answered, “There are no brakes.”  It was fun.  It was fast.  If Steve McQueen had had one of these and some snow, he could have escaped the Germans.  But after a couple of runs I wanted to get back on my skis, so I brought the bike back to Phil at the rental station, and went back up Goats Eye, figuring how to link the Sunshine Coast to the Banff Avenue ski-out trail that would bypass the gondola and zip me down to the base lodge and the parking lot.  It was a good way to end the day – just enough drop to keep it enjoyable; just enough smooth straightaways to make it all seem like a quick, effortless stroll to the car.  And, as everywhere in these mountains, the snow was perfect.

 

 

Or my last morning of skiing in Alberta, though, I wanted to head back to Lake Louise Mountain Resort and face the Boomerang once again, unguided this time but with Tracy’s admonitions about weight distribution and hand/pole placement firmly in mind.  I warmed up with a half-dozen runs, all before lunchtime, and in bright sunshine I felt superbly competent, powder-ready, as I sailed down to the Poma and grabbed my platter.  It would be a perfect run, I was certain.

 

Looking toward The Monarch (9528’) from top of Angel Express lift, Lookout Mountain, Sunshine Village

Looking toward The Monarch (9528’) from top of Angel Express lift, Lookout Mountain, Sunshine Village

I was certain about the Poma, too – until one little imperceptible shift sent me off balance, and I wound up, like that other poor devil two days before, scrambling to get upright on the side of the track as my platter swung away and went riderless up Mount Whitehorn.

 

I skied down to the lodge, happy anyway, and packed it in.  I had a snowshoe trip scheduled at the Chateau in an hour.  Besides, that Poma did me a favor: this was the first time I’d been forced to take the tongue-in-cheek conundrum of advice I always give my son Dave: Never Take the Last Run.

 

Next issue: A Sojourn at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

 

 

IF YOU GO:

 

Lake Louise Mountain Resort: www.skilouise.com

 

Sunshine Village: www.skibanff.com

 

Banff Lake Louise Tourism:  www.banfflakelouise.com

 

Alberta tourism information: www.travelalberta.com

 

 

Photographs accompanying this article were taken with a Hewlett-Packard Photosmart R507 digital camera.