Skiing the Swiss Alps in Engelberg

After a few days in Lyon, the bi-annual ritual trip to Sirha and Bocuse d’or, we needed to get to Engelberg. Europe is connected by so many trains, flights and buses that its hard to chose the best route – flying was too expensive, buses took too long, but the train made a happy medium. We went from Lyon to Mulhouse, then Basel where we could stop for an hour and eat at the mouthwatering food hall ´Alte Markthalle´ beside the station. We got the next train to Lucerne and then changed for the third and last time for the local train to Engelberg, but still felt nothing from the journey – when you get to skip the mundane security of airports and baggage controls of budget airlines, travel truly is a pleasure. The journey took us through the French mountains and up into the Swiss alps, past lakeside villages and snow-topped glaciers, with views to Titlis at the end, and within a few hours, we were checked into the Baenklialp Hotel, recently bought by some Icelandic friends.

That flag…

We ate cheese, fondue, and more cheese, not missing the chance to visit the famous cheese factory Schaukaserei Kloster just a few hundred metres from our hotel. We skied both sides of the mountain Brunnihutte and Titlis/Jochstock, and a 3-day pass was the perfect amount of time to spend on the slopes. We went to the top of Titlis, with unlimited visitbility over the valley in all directions, and without any fear for heights, also had to walk the Titlis Cliff walk bridge at 3041m above sea level.

the picnic tables started disappearing under all the fresh snow

Our last day on the mountain was the first time in my snowboarding history that I can complain there was too much powder. It had started snowing the night before, and over 40cm of fresh snow had been groomed before the runs opened, but the snow kept coming. With the help of other riders carving snow into piles and the wind gusting powder in random banks, there were places on the runs with waist-deep powder, and if the angle of the downhill wasn’t steep enough, you’d slowly slide to a halt, your feet and board buried in powder out of sight, and the risk of sitting down meant utter disappearance. I wasn’t sure we’d even make it down the mountain on the last run, and I lost Thrainn in the powder for nearly 30 mins, with a couple of glimpses of orange jacket between the whiteout to be sure I was waiting for him in the right place.

on the way to the top

I’d never been to German-speaking Switzerland before, and having just left France, there were a few moments when I’d forget where I was. But people understood French and English more readily than I could speak either (German trips me up so much), so I always ended up looking like the stupid tourist, especially when I kept calling francs euros. We left via Zurich, a cheap and easy train ride from Engelberg, where Icelandair flew directly home to yet another frozen, winter wonderland. It’s never as pretty without fresh snow though, especially if you cant ride your snowboard thru it.

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Spring Skiing in BC

My favourite time to be in Vancouver is springtime. I was a little early for the cherry blossoms, but the first warm weekend and sunny skies did have a few trees blossoming early. It was my first trip to BC that I truly felt like a tourist – renting a car and booking hotels is something I´ve never done before.

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Gastown´s steam clock

Fewer and fewer people from my UBC days are left, and the city has transformed so much since the Olympics that I barely recognised parts of downtown. Robson street and Granville look like old-fashioned relics of the good old days, Gastown looks the same but feels completely different, and I don´t even remember what the new Olympic Village neighbourhood looked like before it was there.

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UBC alumni reunited in Olympic Village

Going to BC means the routine family check up. My grandma would be furious is I was around and didn´t visit. But visiting her always means a cloud of guilt, for not visiting earlier or more often, not staying long enough, and not eating enough. This time, I got in the most trouble for not calling ahead since she didn´t get a chance to cook up a storm and overfeed me the best Guyanese chicken curry you´ve ever had, but it wasn´t meal time and we had places to go.

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the Fraser River

I was with Master Chef Thrainn, on his first visit to BC, and I wanted to impress him with the wining and dining scene. It wasn´t all fancy – Tim Hortons and A&W are Canadian musts, and wine tasting in Langley and visiting a BC liquor store to see the Okanagan selection were part of our master plan. I saw my oldest friend from Canada, Lisa, who took us around the vineyards, and visited her younger brother, sous chef at Coquilles, in Gastown. We had to go to Cactus Club and Earls, the two Canadian chains I owe all my server training to, and the trip highlight was hands down Araxi in Whistler; the shucked right in front of you oysters, fresh sea food and local wine list impressed even Thrainn, who doesn´t normally like oysters.

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The Peak2Peak Gondola, taking us from Blackcomb to Whistler mountain

We spent four days in Whistler, with fresh snow on our first day and a couple days of powder, but most importantly, we had three days of sunshine on the slopes with a hottub to soothe our muscles every night. I had a friend in Whistler and a few in Vancouver to visit, and we tried some local brews at the Craft Beer Market.

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feeding the birds on 7th Heaven

We started our trip with the first night at Cultus, and woke up to a glorious morning on the lake. We ended our trip with an upgrade at the Shangri-la hotel, in Vancouver´s tallest building, but looking across at Trump tower made us prefer the view from our other hotel balcony peering down Thurlow street to the Olympic torch. Stanley Park was still as I remember, but the one morning of dismal rain we had on our trip ruined our plans to bike around it. At least I have that and a few more cherry blossoms to come back to, so its not goodbye yet…

Oysters in Colorado

Colorado is one of those places everyone else has been, and I’ve been on my way for way too long. My best friend from Canada, Clio, moved there more than a year ago and I finally took her up on the standing invitation to visit. Spring skiing seemed like a great time, since Denver can reach temperatures of 20 degrees but the mountains still get fresh snow. The days are long, bright and sunny, and I was happy to realise I had two other old friends in town.

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Clio and I in Denver, enjoying the hottest day I´ve seen since Dec 10th last year

It was a rough start – after being stuck in Greenland for five days, I arrived in Reykjavik just in time to miss my flight to Denver, but then discovered it had actually been delayed a bunch, and then cancelled. It was a shame, but still very convenient for rebooking, although I was number 56 in line on hold when I had to call Icelandair.

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Denver and the Clock Towwer

Clio picked me up at the airport, and we went straight to a local brewery called Crazy Mountain Brewery, where you could try a new beer every day for weeks until they rotated their taps, and start all over again. We ate perfectly made margaritas and tacos at Machete, and tried bison burgers at the Bush and Bull – think about that name for a second. We watched the Oscars with bet sheets, and Clio lost, badly enough that she had to cook us breakfast.

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El Dora, with Clio and Damon

We thought we´d save money by skiing at a smaller resort like El Dora, skipping the busier Vail or Brackenridge slopes and all the traffic associated with them, but a day pass was still $120US plus rentals, so not the cheapest day trip. We made the most out of the drive by overnighting in Boulder, where Clio´s parents-in-law live and a friend from UBC I had forgotten about.

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Avery Brewing Co in CO

 

Visiting with Max at Avery brewery, which had more beers on tap than the Crazy Mountain, was a prefect pre-amble to my upcoming visits in Vancouver with all my favourite UBC peeps.

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Max and I at Avery

Ironically enough, when it was time to leave Denver, I checked in online on the way to the airport, only to discover my flight was delayed. It started with a two hour delay, and with dried out, uprooted tumble weeds blowing past the runway, I thought I´d get stuck another day in Colorado. It seemed like the curse of my travels lately, so I was ready for it. Luckily enough, my plane took off for Seattle only two hours later, and I knew my spring skiing plans for Whistler wouldn´t be shortened.