May 15

How To Stay Warm in Canada

Not even joking. This is everything I wore in minus 35 Winnipeg

Not even joking. This is everything I wore in minus 35 Winnipeg

I’m a firm believer in the maxim that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Coming from England, I had no idea at all when I first came to Canada what truly cold weather felt like. I vividly remember it, I was staying at the Germain Maple Leaf Square in Toronto in late December. I’d taken a cab to the hotel from the airport, so hasn’t a clue what it was really like. I left my room and pulled on a coat, gloves and scarf. I got as far as the other side of the pavement before I scuttled back inside to, well, to put on pretty much absolutely everything else I owned.

Icy Canadian sub-zero temperatures cut like a knife. It starts like a vicious whipcrack shock of cold which smarts and aches, and then it builds, first burning and then numbing your bones and body. Oh man. It hurts. And that’s not even getting into the horror of your eye lashes freezing, the weird and deeply unpleasant sensation of your nose hairs freezing solid –and then the raw burn that just breathing sub-zero air brings to your nose and throat.

For once, I got smart fast. After all, I realised that people live quite happily in sub-zero Canada: so how do they do it?  The answer? The right kit. I managed to camp in minus 46 degrees with the right clothes this year without running shrieking into the snow, begging for it to end. I’ve come a long way from that gal just four years ago who thought you could put a cardigan on and you’d be fine. Now I have a stash of winter gear and that’s what I want to recommend right now, so if you’re planning a trip next winter you can score a deal in the sales. Continue reading →

Dec 12

Powder and Pamper in Whistler

Terrified. That’s how I feel as I trudge towards the ski school check-in at Whistler village. I’m going to have my first ski lesson and I am absolutely bricking it. I should explain, a few years ago I had surgery on my spine. It took 18 months to get back to being OK again and I’ve just been too scared to try anything even slightly risky ever since. But I figured that it was time to stop being scared and start taking a few chances. After all, moving half way around the world seems to be working out OK, so why not learning how to do that swishy-snow-thing on one of the world’s best mountains too?

I signed up with a ‘Powder and Pamper’ package through Enjoy Whistler, so I can get a taste of whether hurtling at speed strapped to a couple of high-tech planks is my thing or not  — with a side helping of relaxing in the Scandinave Spa‘s outdoor hot pools and cold plunges afterwards. Earlier, I’d checked into the Westin, right in the heart of the village and decided that I’d get in some quality ‘relaxing in front of the fireplace’ time before I head out later. If, indeed, I can still still walk…

Radiating waves of confidence: meet Dave, my instructor

After nervously signing in, I’m despatched to the equipment hire area, which is when I start to feel seriously out of my depth. Everyone seems to know what they are doing except me. I get strapped into a pair of ski boots and rapidly discover that I cannot walk in them.
At all.
I’ll never even get to the gondola to get up to my lesson…  I sit sadly on a bench and wonder whether I should really do this when Dave appears. Dave is my instructor, a man of some 50 years experience who is a cross between santa and a cheerleader. He shows me how to walk (heel, toe), swiftly organises the right skis and poles for me, fits me with a helmet and confidently leads me out towards the gondola.

As we ascend the mountain in flurries of snow (Whistler was having record amounts of snow ‘dumping’ that day), Dave explains how to correctly hold my skis, where to put the poles while we’re in the lift and tells me a little about himself. By the time we arrive I am feeling completely relaxed and ready to learn. We take it slowly; first walking around the nursery slope learning the moves that I’ll be making once the skis go on. Next, learning how to actually put the skis on. We get joined at this point, by two late arrivals. There’s never more than four in the classes and even with the two extras, I feel like I get enough attention to be able to learn. I’ve snapped on one of my skis (“Toe in, heel down, stamp the bug!”) and we practice sliding around in circles on one ski. I like it! I feel excited; maybe this could be fun? We take a while to learn that there is no left or right ski and practice putting them on and taking them off.

One-legged skiiing? Whatever you say, Dave.

Just when I’m feeling all confident, Dave raises the stakes. We’re going to go down the slope and learn how to stop. On two skis. Dave wants me to do this by adopting a wide-legged stance and making the toes of my skis make a V shape. I show Dave just how well I can do this by falling over. It’s nice, flat on my back in the snow. Soft. The snow cooling on my already-achey muscles.

It feels tough, trudging sideways up the hill with baby-steps, I’m scarlet-faced and hot. This feels hard. Again I try doing what I’m told, but again, I just don’t get it. It’s only when Dave suggests that I imagine I’m carrying a tray that things start to fall into place. Add an imaginary basketball between my knees and whaddya know? I can stop! “Atta girl, Nikki! Whooo!” enthuses Dave as I wobble down the briefest incline on the hill and  successfully grind to a halt. I feel like something clicked. Amazingly, not my back. I’m getting this! I stomp up the hill again. Higher this time, then go back down, pointing skis in, bend aaaand stop, then rise, look forward, (holding my imaginary tray) and swoop forward. It feels great, I’ve a huge grin plastered over my face, I love this!

Soaking wet, bruised and completely delighted

Dave beams with pride and tells me that I’m graduating to level 2. We get to go over to the moving walkway that’s been installed on the slopes a little further up which takes us to what seems like a dizzyingly distant slope. My last task before we break for lunch is to zig-zag down the slope. I get 4 straight runs in, gaining more control each time I do it. It’s taken two hours and I am hooked. I’m soaked to the skin from the blizzard, covered in bruises, but could not be happier. I’ve conquered the ‘powder’ part of this package and am more than ready for my ‘pamper’.

First time I managed to stop without falling over. Whooo!

Find out more at Tourism Whistler.

Nikki travelled as the guest of Enjoy Whistler 

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