Posts Tagged: snow

Mar 14

Challenge #4: Go to Whistler and Zipline Down a Mountain at Night

I’m trying to be brave and try new things—truly I am. But as I hang in my harness, my teeth chattering in the sub-zero cold, swinging in a cradle as helpless as a baby, I began to think, ‘hey – what was so wrong with the old ways?’. It’s pitch black ahead of me on the mountain, just a small twinkling light, god knows how far away – that’s where I’m heading on this insane zipline and god help me, if they’re not about to release the brakes

Ready to swing off into the dark void. Squint and you'll see the lights below.

Ready to swing off into the dark void. Squint and you’ll see the lights below.

A curse on this whole ‘try something Canadian and new’  plan. I’ve given ziplining at night a whirl and decided that, nope, it is absolutely not for me. Was it the screaming through the darkness god knows how high up – just attached by a wire – that made me turn my stomach? Or perhaps it was the fatal-crash feeling every time I ‘zipped’ into the end of each line? Or maybe it was the weird sensation of being horribly scared as I flew in darkness across the mountain and yet at the same time - feeling weirdly bored because I couldn’t see anything? Whatever, as fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly, this girl has gotta never do this again. And yet… I could see that if you liked it (and I was with a crew who clearly adored it) then this would be all kinds of fun.

Making tracks up the mountain

Making tracks up the mountain

It all started rather nicely with a heated snowcat ride up Rainbow Mountain. I loved this! The snow was deep, it felt like the most delicious sort of rufty-tufty Canadian fun inside the ‘Cat; blankets-over-the-knees and the rumble of the engine as we climbed at a thrilling angle up, up the mountain. The light was on in the cabin and my fellow zippers-to-be were excited. I peered out into the night: nothing. Sadly the fun bit was over too soon – we got dropped at a yurt half-way up the isolated mountain for dinner.

Normally I’d have been dancing with excitement over this; it had been catered by the Bearfoot Bistro – one of my favourite Whistler restaurants – but as I sat down and sipped on water (never have I wanted a glass of wine more) and watched the flames dance in the log fire, I realised I was genuinely nervous about what lay ahead. I pushed my perfect short rib around the plate, forcing down a few mouthfuls of whipped buttery mash and savoury gravy before giving up. Bad enough to scream, but how much worse if I threw up later?

See - how perfect and lovely is this adorable yurt?

See – how perfect and lovely is this adorable yurt?

When you dread what lies ahead, there comes a point when you don’t want to delay – you just want it to be over. Make the dinner, end, let’s just get this done, I wished to the gods of bad decisions and perilous ideas. Who knows – I was not letting the tiny flame of optimism burn out at this point – maybe I would love this. But every minute we spent in that gorgeous little wooden yurt made me doubt it more and more. For those familiar with the drill, you know what lies ahead – you carry your own kit from line to line over your shoulder. I wasn’t expecting this and as I slid around on the narrow trail in the half-light on the ice and snow, I wondered if I wasn’t about to find a far, far faster way down.

The two staff with us on the mountain with us were fantastic – friendly, helpful, fun and – kind – when it was clear that I was struggling to stay upright one of them shouldered my load and I was never made to feel like I was making a fuss. One of the group after one line decided that was enough; and they were kind to her too. Idiot that I am, I decided to stick with it. Maybe I’d grow to love it? (I didn’t.)

Not everyone hated this. OK - so ONLY I hated this...

Not everyone hated this. OK – so ONLY I hated this…

There were only 4 ziplines but it felt like oh, so much more; one was the longest in Canada, 600 feet above the ground and over a kilometer long. The part of me that wasn’t hating it all, was wondering what it would be like in the daytime? Maybe if I had all that stunning scenery to distract me from me grinding terror, I’d have had more fun?

It was very cool hanging out in the trees.

It was very cool hanging out in the trees.

Not so my companions, who whooped their way through the evening. They flew down the mountain, their helmet lights like little halos, and whooped like bad angels as they went. Apologies for this most anaemic of phrases but really: if you like this kind of thing, you’d love this. It’s well organised, if you could stomach the food it was delicious, the yurt and snowcat were a lot of fun and yes, if hurtling through the night is your bag then have at it.
I plan to keep my feet on the ground for now.

God bless them for having me – I was a guest of Superfly – who were so nice to me even though I clearly loathed it.

Also thank you to my chateau home away from home, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler who gave me somewhere beautiful and serene to rest my very achey bones after all this crazy. Oh, how I wished I’d have been able to stow away one of their special mustard-spiked cocktails with me on the line – maybe that would have helped?

As ever – my words though are 100% my own.

Mar 13

Discovering the Yukon spas and Takhini hot springs

I didn’t know that walking in the snow made such a crunching sound until I moved to Canada. Like the wrong type of leaves, I guess we always got the wrong type of snow. So, when I left the warmth of my cosy Yukon cabin to explore, I walked the trails happily listening to the unexpected sound of the snow.

Splendid isolation

Splendid isolation

I was staying at the Northern Lights Resort and Spa,  some 20km from Whitehorse. I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of those elusive lights, staying far from the glare of the city; I had an image of waking in the night and seeing them from my bed, actually – my ultimate Northern Lights Fantasy involves seeing them from a hot tub as snowflakes fall on my face. Alas, it wasn’t to be – first because the lights were covered by cloud and second I wasn’t allowed to use the tub after 10pm. I guess that’s what happens when you try and make fantasy reality. It pretty much never works out.

Perfect balcony view

Perfect balcony view

I had fun though, staying out in the wilderness; I loved seeing nothing but snow and forest, hearing the howls of excited sled dogs all riled up with the scent of the Yukon Quest in the air and it was great to sit down with locals and share a meal at the dinner table too; I even learned a new phrase; ‘shack wacky‘ which is the northern version of ‘cabin fever’ – a state bought on by too much winter and not enough daylight, which can apparently only be quelled by hard drinking and much dancing. I like these people.

Spa is an elastic term these days – it can be an all-singing, all-dancing palace of relaxation or it can be as simple as the hot tub, sauna and Swedish-style massage on offer here. A nice soft touch in the harsh wilderness of the Yukon. Or – it can even be an outdoors experience like I had at Takhini Hot Springs, a public pool fed by the natural hot spring. In February when we visited, snow lay all around, steam hung over the water and families were all enjoying the bone-warming heat in the middle of soul-crushingly cold weather. There’s nothing fancy here at all. The changing rooms are basic to say the least. Plastic strips separate the indoors area from the pool, you wade through, batting at the plastic as you go. This is far from a luxe experience, but oh! It was magical.


Spa Yukon-style

Spa Yukon-style

The sky was impossibly clear and blue that day, I kept my shoulders under the 40°C water until I felt dizzy with the heat and then went for it… scooted out of the pool, carefully avoiding slipping on the ice and threw myself backwards into a drift of snow. Trying hard not to shriek, I rubbed the snow on my face and arms then scampered back into the water. It felt wonderful; I could feel the blood pumping around my body, my arms and legs felt almost burnt by the hot/cold/hot change and I felt giddy with euphoria. Apparently they have late sessions till 2am in the winter and just like that, my fantasy changed. Forget a Jacuzzi – this was more like it – a huge shared hot spring where you could bob around and watch the magic of the Northern Lights zip across the sky – and if the lights don’t come, well, how often do you get to be in a hot spring surrounded by snow? That’s a real-life fantasy right there.

No. I'm not showing you me rolling in the snow...

No. I’m not showing you me rolling in the snow…

I travelled as a guest of Yukon Tourism and the Northern Lights Resort and Spa – as ever, my views are 100% my own.

Mar 13

Dreams of the Yukon Quest

As I sailed backwards through the air, landing in an undignified heap in a snow drift, I can’t pretend for a second that I felt surprised. I knew I’d fall off my sled. I’d told the others, ‘If someone’s falling off, it’s me!’ And I really wasn’t being self-deprecating.  So yes, there I was, with the snow in my face to prove it.  Wearily, I propped myself up on my elbows and watched my team of four gorgeous huskies disappear at breakneck speed, past our instructor, and off through the trees.

So now what?

Team Get Nikki Off The Sled

Team Get Nikki Off The Sled

It had all started so well; a beautiful drive half an hour from Whitehorse to the Sky High Wilderness Ranch to start our mushing adventure. We ate, family-style, around the table at the old-fashioned wooden ranch house; steaming bowls of chili with sweet juicy berries for afters. Our instructor Jocelyn was a veteran of the Quest. She’d battled her way 1000 miles in the punishing sub-zero cold with sixteen dogs, made it through the other side from Alaska to Whitehorse. All we had to do was a short 20 km with a team of four. A walk in the park in comparison. “Oh, I’m gonna fall off.” I said, as we walked to the dogs.

You hear them way before you see them; whining and yowling, yapping that high-pitched bark of pure excitement  that any dog owner would recognise as the Noise That Spot Makes When He sees The Squeaky Ball. There were some 150 dogs up on the property at Fish Lake. That’s a lot of excited dog noise. Jocelyn showed us the basics of mushing, (put your foot on the brake. No, really. Put your damn foot on the brake) and then how to put harnesses on our teams of four dogs. We took up position behind our sleds, full weight firmly on the brake as Jocelyn attached the dogs to the sled. With a final admonition to take it easy, off we went. I timidly took my heel off the brake a little, the straining huskies jerked forward and I reflexively tightened my grip on the sled handlebar.

This is what a proper musher looks like.

This is what a proper musher looks like.

The dogs left in the yard howled their displeasure as we set off. The sleds hissed across the snow, the scamper of the huskies’ surprisingly dainty paws a pattering counterpoint to their excited panting. I know we went past snowy pines, along a track and on to a frozen lake – imagine! Mushing your own dog sled team across a frozen lake in the Yukon! – but I was so obsessively fixed on my feet that I almost saw nothing those first fifteen minutes. You see you’re balanced on two ‘skis’, with the brake in the centre. Lift your foot off one of the skis and then onto the brake, but then you have to work out which side to lean to balance it all out and, of course, where to put your foot back without falling off. I’m not great with this kind of thing. That’s why I knew I’d fall.

But I was loving it all the same. I had an epiphany around half an hour in, I was getting into the swing of it, if I leaned like that then I could go a little faster… this was easy! This was something I could get good at… this was – and then it hit me – this was the story of a lifetime! This English girl, who moved to Vancouver and then tried dog sledding, turned out to be AMAZING at it and entered the Yukon Quest, the most punishing race on earth. Of course, just as I was basking in the imagined glory of passing the finishing line, we went around a corner, I slammed the brake on too hard, parted company with the sled and well, you know the rest. 

Blinding sun, blazing blue skies and the dogs. Heaven.

Blinding sun, blazing blue skies and the dogs. I get the appeal.

They had to send a snowmobile to find my team. As I made the humiliating climb into Jocelyn’s sled, frantically apologising all the way, she told me to not worry. It happened all the time. So I lay back and enjoyed the view; the stunning scenery, the excitement of the dogs and yes, admired their skill at being able to run and poop at the same time. We should all be so talented.

Realistically, I’m probably not going to enter the Yukon Quest, but I’m definitely going to give mushing another go. We caught up with my naughty crew 20 minutes later and I managed another hour or so without falling off. By the end my feet were painfully cold and my hands trembling from gripping the bar so hard. We’d done just 2% of what the amazing mushers of the Yukon Quest do. I have so much respect for them and their dogs and after just a short time doing it, I can see exactly why they do it.

Thanks to all at Sky High Wilderness Ranch – especially Jocelyn for being so patient and Ian for rescuing my dogs. I travelled as a guest of Tourism Yukon, however, my views are 100% my own.

Find out more: 

Travel Yukon 


Get there with Air North

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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