There is a chill in the air and my feet are freezing! This rude awakening turns into a frenzy of activity as I prepare for another ski day in Banff, Canada. The temperature outside my crowded hostel bedroom is in the negative and the thought of free pancakes and coffee starts to make my stomach churn.
I have been in Banff for a week now and my legs are starting to complain about too much work, but my mind says we’re running late for the bus. It is day seven and I have yet to take a day off. Today’s destination is Sunshine Village, located fifteen minutes from Banff.
I’ve heard about the great variety of steep terrain at Sunshine and my thirst for such has yet to be satisfied while on this adventure. Making my way down the stairs to eat, I notice that for the first time since my arrival, the sun has managed to make its way through the clouds. Two pancakes and four cups of coffee later, I find myself walking briskly to the bus with a killer caffeine buzz to boot. Naturally I am early, and as I wait for the bus to arrive I give my gear a final check and plug in the Ipod for some pump up music.
Arriving at the base, I take my skis and hop on to the gondola. At this point you still cannot see the ski area as it is neatly tucked back into the mountains. The gondola can not move any slower, despite the fact that it is billed as “high speed.” Perhaps it is my anticipation that makes the ride long, and the fact that I still have yet to see the actual ski terrain. As the Gondola rounds the final corner, the sun hits me directly in the face and there in the distance is the resort. It is absolutely spectacular! I exit the Gondola and find myself in the center of it all. As I gawk at the scenery, I am being knocked around by people who are scattering about in a hurry to catch the lift to the top of one of the many mountains.
I get my bearings and head up to some moderate terrain for a lengthy warm up. Once my legs are awake, I head over to the bread and butter area, called Goat’s Eye Mountain. Goat’s Eye holds all the steep chutes, tree runs and anything a crazy fool would like to ski as long as it is borderline deadly. There are many runs on the mountain that have stern avalanche warnings, even for the runs that are in bounds. One of the most memorable of these runs is called Hell’s Kitchen. This particular run is very steep, about 45 degrees or more in some places, and there is nothing but trees.
As I make my way through the beginning moguls to tree line, I quickly notice the forest closing in on me. Before I know it, I’m deep in the trees and the slope is only getting steeper. I have to take my turns a couple at a time because if I get going too fast there will be no way to stop. I do wear a helmet, thanks to some forceful peer pressure from my coworkers, Brooke and Wes, last year in Utah. Hell’s Kitchen really challenges your skiing ability as the path is not straightforward. If you go too far in one direction, you will be faced with the decision to jump a cliff. Stray too far in the other direction and the trees are too narrow to pass through. My legs at this point are really burning, but there is still a lot of steep tree skiing to go. I never knew that one could actually break a sweat in zero degree temperatures, but I find that out while playing in Hell’s Kitchen.
Once I make it to the end of the run I encounter some locals at the lift, out of breath and sweat running down my brow. The friendly locals take notice of me and ask where I have been. Upon mentioning Hell’s Kitchen, another question follows: “Where are you from?” Somehow I’m able to slur out “Tennessee.” Their eyes open widely as they proceed to tell me that they cannot believe I’m from the south, and that Hell’s Kitchen is a hard run. I guess that explains why I was alone for the entire run. I spend the next 5 days on Goat’s Eye Mountain ticking off numerous runs, mostly alone.
I will always remember my trip to Banff, and though I do not have many photos, (I can’t take pictures of myself in action) I am always happy to paint a picture with my words and memory. For those of you who are wondering how you can get your turns in for the winter while living in the South, it takes plenty of planning, a lot of saving, and most of all, a drive to accomplish a goal that you hold dear.
About the author: Clark Luckmann has been with Rock Creek for six years. He currently runs our fulfillment and customer service operations from our warehouse in Chattanooga, TN. He loves lip syncing Stevie Wonder tunes, long walks in the park, and skiing his brains out. He tries to get a few turns in after our trade shows in Utah, and usually takes one big trip every year.