Sure, blundering around Africa blowing the crap out of exotic animals is not exactly kosher anymore, but any safari worthy of the name should still stand for big adventures and wild times. Bronwen Gora found plenty of both on Non Stop’s powder chasing itinerary through interior BC.
We must have looked like a mini invasion: ten people piling out of a van, grabbing ski gear like our lives depended on it and running to Fernie’s Timber Lift. We couldn’t get there fast enough. Snow had been pelting down across the region the night before we arrived, and the powder was sure to be blower. To ensure we got the goods our Non Stop Ski Safari guide, JP Gingras, had us leave Red Mountain, four hours away, at the beastly hour of 7.30am, with the urgency of a military evacuation – not only because Fernie was next stop on the safari schedule but mainly because it was dumping there.
The trouble was, it was also dumping where we were. But we were now used to that: we had just been spoiled with days of fresh powder in Red Mountain, one of the sweetest ski fields Canada has ever produced. So there was no reason to expect anything less from the next and final leg of our two week ski odyssey, and we thought nothing could beat what we’d experienced so far.
We’d soon find this wasn’t the case. Fernie’s upper flanks yielded face shots all afternoon, run after snowy run. We couldn’t believe our luck. Our entire safari right up to our final destination had been an unbroken theme of fresh snow in a new, chauffeur-driven location every three days – and now at the final destination we were strikking the best snow of the trip.
That’s the beauty of travelling on a small, guided multi-resort trip. The Non Stop Ski and Snowboard Safari we joined through Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, Red Mountain and Fernie in the last two weeks of February was completely pre-organised and easy. The road show of 10 guests – mainly young snow-addicted mid-30 to 40s professionals from Britain and yours truly – in a van towing a luggage trailer, all piloted by JP, our unflappable Energiser-bunny of a driver/guide/instructor and gourmet cook (was there anything he couldn’t do?), revealed there is a lot to be said for having the hard work taken out of a ski holiday.
There is someone to do all the driving for a start. No worrying about road conditions, fitting chains or being too tired to take the wheel. We could snooze in the van, or be entertained by the movie-loaded ipad that our inspired guide had velcro-ed to ceiling of the van.
And the best thing, as we discovered when we arrived in Fernie, was not having to worry about parking let alone checking into a hotel. JP simply dropped us at the base of the lift when we arrived at midday, leaving us to ski waist-deep fresh powder within minutes of arrival. At the end of the day JP picked up his gloriously satisfied customers from Fernie’s infamous Griz Bar, our smiles Cheshire-like after several jugs of fresh-tracks-inspired celebratory beer. From there he ferried us to Non-Stop’s own cosy Red Tree Lodge, where we checked in before heading out into the night for yet another exploratory tour of “the next town’s” après nightlife.
Non Stop ski safaris are designed to be as slick and satisfying possible. Guests meet their guide in the arrivals area at Calgary Airport about 1pm on a Saturday before heading off into the Rocky Mountains.
Our group of like-minded skiaholics wanted to ensure the several thousand dollars they invested in a ski holiday yielded them not only Canada’s best ski fields, but being pointed in the direction of both the best runs and après ski. We were also delivered top notch accommodation, from luxury bed and breakfasts, to modern hotels and fancy condominiums. The only requirement asked of us was, really, a willingness to go with the flow. For instance, in Red Mountain, JP was flattened by a 24 hour bout of food poisoning and we rallied to find him medicine, and one of our crew tragically tore an ACL. But these things are par for the course on a ski holiday, and all things considered our trip rated pretty close to 10 out of 10.
The tone of the safari was set at the first stop, Kicking Horse, four hours from Calgary. We all bonded over a first night of madness at Wintons Pub that involved local beer and a giant jenga game we played with our feet. The next day we hit the seriously yin yang ski field: heart-stopping chutes and drops above and cruisers and beginner slopes below. We split into two groups – JP took the snowboarders, and the skiers were given an instructor. That’s the other plus with the Safari concept – all guests are guided/instructed at each resort. The choice was ours whether we joined our assigned group or not, but everybody did as even if we weren’t matched 100 per cent ability-wise, we were all either intermediate to expert, learnt new skills, had somebody to ski and have a laugh with and were shown places on each ski field we would have been lucky to find by ourselves.
For instance in Kicking Horse, myself and Sarah, the other strong lady skier, were assigned a 23-year-old extreme skier instructor, Breena, who took us to the steepest places on the field, the B2 chutes below Coffin Trees.
The snowboarders went to Terminator Ridge with JP to hit some equally steep but more open chutes. Suffice to say everyone was super impressed.
Three days later we had an early morning departure to Revelstoke an hour away. This resort offers the highest vertical in North America (see separate feature) and has a reputation for spectacular powder snow. It reciprocated on both fronts, and our group was left dumbfounded by this enormous and challenging ski field. What’s more, on the Saturday morning when Revelstoke’s Revelation Gondola queue stretched more than 50m due to a two day pre-weekend storm, we marched straight to the front of the queue: Non Stop’s guides always carry the same status as ski instructors and are therefore allowed ski lift priority. Bliss. Who doesn’t love marching to the front of a queue on a powder day (or any time for that matter)?
From Revelstoke we headed to Red Mountain where the previous plush accommodation – at Kicking Horses’ Copper Horse Lodge, and Revelstoke’s Best Western Inn Plus – was more than matched by the luxurious Slalom Creek condominiums. The group was split into two and we shared lavish apartments with gourmet kitchens, sprawling lounges and plush bedrooms, (although four of the guys were crammed into one room with two bunk beds due to a booking hiccup). Despite that, Slalom Creek condos were the trip highlight. We threw group cook-ups, played music and lolled about in the huge lounge rooms.
Fueling the euphoria was the unbelievable snow that Red Mountain conjured from the skies, right on cue. One morning we all headed out at different times and ended up finding each other on the same untracked powder fields, laying down line after line through the trees before we all joined up to head to the other side of the resort where we sliced through more light fluffy pow and totally exhausted ourselves.
One of the boarders got so enthusiastic in the powder chase he skied through the boundary line into the creek and had to walk out to the lifts. That’s how good it gets in Red – and it all explains why we weren’t too worried about leaving yet another dump of snow for Fernie.
Within days of being joined at the hip with a group of likeminded strangers we had all mostly returned to our respective countries, lives and workplaces, the trip having gone all too fast. But if the facebook posts between this new bunch of friends are anything to go by, that safari is etched in our minds and there’s a good chance we’ll be back.
Non Stop’s 2 week Ski Safaris are but just a small part of this ambitious operation’s overall offerings. Non Stop’s mainstays are its 3, 5, or 11 week ski instructor programs run in Canada, France and New Zealand – ideal for taking a career break, or lifestyle change as many participants do.
They also run 2 to 3 week Skier Improvement Camps, 6 week Master the Mountain off-piste camps, 2 week Freestyle Programs, plus one week Skier Improvement Camps and an 18 week instructor program in Serre Chevalier, France.
In Fernie Non Stop owns and operates the highly professional and friendly Red Tree Lodge. Here you will find large, comfortable rooms suitable for long-term stays, a restaurant and bar, sauna and door-to-door ski shuttle.
Call the UK office on +_44 0207 720 6500 or the Canadian office on +1 250 423 4622.