Canadian adventure: chalky snow and warming huts

Long haul economy. Gotta love it. For the last few years now, no longer prepared to knowingly contort myself into a pretzel for even a two-hour flight, I either book extra leg room myself or harangue the Gremlin till he does it for me (the rule of thumb being: he/she who books the trip also books the leg room). Trouble was, by the time he’d navigated his way through Lufthansa, Air Canada and Ski Safari, each one passing the seat-booking buck to the next, all the leg room on the Frankfurt/Calgary flight had gone.

Which is how I wound up wedged in a window seat, at the very back of the plane, knees grazing the pocket in front, nine long hours of prezeldom ahead of me.

‘The seating gods’, I thought, ‘are having a laugh’.

But there was more to come, thanks to the pan-faced lady in the seat in front who, ten minutes after take off, pressed her recline button. Leaving me with a faceful of Melissa McCarthy.

Being tired and grouchy and not having slept since Friday morning (and it now being Sunday lunchtime), I decided I was having none of it, gently tapped her on her shoulder and asked her, as politely as I could muster with the shortest of fuses, to return her seat to upright. Which she did, equally grouchily explaining that she hadn’t slept for thirty hours. Join the club, love.

All was well and I spent the next half hour agonising about how rude I probably appeared, determined to apologise at the end of the flight. That was until she and her pal returned from a joint trip to the loo and, with perfect synchronicity, pressed their buttons to maximum recline. You’d think they’d planned it. By this point Richard E Grant had made an appearance, alongside Melissa.

So thank you pan-faced lady, flying Air Canada, Frankfurt to Calgary, 24 February 2019. Thanks to you, I spent almost the entire nine-hour flight wedged in my seat, nose worryingly close to the back of your seat.

On the plus side, however, it’s the closest I’m ever likely to get to an Oscar nominee and a not-quite White House press officer. (Great film BTW).

Making us pay

And speaking of Frankfurt and Lufthansa. Clearly the stress of Brexit is affecting you more than you care to admit, if customer service is any measure. Either that or you’re just treating people badly to prove a point? You’ll know better than me which point that might be, of course.

Grumble number one: Chosen seats successfully booked and paid in both directions, for the Manchester-Frankfurt leg, two days before flying the aircraft changed. More telephone buck-passing from Lufthansa for the Gremlin, who was fast losing patience (not a phrase I would normally associate with him).

So… would we have the same seats? No. Those seats no longer exist. Could we transfer the booking? No. Those seats no longer exist. Could we book new seats? No. Those seats no longer exist. Okay. So could we have our money back? Er… no. But we’ve paid for extra leg room. Nothing I can do about that – you’ll have to take the flights and claim it back. You’re kidding? No. (I may have paraphrased slightly but you get the gist). But hey, what’s forty-six quid amongst friends?*

Grumble number two: If the chaos of arriving in Frankfurt, far-from-fresh off the long-haul home stretch – and attempting to connect with an ongoing flight – demonstrates German/EU efficiency and customer care, it didn’t impress.

Herded shoulder to shoulder, tired, jet-lagged bodies of all nationalities headed in every direction, tripping up over trailing wheelie bags (the Devil’s work), weary tots and themselves. Followed by the unexpected pleasure of a pat down, comprehensive bag scan and virtual strip search going through security again. All of this while being barked at by surly airport staff.

I’ll say this for Manchester airport (despite what the trolls might tweet), every time we’ve gone through security, coming in or going out, the staff have been polite, smiling, chatty and efficient – AND, this time, our cases were first off the belt. It felt good to be home.

* Just as I was about to post, and following yet more telephone ping pong, we are assured the forty-six quid will be winging its way back to us. 

Skiing Canada
Hot choc stop on one of the warmer days (when it did actually snow) © Hackette on the How.

Chalky snow and skiddy bits. Enough of the grumpiness – this is the skiing bit

Last time we were in Vancouver and the Rockies, early May 2017, an unanticipated heatwave sent us shopping for summer wear. Thermals and waterproofs rattled round our cases for three glorious weeks until our last day, when heavy rain set in.

This time round, Canada was experiencing the coldest winter even Canadians can remember. And snowfall has been unusually low in the west. None of that hip-high, Rocky Mountain powder the Gremlin promised me. The consequently thinner base meant many of the slopes were hard-packed and treacherous, with rocks and grass bleeding through the bump pitches.

But this grippy, chalk-like snow was different to the European variety. Where weeks-old snow still lay untouched beside the slope it felt feather-light, not weighted and compacted by a constant cycle of thaw and freeze. The skiddy bits ‘on piste’ were as unforgiving as ever but there were plenty of broad groomed runs and long, wide gullies of sticky bumps to practice on, trees to meander through – and far fewer speed nuts threatening to take you out. In fact, far fewer skiers at all.

But, by ‘eck, the cold! Minus 22C – plus the windchill when you’re moving, be that on skis or sat motionless on an uncovered, exposed chair lift. None of your fancy French drop-down covers or heated seats here (although pleased to see the lift queues are as organised as they were when I last skied in Banff, twenty-three years ago, and help-yourself tissues still sited close at hand).

No thermals kicking about at the bottom of the suitcase this time. Every single layer squeezed under my Arcteryx shell, more on top. Battery-powered heated gloves with added Hot Hands and still my fingers burned with cold. Finally settling on merino inner gloves, Hot Hands and mitts – but even then, at times, arghh!!

Heated boots too, natch. Neoprene face mask overlaid with doubled-up buff and Turtle Fur neck warmer. And a scarf. More hot chocolate and warm-up stops than the Gremlin (or I) would normally countenance.

Oh how I envy my younger self, taking to the slopes with barely a vest or hand-warmer in sight. But what better excuse for a shopping trip or two? And if it’s cold weather gear you’re after, this is the place to buy it.

Skiing Canada Deckchairs in snow
Sit outside? D’you think we’re mad © Hackette on the How.

Snowstorm in a D-cup

Who knew chucking your skanky bra at a tree was a thing? Seems every resort must now have a ‘bra tree’ adjacent to at least one chair lift, with tatty, weathered old scanties draped across its branches.

Not content with burning our bras, now we women are meant to strip off at sub-zero on a moving chairlift, thirty feet off the ground – whilst also keeping hold of our ski poles and gloves – then somehow manage to parcel everything up again before hypothermia takes us.

The myth of the bra-burning feminist grew from a protest against a Miss America beauty pageant when several women threw mops, lipsticks and high heels into a Freedom Trash Can – literally throwing away the things that ‘oppressed’ women. One young woman took off her bra, eased it out from under her shirt and threw it in the can to the delight of the crowd. Whether there was ever any actual burning remains a moot point but the myth persists.

As for the freezing D-cups, according to Powder, back in the 1970s, the Aspen Ski Company hired its first female ski patroller, then dared to open up the opportunity to other women at the expense of slots on the rota for the chaps. In protest, a handful of male patrollers tossed ‘a robust nursing bra in the tree off Bell Mountain chair’.

Others latched onto the game, not realising the meaning behind it. In some quarters, it’s rumoured to have become a symbol of conquest, with horny young ski bucks treating the spoils of the night before as gallantly as they treated their erstwhile owners.

Efforts to remove underwear, even cut down the ‘offending’ trees, have all failed. Bra trees now appear all over the world – oblivious to the fifty-years-ago protest that spawned them – by ski lifts and roadsides, in climates hot and cold, on trees dead and alive. Always bras and panties, never Y-fronts, I note, for which small mercy we should be grateful.

But what is it in human nature that has to take a beautiful view and despoil it with what is essentially litter? For pity’s sake, can we stop it now?

Bra tree
Dead tree covered in bras (not quite as picturesque as those beside ski slopes but litter all the same) © Crackerclips.

Washrooms, wees and warming huts

Couple of hours in and we were already looking for the ‘washroom’ not the loo, sporting ‘tuques’ instead of hats and replacing ‘definitely’ with ‘for sure’.

Some things took longer to sink in. Like the fact that Canadian measures are bigger than UK measures – that the double gin and tonics we’d just consumed were actually almost double doubles. Which explains the staggering. Oops.

Bra trees aside, there’s so much in Canada that’s only ever so subtly different – but so much better.

Traffic lights where you can cross diagonally from corner to corner rather than navigating your way along the four sides of a box.

Ample rubbish bins on streets, with lids that stay firmly shut, the pavement beneath them free of litter – because otherwise some 270 kg bundle of bear fur might just come along and help himself to what’s left of your fast food. And you.

Drivers who stop to let you over the pedestrian crossing before you’ve even decided that’s what you want to do yet.

Car parking that’s free of charge – even inside the national park. And plenty of spaces. It’s almost as though they welcome visitors.

Skiers and boarders who (in the main) respect that the downhill skier doesn’t have eyes in the back of their head, may be going slower for a reason, and doesn’t appreciate you straight-lining past them – or into them – at high speed.

Public washrooms you don’t have to pay for, abundantly supplied with loo paper, hot water, working soap dispensers and hand driers, their floors free of detritus. When it’s THAT cold, you tend to visit them a lot.

Warming huts. When the temperature’s -22 plus wind chill, and you’ve just slid off the top of the chairlift with your fingers on fire, you need a place to thaw. They’re just wooden huts, with wooden benches and big windows to admire the view through. No frills, no food or drink on sale, just warm, clean and comfortable. Can’t help thinking the same thing in the UK would just be full of crap. Or smell of chips.

Thank you Canada for another fabulous welcome, another trip to remember. Will we be doing it again next year? You bet we will. For sure.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Joshua Enkin says:

    wonderful..makes me miss my native land!


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