In mid March, 12 Parkland members set off for Canmore to begin a beautiful week of skiing at Talus Lodge. We gathered from Red Deer, Lacombe, Edmonton and Rimbey – some old friends, some new – all happily ensconced on a Thursday night in the ACC Bell Cabin high on the hill above Canmore. The night was spent in prep for some, relaxing for others – all of us beginning the process of gelling as a group.
Early the next morning we headed to the heli-pad where we prepared for the two flights that would take us to the high alpine meadows on which Talus is situated. Much to our surprise, and more to our host’s surprise, we required three flights to ferry the gear and food required for a full week’s adventure – a bit of a sticky start, but one that was quickly overcome.
The helicopter deposited each of its loads of people and provisions in turn and we quickly began the process of moving into the lodge and finding out how we would be living over the coming days. Chris Espinel, our host and companion for the week, welcomed us warmly to our new home with evident and well-deserved pride in a facility that is well designed, beautifully built and very comfortable. One of the magnificent design features at Talus is that you cannot have your eyes open anywhere in the building without looking at an awe-inspiring view. Nestled in a bowl, on a rise above a rocky tarn, the lodge sits at the base of vast walls of rock, the most spectacular of which is the Talon – fantastic in any weather and any time of day.
We were grateful over the week not to experience the deeply cold temperatures that afflicted many of the other Parkland trips this year. However, for the first two days and again on the last, we had extremely strong winds that highlighted the exposed nature of a building above tree-line. We were lucky, in fact, that our helicopter could make it in at all.
Vance and Kelly, our intrepid leaders, ran us through avalanche scenarios on the first two mornings to refresh our skills and get us working well as a group. After the tough stuff was done, it was a clear two days of skiing in soft, fresh powder through the glades just outside our doors to the creek drainage below, only to skin (hike) up and do it all over. For a newbie to “yo-yo” skiing in powder, it was a fantastic introduction and all declared it to be pretty fine skiing. Everyone there was tremendously supportive of one another, making this not just a great ski trip, but a wonderful gathering as well.
The ensuing days found us moving farther afield in search of new terrain, untracked powder, and fresh vistas – all of which we found in abundance. The avalanche risk was extremely high for the duration of our stay, so we travelled with care in groups of two or more, kept in regular radio contact and reinforced our terrain assessment skills as we went and in the evenings after dinner.
We trekked for about 45 minutes from the lodge on the fourth day, climbing over the high shoulder of a mountain, and dropped over into a delicious powder bowl full of knolls and drops where all of us could ski and seldom cross one another’s tracks. Climbing up was a steep, very hot endeavour with stunning views of the entire Royal Range and Burstall Pass across the valley from our lunch rock. One of our members was suffering a knee injury and so opted to snowshoe rather than ski – it was still a magnificent area to travel for her.
Each morning two of us would prepare a very hardy breakfast for the whole group while 4-6 others would take on water duty. The water was drawn from the tarn at the base of the mountain and involved donning snowshoes, collecting water buckets and making our way about 200 metres to the deep hole cut in the snow and ice on the pond. Each morning someone had to climb into the hole which had to be cleared again of the fresh snow that had fallen or drifted in overnight, and the ice broken anew. A sled carrying 8 buckets at a time was then dragged back up the hill with two pulling in front and one pushing at the back to top the steady incline.
Our evenings were spent enjoying fantastic meals we prepared for one another, tasting new drink and snack recipes, stretching out the kinks with the help of the sauna and some yoga, building puzzles, laughing together, getting lost in conversation or buried deeply in a book. One evening saw a number of us attempt to pick up an ever-shrinking paper bag off the ground with just our lips. I am stunned and humbled at the flexibility of some of our group. Rob Nawrot managed to pick up a piece of paper from the ground without using his hands – a true feat of ingenuity, flexibility, strength and balance.
When living in remote circumstances, it is not hard to feel an attachment to the place that shelters you. There were a number of opportunities to chip in on the daily chores: shovelling, replacing firewood, dumping wastewater etc.; or even help with repairs (some of which our use necessitated!). At the end of the trip, we happily prepared the Lodge for the next group who flew in on the choppers that took us home.
The beauty of a longer trip is the flexibility each member has to do as they please, without feeling like they have to be “on” all the time in terms of skiing everyday (unless you are Kelly!) or hanging out with the group. Most of us took time away for ourselves, opting to snowshoe or read, relax or do chores, or just stare quietly out the windows at the spectacular world around us at some point in the trip. We had our own space – and enjoyed our time together immensely.
When we came back to ground in Canmore, it was a warm farewell to new friends made and old friendships rekindled – each of us quite grateful for the week just passed. Our sincere thanks to Parkland for organizing these trips.