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February 24, Whistler, British Columbia
It is 6:30 p.m. when I finally hurl the last of my gear into the car and hit the road, pointing north into the heart of a storm. On the way out of town, I pick up Sai Fon, a former pro mogulist who now owns a store in Whistler Village. We each have skied all our lives; a long, dark drive through the snow is like a familiar old friend. We plow through the night. Little is said. Every few hours we change cassette tapes and swap turns at the wheel. By 2 a.m. we’re certain we’re caught in a twilight zone where the driving never ends. At 3 a.m. we arrive in Rogers Pass, the heart of Canada’s Glacier National park. Snowbanks tower 20 feet high. More white stuff falls thick and fast. We haul our gear into a peach-colored room at the Best Western Glacier Park Lodge, tumble into matching hotel beds, and fall instantly to sleep.
February 25, Rogers Pass, British Columbia
Located 215 miles west of Calgary and 415 miles northeast of Vancouver, Rogers Pass is the doorway to a thousand square miles of backcountry adventure. It’s also a famed avalanche zone. But in spite of the danger and the remoteness, more than 200 skiers hike for their turns here on a good weekend. “Five hours up, 10 minutes down, but ohhhh those 10 minutes,” a park ranger gushes.
We head out the back of the lodge and up a gully called Balu Pass with our pals Frank and Henry, who’ve road-tripped to join us from points east. First we run a transceiver check to make sure we can find each other in the event of an avalanche, then start skinning. Nothing’s out here but trees and mountains, the four of us and the collective sound of our breath, shafts of light, and sudden blusters of snow. Steep switchbacks rise for hours. Calm settles into every pore. Our descent takes us dancing through high-elevation groves of fir and spruce. In places the snow is waist deep. Soon we are all bright eyed, grinning, and flushed. This is as far from high-speed chairs and resort crowds as skiing gets.
March 3, Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta
Après-ski at Lake Louise. I’d left my friends at Rogers Pass and followed my wanderlust to Banff. Now I’m at a table with 10 new friends, all men, a pack of handsome 30- and 40-somethings from Buffalo and Washington, D.C. Most of them ski like fiends¿and only several sport wedding rings. They call themselves swabbies, for Schoolboys With A Budget. Loosely translated, it means they party like they’re still in college, but in a style befitting their six-figure incomes. After blasting around Lake Louise’s big basins all day, we’ve settled into the wingback chairs in the lounge at the luxurious Chateau Lake Louise to enjoy a bit of majesty. “A big part of the ski experience for us is après,” laughs Tom, a 42-year-old corporate lawyer from D.C. David, his hockey pal and a bigwig in D.C., smiles and shakes his head. “It starts and ends with the skiing,” David says. Later, at the castlelike Banff Springs Hotel, we soak under the stars in steaming outdoor hot pools, then regroup to sup in Gothic splendor at the Rob Roy. They all stand when I arrive at the table! Still later, in downtown Banff, we play pool at Barbary Coast, hit a couple more bars, then descend into Outa-bounds, a dance club where Calgary beauties in cowboy hats mix with Kiwis, Aussies, Germans, Brits, and guys from Buffalo. I bow out with an escort to enjoy a nightcap in the heady luxury of my hotel room¿which is larger than my apartment. The rest of the swabbies close Outabounds down.
March 5, On the Road
I bash moguls with the swabbies at Sunshine Village until the lifts close, then stoke up on coffee while they drink beer in the Mad Trappers Saloon. We’re all reluctant to call it quits. Ski-tripping brought us together, but when we pull onto the highway at 7 p.m., they turn right and I turn left.
As I retrace my steps through the long night, I remember Dad at the wheel in the old staation wagon, ski gear strapped to the roof and everyone sleeping except for me, sitting by his side into the wee hours, reading road signs and watching snow spin in the headlights. These crazy road-trips I so love take me back to that sense of infinite possibility, imminent adventure, and absolute safety I felt as a kid.
Somewhere west of Revelstoke, my eyes cross; I pull over and tip back the driver’s seat and sleep, visions of past journeys appearing like a trip through a time machine: Vermont and the Sierra, Utah and the Andes, escaping from L.A., trekking to B.C. I wake up shivering and drive to the nearest greasy spoon for some eggs. I don’t know where I am, but I couldn’t be happier. It’s a parallel universe thing. I realize David had it almost right: It starts and ends with the road.