Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Whistler Legends #4

Legends 4 - April 12 - 15th, 2019

With the ski season ending in just over a month, 47 members of the Victoria and Pacific ski clubs traveled to Whistler’s Creek Side Friday, April 12th.  Those who drove up early, were rewarded by a Blue Sky Ski Day—almost perfect spring skiing.  I saw a few skiers in shorts and it took me back to bikini and even less spring skiing at Whistler in it’s early days.  Those who went to the 40th and 50th parties will have seen the nude skiing photos—kids now ‘think’ they are hip and are up to outlandish things—far from what was permitted in the 60’s and 70’s.

Enough of that talk, you can read those tales in Whistler’s Pique (the nude stomp out into the street from the bars from last month’s edition comes to mind).  
You cannot beat 4 days and 3 nights at Legends Hotel, Whistler B.C. for $200.00—this trip alone is worth the membership!!!

The usual Friday afternoon was spent at Dusty’s with an Après` Ski followed by the hot tub party (2 at Legends).  Later that evening parties broke out all over the hotel with one room holding a guitar sing-a-long which took us into Saturday morning.  One player was so enthusiastic at drinking beer at Dusty’s he later forgot some of the words but kept on strumming or dancing with the ladies.

A big thanks to Dave Chater who organized it all.  He put us into awesome rooms c/w balconies and full kitchens, 2 or 3 bedrooms, and a fireplace--you name it, we had it.
Saturday, the weather changed and a few went out onto the mountain.  They were met with high winds, fog, wet snow and then rain.  As Symphony was closed and I don’t ski in the rain (certainly not at $150.00+ tax for a ticket), I wisely stayed at the Hotel, topped up my supply of beer and red wine, and then hit the hot tub for 2 ½ hours.  There were lots of interesting guests to meet and a group of us enjoyed a relaxing afternoon.

 At 6:45 the entire group went to the conference room which had been reserved for us.  Each person brought something for the Pot Luck, but Trevor from the VASC gets honourable mention; he brought 3 superb dishes--the rice and the butter chicken were gone in no time—he’s a chef and he can cook!!!  There has never been a Pot Luck where we did not have way too much good food and so many choices—good work from one and all.

Sunday, we had variable weather, but with some 10 to 15 cm of new snow in the upper alpine, it was great once you headed up to the Peak.  Yet, skiing down to the Garbonzo Chair or Mid-station was not bad either.  Everyone to whom I spoke and skied said that they had a great day. 

More beverages at Dusty’s after skiing Sunday and then most of us went into the hot tub.  To finish the weekend of in style, one group went to the Rim Rock Café (one if the best restaurants at Whistler) and some of us went to Roland’s, Creek Side for a more relaxing traditional Whistler dinner.

Come Ski BC With The PSC!!!!

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Mt. Washigton 2019

Mount Washington, Vancouver Island

Never skied there?  New to the Island or B.C.?  No problem.   

We went there with the Victoria Alpine Ski Club March 29 – 31 for only $200.00!  It’s so good to be a member!!!

Serviced by 6 chairs and one Magic Carpet, it has lots of ski-able terrain.  With 57 or 58 marked runs to ski down, you can also bounce through the trees on Schum’s Glades, Fantastic Trees, Park Glades, Whiskey Jack’s Glades, Harry’s Trees, Riptide Glades, Good Time Glades, Gateway Glades, or the Gold Rush Glades on the front side.  Mt. Washington has a chair called the Boomerang Chair which services both the front and back side.  On the back, you may continue your tree skiing in the North or McKay Glades, but likely the double blacks in the North Bowl, or the Sucker Chutes will call out with un-tracked powder in the open.  No black runs on the North side, sorry—only double blacks down to McKay Lake.

For the beginner, Mt. Washington offers the Hawk Express where the entire west side of the lift is basically green.  No worries if you love black runs while using that chair.  All the runs to the right when you get off are Black!!!  A few become Blues at the very bottom.

Looking for blues, head one lift to your right and you are on the Eagle Express or the next one over, the Whiskey Jack Chair.  Black runs and intermediate blues take you all the way down.  No greens here.

The Sunrise chair has no marked greens either, but some of the blues would be green on Blackcomb or Whistler.   All in all, Mt. Washington has lots to offer.
We had two days of sunshine, so boiler plate until about 11am; just ask Lee who tried to ski with Tam and Shelley Friday morning.  The trees did not like his helmet and put a good enough dent into it.  He did not ski the rest of the weekend.  Nice enough roommate, as he had to sleep on the Sofa next door to find the position he needed.  Seems the ribs may have been bruised or fractured.  Not much one can do but sleep on one’s back and not tell him any jokes (I know as I did in a few ribs at one of the last summer games and was fool enough to try golfing—not too much fun—hated drinking all that beer). 

After 11:00 am it was great skiing the whole mountain until about 1:30/ 2 pm when the lower runs became spring skiing.  Yet, keeping on the top, or moving out of the sun face back over to the Hawk Express you could ski good snow until the lifts closed at 3:30.  Yes, their hot tub worked just fine!!!

Looking forward to doing it all again next ski season!!!  Ski BC with the PSC or the VASC !   It's just that easy!!!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Sun Peaks Ski Resort - February 2019

Sun Peaks Ski Resort

February 22 - 25, 2019 

What a Blast!!! 

Mt. Morresy, Tod Mountain, Sun Dance.

Fresh snow was already falling in Greater Vancouver when we left for our ski trip north of Kamloops.  The highway way clear until just past Hope.  Then compact followed us snow over the pass and into Merritt.  We had a bit of a breather and then from 10 km out of Merritt the snow began again.  It not only lasted until we got to the mountain, but it snowed most of the night.
I’m not too sure how many slept that night as fresh deep powder waits for no one-THERE are no friends on POWDER DAYS!!!  That’s a standing rule all over B.C.

The following day, with a trace of new, we had a blue sky powder day!!!  IT just does not get better that that (Okay, 20 cm of new would have made it perfect!).

Sunday night we had a special treat.  One of the Pacific Ski Club's sponsors, Gothic-Horror.com, had arranged with the Heffley Boutique Inn's owner, Manfred, to give us the whole lobby in which to hold and Author's Reading from his new book, The Curse of The Red Crystal.  Along with that reading, they provided a case of 12 bottled of excellent B.C. wine.  As most of us enjoy a glass or two, but are not lushes, we drank only 11 bottles--but Trevor and Sven did a guitar sing-a-long for a few hours.  The owner even took to the strings and he and Trevor Oram had the place rocking!!!

A sold out trip, we did have a last minute cancellation, but the 9 or us who went never had the time to do much socializing while skiing our faces off.  Sun Peaks was voted as the mountain of choice for a New Year’s ski trip.  Let you executives know you’d like to GO!!!

Ski you Next Year - It's Super Natural B.C. !!!

Friday, 21 September 2018

Transylvania Ski Trip 2018 - Part 2

Romania 2018 – Our Transylvanian Ski Tour in Review
Part Two

From Râșnov our vans took us to Bran Castle where the real Vlad Tepes, after being captured by the Hungarian King in 1462, was imprisoned for a month or two.  Built in 1377, this castle and its infamous visitor, Vlad the Impaler, were likely the model from which Bran Stoker took his fictional Dracula.  The castle was illustrated in a book by Charles Boner and printed in Britain in 1865.  Bran Stoker had a copy of that publication.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and other books, films, and plays which have resulted from that character, have made Bran Castle one of the most visited tourist sites in Transylvania.  Today, a rather large market has sprung up in the nearby village on its eastern side.  This Romanian style shopping area was not in existence when we last visited Bran Castle in 2004.  It has many items hand-made in Romania.  Fur hats, jackets and coats, linen table cloths and runners, embroidered cloth, old coins, watches, scarves, leather and fur gloves, wooden trick boxes, and weaving made from cloth, straw or rattan are available.  This time, there were even items with ‘Dracula’, ‘Transylvania’, and ‘Bran Castle’ written, sewn, or printed on ‘T’ shirts, sweat shirts and ball caps.  Those had been unheard of in 2004.
Bran Castle sits on a high ridge and a visitor has to walk up a rather steep incline to get to the gate house or old customs house.  From there, a single set of long, stone steps lead to the castle’s door.  

 There is no moat, draw-bridge or spacious court yard for a horse or carriage.  Those additions were the fictional creation found in Bram Stoker’s book, Dracula.  Bran Castle was a defensive structure and has only one way in, the massive double oak doors with their ornate, giant knockers.

The castle was built for the royal family in the late 14th Century.  Each room has a ceramic fireplace, most have their original furniture, and they give you a glimpse of how the wealthy once lived.   

Amazingly, thieves managed to steal the king and queen’s ebony-wood, four-poster bed.  In 2004, that ornate bed was still in the King’s bedroom.  I took a number of close-up photos of the intricate carvings in its head and base boards.  Its canopy was of similar wood and had rich patterns carved into the beams.  The replacement bed is just a plain-Jane king-size bed, its frame stained in a dark shade to simulate aged wood.
Without doubt, to ‘steal’ such a massive piece of furniture took inside cooperation. It would have been an awkward item to carry down the very narrow winding passages and stairs.  My guess is that it was partially disassembled and then lowered out the window to awaiting arms where it vanished into the night, post-haste.  My pictures from 2004, if I ever dig them out, should help trace it to its new owner.  My images have better detail than those rather bland images currently posted in the king’s bedroom.

 Most of us still had ski points on our ski passes and these points can be carried over until they are used up.  This permits you to ski a few hours each day and still tour the towns nearby.  Some of us went back up the mountain for a lovely stroll and lunch.  Others put their skis back on and spent the day in the snow and the sun.

 On January 15th we departed Poiana Brasov for Sinaia and their high alpine ski region.   From Transylvania, we crossed into the neighbouring province of Wallachia, a trip of just under an hour.  Romania and its countryside are breathtaking.  

Thankfully, the trip was run in broad daylight, reducing the speed our vans were able to accomplish.  This provided a chance to enjoy the ride while seeing a part of the region.

Vila Wendy (spelled with one ‘L’) was right in the heart of the city, and we had rented all three floors.  The boys, Dave, Peter and Trevor, took to bottom level.  Tam, Shelley, Nathalie, and Katherine took the 2nd floor while Bruce, Shannon, and I took the top floor.  

Aged, but very well maintained, each apartment at Vila Wendy had modern facilities and was well stocked.  Water bottles and juices were in the fridges, bread and butter on the counters, and fresh fruits in baskets on the table.    No one other than guests lived in the villa and the employees, who greeted us and left every afternoon, did not speak a word of English, German or French, the three languages members of our group spoke.  This only became a problem when we needed supplies or tried to pay for the accommodation. 

Yes, this is Romania, and I had been here in 2004.  I knew that businesses in many small towns do not take credit cards or foreign money.  The only currency is often the Romanian lei.   Our ski club had made arrangements and had sent the funds via a CIBC bank transfer to the Transylvania Bank in Sinaia.  Unfortunately, we were told, it never arrived. 

This put me in a bit of a quandary as I had to extract over 7,600 Lei from the local ATM machines.  Some had a maximum of 200 Lei, and I found one which handed out 2,000 a day.  In the end, I had the cash and I did not get hung, drawn, and quartered by the local thugs…speaking of which, the local security company in Sinaia is called ‘Thug Security’.  I believed Trevor took a picture of the vehicle with its logo.

Sinaia is the city where Romanian royalty resided during the long, cold winter months.  Most of the homes are stately villas, albeit in dire need of repair.  

 The villa next door was where the crown prince secretly met his young mistress on more than one occasion.  It’s for sale and at 5,000,000 Euros—a steal with its rich and royal past.   

Almost each house in Sinaia has its own name and there is a great book, translated to English, which gives the history of the two railway stations, the town, the famous monastery, the hotels, and many of the homes.

Across from our villa lay a beautiful park with an ice skating rink, Christmas decorations, and one of the oldest hotels in the city.  Covered in snow when we arrived, well over a foot of new snow blanketed the walkways and paths of the park the following day.  This snow storm continued for several more days, luckily most descended overnight and it was sunny each morning.   

For the skiers, the deep snow shut down the lifts.  These remained closed until they shoveled their way in and out.  For the wandering, inquisitive tourist, it was fantastic.  Yet, Nathalie was out the door early, traveled easily on her own, and often got in a day of skiing as well as meeting us in town for dinner.

There are few things as beautiful, refreshing, or enjoyable as a bright new day with lovely sunshine, deep fresh snow, and crisp cold mountain air.  That first day, we took the opportunity to tour the city from one end to the other—beautiful!

The following day we hiked up to Peles Castle.  Once there, we paid the entrance fee and spent a few hours inside a palace built by King Karl I for his wife.  It is the first castle ever built which had electricity, a built in vacuum, and a stained-glass, retractable roof.  The original generator still powers the castle, the Crown Prince’s villa next door, and the nearby medieval village.  What a majestic day that was.

The next morning, new snow again greeted us.  It erased any idea of taking the effort to go up the mountain and ski.  There are actually two different ski operators on one mountain in Sinaia’s ski region.  It may seem a little confusing, but it’s not much different from the old days when Blackcomb opened at Whistler.  Yet, in BC each company had their own mountain.  At Sinaia, the better of the two ski region’s lifts are only reachable by taxi or bus.  The older company has its gondola base right in Sinaia, but they only offer one high-alpine lift.  As a result, we opted to hike up to the historic Monestary.   The pictures speak for themselves; the scenery was spectacular. 

Sinaia with fresh snow on the ground is incredible; it’s a visitor’s winter paradise.  They still have gas lights operating in the park at night, each post individually decorated for Christmas.  The fountain, covered from the elements, is lighted and had decorations surrounding its circular form.  Music played on outdoor speakers, and locals took their families on strolls or onto the ice rink.   The whole town is reminiscent of Dickens’ 19th Century London in a much smaller scale.

We found many small bars and restaurants in Sinaia.  We were often drawn into these quaint establishments to seek warmth, lunch, drinks, and later dinner.  We even found an Indian restaurant right in the downtown core.  

A British bar, Old Nick’s, became our meeting place after lunch, and we had more than a few pints to quench our thirst.  

I even found a kiosk on the main road with a lady who not only spoke and understood English, but she had a brother who lives in Toronto, Canada.  At her kiosk, a cold beer was 1 Lei or about 30 cents (3 Lei to 1 Canadian dollar), but you had to stand outside near her window to keep warm.  Yet, the narrow lane had local items for sale on hooks tucked into the niches of the stone walls and I could look these over while I enjoying the conversation and beer.  Not known to be succinct; I had more than one beer at her outlet.  I assure you, the beer were ice cold!

I dropped my book, The Curse of The Red Crystal, off at two local book shops.  I was wearing my red ski vest with Canada written in large white letters on its back.  In one store, I met an older fellow who spoke to me in clear but extremely awkward words of English.  Without elaborating while in the store, he spoke to the book shop’s owner in Romanian.  He had offered to personally take me to the main post office for stamps.  He had noted the post cards I had just purchased.  Apparently, it was a short walk from the book store.  

This trip took me off the main tourist road and into a more deserted area where the locals live and shop.  It reminded me of the Romania I recall seeing in 2004; little seems to have changed.  People kept to themselves or peered out a door or window at strangers who happen to pass by.  The few people on the street noted my chaperone, and stayed where they were, not coming over to take a closer look.  Even with the older fellow at my side, I did not linger to take too many pictures.  I had the odd feeling I was an intruder and we moved on.

Once away from the store and out of earshot of others, this white-haired man told me how wonderful it was to meet a Canadian or anyone from the West who spoke English.  During communism and later the terrible dictatorship, English was strictly forbidden.  To avoid torture or imprisonment, he had not spoken one word for over 30 years.  To him it was important that no one in Sinaia even thought he spoke fluent English.

“When I was young, it was different,” he said in a quiet but jovial voice.  “We learned English in school and Romania was a modern country embracing technology.  Even during the war, we could speak English.  Then, the Soviets came and you could be sent to prison as a spy; under Comrade Nicolae, it was torture and death, so I never spoke another word of English.” 

In the post office, the older fellow only spoke Romanian but an Orthodox priest, to whom I had just been introduced, spoke in broken English.  Asking what I needed, he helped me buy the stamps.  My host feigned ignorance of English and simply smiled at me while nodding his head.  We had an understanding that he wished to keep his secret to himself.  I bade them all god’s good grace, and headed back up the steep hill to the main road in good spirits.  The priest came out of the post office and kept an eye out.  Several times I turned, took a photograph, and waved back.  Then, he was gone and I found myself back on the main road.

Day after day, the new snow fell.  Shannon and I took photographs or looked for geo-cashes.  Bruce went out and fed his leftovers to the local dogs.

Peter, Trevor and Dave found a lovely breakfast cafe, trudged through the deep snow drifts, fell in love with the waitress, and never missed their morning stroll or coffee.   

Tam, Katherine, and Shelley followed Peter up and down all the hills and tails joining in on the many sightseeing events. 
One of those journeys, we went to the Casino Sinaia where we paid for a tour.  The Casino was once an opulent structure and an operational gambling facility.  
 It was shut down a few years after the Soviets took over.  Later, it was used to harbour displaced communists fighting western oppression.  These refugees paid their Romanian hosts back by tearing up the inlaid wood floors and breaking down the furniture as well as many of the inner doors.  These pieces were thrown into the large fireplaces making the need to go out and gather wood (like the locals) redundant.  When they left, only the walls were standing.  Our guide explained that, basically, it had been gutted.

Their infamous dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, later used the casino as his winter office and some repairs were made.  His wife had an office and an apartment across from his.  Her part of the second floor of the casino was lavishly decorated in her own style.   

Ceausescu often called his inner circle to Sinaia for meetings where he often handed out brutal discipline.  

“Those ministers,” our guide remarked, “had to sweat it out in the small foyer next to his grand office.”

I was in the Capitolo in Havana, Cuba and sat in Fidel Castro’s chair.  I saw no reason not to sit in Ceausescu’s chair as well.  I must say, Fidel had a more lavish office with a table clock carved out of solid gold and a better chair. 

On our fourth day, the snow suddenly stopped.  Tam, Shelley and I put our ski clothes on and grabbed their skis, poles, and boots.  Then, we caught a taxi which took us up the mountain.  Tam and Shelly had all their gear with them and were going to get ski passes.  

 I went to rent boots, skis and poles in a small rental shop.  Luckily, it was quite busy and it took a while before I found a seat and tried on several pairs of boots.  I had just taken out the equivalent of $50.00 and had the bill in hand when Shelley popped in and told me the high winds had just shut down the ski lifts on the upper part of the mountain.  The gondola was still running but  there would be no skiing that day.  The rental shop owner tried to sell me the package saying I could come back the following day. 

“Just pay for the equipment and we will store it all here for you.  You save time and do not need to wait in line.”  The owner suggested.  Not being a fool, I kept that cash in my pocket.

 Slightly saddened by having the high-alpine lifts closed for another day, we walked down to the bus loop.  Sinaia has the same great bus service as Delta, British Columbia.  Their buses run each hour, and we had just missed one.  It was not the same service as that which is provided the skiing public at Poiana Brasov, Transylvania.  There, the longest wait time is 30 minutes.  We called the same taxi driver who had just brought us to the mountain, and he picked us up three minutes later. 


More to come: More skiing, mountain vistas, and the demonstrations in Bucharest.  That’s what an eastern European ski trip is all about—the remarkable journey, not just the skiing!