I’m an inveterate nester – I love moving into holiday accommodation and making it home. Some venues have been a challenge, such as one high-rise Hong Kong hell hole with its lingering nicotine hangover and over-crowded confines. Then there was a rat-ridden backpackers’ dive in Fiji as well as numerous cubbyhole condos in French ski resorts whose ingenious sardine-like set-up becomes very stifling after a while.
But I didn’t have to stretch my nesting instincts at the Aspens, part of Bellstar’s new onhill home rentals at Kicking Horse Resort, near Golden, BC (www.kickinghorseresort.com/). Hugging the hill just above the posh Palliser hotel, the Aspens’ homeowners have thought of everything from indispensable washer/dryers to the handy rechargeable flashlight for late-night rambles round the resort. Luckily for us tourists, these private homes are available for rent throughout the ski season (www.bellstar.ca/vacation-homes1).
Leaving Calgary after breakfast, I was at Kicking Horse by lunchtime – perfect timing for halfday passes. After four hours’ heady downhilling at the 2,750 acre resort, it was time to check into my mountain maison with all the excitement of crossing the threshold for the first time. Even though I had seen pictures on the website, the surprise of the opulent furnishings and huge hot tub on the deck was not spoilt. It was a home-from-home onhill haven in the dramatic Dogtooth range of the Purcell Mountains.
Once I had parked my car in the basement parking, I didn’t need it again the whole trip. For evenings it was just a stroll down to the base area past the skating rink and a short schlep back – with no worries about drink driving or thigh fatigue. The bliss of the Aspens is its ski in/out convenience by day as well as night. Figuring out the route home at the end of ski day is part of the joy of onhill vacationing for me. Skating along ski-do paths, skidding over sidewalks, barrelling down banks to arrive breathless at my front door is almost as much fun as the skiing. After that first home run to the condo, it was just a matter of minutes before I was luxuriating with a glass of wine in my own hot tub, watching the last stragglers clearing the runs and patrollers doing their sweep.
Next followed beer and nachos at Peaks Grill, then a home-cooked dinner chez-moi with family games and videos. Après ski activities are integral to the Kicking Horse experience where an evening of decadent laziness and copious consumption is so well-earned over the 106 runs and four bowls. Each descent down the 1,260 metre vertical drop is long and testing to thigh endurance. The snow is always plentiful with annual precipitation around 700cm at summit. Being three hours from any big city population, the slopes are often uncrowded and powder persists well beyond each snowfall.
The BC resort has been expanding gradually year-by-year since its reinvention from Whitetooth Ski Area in December 2000. SuperBowl is the latest addition, a hike-accessed, on-piste, backcountry-style domain, now dubbed “slackcountry” for its proximity to the groomed slopes. In fact much of Kicking Horse is “slackcountry” with the challenging couloirs of CPR and Redemption Ridges all reached via meandering, skier-tracked pathways along the spine.
As a seasoned ski traveler, I was savvy enough to ski Kicking Horse the week before the holidays when the runs are emptied by Christmas shopping fervor and the slopes received a daily December dusting. Times to avoid are Christmas, Alberta’s February Family Day Weekend and Spring Break.
Having given up long lie-ins in my 40s, I enjoyed getting out for first-run fun and cruising the corduroy contours of the groomers before breakfast. Five to ten centimeters overnight can iron out the wrinkles in the powder, too, so each day the snowscape was re-invented with fresh lines to be found in bowls and glistening glades all day long. Soft snow is a must nowadays for my Ibuprofen-reliant knees and ankles. Weekday skiing is unbelievably tranquil at Kicking Horse and it’s amazing how much vertical you can clock up when there are no lift lines. Later, having my own onhill retreat was great for relieving aching muscles both at lunchtime and day’s end and I found the condo enclave quieter at night than the centre of the resort.
To those who think self-catering means slaving over the stove, think again. I brought all the family food ready prepared so I could enjoy the après ski with everyone else. Ski fare like lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, chili and shepherd’s pie can easily be pre-made or bought in for stress-free family feasts. I also packed the car with enough snacks and drinks to keep the party going for three or four days. Of course I still had to make one trip to Kicking Horse’s handy General Store – it’s inconceivable how much booze you can go through on a stress-free home-from-home holiday!