My First Rocky Mountain Adventure

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February 18th 2015
Published: February 18th 2015
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It felt like a dream! I never knew that something so spectacular was possible. I have seen the Scottish Highlands, the Giant's Causeway, The Cliffs of Mohar and some of the historical wonders of Europe but this place seemed to be something more. It was more than what I imagined it would be when I got on the bus after Teacher's Convention and went to Canmore, part of the Canadian Rockies that I had been so desperate to see and one of my major reasons for wanting to do the exchange. It seemed at one stage it was never meant to be as the bus was delayed by an hour, in which during that time I witnessed a girl go off her nut at security of a confusion of the ticket where she concluded by ripping up the ticket and storming out to the mocking and impatient gesturing line of 100 travelers waiting to head to their destination. The sky had become dark and cloudy and my excitement of catching my first glimpse of the mountains had been postponed for the time being. I got off the bus and walked inquisitively around the small town which seemed to be made of beautiful modern day wooden cabins and pleasantly presented shops. There was a large block of ice in the middle of road just off the main street in readiness for the festival that was about to begin. I found my way through the dimly lit streets to the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge which was to be my home for the next 3 nights. I had managed to score the room next to the hot tub which in some ways was good, but walking past the open viewing window at some of the people in the hot tub each time I approached the room at times wasn't so rewarding. We quickly checked in with Steve and his wife Evelyn and his two friends Bruce and Sophie who had organised the whole week end and it was good to once again catch up with my fellow Aussie exchange teachers who had also made the trip. A quick catch up and getting to know you over a cold beer and we were off to bed, awaiting the day to arrive to begin this adventure I had been waiting for since I first glimpsed at a picture of the Canadian Rockies some years ago.


I woke up and opened the curtains to what I hoped would be a view that would take my breath away. I was greeted with a gloomy, cloudy, uneventful sight. Not a mountain in sight. It was like going to the theatre and eagerly awaiting the curtains to rise for the show to begin, or the lights to switch off at a music concert. This show was going to make us wait. Our first adventure was going to be snow shoeing, my first ever snow adventure. I had once attempted to ski at the indoor Ski attraction of Mt Theberton back home in Adelaide when I was at school, but that was a big disaster and potentially put me off attempting to ski ever since, but I decided that didn't count. The drive was a gloomy almost spooky feel to it. I felt like we were in the scene from the original X-Men movie where Beastman stops the truck on a snowy forest road. The mountains were teasing us with little glimpses and the parts we saw already impressed me and had me captivated, but I longed to see more. The road was a mixture of loose snow and slippery ice and I was glad I was not driving at this time. We could only limp our way along the road to our destination which was about 20 to 30 minutes from Canmore. The clouds and gloomy feel momentarily looked like it was going to clear as we got our snow shoes on and experienced that exhilarating and tingly feeling of doing something different and learning how to adapt to this new footwear. I looked around to see Steve's kids and dog Heidi already diving into walking in the snow, sinking half a metre with a single step in amongst the powdered slush. I suddenly felt like a kid who had just got a new video game or toy and couldn't wait to get home to play with it. I marched up the part which was a specific path and felt that sensation of taking large steps, sinking into the snow and surprisingly lifting myself out with ease. A new sensation, a sudden feeling of learning something new and exciting. I just wanted to get started. A brief, informative discussion about technique and safety from Sophie and then we were off. The sight of the kids making snow balls before the walk inspired an early but tame snow ball fight at the beginning of our walk but it become more a game of stealth to see who could get away with sneaky attacks as the walk progressed up the mountain. I was walking through an icy paradise. The trees grew a new leg of beauty with the snow hanging off them. The path was surrounded by a claustrophobic coverage of trees that you longed to wind your way through. trekking through the ready made path soon became less challenging and creating a new path in untouched snow became the challenge. It was for more difficult walking through unmade tracks and worked far more muscles but every step I took, a smile widened across my face.

We stopped for lunch to a sudden outbreak of a snow storm. It was the heaviest I had seen snow fall and yet, sitting, tucked away amongst the trees, attempting to eat my chicken curry sandwich, it felt refreshing. It looked so awesome to see the snow crash in amongst the forest of trees, hitting the ground and slowly evading some of our tracks. You felt the snow flake crash into the skin of your face and it was like someone the feeling you get when you see someone hear for the first time after being deaf for so long. You can't help but smile! Steve suddenly got the ball rolling into jumping off a small hill into a mountain of powdered snow. I thought this to be dangerous at first but the curiosity inside made me want to just give it a little try. I will be honest, my first attempt was quite lame, and Steve was quite happy to let me know this too, but it was gaining that confidence, conquering the fear of the unknown that injected me with a shot of adrenaline and got me up that hill to have another attempt. I was more confident and gave it more air time and although the look of surprised terror was written all over my face, the free falling feeling felt like a taste of freedom.

What made the walk back more exciting was Bruce suggesting to walk off track down the hill into the untouched snow. We had been warned of air pockets and tree wells before the talk but didn't realise how serious those warnings were until we started exploring these uncharted waters. The odd step you would suddenly sink with half your body falling through snow and half the fun was trying to get out. You never felt terror, only laughter as you wiggled and fell and stumbled your way out of momentary snow traps. Danielle, one of the exchange teachers also from South Australia got trapped in one of these tree wells and it was hysterical as you watched her fighting a never ending battle to get out. It took Bruce to come over and help pull her out for her to escape the clutches of this tree well, but for all apart from Danielle, this was an amusing experience. We even had to jump down steep paths and navigate away through seemingly impossible paths to rejoin the track and return back to the car park. It was here that mother nature fluted with us some more and gave us the odd passing of blue sky to show us what beauty lied behind the puff of fog and cloud. Just a glimpse for special to me as did the whole snow shoeing experience. I can't wait to do it again!

While the drive home took longer, the curtain had been raised and what seemed like a vision only from a dream was now a visual reality. The Rockies had appeared before our eyes. The bright blue sky served as a beautiful backdrop to the white tipped mountains that circled around us. I couldn't help but feel like a clown machine at the royal show, moving my head left to right with my mouth wide open. The odd lake where people were snow fishing looked more beautiful with the back drops of this picturesque mountain range in the background and even the odd flowing water way made this experience grow another leg. We even drove past a movie set made up of Indian Tipi's where it is rumoured that Leonardo DeCaprio was in town filming a period piece. Although the myth of this well known personality was never discovered, we were told he may be hard to recognise as he had a well established beard covering his famous image.


The next morning, I opened my door to the circle of surrounding mountains. I then had to go back inside my room and open the curtains just to feel the exhilarating experience of seeing that view for the first time again. I stood in the middle of the hotel car park turning and admiring the circular wall of mountains that surrounded this beautiful little town. I was also excited about trying a new skill in Cross Country Skiing at the Nordic Park the home of where the Olympics ran this events in 1988. Once we collected our hired gear we drove 10 minutes to a new adventure destination. The view was spectacular and the day couldn't have been more perfect. Again Bruce and Sophie took us through the basic components of gliding and weight balance, without sticks to start, before learning to do the gorilla work up the hill and the spaghetti/pizza down hill approach. To give your more comprehension of these learning cues, they were trying to get us to invert our skis, into the ground, stomping our feet like a gorilla. The skis point outwards for this style of walk. The professionals just fly gracefully up the hill making this step look so easy. I made it seem like it was impossible. As for the down hill approach of starting with parallel skies then twisting your ankles out and pointing the skies inwards appeared even more difficult. It was important to dig the skies into the snowy terrain but I had great difficulty learning this skill. All I would do is end up flying down the hill out of control and finding falling forward was my only method of stopping. As the lesson went on I became more confident. I must say I was an impatient learner as Bruce and Sophie would give an instruction and before they had finished talking I was off trying to practice it. I had not felt such a keenness to learn for a long time and was eagerly awaiting the challenge of taking on the course. Skiing the green run (basic run) in the tracks felt awesome. At times I felt my glide getting more consistent and my confidence to use my arms to propel myself down the slight decline getting stronger. The views and the surroundings came a shameful second to my concentration and determination, but it the odd time I gave it the appreciation it deserved, its beauty rivaled now other.

Even though my skills were along way from polished, I ended up coming back at night with Steve and Evelyn as I just couldn't wait to do it again. It was the thrill of trying this new skill at night that lured me to go back but while I enjoyed my time and the experience, there were times I wish I hadn't come back. The ice was far more slick and had less traction and I instantly found this when I went to stop after taking an early wrong turn. I could tell that I was going to fall down alot and sometimes it may not be so forgiving as it had been earlier in the day. Initially going up, it was great just skiing and talking to Steve and Evelyn about the adventurous weekend in amongst other things. I could also appreciate the scenery even more but it wasn't until we got to a point where we could veer off the lit track that I truly felt blessed. As you looked out where the track was lit up you could see no hint of the mountains, but as we slowly crept into the dark, the sudden illusion appeared. It was like a mirage in the desert suddenly appearing and I had to shake my head to believe what I was seeing. The mountains looked just as amazing as they did in the day. If it were possible, I would have stayed there all night. Valentines Day may have been the day before but I had found a new love. It was also the fear that we had only one way to go and that was down. This is where my untrained skills suddenly became evident and I stared fear in the face. It started off all good until a girl up ahead had fallen over. I could see she was trying to get back into the tracks I was flying with no ability to stop in and I had no choice but to fall. This began my sudden addiction to for falling on ice. Steve suggested we take a different more interesting root back to the car. This it was and very challenging but I was already doubting my ability to do this. The fact that a down hill semi circle hairpin also was staring me in the face also made me a little apprehensive. I watched as Evelyn demonstrated how to go down with one ski in the track and one ski in the down hill drag to stop position. She did it with grace and precision! I did it with untidiness and no finesse what so ever, suddenly feeling that I was no longer in control of my bodies inertia and I suddenly crashed to the ground. For a brief moment, I thought I had done my knee, but nursing a bad bruised ego I stood up and got myself into the tracks. Without warning I found myself flying along this slick down hill track. With every second, my speed grew and my inability to control or stop dwindling. I had no choice but to enjoy the ride and with this I experienced that strange feeling of freedom, exhilaration, terror, and horror all at the same time. I was flying and suddenly starting to enjoy it when suddenly on my side I saw the wall of a bridge approaching. I suddenly began to get a little shaky and nervous. I could also see that the track grooves had suddenly disappeared or evaporated and a state of panic set in. The sudden speed wobble of my left ski started to impact my direction. Only two words came to mind, one of which is highly inappropriate for this blog. I passed the wall of the bridge and hoped I could control it enough through the eroded tracks but my skill learning was not yet complete and there was no time to brace myself for this fall.

I managed to get my rhythm back and calm my nerves and got back on the journey of this ski adventure when I saw a fairly steep up hill approaching. I felt confident I could ski up it no problems, particularly in the tracks and I was doing well until half way up the mountain when my speed suddenly deteriorated on me. The sudden slippery friction between ski and track became more apparent and suddenly every glide became a slip. Instead of going forwards, I felt the force of momentum start to drag me backwards. I wasn't going back down the hill so I fell thinking I could restart from where I was. I got to my feet and every time I was up I started sliding back. I was not going to be defeated and I knew to conquer this momentary battle between man and hill I was going to have to perfect one skill I had not come close to perfecting. The Gorilla step! I got up facing perpendicular to the mountain slope then slowly I attempted my gorilla step. One step at a time I slowly moved up the mountain. I suddenly found my technique getting better and better and my momentum getting faster and faster and finally with Steve and Evelyn encouraging me all the way I got to the top. This was as satisfying as anything I had done before, well it felt that way at that particular moment. A few more falls and high speeds later we got to the end of our journey. The sudden horror of the lights being switched off around us did make me panic and have one last spectacular fall under a bridge where the track again suddenly disappeared, but with shear determination I made it back before being surrounded by pitch black. It may not sound like it but I loved every minute of it. It was a challenge physically, mentally and a battle to overcome obstacles and have the thrill of putting what you had learned into practice. Steve did tell me later I had just done a blue hill (medium level) rather than a green hill which made me feel a little better about my overall efforts. One moment that stood out to me the most is when I saw Evelyn ski up to Steve with her arms wide open and give him a big hug and a kiss. Although I suddenly felt I had impeded on a romantic time for them (the third wheel, which I was never made to feel while there) it reminded me of another desire I longed for, a person to love me as if nothing in the world mattered. Even with the views around them you could tell that for that moment they could have been anywhere and the only thing that mattered was they were together.


In between my two skiing adventures, a group of us went a small way out of Canmore to go Dog Sledding. Again another unique experience had been thrusted upon me and the eagerness was hard for me to contain. We once again arrived to stunning views and couldn't help but fall instantly in love with the four legged creatures that were soon to have our destiny in our their legs. After getting a brief instructional lesson from a nice lady who probably had more of a place on a kids television show rather than instructing a bunch of adults, we were assigned our sleds and our new four legged companions. All I had to remember was to yell 'Hike' to start the dogs moving, put one foot on the breaks and say 'Easy' to slow, two feet on the break and say 'Wow' to stop, 'On by' in case the dogs saw a squirrel (just like Doug in the movie 'Up') or other passing sleds and a couple of turning techniques. With the information overload of skiing, and snow shoeing flowing through my brain, it was lucky I had organised an instructor to go with me. Words can not give this experience justice! You are tied between looking at the views, admiring the amazing stamina of these dogs and just enjoying the thrill of the ride. I was paired up with Julia, another South Australian exchange teacher and we took it in turns to drive the sled or ride in the sleigh. I had the first shift while she navigated the journey home. It was a joy to feel the air in your face and work in unison with these dogs with Tug and Trot leading the way out the front the whole way. The one thing I did not expect was to hope off the sled and help run and push up hill. The dogs as they went up something a little more demanding would turn around and give you this cute tied look as if to say 'Can you help me' and off you would hop. The air from your lungs was a little thin as we were 6000 feet above sea level so you weren't surprised when you jumped back on the sled feeling a little breathless. Riding in the sleigh is one bump ride, but as relaxing as sitting in the hot springs in Banff. You can't help but take photo after photo, then look at the dogs, then the views and then take another photo as you just want to capture every moment of this adventure just so you never forget it. Patting the dogs at the half way point and at the end was nearly the highlight of the experience. That sudden love and admiration of both man and dog is instantly connected and you wish you could just hug them and not let go. While the 2 hours at $165 Canadian was enough time, it was experience I am so glad I got the chance to live.


I had overheard Danielle, Julia and Jennifer (a previous Canadian exchange teacher) talking about Banff and venturing to the hot springs after the dog sled experience and asked politely if they minded if I tagged along. Banff I will make sure I explore a little more at another time, but it had the feel of a more developed Canmore. The best comparison is it felt like Kuta and Seminyak in Bali where the tourists dominate one place but a hidden secret lies quietly down the road. The mountains again surround this picturesque little place and you could find yourself walking up and down the main street for hours just admiring the views. As we ventured up to the hot springs I saw all the other little hikes and adventures I would like to conquer later on in this experience, but once I reached the top, all I could think of was again, I was jumping into a new experience. Wearing bathers and that is all in -3 degree temperatures seemed quite a strange thing to do, and if you stayed out the water for a while boy did you quickly slip back in, particularly if a gasp of wind picked up. Again the view that surrounded the experience added to the feeling of freedom and relaxation, where the world you left behind could be forgotten and a dream like adventure can sweep you off your feet.

I was also excited to find a Beaver Tails store! The first thing mum had mentioned to me when I had first been paired up to go to Ottawa was this was something I had to try. My Canadian friends from contiki tours had also backed up mums research. Again, I felt like a kid in a candy store and couldn't wait to taste that sweet deep fried doughnut, that looked more like a schnitzel with that choc hazelnut spread, with peanut butter and Reese bits sprinkled over the top. The best part of it all was that it tasted so good. The sad part of it was there were other toppings you wanted to try but just one of these desserts will have you working over the consequences in the gym for a month. I had a really beautiful day with the three girls and I am thankful that they allowed me to join in the experience with them.

It was hard to say good bye to the mountains. I was so infatuate by them and the recent adventure I had just experienced. It had felt like a beautiful dream which you didn't want to wake up from. I had found something I had only momentarily experienced on contiki's and had forgotten that it was possible. I had rekindled that ability to live for the moment, feel like a kid again and be ignited by new experiences. I felt I was actually living life not letting life pass me by, I felt free, refreshed and reborn. I can not thank Steve and Evelyn enough for the awesome adventure they prepared for us and to Bruce and Sophie for giving me the opportunity to develop new skills I never believed I could. Steven in particular was so helpful and great to talk to and I have really appreciated his guidance when the opportunity has presented itself during this exchange experience to date.

Ironically enough, when I got to the bus station back in Calgary, who should be there but the same girl and her friends wearing exactly the same clothes as Friday walking around and leaving the bus depot. Suddenly a horrid but momentary thought popped into my head. Was it all just a dream?

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18th February 2015

Benny looks like you are having a fantastic time. Looks like you are relaxed and glowing in the cold environment. Keep up the blogs boy you can really write! Cheers Tommy.
19th February 2015

Hi Ben
So jealous you look as if you are having a fantastic time. In your element, really fitting in. Looks brilliant.

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