While most of New Zealand was smouldering under the intense heat wave of late January, we travelled halfway around the world in search of a colder climate. It has been a balmy 27 degrees as we left Auckland and quite some hours later arrived in Calgary to minus 20 degrees. Apart from the insult of the temperature shock we received a few strange looks as our group wandered through the airport in our shorts and t-shirts.
Our home for the next three weeks was Panorama, a quintessential ski resort tucked in the foot of the Purcell Mountain range in British Columbia, a mere four-hour shuttle drive from Calgary. If you do this drive in the day, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular scenery as you drive through Banff National Park on your way to the resort.
The first impression of Panorama is hard to describe without sounding cliched… The village is blanketed in deep snow and fairy lights flicker off buildings and trees creating that fairy-tale setting. This was our second visit to Panorama, we had been previously over 7 years ago, and we were equally as blown away this time as the first.
The village of Panorama is based at the foot of the main ski runs and is the hub where the restaurants are based and the accommodations that offer ski in/ski out facilities are right there, meaning you don’t have to drive or carry your skis any distance to get to that first chairlift… Our group were split between two hotels, Panorama Springs and 1000 Peaks Summit. Both offered fully equipped kitchens, gas fires and access to their own hot springs and only a few meters from the first chair.
To anyone who is a diehard Kiwi skier, especially a North Island one knows how incredibly tolerant you need to be to cope with the long lift lines, unpredictable conditions and early morning starts. A ski day at home goes something like this; up at 6.30am, out the door by 7.00am, drive 40 minutes to try to get the closest car park, hot chocolate while waiting for the lift line to open, stand in the queue for another half hour wondering why the lift is not open on time, then ski nonstop until the lift lines get unbearable and maybe then take a break and repeat. It’s like a race track, nonstop go, go go. Our experience in Panorama could not have been more different The lifts opened at 9am and it took us less than five minutes to go from the luxury of our room to the bottom of the lift line. The only time we saw anything that resembled a queue was on the weekend and then it was only 5-6 people deep. Once up the mountain we rarely saw another person and it often felt like we had the whole mountain to ourselves.
We skied Panorama for 17 days straight, taking a day out to go snowmobiling across the valley with Toby Creek Adventure, and despite our best efforts we did not come close to covering all that was on offer. We started the holidays with a mixed level of skiing and boarding ability and it didn’t take long before everyone was able to get down at least one black diamond run, some more smoothly than others but it meant we were all able to spend the days together.
We experienced a range of conditions, from firm and fast to deep and soft and everything in between. The first of the heavy snowfall came on day 4 and we skied boot deep powder the entire day. Each day we checked the forecast to see how much snow had fallen the night before and no matter what the depth, be it 2cm or 14cm or none, the snow conditions always remained outstanding. One memorable day we skied in real heavy snowfall without loosing visibility.
On our first day there, the sun shone, and we headed to the top of the mountain to a run aptly named “View of a 1000 Peaks”. In the distance you have a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains, which is how the resort got its name.
One of the highlights, and there are simply too many to name, was waking up to 14 cm of fresh powder so we set out to one of our favourite spots, Sun Bowl. We stood at the top of Schober’s Dream and in front of us lay the whole run, totally untracked. The hoots of delight as our group made first tracks was magic. The most amazing thing about the whole experience was we were still finding untracked trails till the day we left.
Skiing amongst the trees is also a treat and although challenging, is a way to find new snow, and the stillness and quiet are their own rewards – one of these trails is aptly called the magic forest for good reason.
We were often asked on chairlift or chatting in one of the bars at the end of the day, why we came all the way to Panorama in Canada to ski when we had such great skiing in New Zealand? Well the answer is simple, nothing compares with the whole experience of a winter holiday in Panorama. And needless to say, our images of snowcapped mountains, untracked runs and smiling faces were envied by friends and family back home who were struggling to sleep in the heatwave that had enveloped New Zealand. There’s no doubt about it, we will all be back!