My friend, Heather, wrote to say she likes to play, “Where in the world is TA?” She said, “I know you could be anywhere.” Well, Heather-you might be surprised that I am not that far from home but a world way from St. John’s on Fogo Island. Marian and I are here to assist with a winter program that the Fogo Island Inn is running this weekend. But not too long ago, ten days ago, we were on another island on the far west side of Canada called Bowen. We started our Team #Skiarail Expedition on January 4 leaving St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador to drive across the island to catch the ferry to Nova Scotia. Narrowly missing or conveniently using the lull between two storms, we arrived in Moncton and spend a week there before hopping onto “The Ocean” to begin our rail journey across Canada.
I haven’t been the best at sharing this journey in real time via my website and for that I apologize. With a goal of crossing Canada by train and stopping to ski at various destinations along the way, days were long and full and although I managed to post lots of pictures to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter-I found it hard to make time to sit with my laptop to type a more substantial entry between eating, sleeping, planning, looking out train windows, and skiing. You can find the first update I did about our ski adventures in Quebec here.
We spend much of the three days of train travel from Toronto to Edmonton in the “bubble” car as we called it watching the light dance with the stainless steel draped rail cars in front of us. I thought I might read or write while on the train but I as too drawn to looking out the windows and watching our country move by my view. I gave into the slow rhythmic rocking of the train that both slowed and comforted my mind. We enjoyed everything about travelling across the country by train: having room to move, seeing wildlife, talking to fellow passengers, eating in the dining car, travelling differently, seeing things in new pathways away from roads and more. We arrived in Edmonton and spent a fun week with my family, skiing Nordic in the river valley and trying not to get frostbite during a pretty good cold snap.
Leaving Edmonton we headed for Jasper on the train. The “Canadian” was running about 40 hours late into Edmonton and we had an epic run of 11 hours to Jasper. We arrived at 4:30 am in a raging blizzard. A very kind taxi driver took us the two blocks to our hostel and the kind hostel human got up to let us in and didn’t charge us for the night! After sleeping a bit, we set out to ski Jasper on both our Nordic and Alpine skis-we’d brought both since we love both and we couldn’t leave one kind behind-why travel light we asked ourselves frequently? We hit another cold snap in Jasper but it broke in time to get some good skiing and walking in.
We were supposed to get the train, “The Skeena” from Jasper to Prince George but the train turned into a bus after an avalanche caused some track damage or something like that. We were sad to miss out on one of our train legs but were treated to an absolutely fine view of Mount Robson, the first big peak I attempted at the tender age of 17. We did lots of great skiing around Prince George, both Nordic and Alpine, and then fell in love with a family run ski hill called “The Troll.” Serviced by t-bars lifts, we skied both uphill and down and it was the only place across Canada that we skied twice.
We then took our final train segment, on the Skeena, from Prince George to Prince Rupert, achieving our goal of going coast to coast via surface transportation using mostly the train. The picture below shows Pillsbury House-the oldest house in Prince Rupert. It’s where we stayed at the end of our rail journey and this picture of the first train reaching Prince Rupert seemed to sum it all up. Lots to celebrate and so many people we met or visited along the way. We didn’t manage to ski in Prince Rupert because of a short visit window and not renting a car. We wished we’d paused in Terrace and Smithers-not to mention having more time in Jasper but all in all-it was a fine, fine adventure. We flew down to Vancouver (we originally thought we’d just ride The Canadian to Kamloops and Vancouver but a well timed invitation drew us north to Prince George and Prince Rupert…we almost took the ferry from Prince Rupert to Vancouver but it was a wee bit complicated with 4 sets of skis, no car, and several transfers…we left that one for another time).
So many people, when they heard what we were doing, would say to us, “I’ve always wanted to ride the train across Canada.” DO IT! It is a fantastic trip-you can do it in about six days straight or you can take seven weeks like us. We likely needed eight to ten weeks or more to really do it up. Doing the trip in winter means the train is much less crowded and you can find some deals on train fare. It was a journey whose seeds were planted as we rode a trains last year in Sweden and last fall in Thailand. We’d taken long train rides there but not in our own country. We wanted to ski and celebrate winter and inspire others to get outside so in an ultimate mash-up #skiarail was born. A word play on Via Rail and Ski…and that’s just what it was.
Experiencing the absolute vastness of Canada, making connections with folks, and skiing our legs off were all rewards of taking the plunge to travel in a new way. Special thanks to Adrian, Dan, Ajo, Pam, Trien, Todd, Allison, Lise, Monique, Katherine, Kellie, Krista, Greg, Mike, Shawn, Rayne, Xander, Jaymee, Travis, Phil, Colleen, Laurie, Ole, Brad, Kate, Molly, and Phil (my apologies if I missed anyone) for being a part of #Skiarail and helping us make such wonderful memories. I realize as I conclude this that I’m skimming the surface in this sharing. Each leg was so full and rich and I realize that, soon, I’ll have to sit some more and puts many more words to paper describing the magic of combining rails, trails, and traversing Canada. To be continued…