This position – on your back, knees akimbo and clutching your toes, also known as Happy Baby – saw our group of six skiers rolling around the studio floor at the base of the mountain in Sunshine Village, Banff, in readiness for the day’s skiing.
Here, in the towering mountains of Alberta, we had enrolled in a get-fit-to-ski programme to prepare our muscles, build our stamina, stretch our sinews and generally tone up for the slopes in November, when few European resorts could guarantee snow.
Yoga teacher Chie, a supple Japanese with the body of an Olympic acrobat and hair bunches like ski hat bobbles, took us through 45 minutes of sun and mountain salutations, balancing on one leg while planting imaginary baubles on our Christmas tree pose and stretching out to her calming mantras and the tinkle of a Tibetan prayer bowl.
Team Boot ranged from mid 20s, 30s, 40s and one beyond, with ski ability from virtual beginners to advanced intermediate. We included a London Marathon trainee, a rower and four deskbound workers all at different levels of lethargy and zest, bringing with us minor injuries, winter bugs and jet lag.
We’d volunteered to be whipped into ski shape with a mix of circuit training, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, yoga, soaking in hot tubs and mineral baths, massage, good food, litres of water of counteract low humidity and altitude plus the odd reviving cocktail – Espresso Martini at the trendy steak house Saltlik in Bear Street, Banff, and a Mountain Caesar cocktail featuring clamato (tomato and clam juice) with celery and beef jerky served at the historic Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.
We sampled locally brewed beer – and played very silly drinking games – at the Jasper Brewing Company supping exotic ales flavoured with vanilla and blueberry.
Our Boot Camp was set in the heart of the Rockies, amid the spectacular scenery of Jasper (where fiercely loyal Canadian royalists like to boast that the Queen Mother, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have all stayed), Lake Louise (where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited) and Banff, set in a wilderness teeming with wild life, the darkest of night skies and whitest of champagne powder snow.
What’s not to like? Well, the circuit training for one.
We lunged, squatted, star jumped, pulled-ups, pressed-ups, skipped and pumped weights, huffing and puffing, sweating and gasping under the tutelage of Sgt. Major Stephanie (www.warriorfitness.ca) and cross-trainer Chris (email@example.com), an amiable hunk of muscle who trains junior ski squads and swears by lunges for mobility and side planks for core strength.
‘You can do it. You’re stronger than you think. Do it for yourself,’ commanded and cajoled Stephanie as we tortured ourselves with ab-curls and crunches. We cooled down with yin yoga. She promised the intense poses held for as long as cramp didn’t kick in would improve connective tissue and aid our ski endurance.
By far the most fun activity on our fitness regime was snow-shoeing in soft powder up to our newly toned butts. With cumbersome frames strapped to our feet we set new tracks between the trees, trying to avoid falling down cavernous tree wells.
We frolicked and flopped and head-planted in the white stuff. Getting vertical from a helpless prone position – all the closer to observe the tracks of a snow shoe hare chased by a pine marten – recruits a whole new set of muscles.
Conifers, bowed over with the latest dump of early snow, were festooned with lichens. Our enthusiastic White Mountains Adventure guide Kristie said they were an indicator of air purity, so the more the cleaner. ‘Most are edible,’ she said as I sampled a few strands. ‘But wolf bane is deadly poisonous.’ I spat out the lichen, which fortunately turned out to be harmless old man’s beard.
Kristie also gave us a cross-country ski lesson, where we endeavoured to stride and glide our way round a prepared track on hugely long and scarily narrow skis that had minds of their own. Again, achieving vertical from horizontal was the hardest challenge.
But we were really here to downhill ski. And with our newly honed bodies we gave it our all on green, blue and black slopes in Jasper’s Marmot Basin, Lake Louise and Banff’s Sunshine Village. Sunshine Village – or Unshine if the weather is poor – is right on the Continental Divide so your skis can straddle British Columbia and Alberta. And, as they say in Alberta, if you don’t like the weather, wait 20 minutes. It’s very much the family resort, with the only mountain hotel in a National Park.
With the help of forgiving snow, wide as motorway pistes manicured to corduroy perfection and a mixture of sunshine, blue skies and just the odd flurry we revelled in uncrowded conditions, not a lift queue in sight, unfailing courtesy and friendly Canadian hospitality that meant our skis were loaded and unloaded onto the gondolas. European resorts: please note.
As well as excellent standards of instruction to raise our ski game there were Mountain Friends and Hosts who will guide groups of skiers and boarders of the same ability – and all for free.
Skiing in Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a joy and as close to nature as possible. Littering on this glorious light-as-a-soufflé snow is a no-no. In fact, from the attitude of any ski instructor who found a can or cigarette butt, you’d think it was a hanging offence.
What better way to end our Boot Camp than in the frontier-feel town of Banff, which burgeoned into a tourist resort when miners discovered hot springs.
We took the waters, which smell of rotten eggs, against a backdrop of snowy peaks, and unwound with a massage to iron out those kinks and knots from the week’s non-stop activity.
Wildlife, wilderness and well-being. Line dancing and langlauf. Hot tubs and hotter bars. Fitness, fun and fine food with surprisingly good Canadian wines with the amusing label Blasted Church.
We survived it all.
Gill’s trip was a Tui package. She flew from London Heathrow to Edmonton and from Calgary to Heathrow with Air Canada, staying at Tonquin Inn, Jasper, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Banff. Prices from just £1899 per person for 7 nights in Banff or £1398 for 10 nights in Banff and Jasper.
by Gill Martin