Oh Canada: The Lakehouse Edition

How can you summarize a glorious week with family at a lakehouse tucked away in the breadbasket in Canada? You can’t, that’s why I prefer to document our family reunion on Okanogan Lake in pictures!

I chuckle when I see other family’s carefully regimented reunions, with every last detail planned. Their perfectly coiffed, matching family pictures. Ours is typical Borowski-style chaos. Wake up. Boat, kayak or SUP. Eat breakfast. Boat, play with cousins, eat. Boat. Eat. Cards. Games. Rinse, lather, repeat. Oh wait. Scratch that because the boys don’t shower.

What I particularly enjoyed about summer 2015 at the lake is the temperature–it wasn’t blazing hot 100+ degrees like last year. With temps in the upper 80s, I deemed it to be near perfect (for me, anyway; the hardcore boaters prefer scorchers). My brother Pat’s family is incredibly generous with their resources, time and patience bringing the rest of us up to their [trailblazing] speed.

A few of our favorite things:

Water play (duh)

Wakeboarding Hadley

Wakeboarding Bode

There’s never a dull moment with cousin Jaxson. Prior to tubing, we asked if he knew the hand signal for telling us he’s done (tapping the top of his head). “Sure!” And he proceeded to do the throat-slitting gesture. That works, too.

Driving to the West Side for our Annual Family Dive-off

Lakeside Movie Night at Todd and Kim’s

First Annual Stand-up Paddleboard (SUP) Competition

When you only have one paddleboard, you improvise and have timed races. Pat won. As always. But he’s almost 50 and we’ll soon dominate him.

Pat the soon-to-be dominated

Lots and lots of cards and games

Bode’s Birthday

DQ ice cream cake courtesy of Aunt Sue

My favorite moment: globe light + sparklers = a magical birthday eve

Davison Orchard Tours

And their best peach and apple pies. Ever.

A truly epic bike ride on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail

Everyone Flying into the Rooster Tail with Guns Blazing

Not pictured:

A lot of laughter, Jane’s delicious cooking, Emily’s addictive Greek bruschetta, bloodsport croquet (we broke Dad’s new mallets), Hadley’s first all-girl dance party on the boat, early-morning kayak runs, nighttime tales of the lake monster Ogopogo, Tim Horton’s Timbits, Rook tournaments, Screamers (half ice cream, half Slurpee) and the Borowski’s epic wakeboarding moves.

Jamie and I had a competition with my younger brother Jade in surfing (we called it The Worst of the Worst). I thought for sure I would win but after popping up my first try and successfully surfing the wake, I cracked and started regressing while Jamie and Jade got better, even dropping the rope and surfing on their own.

Near the end of the week, I’d only been out a few times and was downright frustrated until my sister-in-law Jane shouted out at me, “Do you know what your problem is? You’re not having fun!” She was right. I was so focused on surpassing the boys that my failures were getting the best of me. That very next attempt, I fought my way out of the water and had my best surf of the entire week. Turns out having fun IS the key!

I loved seeing my kiddos progress on the water–Bode popped back up on his wakeboard and Hadley started carving. She tried surfing by herself on the very first day and with Jane’s assistance in the water, was able to get up and surf a bit. She showed no interest in trying again until the very last night. When you have avid boaters, you have to be bold with getting your own time on the water so I asked Pat if we could do one last run before dark, which he kindly acquiesced. I had a great run and wanted to go again until Hadley asked if she could try surfing again.

This time, she said she wanted to do it completely on her own without Jane in the water and my gosh, if that girl of mine didn’t pop up and surf the wake. It was one of my proudest moments at the lake…and then a reminder that she’ll probably surpass me in the Worst of the Worst surfing competition next year and I’ll still be at the bottom of the bucket.

It’ll be worth it.


In case you missed our other Canadian adventures this summer:

Oh Canada: The Lethbridge Edition

Oh Canada: The Canada Day in Raymond and Waterton Edition

Oh Canada: The Calgary Edition

Oh Canada: The Banff/Canmore Edition

Oh Canada: The Lakehouse Edition

Oh Canada: The Kettle Valley Railway Trail Edition

 Oh Canada: The Edition Not in Canada

Oh Canada: The Banff/Canmore Edition

For three years, we’ve driven from Calgary to our family reunion in British Columbia through one of the most famously beautiful places on earth: Banff National Park. And for three years, I’ve said, “We HAVE to spend some time here” but when you have an eight-hour drive, time is not on your side.

Following my glorious ski trip to Banff in March, I vowed this year would be different and it was. My childhood friends Kristine and Paul have a cabin in nearby Canmore and they generously hosted our family for a couple of days. I haven’t seen either of them since high school and they have quite the random history. Paul: We’ve been in school together from the very beginning. Super smart, amazing runner and the two of us would always dominate our school’s Run For Your Life (though he’d always dominate me). Kristine: Became good friends with her in high school. Sweet. Funny. Was the envy of all of her friends with her cool white Jeep.

We lost track of each other after high school and though Paul and Kris were friends, they didn’t date until years later. She was in pharmaceutical  school and he was applying to med schools. Today, they’re a successful doctor-pharmacist team and as cool and down-to-earth as ever. As a bonus, they have two awesome kiddos, Andrew and Sarah, who got along splendidly with our rugrats.

Banff National Park

Hadley, Bode and I picked Jamie up from the Calgary airport and drove directly to Banff with the plan to meet Kris and Paul later that evening after work. Normally, Banff doesn’t disappoint but this time it did because it was completely overrun by tourists. We’d planned to canoe at Moraine Lake but the road was closed due to excess traffic. We kept going to Lake Louise and the nearest parking was a mile down the road (any excuse to hike, right?). Shortly after we arrived at this world-famous teal lake, it started raining. Hard. We hunkered down in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, ate overpriced ice cream and then headed back to Banff where we hung out on Banff Avenue.

Hiking to Lake Louise

Lake Louise


Banff National Park that day? Underwhelming.

Canmore, on the other hand? Completely overwhelming (in a good way) thanks to our awesome tour guides. I haven’t spent much time in this  expanse of provincial parks, wildland reserves, emerald green waterways and unspoiled wilderness near the southeast boundary of Banff National Park but I’m a convert.

Paul and Kristine’s cabin is tucked away in an idyllic neighborhood, a stone’s throw away from Quarry Lake (a haven for summer swims) and the Highline Trail’s extensive network of paths with crisp vistas as a backdrop.

Playing in Quarry Lake at dusk. Fully clothed, of course

Our gracious hosts decided a great way to acclimate us to The Canadian Way would be to kill us by hiking Ha Ling, a crazy-steep 8 km trek straight up to heaven. To put this beast into perspective, Hadley hiked her first 14er (14,000-foot peak) a month later and the pitch wasn’t remotely as challenging as Ha Ling (though the altitude was).

Bode is not known for his hiking chops but nobly pulled through. As my calves whimpered, I looked ahead to jackrabbit Paul who hadn’t broken a sweat despite already going on an early-morning run. As he left me in his dust, it was like our elementary school’s Run for Your Life all over again.

Side note: The next weekend, he participated in a 24-hour-long mountain biking relay (for fun?) while Kris had just completed her first marathon (not fun).

And then there was us.

The summit was a relief and a reward, all limestone, pine, restless aspens and the glacier-scoured mountaintops of Mount Rundle, Grotto Mountain, Lady McDonald and Mount Lawrence Grassi. Canmore loomed below, thickly upholstered in a deep green chenille.

But the adventure wasn’t over! We bulked back up that evening at Rocky Mountain Flatbread and the next morning, Paul took us mountain biking on the Highline Trail adjacent to the cabin. With Ha Ling’s rocky incline stretching skyward (the peak to the right in the picture below), we raced along single and doubletrack, crossed rivers, banked corners and had a blast attempting the terrain park. This moderate ride was one of my all-time favorites!

We could not have had a better time with our ageless, gracious hosts. They were the perfect travel companions and I only wish they lived closer so I extended an open invitation for them to visit us in Colorado.

We’ll have to make sure we’re in better shape in order to keep up with them.


In case you missed our other Canadian adventures this summer:

Oh Canada: The Lethbridge Edition

Oh Canada: The Canada Day in Raymond and Waterton Edition

Oh Canada: The Calgary Edition

Oh Canada: The Banff/Canmore Edition

Oh Canada: The Lakehouse Edition

Oh Canada: The Kettle Valley Railway Trail Edition

 Oh Canada: The Edition Not in Canada


Oh Canada: The Calgary Edition

The kids and I generally spend a couple of weeks in Calgary before our family reunion in Vernon, B.C. With the 2015 calendar, our lakehouse dates were moved up by a week, which prompted me to skip our fun 4th of July celebrations in Denver and enjoy Canada Day in the Motherland (read about that here).

Calgary is truly one of the great cities in the world and I’d move back there in an instant. We had a glorious couple of weeks spending time with my family at our favorites haunts that included biking with dad.

My own 30-mile ride along Calgary’s extensive network of bikepaths where I was thrilled to see many of the flood-damaged trails were repaired.

The charming Millarville Farmer’s Market, followed by a drive through the Canadian countryside to Elbow falls in Kananaskis Country.

The not-so charming mudpits.

And then cleaning ourselves off after in Fish Creek.

Followed by ice cream at Annie’s Bakery & Cafe at adjacent Bow Valley Ranche.

Pedicures with Grandma.

And, of course, the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth: The Calgary Stampede!

Their unique fair food makes headlines and some of our favorites were these Gourmet Ice Pops with delicious frozen dulce caramel cream combined with a mini donut. My brother-in-law Fred had the artery-clogging Deep Fried Donut Bacon Cheeseburger.

Good thing we were on the grounds playing for 12 loooong hours and worked (some of it) off.

But the real highlight of Stampede was that crazy girl of mine. We laughed until we cried at the hypnotist show last year so imagine my surprise when that brazen girl of mine volunteered! I’ll admit I’ve always been tempted but I embarrass myself when I’m fully conscious…why tempt fate?

Closer view:

In the end, she (and a few others) ended up getting sent back to their seat because she was only partially put under, which has given her a new goal for next year.

Heaven help us all!


In case you missed our other Canadian adventures this summer:

Oh Canada: The Lethbridge Edition

Oh Canada: The Canada Day in Raymond and Waterton Edition

Oh Canada: The Calgary Edition

Oh Canada: The Banff/Canmore Edition

Oh Canada: The Lakehouse Edition

Oh Canada: The Kettle Valley Railway Trail Edition

 Oh Canada: The Edition Not in Canada


Oh Canada: The Canada Day Edition

I have a ton of other projects I want to launch but I can’t get stared on them until I dedicate at least a few blog posts to the glory that was our Canadian summer.

So, where did we leave off? Oh yes, with Oh Canada: The Lethbridge Edition where the kids and I drove from Denver to southern Alberta where we had an absolute blast with my BFF Stacey’s sister’s family in Southern Alberta.  I published that post July 13; let’s just say I’m a bit belated on the follow-up.

The next day was Canada Day, the national day of Canada like unto the 4th of July but with a lot more maple leaves.  My mom grew up in Raymond, a dear town that was the center of all things Mormon and the setting of so many weekends and holidays in my childhood years. I can’t say I always appreciated this sleepy town (being the big city gal that I was) but I always treasured time spent on my grandparent’s farm and with them, truly some of the most caring and loving people I’ve ever met.

The Parade

I haven’t been back to Raymond since my grandmother’s funeral in 2000 and I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotion I felt as Stacey and I showed my kids around.

We started with the Raymond parade. We’re not parade people so my kids were less-than enthused about going but I promised the Raymond parade was different at it delivered! Do: Bring bags to collect the candy because almost everyone in the parade throw it. Don’t: Sit behind Stacey’s nephew (a teacher at the junior high) because you’ll get sprayed with water guns as his students pass by on the floats.

My family is deeply rooted in Raymond but sadly, I no longer have any direct relatives who live there besides my cousin who has been estranged from the family for years (I won’t get into all that drama, from which I stayed away). He inherited my grandparent’s farm and I really wanted to visit but even though he’s my only cousin on my mom’s side of the family, I knew we likely wouldn’t be welcome. So we snuck in. My beloved barn was torn down and in its place a lot more of my cousin’s toys. We didn’t hop out of the car because we saw all the threatening life-or-death trespassing signs (yep, he’s a gem) so kept right on going.

The Grave

As we were driving back to town, we passed Temple Hill and Stacey asked if I wanted to see if I could find my grandparent’s grave. Honestly, I’m not much of a graveyard person either so was reluctant but I’m so glad she pressed me to do it. Stacey’s dear mom passed away in our tweens so she went to find her, leaving the kids and me to stroll through the rows of graves until I found my dear Wallace and Virginia Wilde. And then I burst out crying because I realized I’d never seen their grave and what a beautiful flood of beautiful memories it evoked.

My grandparent’s home

Cooking in my grandma’s kitchen. Christmas mornings. Dirt biking at the farm. Strolling the coulee with the dogs. Summers at the Raymond pool but never being brave enough to jump off the high dive. Playing tennis with Dad. Hearing mom’s wild stories of her youth. Daydreaming under the backyard willow tree and picking pussy willows.  Grandpa’s boisterous laugh and how he magnetically drew people to him. My spiritual, sweet and loving Grandma.  Learning to fly.  ”Ever remembered, ever loved.”


My Favorite Place on Earth

Prince of Wales Credit: First Light.

We briefly crashed Stacey’s family’s Canada Day party and then her brother-in-law Will suggested we go to Waterton Lake National Park. It was only an hour drive from Raymond and brooding storm clouds kept the crowds away. I didn’t care because I was home at my favorite place on earth that borders Glacier National Park in Montana

The only time I’ve taken my kids and Jamie to Waterton was in 2011. I’d built it up so much in my mind and we were going to unleash ourselves on the lawn of the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel overlooking an eternity of water…only something different was unleashed: Hadley’s tantrum because the girl was out-of-her-gourd on Dramamine from the drive.

Fortunately, this time was much different! Even with the overcast skies, Waterton stunned.

We picnicked beside Waterton Lake, strolled Main Street, ate huckleberry ice cream and made the steeeeeeep 1-mile pilgrimage to the top of Bear’s Hump and just when I thought the views couldn’t get any better, they did.

If I couldn’t be surrounded by my beloved parents, grandparents, brothers and aunts to celebrate like the Canada Days of yesteryear, this was the next best thing.


In case you missed our other Canadian adventures this summer:

Oh Canada: The Lethbridge Edition

Oh Canada: The Canada Day in Raymond and Waterton Edition

Oh Canada: The Calgary Edition

Oh Canada: The Banff/Canmore Edition

Oh Canada: The Lakehouse Edition

Oh Canada: The Kettle Valley Railway Trail Edition

 Oh Canada: The Edition Not in Canada

British Columbia: Family at Play

We’re in the middle of a glorious week of family playtime that includes wakeboarding, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, kayaking, rooster-tail jumping, dive-offs, croquet, Spikeball, birthdays, ghosts in the graveyard, sand castles, laser light and sparkler dance parties, delicious food and a whole lot of fun.

Consider this my out-of-office reply.

Oh Canada: The Lethbridge Edition!

We are happy to be in Canada! For the past several years, the kids and I have had a routine during our annual pilgrimage to Mecca the Motherland.  We drive eight hours, overnight at the Holiday Inn in Billings, MT., swim at their pool, eat at Cracker Barrel and then drive 9 hours the next day to Calgary where we spend about 10 days with my parents and at the Calgary Stampede before driving to British Columbia and playing at the lake for a week.

We shifted our schedule this year because our week at the lake fell earlier on the calendar and I wanted to spend time with my parents prior. So, the kids and I skipped our own beloved 4th of July celebration in our neighborhood leaving poor Jamie to fend for himself, and arrived in southern Alberta to celebrate Canada Day. We stayed with my best friend Stacey’s sister Heather’s family and had a blast! Heather lives in the “big city” of the region–Lethbridge is about 80,000 people. My mom was raised in nearby Raymond, a small Mormon town that is the center of the universe and so many of my childhood memories.

As we pulled into Lethbridge, the directions I printed off didn’t match up with the streets. Lost without my GPS and Siri in a different country I followed a random car into a neighborhood and pulled into their driveway. Creepy, right? Not for Canadians. A mid-20s young man hopped out of his car and gave me directions. They were a bit confusing so he kindly offered, “I’ll tell you what: it’s only a couple of miles away. I’ll drive over there and you just follow me.” That, my friends, is Canadian hospitality.

That night, Heather’s husband Will suggested we bike down to the Lethbridge Bike Park. I’ve driven through Lethbridge countless times as a kid en route to Raymond, but I’ve never really experienced it. Nor did I want to. Southern Alberta is mostly prairies and farm fields–nothing too impressive in terms of adventuring but I quickly realized I’d underestimated its charms.

Heather and Will live near the ridge of a beautiful river valley, The Lethbridge Nature Preserve. There are three ecosystems in this 196-acre park:  the prairie, the coulees and the floodplains  that contain Fort Whoop-Up, Helen Schuler Nature Centre and the High Level Bridge.

Canadian vernacular: a coulee is a steep-sided v-shaped valley or ravine. The name “coulee” was first used by early French Canadian voyageurs crossing the Great Plains. The Lethbridge High Level Bridge, called a viaduct by Canadian Pacific Railway engineers, is the longest-highest bridge of its type in the world. When the bridge was completed in 1909, it was described as one of the “wonders of the world.”

Its steep descent into the river valley certainly was wondrous.

As we crossed the Oldman River, we saw not one but several beavers. If you look closely on the shoreline, you can see one of them right before he enters the water. It was like our own private “Welcome to Canada!”

We had a blast at the mountain bike park and I only almost died once, which I deemed a successful outing. The kids loved racing on foot as well.

There is a steep set of stairs leading up to a pavilion overlooking the bridge. I asked Heather if it was still an active bridge for trains and right as I asked that question, wouldn’t you know what came chuggling along?

The pumpkin sunset was a nice touch as well.

It was 9:30 p.m., the sun was dipping behind the clouds and we reluctantly turned back home, preparing to climb the steep hill to Heather’s house  (see it in the above picture in the distance). Will had his daughter on the back of his bike, otherwise would have blazed past us all. I somehow made it up without stopping; Heather later said I powered up it, which was an exaggeration in that I almost died and a turtle could have passed me but gosh darn it, I didn’t dismount even once. 

But let’s back up a bit. Just when I thought the night couldn’t get any better, we had one of my favorite moments of our time in Lethbridge. Hadley was in front of me, had coasted down a small hill and was gaining speed to ascend. I looked over to her left–a deer was a stone’s throw away running beside us. I panicked–he was going to cut across the path and crash into Hadley but I held back from shouting out to alarm her.  She glanced at him, he returned her gaze and for about 30 magical seconds, it was Dances with Wolves: Deer Edition.  That deer raced her, pedal-for-pedal, stride-for-stride. I’d never fully recognized how agile, smooth and majestic deer truly are. When she went faster, he sped up. I didn’t breathe the entire time, she squealed with delight until the deer finally sped ahead, crossed the path and quickly disappeared from view.  It was one of those moments of wonderment when you’re just so glad to be alive.

And then we climbed the hill of death and nearly died.

Lethbridge, we’ll be back to experience more of your charms.


In case you missed our other Canadian adventures this summer:

Oh Canada: The Lethbridge Edition

Oh Canada: The Canada Day in Raymond and Waterton Edition

Oh Canada: The Calgary Edition

Oh Canada: The Banff/Canmore Edition

Oh Canada: The Lakehouse Edition

Oh Canada: The Kettle Valley Railway Trail Edition

 Oh Canada: The Edition Not in Canada



What my childhood dreams are made of in Banff National Park

Crunching snow. Flowing meltwater. Shallow breathing. These are the sounds of solitude, something I haven’t experienced with any regularity since becoming a mom almost 11 years ago. But here I am—hiking Johnston Canyon during my solo trip to relive my childhood in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

As an indomitable 18-year-old, I was ready to conquer the world so left Canada to attend college in the United States. I didn’t fully appreciate having a world-renowned destination like Banff National Park in my backyard…until now.

As the first national park in Canada, this 4,100-square-mile park is a gallimaufry of mountains, forests, lakes, world-class restaurants and hotels. I am here to “SkiBig3” the local catchphrase for skiing the park’s three ski areas—Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise–with a tri-area lift ticket.

Kananaskis River

Kananaskis River

After flying into Calgary International Airport, I rent a car and head 75 miles west to Banff on the Trans-Canada Highway, a speedy four-lane thoroughfare that puts Colorado’s bottle-necked I-70 to shame. As the Canadian Rockies appear in the horizon, I need a quick mountain high so veer off to briefly explore Kananaskis Country, the area’s foothills and front-range peaks that are equally as staggering.

A 45-minute drive later—past Lac Des Arc and Canmore—I’m in Banff. Nature is calling so I park the car, stand agape at the 360-degree views, stroll Banff Avenue and grab my rentals from the Ski Hut. On a whim, I check-out Bow Falls near the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel as fuzzy childhood memories of playing in the Bow River become as clear as the ice that now ensconces it. I am home.

Day 1.

Tucked away on Tunnel Mountain, Buffalo Mountain Lodge’s cozy dining room is only a stone’s throw away from downtown Banff but is seemingly another world. I’ve been staying in so many large resorts that I had forgotten how charming boutique hotels like Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts’ can be and I enjoy spending a few nights in their two Alberta properties, Buffalo Mountain Lodge (Banff) and Deer Lodge (Lake Louise).

As I sit under a high wood-beam canopy, my waitress raves about CRMR’s ranch near Calgary that raises their own high quality elk, buffalo and beef products for their hotels and four popular restaurants in Calgary. I debate ordering the Wild Game Hash for breakfast (when in Rome, right?) but opt for scrumptious Huevos Rancheros.

View from North American lift

View from North American lift

I drive 10 minutes to Mount Norquay, the smallest and most family-friendly of Banff National Park’s ski resorts and the only to offer night skiing. I spend the day touring around the easy-to-navigate resort with Ski School Director Gord Fielding, a colorful character with deep roots in the community. “We know most people aren’t going to spend their entire vacation at Norquay but it’s an excellent place to start.”

To ski Mount Norquay is a lesson in Canadian ski history. Established in 1926, the 190-acre resort was the first to install a chairlift in 1948, and was famous for ski jumping and as the training ground for Olympic and World Cup athletes. Expecting sub-par conditions due to a lack of recent snowfall, I am delighted to learn their snowmaking system does an excellent job covering 85 percent of the terrain. We pay homage to Banff native Rob Bosinger as we ski down “Rob’s Run” that was named in his honor after he tragically passed away at 38 years old.

I have my favorite meal of the trip at Lone Pine Pub:  Cheese risotto balls and fried Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Aioli and a Bison Burger with bacon, Brie and blueberry jam.

Though I’m an advanced skier, I’m no expert and you’ll find some of North America’s steepest double-black diamond runs off the North American lift. My dad once had a wipeout near the top where he tumbled almost all the way down, ensnaring a beautiful woman along the way. It was his most painful pick-up ever.

When Gord suggests we ride up North American without out skis, I am game. Once at the top, the views of Banff, Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle are so dazzling that, after being photographically satiated, I almost forget the chairlift ride of shame back down the mountain.

Norquay is home to “Tube Town,” a seven-lane tubing hill that claims to be the fastest tube park in Alberta. I’ve never been tubing without my kids but I brazenly ride up on the magic carpet, plop myself in the center of the tube, get a huge push, squeal like a kid, realize I’m a grown woman acting like a young’un and keep right on screaming.

Johnston Canyon

I leave Norquay and spend the afternoon on a 1.7-mile ice walk to Upper Johnston Falls. Johnston Canyon is one of Banff’s most popular hikes in the summertime but is transformed in winter into a world of frozen waterfalls, pillow-mounds of snow and blue-ice pillars on limestone cliffs. The smartest hikers wear cleats to navigate the canyon-clinging catwalks and cliff-mounting staircases while the dumbest more adventurous (like me) do it in hiking boots with a whole lot of tree hugging. Despite the ice, I do not fall even once, which should automatically absolve me from a lifetime of clumsiness.

Back at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, I indulge in a carnivorous feast that would have made the Tasmanian Devil proud. I later attempt to light the wood fireplace in my room but it burns out within minutes (where’s my husband when you need him?) I indulgently soak in the old-fashioned porcelain tub while reading my first book in ages, husband and kids temporarily forgotten.buffalo

Day 2.

As I drive 20 minutes from Banff to Sunshine Village, the outlook is bright (forgive the pun). I first fell in love with skiing at this 3,300-acre resort that stretches across three sprawling mountains along the Continental Divide. Ranging from gentle beginner runs off Strawberry Chair all the way up to extreme terrain like Delirium Dive, Sunshine is named one of the 10 top off-piste destinations in the world.
The Sunshine Village Gondola whisks me from the parking lot to the base, where I meet my guide Lindsay. A balmy breeze follows us up Continental Divide Express to Lookout Mountain where we soar above treeline while skiing in Alberta and B.C. on one run while marveling at the unobstructed views of the surrounding peaks.

I realize my memories are not just of the scenery but of freezing my butt off while enjoying them. Next year, Sunshine will be replacing the Teepee Town lift (notoriously cold and windy) with a quad that has orange bubble covers and heated seats. Popular in Europe but an anomaly in North America, my childhood self would have appreciated a toasty tush.

I approach Wawa quad chair where I: 1) Skied my first intermediate run down Tin Can Alley’s beautifully gladed terrain. 2) Learned to swear when my dad left me in his dust.

The T-bar of yesteryear has been replaced by an efficient loading conveyer. When it’s our turn to load, I nervously lean forward on the gate, it opens, spits us on the conveyer belt and I momentarily revert to my younger cursing self. We are transported forward like bottle of milk in a grocery store, the chair swoops around and we’re airborne. By our second time around, I’m a conveyer convert.

Lindsay and I take a quick tour of well-appointed Sunshine Mountain Lodge, Banff National Park’s only ski-in ski-out property.  She observes “with the Canadian dollar so low ($1 CAN=$0.80 US), American are essentially getting a 20 percent discount when they vacation in Canada.” We eat a hearty lunch at the Chimney Corner Lounge and I vow that next time I’ll be brave enough to order the Alberta Beef Dip in Yorkshire pudding.

Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photo

With an annual dump of 30 feet, Sunshine Village doesn’t make its own snow and normally capitalizes on its innovative “snow farming” techniques but like many resorts in the West, it’s been a lean snow year. (Murphy’s Law: it snowed 23 cm shortly after I left). We spend the afternoon on Goat Eye Mountain and thankfully, the sun softens the snow and the conditions completely transform beneath my skis.

At the end of the day, skiers and riders may either take the gondola back down but I opt for a stroll down memory lane down ski-out “Banff Avenue” where my tired, wobbly legs propel me all the way to my car.

Following a 50-minute drive to Lake Louise, I check in to historic Deer Lodge, an easy stroll from the legendary lake. Built in 1923 as a teahouse, 71-room Deer Lodge was completely renovated, restored and winterized in 1985. I opt to skip out on the rooftop hot tub views and eat.

Historic Deer Lodge

Unlike Banff, which is bursting with lodging and restaurants, options are more limited in purposefully remote Lake Louise. I’m elated with my classic Canadian dining experience at the historic Lake Louise Railway Station and Restaurant, a carefully restored piece of history overlooking an opulent ‘Roaring Twenties’ dining car.

Day 3

I wake up in mourning with the realization I will be skiing my final SkiBig3 Resort. I’m incrementally working my way up in size—starting with the baby bear (Norquay), Mama Sunshine and ending with Papa Bear: Lake Louise’s 4,200-acre expanse across four mountains that is consistently voted the most scenic resort in North America. Hear me roar.

My memories of Lake Louise Ski Area are ambiguous so I’m grateful to have my guide Pat Lynch to navigate. We quickly determine we graduated rival Calgary high schools the same year and have common friends. He has spent 17 years parlaying between working as one of Lake Louise’s most trusted ski instructors/trainers, with Parks Canada in the summer. My envy is tainted powder-white.

Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photo

We ease into our adventure with some groomers off Glacier and Top of the World Express. Unlike my previous two bluebird days, the sky is overcast with flurries and the light is flat. Pat is truly leading the blind until I bust out my glasses and am blown away by the views of the commanding Valley of Ten Peaks while the distant Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise bordering the shoreline looks like a LEGO replica.

From Saddleback Ridge at 8,300 feet, we cruise into the bowl, catching the peek-a-boo sunlight that casts dramatic shadows and the visual planes dazzle our eyes in this world of white.

The Larch area has the best conditions of the day. Located on the backside of the mountain, this intermediate-level playground is not as sun-affected and boasts more permanent snow without the crowds. Pat expounds upon the larch tree. “Although it’s a conifer, the larch is a deciduous tree and loses its leaves in the fall after turning yellow-gold.”
“So, the trees were named after the Larch lift?”
“Actually, I think it’s the other way around.” Pat joked. That devil is all detail.

For lunch at mid-mountain Whitehorn Lodge we, of course, order the Rocky Mountain Game Platter’s assorted Valbella artisanal meats, farmstead cheeses, crisps and Chinook honey. I’m on venison overload and almost vow to become a vegetarian until I take another bite of the mouth-watering buffalo and figure why would I want to be?

Lake Louise is the only World Cup venue outside of Europe to join the ranks of the famous Club 5 Ski Classics. Quite appropriately, I love channeling Lindsey Vonn as I blast down the Woman’s Downhill, until Pat tells me the resort has claimed her as its own.
“You know she’s from Vail, COLORADO, right?”
“She’s had more World Cup wins in Lake Louise than anywhere. She came off her two-year-long injury to win her 60th World Cup race here in December.”

I almost get into a toddler -esque brawl but ultimately decide we can just share her.

A Final Farewell

lakelouisechatBefore saying good-bye to Banff, I have one last bucket list item. I adore skating for miles on Canada’s frozen rivers and lakes and was devastated that the temperate weather forced most to close. Someone tips me off that Lake Louise (about 10 minutes from the ski area) is still open so I stop to rent skates at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and sadly discovered they, too have succumbed.

I pout, gaze out upon the still-frozen-yet-not-frozen-enough-to-skate-on-it ice and see legions of people hiking and skating across. With the backdrop of Victoria Glacier beckoning, I mindlessly follow the legions of people making their pilgrimage to Mecca, a glacial landscape of remarkable beauty. It isn’t until I am almost across the lake that I realize their final destination is a crystal-blue waterfall that marks the trailhead of the Plain of Six Glaciers leading to the Lake Agnes Tea House in the summer.

Some ridiculous fools are sliding down the snowfield in front of waterfall so I ridiculously start hiking the glassy trail to join them, fall after my third step and determine this wasn’t the kind of ice adventure I am looking for.

After all, there’s always next year.

When you go:

For more information on purchasing a tri-area lift ticket go to SkiBig3, the official website for ski vacations and passes in Banff, Canada.

For additional lodging information and rates, go to Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts.

Thanks to Travel Alberta for hosting. All photographs, opinions and childhood memories are my own.

Home again, home again (without the jiggity jig)

I’m back after a marvelous week in Canada. I fell in love with the Motherland all over again and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to leave. Of course, I love my life in the U.S. but sometimes I wonder why I was so eager to leave Calgary? Oh yeah, I was 18 and thought I was ready to conquer the world.

It’s been years since I’ve spent any time in Banff National Park and I had four glorious days of it. I skied Norquay, Lake Louise and had a homecoming at my childhood resort, Sunshine.

I hiked across frozen Lake Louise and did my prettiest winter hike ever up Johnston Canyon.

I stayed at Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts’ Buffalo Mountain Lodge (Banff) and Deer Lodge (Lake Louise) and was reminded how much I love quaint, charming and rustic boutique hotels.

I spent copious amounts of time alone, exploring, wandering, reading and just being (something that hasn’t happened since before I got married).

Once back in Calgary, I loved being with my family again. We lunched, gorged on Cadbury Easter Creme Egg McFlurries, biked Fish Creek, had an early Easter dinner, visited with my friend Stacey and became obsessed with a possible trip she’s taking to Croatia (who knew it could be that amazing?)

This week, I’m working like a madwoman to get caught up on all my travel-writing deadlines before out-of-town guests arrive on Friday and we take off to ski Beaver Creek for Spring Break next week.

In April, I’ll come up for air. For now, the goal is to just keep breathing.

Merry Christmas!

If you read my blog, our annual holiday newsletter is old news to you. But I assure you, Fat Kitty has never looked better.

Merry Christmas!

If 2014 could be summed up quickly, it would be non-stop travels for the first six months and the other six were spent recovering with little/no travels. We’re so grateful for both and most importantly that we have had minimal health crises this year and no hospital visits (wood is currently being knocked).

Our year was unprecedented for travel and will likely never be repeated but what a blast we had! I attended a media event in Denver for the Maui Convention & Visitor’s Bureau and was thrilled when I won a trip for two! The coincidence? The only other time I’ve been to Hawaii was when my dad won a trip for two to Hawaii through work. Fortunately for my siblings and our kids, we let them tag along and truly fell in love with that island paradise as it was our favorite trip ever (see all the fun here)and I’m now moderately obsessed with buying a cabin there someday.

Just as we were recovering from Maui, I was asked to attend the Disney Social Media Moms, an invite-only, highly-sought-after conference at Disneyland so we decided to splurge. And Disneyland isn’t the same without family so we surprised the kids by waking them up the morning of our departure. For once, they did not complain about being woken up early.

One of our favorite ways to play is skiing and this past year we’ve been to Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, Crested Butte, Copper Mountain and Park City Mountain Resort...and have many more ski trips planned for 2015. One of our favorite experiences was dog sledding for the first time in Breck!

And, of course, the kids and I spent our month-long vacation in Canada and the Western United States. Jamie joined us for a week at the lake with my family in Vernon, B.C. and we had a fantastic time boating. Usually our Canadian adventures are a reprieve from Denver’s searing heat so we won’t comment how it was actually cooler in Denver during our lake retreat.

Now, onto family matters.

Hadley (age 10, fifth grade)

Hadley grew leaps and bounds this year…literally. Her huge growth spurt over the summer launched her to the top of the class in height and continues to send us scrambling to replace all her clothes, which is challenging because she hates 99% of what she sees in the store. She has a wicked sense of humor and a large group of friends at church and school. She hates math and piano and enjoys handwork, travel, art, violin, pumpkin growing (hers weighed 401 pounds), Minecraft and crafts. Her favorite class trip ever was a three-day class camping trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park where she was the second-fastest kid to summit the highest dune in North America (a bit perplexing because she’s always the first-slowest when it comes to leaving the house). For volleyball, we bumped her up to play with the 6-8 graders and she has had no problems keeping up the big girls. She’s a mountain goat hiker and is ready to be challenged on the big peaks (we just need to get our act together to take her), is moderately obsessed with bouldering and is constantly heckling the rest of us to keep up with her during her crazy traverses. She’s a great skier, is learning to tackle the moguls and we had a fabulous mother-daughter trip to the slopes in February during her school break. She loves the water and, despite her protests to try wakeboarding, popped up on her first try and now does it like a champ. Though she and Bode would never admit it, they’re besties and play wonderfully together 93 percent of the time; no comment on the other 7 percent nor who is the instigator for the fall-outs.

Bode (age 8, 3rd grade)

Bode’s big news is he got baptized in August surrounded by both sets of grandparents. He’s a happy, kind and thoughtful kid who has two emotions: joyful (most of the time) and sensitive (usually during the aforementioned fall-outs). He’s a whiz at math and a regular receiver of “Star Awards” at school yet has barely legible handwriting. He is recovering from an addiction to Calvin and Hobbes and Clash of Clans and he thrives on being responsible–he even sets his alarm early for school so he can be “extra-prepared.” For his eighth birthday, we threw him a surprise party where we hired Rolling Video Games Denver to come to the house and we invited all his friends for a two-hour video game marathon that was deemed “the best party ever.” He’s intrinsically more cautious than his sister but battled his fears and did an awesome job wakeboarding, cross-country skiing and a high-ropes course for the first time. Named after Bode Miller, he continues to rock the ski slopes and went on one of his first mogul run last week. When I asked him it was terrifying, he confessed, “A little bit,” and I can’t blame him because I sometimes feel the same way. He plays the piano non-stop, enjoyed growing his 325-pound pumpkin, loves Cub Scouts and is gearing up for his first Pinewood Derby where it will be revealed just how competitive his father really is. Bode went on his first six-day overnight camp to Camp Chief Ouray with Hadley last summer and had the time of his life. As smart as he is, he still puts his shirt on backwards but loves to snuggle up so I’m relieved he’s not growing up too fast, even if he sometimes acts like a responsible 40-year-old man in an 8-year-old body.


The Pumpkin Man had his his worst pumpkin-growing year ever and lost both of his plants to yellow vine disease in August. Despite that setback, he was able to preserve one of them long enough to make it to the scale and it topped 500 pounds. We were sad we wouldn’t have a real giant pumpkin to display so rescued his buddy Joe’s from being axed and it just happened to be the biggest grown in Colorado this year. Jamie had a blast taking the pumpkins around to the area schools and had a ton of media interviews–he was even featured front page on The Denver Post’s YourHub. But his most memorable pumpkin moment was when he decided it would be fun to dress up as The Pumpkin Man, hide inside the pumpkin, and terrorize trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Fortunately no law suits were filed and we only had one casualty when he made Spiderman cry (watch the hilarious video here). His web development business continues to add more people to the team and we’re grateful business is growing (unfortunately so do his stress levels). At church, he’s the Stake Technology Clerk and the Priest’s Quorum Adviser but most importantly, a wonderful husband, father and mortal enemy to superheroes.


As for me, I continue to juggle trips, kid’s activities and working from home. I’ve taken over the business/advertising side of Mile High Mamas, which has confirmed I’d much rather be writing. And traveling. And hiking or skiing. But unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to make much money from those exploits so in the interim I’ll just dream of more playtime. I’ve become more of a regular contributor on 9News and have done segments on everything from travel tips to Halloween treats to their ugly sweater Christmas party on Friday. I was released as the Primary pianist at church and am on my way out the door for Public Affairs as I’ve been called as an Akela of the Cub Scout Bear Den. I am also an aspiring dodgeball player and if this writing gig doesn’t work out, I hope to go pro in the future.

Fat Kitty

Fat Kitty is the only serious one in the family. In addition to napping for 23 hours a day, he enjoys decapitating the occasional mouse, eating grass until he pukes and annoying Jamie. He also decided to get in shape this year and his favorite exercise is a cross between a lunch and a crunch.

Some people call it lunch.

Christmas Wishes

This time of year, we’re especially grateful for our many friends, family and for our our Savior. Have the happiest of Christmases is our Christmas wish and gift to you!



The Johnsons

Oh Canada (and Boy Scouts of America)

At church, we are given “callings” to fulfill. For the past couple of years, I’ve been the pianist in Primary (our kid’s organization), working in public affairs with community leaders and also the volleyball coach for our young women.

Those were all fine and dandy but now I have been asked to serve in a new position that I’m really excited about: as the Cub Scout Leader for the “Bear” den (9-year-old boys). Many of them are Bode’s friends and he himself will join us when he turns 9 in July.  These boys are your typical silly pre-teens but they are smart.  I went in there thinking about how much wisdom I had to impart upon their impressionable minds but they put me in my place during our first first Den meeting when we learned about energy. When my co-leader Sarah asked them if they could list any energy types, they shouted out kinetic, chemical, wind, gravitational potential, electrical, sound, heat or thermal energy. Oh, and you can’t forget about electromagnetic.

These are 9-year-old child geniuses.

As we were beginning our meeting, I explained to them that I am Canadian and therefore do not salute or pledge the American flag. You’d have thought I had two heads because they looked at me like I was a freak-of-nature as they recited everything.

Later, Alex pulled me aside. “Next time, I might bring a Canadian flag for you to salute.”

Smart, and thoughtful, too.

These boys are gonna be one fun, wild ride.