Pictures by Paul, Pat and Anna de Anguera
Our family likes to spend Christmas doing an adventure together. This year, our adventure was a ski vacation at Silver Star Resort in eastern British Columbia. We really like this resort because it offers downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. And we don’t need a car, because it’s designed so we can get around on ski trails and chair lifts (along with some walking and rides on the resort shuttle). Paul and Pat, Brian and Anna, and Alice and Jenn spent a week here, staying in a house on the Knoll above the resort’s village.
This holiday started with a fancy dinner provided by Brian at Tulio’s, a swanky Italian restaurant in Seattle’s Vance Hotel. Pat and I, my brother Michael, Alice and Jenn, and Anna and Brian were there. I had spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce and crab meat; it was interesting and good. We came home for a hasty present exchange before making final preparations for the trip.
When our flight was called, we walked out onto the drizzly taxiway to our Alaska Airlines twin-prop Bombardier Q400. This little plane is only about six steps up from the ground, and too small to belly up to a concourse.
A 45 minute flight brought us to the snowy shore of Lake Okanogan. A yellow van from Kelowna Taxi was waiting for us outside the miniature airport’s baggage claim area. Our driver Albert and a friend of his tied our skis and larger items to the rack on top of the van. On the way up to Silver Star, he tried to find a store where we could buy food. But every store we came to was closed, as an airport shuttle dispatcher had warned me would be the case in this tiny town on Christmas Day. He waited while we checked in at the Bulldog Hotel in the resort village, and then took us up to our condo on the Knoll. He said he didn’t have a record of our return reservation, but that his other driver would cover it; so I gave him all the specifics again.
The little road past our house to the village was plowed and sanded, and it had high banks of snow on each side. After we arrived, we walked down for lunch in the Bulldog’s pub, the Grand Café. The food was very good altho we had to wait for it. When I was going to hang up my pack on a coat hook by our table, a Canadian man who was about to do the same thing said “That’s my hook!” I switched to the next hook over. He was embarrassed and told me he’d just been joking. We shook hands on it.
Our next stop was the Lord Aberdeen Grocery. It was a hole in the wall, smaller than a typical 7-11; and it was full of shoppers, many of them clumping around in ski boots. We bought supplies for a few days and took them back to the condo on the little shuttle bus that cruises around the resort’s plowed roads every 15 to 30 minutes. It looked like an airport shuttle, with the addition of an outside rack for downhill skis.
On this and other evenings we played games, read or just snuggled around the fireplace. Jenn had brought her laptop and she did some serious work on it. We’d brought a Scrabble game; and the condo owner had provided several games, including Jenga which I enjoyed.
Pat and I needed to go to the village to buy cross-country ski passes. We walked down Monashee Street to a ski trail between two houses (one of which we’d stayed in during our first trip to Silver Star when the kids were really kids). It looked pretty steep, so we carried our skis down to the main trail and then put them on. We skied around the south side of the Knoll on nicely groomed trails through snowy woods. Next we had to negotiate a dreadfully steep hill that joined onto a downhill skiway. We made our way upstream on the skiway while throngs of downhill skiers and snowboarders poured down it. Once we got around the top of a chair lift, the opposing traffic dropped off. We skied across a side road and right into the middle of the village, whose snowy streets accommodate every sort of mobility except cars. We made a stop at Lord Aberdeen’s, which was truly gridlocked on this visit. Then we pointed our skis back up the knoll, but took a wrong turn and ended up walking the road home. That was enough snow for one day!
In the evening we enjoyed watching “The Most Excellent Marigold Hotel” together, thanks to Jenn and Netflix. The condo has two TVs, both of them massive, square tube machines from the last century. Jenn noted that all of the appliances in the condo are out of date; maybe whenever the owners replaced an appliance in their own home they brought the old one to their vacation place?
This was a very foggy day, the sort of opaque white fog you might see drifting out of a really cold walk-in freezer Pat and I agreed to meet Alice, Jenn and Anna for lunch at the cafeteria in the Village. I wanted to ski first, so I headed around the south side of the Knoll and then back north toward the base of the Silver Queen chair lift. I knew it was close to the Village. But I couldn’t seem to find the village, and instead I made my way up the edges of busy skiways, past two big hotels and two parking lots. I consulted the map now and then and persuaded myself that it was just a bit further on; but I didn’t check my compass because I ‘knew” I wasn’t lost.
Finally I got to something I recognized; the snow bridge over the highway to Silver Star (this bridge leads to Sovereign Lake Provincial Park). I saw on the map that I’d gotten turned around without realizing it and had skied far away from the village and my lunch date. I slogged back and rode the chair lift to the top of the knoll, coached by a friendly ski instructor who was riding with me. She noted the age of my equipment; “I must have the last set of three-pin bindings on the planet,” I told her.
“It’s wonderful how much exercise you get with older equipment,” she graciously replied.
At the top the ramp was steeper than I expected, and I slithered and stumbled to the side. For a second I think the tips of my ski poles were under the instructor’s feet, but she came out of it all right and went on shepherding her brood of kids down the slope.
We received a heavy snow overnight. During breakfast in our second-story great room we were entertained by the people across the street struggling to get their three cars out of their driveway. This included a voluntary tow of one car by a passing SUV. Alice took her bowl over to the window. Jenn shook her head and said, “They sure aren’t snow people.”
Later, Pat and I skied to the View Point Cabin, east of the Knoll. It’s located on a maze of ski trails; on our way there we got turned around and found ourselves back at a midway junction by a (sewage?) pond. At one intersection we noted an official-looking sign warning “Misletoe ahead.” This turned out to be a sprig of mistletoe hung from a tree branch by a red ribbon. The cabin is a cute 12-foot square log cabin. One window was nearly buried in snow; another had a peek-a-boo view of a downhill ski area below the ridge. It had a Franklin fireplace, in which Pat and I lit a fire to entertain us if not warm us as we ate our sandwiches. Skiing back, we got turned around again and found ourselves approaching the cabin we’d just left.
In the evening, Pat and I got out the soft plastic “nerf” rockets and shooters we’d brought along as stocking stuffers (the stockings didn’t make it). A nerf war followed, with lots of laughter, until we ran out of breath. Two rockets weren’t recovered, until two days later when Alice noticed one of them sticking out of a houseplant and, on a hunch, found the other one behind the TV.
Pat and I skied to the cabin again with Brian and Anna. The sky was clearer, treating us to a lovely view of the valley below our mountain. Pat noticed that she and I didn’t glide as fast as Brian and Anna. I confessed I hadn’t waxed our skis before we left Seattle; nor had I waxed them the year before! 8.
After we returned to the house, I called around and found a repair shop in the village that hot-waxes skis. Penitently, I walked down the road to the village carrying Pat’s and my skis. The shop turned out to be next door to the Den Bistro, where Anna and Brian had been thinking of having dinner. I went in and asked to reserve a table for four. The host told me that all of the tables were already reserved, except for two pub tables in a back corner that could be pushed together. I said that would be fine, and I settled down at our joined tables to wait for the skis and the rest of the group.
The Den’s chief asset is a massive stone fireplace with an impressive woodpile of huge logs, although it’s just for show; the fireplace is gas. A Canadian couple sat at our second table for a while, and they were very grateful for the use of the space in the crowded pub. We were entertained by a folksinger that was pretty good, tho when she sang a Beatles song I thought she was inviting unfavorable comparisons. Dinner and dessert were wonderful, tho expensive; I had lamb kofta.
After dark, we took ourselves and the waxed skis home on the resort shuttle. Four partiers boarded from one of the condos along the way with cocktail glasses in their hands. They were curious about our skis (cross country skis have to be brought inside the bus, because they tend to fall out of the ski rack). They passed one of Pat’s skis around, marveling at how light it is compared to downhill skis. I was relieved that they didn’t take a close look at my ancient bindings.
Anna, Brian and I watched “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a sometimes-comic story of the back room politics behind the CIA-sponsored ouster of Russia from Afghanistan. It was educational but disheartening to see our government’s inner workings, and to know that the weapons we gave the Mujahedeen would later be turned against us.
Anna and Brian took us to the Summit and Sovereign Lakes on this day. It was even colder than usual, about 17 F. / -8 C. on our window thermometer. Anna had me put on both of my fleeces; she’d been downhill skiing, so she knew what to expect. We rode the double Summit chairlift in pairs, one youngster and one oldster in each chair. I was anxious about getting off, which for me is the hardest part of riding a chair lift. It was a much longer ride than the bunny hill lift. At the top, Anna gave the operator a “thumbs down” signal to slow down the lift, and I had plenty of time to edge off the seat and slide down the snow ramp.
The top of the mountain was 1,000 feet higher than the village, and I’m sure it was even colder than the temp at our house. My nose ran continuously, even tho I’d taken an antihistamine. My fingers stung, despite the chemical hand warmers I’d put in my thick gloves. Pat gave me a pair of thin gloves she was carrying to wear inside of mine. Everything was enveloped in a bright white fog that blended into the snow. I could hardly see the trail, so I followed Anna. She skis downhill tucked close to the ground with her poles sticking out behind her like a little comet; I had to be bold to keep up with her. The snow was excellent, and of course having waxed skies was helpful as well. We had many long, lovely glides thru the miniature, snow-packed alpine trees.
We escaped the fog and reached the Sovereign Lakes warming hut shortly after 11 AM, and had a snack there. It’s larger than the View Point Cabin, with about eight picnic tables and a loft; the Franklin fireplace filled it with heat. A friendly volunteer from the Sovereign Lakes Ski Club came around, picking up candle ends from a dinner party they’d put on the night before. We continued down the Silver Queen trail to the club’s day lodge, where we had a picnic lunch and Anna shared a huge oatmeal cookie she’d bought.
There used to be a shuttle van that returned Silver Star skiers to the resort; but it wasn’t running this year. So we had to ski back to the resort on a lower trail. The icy fog came back again. I had to stop pretty often to adjust my layers, blow my nose or just pant; Brian waited patiently for me and helped me with my gloves. We passed the resort’s transfer station, and took our skis off to climb a final very steep hill. After that it was downhill all the way, across the snow bridge I’d seen when I was lost and on to the base of the Silver Queen chair lift. It’s a “quad” so the four of us rode up together in one chair.
At the top, we gave the operator a thumbs-down signal; but he wasn’t looking. I pushed off from the chair and had a perfect slide down the snow ramp to the edge of the skiway. When I looked back, the chairs were stopped, Pat was lying on the snow, and the operator was out talking to her. Later she told us that she’d gotten distracted worrying about whether the chair had been slowed down, and didn’t notice when it reached the top of the ramp. When she saw the ground receding under her feet she panicked, swung her feet forward to get off the chair and dropped in a heap. Her head might have been hit, possibly by the chair as it passed over her; and she landed hard on her left hip. We don’t know exactly what happened, because Brian didn’t see her (he fell too), and she doesn’t remember.
We got Pat home and gave her some Tylenol and arnica. She went to bed with a cold cloth on her head and an ice pack on her hip. Alice checked her pupils for uneven dilation and reported that they were okay. Pat felt better later, but her head is tender and for days she had a massive headache. In Seattle she saw her doctor and learned that she’d had a mild concussion.
We had a leftover feast for dinner and packed for the return journey. We watched the wonderful “Shakespeare In Love” on a buzzy VHS tape from the condo-owner’s collection.
After a hasty, tasty breakfast featuring Jenn’s scrambled eggs with cheese and fresh spinach, we finished packing just as our taxi appeared. This van was smaller, but at least it had a roof rack; we were barely able to squeeze ourselves in along with the luggage that didn’t fit on the roof or in the back. The driver didn’t know Albert, and said that the company wouldn’t have allowed him to make any such personal arrangement as he had with me. Anyway, we had a cozy ride back to the airport while he told stories about the area. He’d lived in an RV at Silver Star for one winter, skiing for 84 days. He told us that he’d insulated his little home by piling bales of hay around it.
I had some problems getting through airport security. I put all the things from my pockets in my shoes, which seemed like a clever idea at the time; but the operator of the scanning machine grumbled about it. They searched my pack by hand and asked about my monocular (a little opera glass similar to half of a set of binoculars), and about the metal pill holder on my key chain.
The flight home was a little rough, but the cabin attendants managed to get drinks and snacks distributed anyhow. As we touched down in Seattle, my head around my left eye started throbbing. It was like the sinus headache I sometimes get in the spring from some pollen allergy. But within seconds it got much worse, and I was crying from the pain. I was in a panic; I didn’t know how much worse it was going to get, and I was mortified that I was making a scene on a crowded airplane in front of my family. A passenger two rows up gave me some decongestant, and a cabin attendant brought me water to take it with. Brian gave me a lozenge. I asked for some ice, and the cabin attendant brought me a blue rubber glove tied at the wrist filled with ice. “It may look a little strange,” she joked. I held my blue hand against my forehead through Customs, and it was a great comfort.
We hugged Brian and Anna good-bye at the airport, because they would be catching a plane to Oakland in a short time. Jenn and Alice drove us home, and we had a late lunch of bagels with smoked salmon from Gwen’s Christmas package. And so our Christmas adventure was over! Pat and I had a couple of hard knocks this time, but it was a great trip. And I felt very touched by the love and care the young people showed for Pat and me.