There’s a lot to get acquainted with at eastern B.C.’s Panorama Mountain Resort. Words :: Melanie Chambers.
A Snowy Rocket Ship
I was begrudging the snowmobile ride.
Instead of swooshing down the open slopes of the Rockies or working up a sweat nordic skiing in the forest, I imagined sitting like a small child, immobile and frozen, on a chunk of gas-spewing metal.
Clutching the handlebars and squeezing my knees to stay on, my machine burst through the powder, sending plumes of glittering snow into the air. Lurching around the mountain, I could see a pit of rock and snow the size of a football field, where snowmobilers were doing donuts and climbing onto the banks oh-so-high, I thought they’d tip over.
This wasn’t a noisy and smelly hunk of metal—this was a snowy rocket ship!
An Aussie in our group steers his machine up the slope and takes off. The Toby Creek Adventures guide zooms after him to haul him back. Can’t blame the Aussie: Paradise Bowl beckons all types. A century ago settlers and prospectors arrived with gold rush fever. Or silver rush fever. Between 1901 and 1953, almost 23 million tonnes of silver were extracted from the Paradise Mines.
I park my machine in front of the old mine entrance; a sign says 1898. Inside the hut, we munch on giant gooey chocolate cookies and sip cocoa. It’s a different scene than the pictures on the walls of dirt-faced miners in suspenders and plaid shirts.
Panorama: Endless Options
A four-hour drive from the Calgary airport along the Powder Highway through the Rockies, then another half-hour drive from Invermere, following a wide river and carved-out mountainside, Panorama Mountain Resort is the end of the line. The road stops here.
For me, experiencing Panorama is akin to speed-dating a room full of young Tom Sellecks. Should I pick Magnum in his red Ferrari, Magnum paddling or Magnum playing volleyball? You can’t just pick one. At Panorama there’s a plethora of adventures vying for my attention: “Pick me, Melanie! No, Melanie, over here!”
The next day I’m back inbounds. I’m told the best way to get acquainted with Panorama’s 134 runs and 1,300-metre vertical is to join a Mountain Friends group—local volunteers who know these trails intimately. Two German guys in our group have been coming to Panorama for 30 years. “We don’t tell anyone back home about it—this place is our secret,” says one, who is in his eighties.
“We’ve got ourselves a bluebird day folks,” he adds. And with that, he points his skis into the bowl. I follow his swoopy line, pulling up beside the Cliffhanger Restaurant for a hot toddy.
For dinner, a group of us exits the icy chairlift about halfway up the mountain just before the sun goes down. The wind is howling as the door swings open to the Elkhorn Cabin, releasing warm wood smoke and stinky-cheese aroma.
The raclette, melted on a spatula then scraped onto bread, is gooey and fatty; it’s also an homage to the Swiss-born forefathers who started Panorama in 1962. Back then it was one run and a rope tow powered by a V8 motor.
Hours later, I’m still sipping wine, and repeating: “No, I can’t eat anymore! Well, just one.”
Heading back down, we cram inside a Monster X snowcat. The driver turns on the disco lights as the Chemical Brothers blare—everyone comes alive, pumping fists into the air.
Fat Biking + Nordic
After a late morning start, I’m on a fat bike riding alongside Toby Creek. The path is fluffy, yet slushy; our tires spin out. Switching onto the road, the tires scrunch and glide effortlessly on the hardpack. Mesmerized by the snow resting on the bows of the branches and the mountain range that looks like a city skyline, I don’t realize I’ve been riding entirely uphill for an hour, or that my new friends are yelling, “Come back! That leads to the ski hill.”
The next day, I nordic-ski the same trail, stopping into the Hale Hut for a snack. The walls are full of memories: skiers in neon-green ‘80s suits, construction of the hut in various stages, and a plaque for Dennis Hale, the cabin’s namesake.
Skiing back across Toby Creek, beside the Cliffhanger Restaurant again, I stop to order a couple tacos and a Corona from an outside stall. Taking a seat in front of the bonfire with some downhillers, we joke about nordic and downhill skiers, then clink our glasses, leaning back into the Muskoka chairs.
Snowshoeing + Spirit Sampling
The next day I’m set to snowshoe the South Face Trail. With only myself and two Aussie women in their mid-sixties, I assume it’s going to be slow until the ladies start pumping their arms like aerobics instructors racking up their Fitbit steps.
I ask how they like B.C.: “Oh, it’s splendid; we had weed edibles last night with our husbands.” Splendid indeed. My respect for them grows.
Before flying out, I spend the afternoon in nearby Invermere. Tasting samples from Taynton Bay Spirits, which made their way onto CBC’s Dragon’s Den, I sip a boozy blueberry rooibos and longingly look onto Lake Windermere Whiteway—where skating has just closed for the season. At 30 km long, it joins a handful of communities together during the winter and is the Guinness World Record holder for longest ice-skating loop.
“Sure,” I say, resigning myself to an afternoon of spirit-tasting. “You can’t do it all,” I add.