I was navigating a black-diamond run at the end of our last day in Whistler. The path dropped through a steep mogul-field then narrowed to a single track in thick forest. I veered hard right through a tiny opening between two Douglas fir trees. I emerged blindly from the dark boughs. Terra firma vanished. I was hurtling off a ten-meter cliff, in free fall.
What was I doing here?
My date with this Whistler precipice had its genesis in – of all places – a golf course in New Zealand. We were teeing it up last March in Nelson, on the South Island, when a fellow-duffer approached us on the first tee. He was solo so Florence and I asked him to join us. He introduced himself as Russ, from Vancouver. We played a pleasant nine holes together, shook hands and parted ways.
“This is just too weird,” said our fellow Canuck. “Let’s have lunch.”
Two weeks later –and a thousand kilometers distant – we were hiking Mount Maunganui, on the North Island. As we arrived huffing and puffing to the summit, there stood Russ and his wife Barb, chatting affably with a fit young Kiwi. We laughed at the coincidence, commented on the fine Austral weather, and moseyed off.
Two weeks distant– and another thousand kilometers removed – we were examining a cross-section of New Zealand’s biggest and oldest tree – a 3000 year-old Kauri – at the aptly named Kauri Museum in the tiny west coast village of Matakohe, when who to my wondering eyes should appear but good old Russ.
“This is just too weird,” said our fellow Canuck. “Let’s have lunch.”
So, over flat-white coffee and whitebait (a hideous Kiwi delicacy consisting of fried egg and a worm-like fish), the four of us sat, laughed and marvelled at the wonders of New Zealand – and our trifecta of coincidental encounters.
The Feehans were – as usual – travelling without reservation, flying by the seat of their pants and scrambling daily for nightly accommodation. Russ and Barb were at the other end of the organizational spectrum. They were happily bunked in just two spots during their entire two-month sojourn to New Zealand. As members of www.homelink.com/ they had exchanged their house in Vancouver for accommodation Down Under.
Russ and Barb travel in a sphere of gratis lodging, swapping their Vancouver abode – and Whistler condo – for digs the world over.
I pondered the merits of our pleasant home in Red Deer and looked at Russ, wondering whether he and Barb might enjoy a holiday in frozen, flat central Alberta. But Russ didn’t look like he’d been born yesterday.
Then I remembered our condo in Kimberley. It’s a great spot in B.C’s lovely Purcell mountains.
And that’s how we ended up in a quaint ski chalet for a week on Nita Lake, in Whistler. In return, Barb and Russ will be golfing and biking the Kootenays for a week in September chez Feehan.
We haven’t signed up for Homelink yet – but what a great concept: why leave your home vacant and idle, spending a whack on hotels, when you can swap for free domicile across the pond (or at Whistler)?
My only previous Whistler experience occurred in 1984, and although the 80’s weren’t exactly the 60’s, still I recall very little of that trip. I do remember a wild and crazy Doug and the Slugs concert, performed al fresco in the Whistler Village common. And I recollect that Bill Johnson won the World Cup downhill in 1 minute 54 seconds. (Billy was the quintessential American bad-boy. The great Franz Klammer derisively referred to him as a “nasen-borer”.)
We skied that same downhill run with our friends from Saskatoon in January. It took me just under nine minutes top to bottom – and I cheated, stopping the clock each time I paused to rest my weary legs – or discreetly probe my proboscis.
Whistler is slightly more sophisticated than sleepy Kimberley. Kimberley’s Northstar Mountain has five chairlifts. Whistler and her sister mountain Blackcomb have 37, including the incredible Peak 2 Peak gondola that spans 4.4 kilometers and whisks skiers between the two resorts in a matter of minutes. When completed a few years ago it was the longest and highest lift in the world.
The lift capacity at Whistler/Blackcomb is an unimaginable 65,507 skiers per hour. At that rate the entire population of Red Deer could be boosted to the top of the mountain in about an hour and a half.
Snow conditions throughout B.C. have been great this year. Each day tens of thousands of stoked skiers shared Whistler’s terrain with us. The 2010 Olympics ended nearly 9 years ago, but the party carries on. The hills and streets echo with languages and accents from around the globe.
Our Saskatchewan friends, Joe and Carla, are gung ho: first in line for the 8:30 a.m. gondola opening and last down the hill for après ski festivities. They frequent the blue runs (easily logging over 20,000 vertical feet in a day). I enjoy these cruising runs but find I lack speed restraint – and my aging bones aren’t up for a high-velocity crash. My new passion is tree skiing, a slower but more rewarding, methodical way of descending the hill.
And that’s how my encounter with the Whistler precipice happened.
Arcing headfirst, I careened down the snowy cliff-face, employed an unintended somersault and landed flat in the middle of a cat track. I lay still, a puddled mess, piecing together the previous few moments of existence.
Miraculously, I was unscathed. My skis and poles were jammed part way up the cliff, deeply scathed. I climbed up, retrieved my battered equipment and tentatively skied down to the chairlift where my Saskatoon acquaintances awaited. It was they who had suggested I might enjoy that treacherous black trail.
“How was the run?” asked Joe.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” I said, emptying snow from inside my goggles.
That night we relaxed in front of a roaring fire, enjoying the view across Nita Lake and the glowing mansions fronting Whistler.
In the morning we bid adieu to our prairie friends and our Whistler digs, packed the Subaru and, avoiding the congested Vancouver corridor, took an alternate route home, north up Hwy 99 through Pemberton and down the narrow, perilous pass into Lillooet and thence back onto Hwy 1 at Kamloops. En route I had a rather close call with a cliff. But that’s another story.
Gerry Feehan QC practised law in Red Deer for 27 years before starting his second life as a freelance travel writer and photographer. He says that, while being a lawyer is more remunerative than travel writing, it isn’t nearly as much fun. When not on the road, Gerry and his wife Florence live in Red Deer and Kimberley, BC. Todayville is proud to work with Gerry to re-publish some of his most compelling stories from his vast catalogue developed over more than a decade of travel.
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Running Reins Ranch in Red Deer County picks up $250,000 grant from province
Running Reins Ranch partners with members of the local Indigenous community to set-up teepee accommodations and host regular cultural programming for guests.
Tourism investment fuels growth in rural Alberta
Alberta’s government continues to support regional tourism opportunities across the province, generating jobs and new tourism destinations for locals and visitors alike.
Ahead of World Tourism Day 2023, Minister of Tourism and Sport Joseph Schow visited Running Reins Ranch to see first-hand how tourism investment grants are making a difference in the lives of Albertans.
“Alberta’s government is proud to invest in growing visitor destinations like Running Reins Ranch that celebrate the richness and diversity of Alberta’s rural destinations and provide a sustainable tourism experience for visitors to enjoy.”
As part of the Tourism Investment Program, Running Reins Ranch received a $250,000 grant from Travel Alberta.
“Our investment will support the building of additional unique accommodations at the ranch that will triple their capacity, emphasize their year-round offerings and create five new full-time jobs. This investment in Running Reins Ranch is a perfect example of how Travel Alberta is driving tourism growth in rural communities across the province.”
Running Reins is located east of Innisfail, offering cabin and teepee accommodations and a wide range of outdoor activities for visitors looking to combine the beauty of the Prairies with farm experiences for a one-of-a-kind getaway.
Right to Left: Minister of Tourism and Sport Joseph Schow, Owners of Running Reins Ranch Terry and Janice Scott, and team member Grace Finlan.
“This funding is a game-changer for us and our business. We are excited to bring our vision to life and provide visitors with unforgettable experiences while supporting the economic growth of the surrounding community.”
Tourism is Alberta’s No. 1 service export sector. In 2019, Alberta welcomed 34.6 million visitors, generating $10.1 billion in expenditures and supporting more than 80,000 full-time jobs. The Tourism Investment Program is Travel Alberta’s commitment to investing $15 million annually with communities and operators to develop the province’s tourism sector. Developing Alberta’s rural and agri-tourism sector is an essential component of the government’s efforts to grow Alberta’s tourism economy to more than $20 billion by 2035.
- In 2022-23, Travel Alberta funded 166 projects across 73 communities – about 75 per cent of the projects and 70 per cent of the funding were in smaller urban and rural areas of the province.
- In December 2022, Alberta’s government released its Economic Development in Rural Alberta Plan, with supporting initiatives that demonstrate the government’s commitment to building healthy and prosperous communities across rural Alberta and Indigenous communities.
Abu Simbel is a marvel of ancient and modern engineering
I love looking out the window of an airplane at the earth far below, seeing where coast meets water or observing the eroded remains of some ancient formation in the changing light. Alas, the grimy desert sand hadn’t been cleaned from the windows of our EgyptAir jet, so we couldn’t see a thing as we flew over Lake Nasser en route to Abu Simbel. I was hopeful that this lack of attention to detail would not extend to other minor maintenance items, such as ensuring the cabin was pressurized or the fuel tank full.
We had just spent a week on a dahabiya sailboat cruising the Nile River, and after disembarking at Aswan, were headed further south to see one of Egypt’s great
monuments. There are a couple of ways to get to Abu Simbel from Aswan. You can ride a bus for 4 hours through the scorched Sahara Desert, or you can take a plane for the short 45-minute flight.
Opaque windows notwithstanding, I was glad we had chosen travel by air. Abu Simbel is spectacular, but there’s really not much to see except the monument itself and a small adjacent museum. So most tourists, us included, make the return trip in a day. And fortunately we had Sayed Mansour, an Egyptologist, on board. Sayed was there to explain all and clear our pained expressions.
Although it was early November, the intense Nubian sun was almost directly overhead, so Sayed led us to a quiet, shady spot where he began our introduction to
Egyptian history. Abu Simbel is a marvel of engineering — both modern and ancient. The temples were constructed during the reign of Ramses II. Carved from solid rock in a sandstone cliff overlooking the mighty river, these massive twin temples stood sentinel at a menacing bend in the Nile — and served as an intimidating obstacle to would-be invaders — for over 3000 years. But eventually Abu Simbel fell into disuse and succumbed to the inevitable, unrelenting Sahara. The site was nearly swallowed by sand when it was “rediscovered” by European adventurers in the early 19 th century. After years of excavation and restoration, the monuments resumed their original glory.
Then, in the 1960’s, Egyptian president Abdel Nasser decided to construct a new “High Dam” at Aswan. Doing so would create the largest man-made lake in the
world, 5250 sq km of backed-up Nile River. This ambitious project would bring economic benefit to parched Egypt, control the unpredictable annual Nile flood and also supply hydroelectric power to a poor, under-developed country. With the dam, the lights would go on in most Egyptian villages for the first time. But there were also a couple of drawbacks, which were conveniently swept under the water carpet by the government. The new reservoir would displace the local Nubian population whose forbearers had farmed the fertile banks of the Nile River for millennia. And many of Egypt’s greatest monuments and tombs would be forever submerged beneath the deep new basin — Abu Simbel included. But the government proceeded with the dam, monuments be damned.
Only after the water began to rise did an international team of archaeologists, scientists — and an army of labourers — begin the process of preserving these
colossal wonders. In an urgent race against the rising tide, the temples of Abu Simbel were surgically sliced into gigantic pieces, transported up the bank to safety and reassembled. The process was remarkable, a feat of engineering genius. And today the twin edifices, honouring Ramses and his wife Nefertari remain, gigantic, imperious and intact. But instead of overlooking a daunting corner of the Nile, this UNESCO World Heritage site now stands guard over a vast shimmering lake.
Sayed led us into the courtyard from our shady refuge and pointed to the four giant Colossi that decorate the exterior façade of the main temple. These statues of
Ramses were sculpted directly from Nile bedrock and sat stonily observing the river for 33 centuries. It was brutally hot under the direct sun. I was grateful for the new hat I had just acquired from a gullible street merchant. Poor fellow didn’t know what hit him. He started out demanding $40, but after a prolonged and brilliant negotiating session, I closed the deal for a trifling $36. It was difficult to hold back a grin as I sauntered away sporting my new fedora — although the thing did fall apart a couple of days later.
Sayed walked us toward the sacred heart of the shrine and lowered his voice. Like all Egyptians, Sayed’s native tongue is Arabic. But, oddly, his otherwise perfect English betrayed a slight cockney accent. (Sayed later disclosed that he had spent a couple of years working in an East London parts factory.) He showed us how the great hypostyle hall of the temple’s interior is supported by eight enormous pillars honouring Osiris, god of the underworld.
Exploring the inner temple
Sayed then left us to our devices. There were no other tourists. We had this incredible place to ourselves. In the dim light, we scampered amongst the sculptures
and sarcophagi, wandering, hiding and giggling as we explored the interior and its side chambers. At the far end lay the “the holiest of holies” a room whose walls were adorned with ornate carvings honouring the great Pharaoh’s victories — and offering tribute to the gods that made Ramses’ triumphs possible.
Exterior photographs of Abu Simbel are permitted, but pictures from within the sanctuary are verboten — a rule strictly enforced by the vigilant temple guardians — unless you offer a little baksheesh… in which case you can snap away to your heart’s content. Palms suitably greased, the caretakers are happy to pose with you in front of a hidden hieroglyph or a forbidden frieze, notwithstanding the stern glare of Ramses looking down from above.
A little baksheesh is key to holding the key
After our brief few hours at Abu Simbel, we hopped back on the plane. The panes weren’t any clearer but, acknowledging that there really wasn’t much to see in the Sahara — and that dirty airplane windows are not really a bona fide safety concern — I took time on the short flight to relax and bone up on Ramses the Great, whose mummified body awaited us at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Exodus Travel skilfully handled every detail of our Egypt adventure: www.exodustravels.com/
Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.
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