Sunday, February 28, 2010

Day 2: North Bowl, the Hound, Rods and Guns

Friday a.m. We board the 8:30 ski bus that runs from the hotel to the ski area.

Upfront, a local guy talks to the bus driver about upcoming social events. The guy looks about 45 and has a Charlie Mason hair-do.

Me: "Where are the best bars in town?"

Charlie Manson: "The Last Drop is having a party tonight."

Charlis is missing two bottom teeth, probably an old curling injury.

Charlie continues: "Tomorrow night is the big Rod and Gun club party at the community center."


At the mountain, Erik wants to ski the North Bowl. The North Bowl is very high. There are yellow ropes along the top with signs that say, "Danger Cliffs."

I don't want to ski the North Bowl, I think to myself.

Between some of the ropes there are openings. Erik skis into an opening with a sign for a trail called "Meet the Neighbors."

I don't want to meet the neighbors.

He skis to the top of the trail and looks down. "That's too psycho."

Can we leave now?

He skis over to another opening and looks around. "OK," he says. He sideslips down a few feet, skis around some rocks and enters a large open bowl filled with deep snow.

I sideslip down.

"Go down a little further and point your skis around the rocks," Erik says.

I have a Vietnam-style flashback to last March skiing at Sunday River in Maine. I took a little fall on the ice and broke my foot, ribs, and wrist in two places.

I'd rather be bungy jumping.

I look across the trail. The narrow entry is dotted with exposed rocks that look like a human spine.

Another dead skier.

"Point your skis a little higher," Erik yells.

My skis don't want to move. My legs don't want to move.

I don't want to meet the neighbors.

At the bottom of the trail, we enter some trails in the woods.

Tree wells.

Erik scouts the trail and waves me on. Erik scouts some more. And waves me on. I see Erik perched on top of mogul.

Ski, Erik, ski.

Erik is not skiing. Erik is trying to figure out what to do next. Erik is stuck. I don't like it when Erik is stuck.

"There's this thing sticking in the middle of the trail," he says.

Probably a frozen human arm.

"I'm going to try this way," he says

I hear a loud cracking noise that is either bindings releasing or sniper fire. Then I hear Erik say: "Ah, f%$&, sh$#."

I'd rather be Canyon Swinging


At Happy Hour, we sit at a long table of empty seats.

Monique from Australia approaches our table.

"How about two Molsen drafts?" I say.

"Want to make that a pitcher?" she asks.

A crowd of people join our table. The crowd is mainly in their forties and fifties with one elderly woman, who sits next to me. Erik and I shared a gondola ride with one of the forty-something women. She's a local, recognizes us, and we start talking.

Me: "Is there any easy way to get to Revelstoke from the States. We took the Greyhound from Calgary. What a horror show."

Forty-something woman: "Oh, no, you took the Hound?" she says. The table errupts with laughter.

Me: "I have another question: Some guy on the ski bus who looked like Charlie Manson told us about a Rod and Gun Club party. Have you been?"

One guy from the group: "Oh, the freezer burn special? They serve all the animals they shot during the year. Don't break any teeth on the buckshot. You have to go at least once for the local color."

Me: "I notice you have an interesting graffit problem: On all the signs that say 'Revelstoke," the 's' has been erased to say 'Revel toke."

Guy: "B.C. has pretty loose laws for marijuana. But be careful: the stuff is really strong."

Eighty-year-lady sitting next to me: "Yeah, be careful, it's really strong."

Day 1: Revelstoke, B.C.: Scoring Weed, Dead Skiers

I) Hotel Review: The Maple Leaf

- mid-priced hotel, $170 or so per night with lift ticket and free Internet.

1) Location:

- 100 yards from Trans-Canada highway. Like mom used to say: When crossing the street, always looking both ways for 18-wheelers.

- a 40-minute walk from small, downtown Revelstoke area with bars and restaurants.

- 15-minute shuttle bus-ride from the mountain. Bus is free and runs regularly and on time.

2) The Room:

- I am going to be here for 11 days and ask the desk clerk for something nice and quiet. He gives me a key.

- The room has a queen bed and smells like Frenches yellow mustard.

- Clerk gives me a second room. It has two queen beds and an efficiency kitchen. Smells like French bread and old ski underwear. I'll live.

3) Overall Impression: Satisfactory

- Points deducted for

a) Broken toilet seat: it is missing a bolt and slides around when you sit on it. It is also child-sized (I won't go into details: let's just say the seat is unusually small and neither my ass nor my equipment is unusually large.)

b) The hotel restaurant: Arby's

Erik and I go in for a meal. The place is devoid of patrons and staff. A lone hostess stands behind a cash register. A super-sized couple stands in front of us discussing a take-out order with hostess. The discussion is taking a long time. Maybe they are ordering lots of food. Judging by their girth, the couple must be regulars. Erik and I leave and eat at the Burger King across the highway.

II) Revelstoke Mountain Overview.

- Revelstoke wants to be the Jackson Hole of Canada: a mountain known for challenging terrain and nice facilities. The kind of place that attracts expert skiers and wannabees like me that want to be able say, "Yeah, I skied Revelstoke's North Bowl."

- The mountain claims to get 40 to 60 feet of snow per season. (resorts in New England may get 25 feet in a good season.)

- The mountain has the highest vertical (5,620 feet) of any resort in North America -- more than Whistler, more than Jackson Hole. Vertical measures the ski-able height of the mountain. Many Colorado mountains are 11,000 feet high, but the resort is located at 8,000 feet (11,000 feet minus 8,000 equals 3,000 feet of vertical.) The more vertical, the longer the challenging runs.

Things to fear on Revelstoke Mountain

- The North Bowl: Located on the backside of the mountain, this bowl is home to Revelstoke's scariest terrain. To enter the North Bowl, you have to ski down chutes located between rocky outcroppings, sometimes called cliffs. Here is a video of a relatively tame chute. Here is a not-so tame drop in that is about 20 feet high. I will not be dropping in like this.

- Tree Wells: The area around the base of trees can form a well, as much as 10 feet deep. The well is often camouflaged by light snow. Fall into a tree well head first and you experience a deep snow accident, which can lead to suffocation in minutes.

- Dead bodies: Ski resorts often have signs on trails that warn about unmarked obstacles. Normal obstacles include: rocks, roots, and stumps. At Revelstoke there appears to be another kind of obstacle.

Day One:

Alarm goes off at 8:30. I had unpleasant dreams about North Bowls, tree wells, cliffs, and dead bodies. I don't want to go skiing today. But we ski and live and go to happy hour.

At the table next to us sits a snowboarder dude. Waitress approaches him.

"What can I get you?" she asks.

He looks at her name tag. "How about a Tanqueray and tonic, Miss Erin from Australia?"

"Want to make that a double?" she asks.

She brings his drink.

"How's life down under?" he asks.

She runs her hands through her hair.
He runs his hands through his hair.

She flirts. He flirts. She tugs on her tight shirt to cover her cleavage.

Flirt, flirt, flirt, flirt.

There is a pause in the action.

He leans in.

She leans in.

He asks for the order: "Erin, do you know where I can score some weed?"

Erin approaches us.

We order draft beers.

"Would you like to make that a pitcher?" she asks.

"Dear Greyhound" continued

(this is page two of letter to Greyhound Canada, regarding service on bus trip GLC 5407 from Calgary to Revelstoke, B.C.)

After being interrogated and searched, I reached the front of the boarding line. A man wearing an olive blazer took my ticket. His jacket was double-breasted, too large for him, and adorned with medals. I couldn't tell if the medals were from Greyhound, his tour in Nam, or someone else's tour in WWII.

Two hours into the ride, we stopped to let off some passengers. A large guy in a leather jacket and black ski hat stomped down the aisle. I'm guessing he was the Canadian equivalent of a gang-banger. He asked the bus driver who was standing outside, "Can I get off to get somethig to eat?"

Bus door closes abruptly.

Gang-banger: "He slammed the f&*%ing door in my face. What an assh*le."

Driver started bus. Gang-banger yelled something from the back. Bus driver stopped the bus and marched, medals a jingling, to the gang-banger's seat

Driver used his outdoor voice and made assorted rude, offensive, abrasive remarks to gang-banger and finally said: "Stop with the attitude or you're off the bus."

During the next hour, the driver used his PA system to make other remarks to and about the gang-banger. Gang-banger was quiet.

Eventually, the bus pulled into my stop, Revelstoke, B.C. Several people, Erik, and I got off the bus. Our bags were in the luggage compartment under the bus. No bus driver. We stood and looked at the luggage compartment. We looked around the bus stop. No bus driver. We had been trapped on a bus for six hours listening to ranting bus driver. We were not happy. I decided to open latch to luggage door.

"You break that door and I'll break you." It was the melifluous sound of the bus driver's voice. I grabbed my bag. I walked around the front of the bus. The bus driver was standing around smoking a pipe and chatting with some people who may or may not have been on the bus.

Me to bus driver: "You are rude."

Bus driver: "Keep it up and you'll never ride another Greyhound again."

My sentiments exactly.


Randy Ross
The site for world travelers

Footnotes to readers regarding Greyhound's overzealous security:
- In 2008, a Canadian passenger pulled out a knife and cut the head off another rider. Murderer was found to be insane. Another possible explanation: an abrasive bus driver drove him insane.
- Canadian Ettiquette tip: When boarding a local Greyhound, always ask the driver: "Where you be heading, hey?"
- Canadian insult: "You must be from Calgary."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ski Trip to B.C: Delta, Who said Canadians are nice?

Continuation from yesterday: 5:30 a.m. at the Delta International counter at Logan. I ask about my flight and ticket agent starts typing into her terminal. Calls over another agent in red jacket who starts typing.

Agent Red: "Your flight to Minneapolis has been delayed till 11:00."

Me: "What about our connection to Calgary? We have to catch a 6:30 bus from Calgary."

Agent Red: "You won't make connection."

Agent Red types, makes a couple of phone calls and rebooks my travel companion, Erik, and I on Air Canada flights to Toronto and on to Calgary.

We thank the nice lady in the Red Jacket.

We traipse with our 8-foot ski bags from one terminal to another. We check in at Air Canada and wait at the gate.

Ominous weather report on TV at Air Canada terminal: New England will be lashed by huge storm, hurricane winds, epic rain and snow.

I approach Air Canada agent at gate for flight to Toronto.

Me: "Is the flight to Toronto on time?"

Air Canada agent: "It's all set, boarding in one hour."

Me: "Shouldn't the plane be outside next to the gangway if we're leaving in an hour?"

Agent: "It's all set, boarding in one hour."

I go to the window facing the gangway. No plane.

There are no planes coming or going on the runway.

It has started to rain, the sky has turned gray.

My mood has turned gray. I return to my seat and start reading my book, "So Long, See You Tomorrow." The book is about a murder. I am in the mood for a good murder story.

Twenty minutes later, I look out the window. No plane.

Me: "Shouldn't the plane be outsie next to the gangway, if we're leaving in an hour?"

Agent: "It's all set, boarding in 30 minutes.

Boarding time, comes and goes. I can't afford to piss off gate agent -- if flight is delayed or cancelled. I will need her help.

Plane arrives, we board 30 minutes late. I look at the snotty gate agent. So Long, See You Tomorrow.

An hour and a half later, plane arrives on time in Toronto. We board four-hour flight to Calgary.

We take a shuttle bus from Calgary airport to Grey Hound terminal to wait five hours for six hour bus ride to our final destination, Revelstoke, B.C.

Dear Greyhound,

I have been taking your buses for more than 30 years. During that time, I have learned to set my expectations for customer service low and my expectations for normal behavior from fellow passengers even lower. Your bus operation in Calgary, has forced me to reset my expectations.

Here's what happened on Feb 24:

At the Calgary Greyhound terminal, I approached the check-in counter. Middle-aged agent was chatting with a co-worker. I waited. He chatted. I waited some more. He glanced at me and chatted some more. Eventually, he answered my question.

An hour later, I approached check-in counter. I posed question to over-weight female agent. She typed into terminal with her one good hand. hunt. peck. hunt. peck. hunt. peck.

The bus arrived. Passengers lined up in front of a small desk in front of the gate. A twenty-something guy in a uniform put on a pair of plastic surgical gloves. Behind him, a large woman in uniform twirled a large black device about the size of a night-stick.

He searched everyone's carry on bags. He made remarks, like:

"You can't take those cupcakes on board, unless you give me a bite, hey?"

He is a funny man.

He searched my bag. Bag all set. I had a pair of ski boots attached by a strap.

Funny man in uniform: "Can't let you take those boots on. You'll have to check them for under the bus."

Me: "Is there any chance you could let me slide? These boots are my babies and they cost $900."

Funny man: "With that strap, you could swing them around like a pair of numbchuks."

Me: "What if I promise not to swing my $900 ski boots like numbchuks?"

He says OK.

The big woman with night stick-device, runs it along my the front of my legs, over my crotch, around my ass.

Big woman: "Turn around."

She runs device over my ass, down back of my thighs. I appreciate her thoroughness; I haven't had this much action in months.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ski Trip to B.C.: Slippery Cab Driver, Delta Surprise

I am writing from a remote ski area in Revelstoke, British Columbia.

To get here I was supposed to fly to Minnesota, hop on flight to Calgary, and take six-hour Greyhound bus to Revelstoke. Travel time about 22 hours.

5:00 a.m.: alarm goes off.

5:30: Sleazy Travel Experience #1
my ski partner (not life partner, ski partner) get into local cab. (phone: 617 492-1100, don't ever use these guys)

Cab Driver: "With toll and charge station wagon, how does $40 to the airport, sound?"

Me: "What's wrong the meter?"

In the past, a ride to airport cost about $30.

Cab Driver: "I was just trying to make it simple."

Me: What's wrong with the meter?"

He turns on meter.

Cab Driver: "Which way do you want to go?"

He's trying to determine if I know the way. If I don't he'll probably take the scenic route through Vermont.

Me: "Go down Concord ave. and take a right."

Me: "No, not that right, that's one-way street."

And this year's Academy award for best actor pretending to be an innocent cab driver goes to --

Cab Driver: "You guys from around here?"

Me: "I've lived here for 20 years and used to take cabs from your company, until a driver tried to rip me off."

Cab Driver: "I'm from Revere."

That explains a lot.

We arrive at airport. Cab meter says "$20."

Cab driver becomes Mr. Helpful and takes our ski bags and other luggage from the car, places it gingerly on the curb. He and I don't look at each other. Erik pays him $20 for the ride, plus $10 for tolls and fee for using a station wagon. He adds $5 for tip.

5:40 a.m. Approach Delta check-in lady.

"You'll have to go the international counter. It's down there." She points to counter 50 yards away.

We lug 8-foot ski bags, boots, and carry ons to international counter.

Me: "We're supposed to catch the 8:00 flight to Minnesota and on to Calgary."

She takes our passports and starts typing into terminal. She types and types. She calls over a woman in a red blazer. Woman in red blazer starts typing on another terminal.

Type, type, type.