Canada & Alaska
Ski patrol. No one likes getting stuck on a chairlift with ski patrol. It's like having to hold hands with the teacher on a school field trip.
You know you're probably going to get a lecture about where you should and shouldn't go, or hear about the guys who were snowboarding too fast, or the idiots who jumped the boundary rope yesterday. So as we merge into the chairlift line and notice we're sharing with ski patrol, my cousin and I aren't too hopeful of a fun ride.
He's only a young guy, our ski patroller, and he clicks the safety bar into place on cue, before gazing out across the alpine horizon. Then he swivels in his seat.
"You guys havin' a good time? You hittin' some trees?"
We both nod, a bit wary that we're in for a lecture about our lack of helmets.
"Yeah, we've just been hanging around here, doing a few of the tree runs."
"Cool," the ski patrol guy nods. "Man, you know what you should do? Up the top of this lift cut left, head along that ridge line, then duck under the fence up there and drop over the back.
"There's some killer double blacks there, man, some sick trees." My cousin and I both grin.
"Any drops?""Dude, some good cliffs. It's awesome."
And then it's time to get off, so he lifts the bar and skis away, the fluoro cross on the back of his jacket slowly disappearing down the mountain. My cousin and I look at each other. Double blacks? Trees? Cliffs? Canadian ski patrol is awesome.
In fact, most of the people who work at Canadian ski resorts are awesome. There's none of the officiousness you tend to find in other countries - these guys are here to have a good time, and make sure everyone else has a good time too. Today we're at Marmot Basin, just near Jasper. A few days ago we were down the road in Lake Louise, and before that at Sunshine.
At each resort we've met devil-may-care Canadians who won't slap you with a rule book - they just want you to have fun.
Sunshine, with a snowboard instructor. "Your style looks pretty solid, eh?" he says to my cousin and me. "Maybe I'll just show you some fun spots to hit today."
So begins a tour of the mountain's best lumps and bumps, with our instructor spinning and flipping his way around.
Eventually we pull up on a slope, staring down at a drift of snow that has created a gigantic natural jump that ends on a high plateau. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to be roped off anywhere else in the world, but here we have an instructor egging us on to try it.
"You dudes have got this," he grins. "Just watch what I do!"
And so we follow along faithfully behind, approaching the drift that suddenly looks like a block of flats, this towering mass of compacted snow, and glide up its face, finding we have just enough speed to pop gracefully over the top lip and slide onto the plateau.
"See," the instructor says, "easy!" This free-wheeling Canadian attitude, however, does have its flip side.
We're in Lake Louise and this time our instructor is Katelyn, who just happens to be one of the best instructors around.
She's showing her skills too, taking us down some black-diamond runs, leading us through moguls, those lumps of snow that separate the weak from the fit. Down the bottom of the first run, our thighs are burning.
"Man," my cousin announces, "I've got total girly legs."
Katelyn shoots him a warning gaze through her goggles.
"What do you mean by that? 'Girly legs'?"
Cuz starts back-pedalling. "Um, you know, when your legs are tired and they go all jelly-like, you say you've got girly legs?"
"No, I don't. Why 'girly'?"
"Um, it's just, I don't know. It's just what people say."
We're doomed from then on. Katelyn heads straight for the very top of the mountain and endeavours to lead us into every group of moguls that Lake Louise possesses.
For her it's just a walk in the park. For my cousin and me it's thigh-burning hell.
Towards the end of the day we're sitting on the chairlift and Katelyn smiles sweetly at us.
"How are the girly legs, boys?" They're sore, Katelyn, thank you. Back at Marmot, we decide to take the sage advice of our gnarly ski-patrol friend and duck under the fence, heading for the double blacks and the cliffs and the trees.
It's ridiculous back there - waist-deep powder, five-metre cliff drops, gladed pines that rush up from the slopes below.
Fortunately, neither of us crashes. It would be a bit embarrassing to have to call ski patrol.
- Sydney Morning Herald