All Great Things Come to An End, But Memories Last Forever

Tadoussac, Québec

Saturday August 26th, 2017

I’ve been sleeping for the last three days.  Not straight – there have been long enough spurts of “awake” time to eat, move from my bed to the couch, and squeeze in the odd round of sub-par (as in mediocre, not under par) golf.  I washed all my clothes the other morning and aired out all my gear. Big day. I couldn’t leave any of it out of eye sight though, as if some of it was going to go missing out of our backyard. I wandered around aimlessly, literally watching my clothes dry on the line. It’s funny how one can go for months on end travelling from place to place, riding the waves of excitement and adrenaline, and then when that last wave crashes, you feel lost and can hardly move.  Lost is a good way to sum up how I’ve felt these last few days.

I got back to Canada on Tuesday morning, August 22nd,  after a long, overnight flight from Santiago to Toronto.  My buddy Neal graciously accompanied (consoled?) me all the way back to YYZ, where we parted ways. I continued east to Montreal and he flew west to Vancouver, and I’ll join him and others there in a few more days.

It’s taken a little while to really realize that this #skiaroundtheworld trip is finished and, to be honest, it probably still hasn’t fully sunken in.  On the cab ride to the Santiago airport on Monday afternoon, there were a few tears, but it mostly just felt like I was packing up and heading off for that next flight to that next far off destination.  And even after an emotional welcome with my mom, who picked me up in Montreal on Tuesday morning, I was still in travel mode, simply moving from an airport into a car, just another leg of a long journey.

For me, that last wave crashed on Tuesday afternoon when I pulled off the ferry in Tadoussac, still my favorite place in the whole world, parked the car in front of Maison Spruce Cliff (our family’s summer home), and saw the last nearly seven months of my life flash before my eyes:  I did it.

Tadoussac has a special way of helping one relax, unwind, and reflect.  It was the perfect place to come to help ease the pain of my re-entry into reality, pretty much completely unplug, and look back on all of amazing experiences and memories from the last few months.  The freshest of those memories were of course the last days of the trip spent in Portillo.

If I had to draw up a grande finale to a trip like this one, I couldn’t have imagined a better one than our week in Portillo. After the awesome week of skiing in Bariloche, I travelled back to Santiago where I met three of my great friends – Neal, Mike, and Will.  Mike and Neal have been around since the early days at McGill (study buddies, roommates, hockey teammates, reffing partners, barmates, you name it), but it took Will and I a few “international” hockey tournaments (the ones with too much beer and not enough hockey), not to mention me crashing his wedding five years ago, to really solidify our friendship. A perfect crew to spend a perfect week.

The transfer from Santiago to the iconic Ski Portillo resort on Saturday August 12th was relatively smooth, except that Will thought it would be best if he showed up fashionably late and so took his own shuttle. It was a scenic two and half hour or so drive from the airport up into the Andes.  From the front seat, Mike kindly provided some co-piloting directions to the driver, while Neal and I sat in the back and enjoyed blind passing on hairpin corners.

One of the great things about Portillo is that there are no crowds.  There are 500 or so beds at the resort and, thanks to a lower than normal snowpack, no day tickets were being sold. That meant we could ski to our hearts content, all week long, without ever having to wait in line.  Despite the advertised low snowpack, the skiing was really great.  We explored the high traverse and put in fresh lines off the interesting Roca Jack platter lift; rocked laps on the red-carpet entry to Garganta above the classic yellow hotel; and on try number two, we were fortunate to ski the incredible Super C couloir – a 5,500 foot beauty of continuous fall line.  With a little bit of work, we were still making fresh tracks after five days of no snow – thanks largely to that no crowds thing.  Mike and Will even got their first ever heli-ski run.

There was plenty to keep us busy off the slopes as well, with the whole place having a bit of a “cruise ship” feel to it.  We were treated to delicious three course meals at dinner and lunch, tea time, mandatory hot tub soaks after a day on the slopes, and a variety of other activities that the resort prepared as part of “Friend’s Week”.  Despite sitting in the corner by ourselves at the bar for most of the week, we still met lots of new friends over a few pisco sours, and chatted with ex-national team ski racers, current pros, and big mountain legends.  It really was the perfect way to spend one very last week of skiing, and on our very last night, the Andes delivered one more gift to send us off.

I am borderline superstitious when it comes to mountain things, believing that anything less than complete humility in the mountains is enough to cause something to go wrong, and that the Snow Gods always deliver the goods when it matters most.  I’m not trying to convince anyone of one thing or another, but it was pretty special when we woke up on our last morning in Portillo, my 73rd day of skiing around the world, and looked out the window:  nearly a foot of fresh Andean powder, and bluebird skies by the time breakfast was over.  We made fresh tracks in boot deep powder until our legs couldn’t handle it, and then on our very last run we pointed it all the way down to the shores of Laguna del Inca, under picture perfect sunshine and blue sky.  Pure magic, as the saying in Portillo goes.

I’m not sure if it was the gift from the Snow Gods to wrap up the week, or the last needless purchase at 2:59AM the night before (we got an itemized printout of the “extras” on our room bill, with purchase times, so guess what that was), but the four of us took no time to fall fast asleep on the shuttle ride back to Santiago. We scheduled ourselves a couple days to explore some of the sights of the Chilean capital before our respective journeys home last Monday night.

And the rest, as they say, is history. And memories. Lots and lots of incredible memories.  My dad likes to say that there are three parts to any great trip:  the planning part, before you even leave; living the actual trip itself; and the memories that you take away from it all when you get home.  Each part sees its own wave of emotions: excitement, anticipation, and nervousness before you go; happiness, enjoyment, awe (I’ve called them “holy sh*t moments”) when you’re out there doing it; and sadness, pride, and disbelief when it’s all over. It’s kind of hard to pick the best part, because each is so unique and so different.  But, when all three are combined, it makes for a life experience that is pretty difficult to put into words.

When I started cooking up this trip, I had a vision of what it was going to look like.  I had drawn things up 100 different ways, and planned and planned and planned, but at the end of the day I just had to get out there, hang on, and enjoy the ride as much as I possibly could.  I’m happy, and proud, to say that the vision I had turned into everything I hoped it would, and then some.  The experiences, the encounters, the new friends, the feelings, and the memories will be cherished forever.

If you’re visiting this blog page for the fifth time, or for the twentieth: thanks.  I hope you enjoyed reading and being part of the ride, albeit virtually. Thanks for your comments and notes, and support along the way.  If you’ve stumbled across this blog page because you are planning some far flung ski trip (like I was about a year ago, and there were blog pages that helped me out), all I can say is: do it. I hope you make it happen –  maybe I can even help point you in the right direction (it’s usually downhill).  And if you’re just clicking around online, looking to turn pipe dreams into reality: I hope this inspires you. I hope you decide to get out there and accomplish something you weren’t sure was even possible – it will be one of the best decisions you ever make.

Thanks for following along, I have to go back to work now. 🙂

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And they’re off…

Thanks for checking out my blog page for this #skiaroundtheworld adventure.  This whole blogging thing is new to me, so bear with me.  Hopefully it doesn’t put you to sleep. As Kim politely asked/pointed out to me the other day: “Can you even write creatively after writing nothing but technical reports for the last several years??”.  Good question.  We are about to find out.

Although the date on my plane ticket says this trip started on January 29th, the reality is this trip started more than 20 years ago, when my parents decided to move to a little town in Northern Ontario, called Mattawa.  Until that time, downhill skiing to me was only a sport that you watched on TV.  When we moved to Mattawa my parents, who both skied growing up, quickly got Matt, Jennifer and I out on to the local hill, Mount Antoine.  My dad likes to guilt us nowadays that had he known the three of us would have all moved out west, in part because of the mountains, never would have taught us to ski.  I don’t really believe him.

I still remember that first chairlift ride at Antoine, thinking I was getting in to “big” terrain.  Since then, skiing has become a part of me and has led to some great adventures and memories, from our family ski trips growing up to Mont Tremblant, Mont Ste-Anne, and Le Massif, to reading weeks with Uncle Arist in the BC Interior and Alberta Rockies, to thousands of kilometres driving across the US to Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and, more recently, to far flung ski destinations like Japan and Gulmarg, India. You can ski in India?!

At some point along the way, probably after gallivanting around Europe for three months at the age of 18, it became a goal of mine to go on a “round the world” the trip. When I first started thinking about it, I had no idea where, or when, but only that I wanted to be able to say that I’d travelled around the world. Like in a circle.  The actual destinations and itinerary would figure themselves out in time.  After Matt and I got back from India, one of our ski objectives became to ski on every continent (at that point we were only at 2). And then all of a sudden, the travel bug and ski obsession merged into one and created the basis for this adventure that I’m now kicking off.  Seven months. A round the world plane ticket. With skis in tow.  For the record, the massive ski bag that I’m dragging around is already starting to annoy me.  And it’s only day 3.

So for now, here is what the overall itinerary looks like.  I hope you’ll continue to read along, send me messages, and enjoy the ride as much as I plan to.

February –  High Atlas Mountains, Morocco. Africa:  Yes, you can ski in Africa.  It even looks fun!  On February 3 we will touch town in Marrakech and then set out on a two-week traverse of the High Atlas Mountains, starting with Morocco’s “finest” ski resort, Oukaimeden.  From there we’ll head south on skis to three separate valleys, each of which are equipped with mountain huts, warm food, and plenty of skiable lines.  Once the skiing is finished we’ll take in some of Morocco’s sites, including the dizzying markets of Marrakech, the Sahara desert, and surfing on the Atlantic coast.

March and April – The Alps, France, Switzerland, Italy. Europe.  We’re in Chamonix, France now, and this will be our base for seven weeks once we get back from Morocco.  Today we picked up our season passes so we are all set to explore the many, many, many couloirs, steeps, and views that the area has to offer.

May – Nepal. Asia:  There won’t be any skiing for this segment of the trip,  and besides -I’ve already skied in Asia twice, including the Himalayas 😉 BUT, we will get to tick off one of my major bucket list items, which is a trek to Everest Base Camp.  And I haven’t even mentioned the best part – I get to do the whole thing with my girlfriend Kim.

June – Indonesia.  Asia:  After knocking ourselves out in the high Himalayas for a month, we’ll need some serious R&R, so after a short stopover in Bangkok, Kim and I will be heading to check out some of the Indonesian islands, for surfing, snorkeling and dragons.

July – The Southern Alps, New Zealand:  Kim heads home at the end of June and for my first Southern Hemisphere continent I’ll be spending a month skiing in New Zealand. Ya ya, some of you might say that New Zealand isn’t part of the “Australian” continent, but I’m counting it anyway.  A) the skiing in Australia proper isn’t worth stopping for (no offence to anyone :)) and B) there isn’t enough time to do both countries.  So I’ll be heading straight to land of Middle Earth with the plan to drive from coast to coast to coast to ski and see all of the incredible sights New Zealand has to offer.

August – The Andes, Chile and Argentina, South America:  The last stop on the trip.  Three and half weeks to explore Patagonia down the west side of the Andes through Chile and back the eastern side through Argentina.  Wrap up the whole trip with a week long ski vacation at the iconic Portillo, just north of Santiago.