I took the last week of February off in order to go skiing in Banff with my father. Since training starts at the end of March, and there are seldom new hires in the last three months of school, this seemed like the ideal time to go. Of course, with the bloodbath in our branch this year, it turned out that I was sorely needed and sadly absent, but I did get to go to Banff and see the Rockies for the first time.
The only mountains I’d ever seen aside from those of Japan were the Appalachians in Quebec and Vermont. Japanese mountains are low, rolling, verdant affairs, soft and supple forms that make you understand why ancient cultures believed in an embracing mother-Earth goddess. The Rockies, however, are simply that: rank upon rank of sepia fangs, the massive armoured spines of some great beast lurking beneath a vast sea of dark coniferous green. These are not quiescent and tranquil organic formations, but thick stone blades exploding from some violent place roiling beneath the surface of the Earth. I had seen nothing like them before.
Among these was Mt. Rundle, with an edge like a sharpened flamberge blade, and the more quiescent Castle Mountain, which rests above a sloping wooded valley like the Temple of Athena atop the Acropolis, half a dozen thrones for the giant Lords of the Earth.
After a day or two, you get kind of inured to constant overwhelming beauty.
There was little snow for the first few days, but it was surprisingly warm, and I’d never been to any ski resort that compared to the size and scope of Lake Louise and Sunshine Village. Looking at the vast array of mogul runs and jump-filled side-tracks, I quickly understood why most people tended to exceed me in those areas.
My skiblades acquitted themselves well, though they felt a touch unsteady on the hard snow. But they generated more lift conversations than my boxer-short hat ever did.
If Japan is the snooze button on life for university graduates, Banff is the 3-a.m. pizza run. Banff is a small tourist town in a national park, and they have a bong shop. Most of the restaurant staff were local or UK high school graduates, Australians or Europeans taking a mid-degree break, or students granting themselves a pause before going on to their Master’s. The staff rotate out every few months, and professionals are few and far between.
While I was silently amused by the barmaid who didn’t know which bottles on the wall contained whiskeys, my favourite characters were a pair of British waiters who evidently had no idea that the tables they waited on were numbered. At any given moment they could be seen hovering from table to table laden with food, asking with that confidence-eroding intonation unique to the witless Brit, “’Ju ohh-da this?” We eventually had to wave our food down from a neighbouring table. Then as we were getting up to leave, they tried to bring us a salad.
All the waitresses smiled effusively, however. I suspect they’ve learned that the key to getting better tips is to make the lame old farts feel like they’re something special to a pretty young thing. It worked.
In Japan, when returning from a trip it’s customary to bring “omiyage” for people in your office to make up for the workload they had to cover while you were away. I have hitherto ignored this requirement, but given that this year I actually did miss a few key events, I splurged and dropped $50 on presents that I later discovered I could have just bought at the airport. But if I can get New Number Two’s kids addicted to maple butter, it’ll all be worth it.