Monday, April 23, 2007

Oil country and skiing powder in April

Oil Country - that's what the billboard says at the outskirts of Edmonton. A blue-and orange study in simplicity that pounds out a single, heavy note, reminding who has won five Cups and recently nearly added a sixth one. No fuzzy mascot. No fancy pictures of Alfredsson and the boys like in our Ottawa beige.

Oil Country - the $400,000 -500,000 price tag on a very modest bungalow in the Old Strathcona neighbourhood in Edmonton. My friends, a professional working couple, admit they will never own a house here, as they nervously study the menu at a local café where prices seem to go up every few months. In the meantime, the Calgary rush hour is two to three hours long. I come here twice a year and yet the cityscape is changing quicker than I can remember it. The hive-like condos and new office towers have successfully colonized the remaining reaches of the big sky view from downtown. Unlike Ottawa, there is no Peace Tower to act as a height ceiling to their development.

Oil Country - the four golf courses that ring Canmore, in beautiful Rockies. The local grizzly bears must be forming guerrilla warfare units by now. The Grizzly Paw brew pub features an awesome view of the Three Sisters from the main street but parking is hard to find parking among the SUVs here. House prices out of this world, with Brits and Americans happily driving them up even more.

Oil Country - the young, skater-like dudes and their girlfriends sending a tidal wave of cash through the bar at "Diamonds", an upscale strip club where a pole dancer is performing on roller skates, part Quentin Tarantino, part kitsch, part innocence slowly lost as these guys discover she is very nice to them for money. Shades of Alberta rodeo pervade the scene. An announcer heralds the up-and coming "amateur, all-female water fight", the signature event of the week. I regret not staying.

Skiing powder in April - we ascend to 8000 ft and play in the untracked powder, high up on the slopes of Commonwealth peak in Kananaskis. 10,000 ft mountains and grey ridges erupt out of the sparse alpine forest, out of the fields of white. Avalanche danger is low, the sun is high and the cliffs pierce the dynamic sky above our playground. I am very happy to be here with my sister and with friends who are experienced; this is a potentially dangerous spot, but not so much today. Our day seemingly stretches on forever. Haikus are the best poetic form to describe this stuff. Ski-touring here is world-renowned. This adventure reminds me what has been missing from my Ottawa winters and why I would rather be doing this than going to Hawaii, Mexico or the French Riviera.

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