Welcome to Lake Louise: What I Learned From Snowboarding in the Canadian Rockies
A first attempt at snowboarding at Lake Louise proved to be both painful and educational for Quebec transplant Luc Vanderham. Here’s what he learned about himself—and his country.
What I Learned Snowboarding in Lake Louise
Alberta’s majestic Rocky Mountains are world-renowned for their hiking and skiing. Although I used to ski in Quebec when we lived there, after our family moved to Alberta in 2001, the definition of skiing took on an entirely new meaning.
On a brisk Saturday morning, after a two-and-a-half hour drive, we arrived at Sunshine Village Resort for the first time since coming to Alberta. Stepping out of our van, I practically needed an oxygen tank to replace the air being knocked out of me as I glimpsed the magnificence of the mountains towering above me.
My oldest brother Justin nudged me out of my stupor, asking, “Are you finally going to try snowboarding?”
“Not a chance,” I replied.
Throughout the day, as I “shredded powder,” I began to regret my response. I became envious of how much more cool and fun snowboarding seemed. However, fear of breaking a bone, making a fool of myself, or the time it might take to learn the sport, held me back at the time.
Eventually, skiing lost its appeal and, a year later, I felt compelled to face my fear of snowboarding. I had tried it once back in Quebec, albeit with multiple face plants, but I was encouraged to take another crack at it. So, on a trip to Lake Louise the following winter, I stared down my fear of failure and rented a board.
As soon as I strapped my right foot into the binding, confidence began to build in me. I stood up and started sliding forward, but lost my poise and my balance, and stumbled into a pile of wet snow. I picked up both my board and myself and walked over to the bunny hill while witnesses struggled to suppress their laughter as I passed by. I gathered what little confidence I had left and found a way to conquer the bunny slope.
Soon after, I was ready to join the pros. Waddling to the front of the chairlift line, I was paired with three strangers and endured an awkward silence riding up as the chair swayed back and forth in the frigid wind. Approaching the top, the lift did not slow down, the toe edge of my board caught the snow, and like Humpty Dumpty, I rolled down the landing pad, nearly taking the other three passengers with me.
Near the end of the day, I pulled my face out of the snow with a “pop” after a particularly violent fall and the world spun about me for a moment until I regained my sense of gravity. Then, shaking the snow from my toque and goggles, I stopped and stared in awe at the poetic beauty in front of me: clouds floating past and mingling with the Rocky Mountain peaks; the pines that mysteriously grow straight in spite of the severe slant of the mountain; and the falling snow gracefully nesting on the tree branches.
In that moment of awe at the Lake Louise landscape, I had an epiphany. Despite enduring falls, others’ laughter, and the danger of plastering myself into a tree, I remained determined to get satisfaction from riding one of Canada’s greatest mountains. With a new outlook, I continued tumbling down the mountain.
Looking back, all the trouble of learning how to snowboard has taught me to not only appreciate the process of learning, but to also appreciate our stunning Canadian surroundings. Yes, I may have put myself at risk from jagged rocks protruding from the snow or collisions with fellow skiers, but somehow, I came out alive with a renewed admiration of my country and province. By having the opportunity to enjoy Lake Louise and the Canadian Rockies, I’ve learned to be more grateful for a place more people should try to experience.