Shaping up on the slopes
Perspiring, snow caked and slightly bewildered, I thought the altitude was playing tricks on me. Tracy Garneau, our guide and extreme marathon runner, had promised us a “quick and scenic” descent from a cliff top with a spine-tinglingly beautiful view of Jasper. But this was no normal skiing holiday.
I hadn’t skied for more than 25 years and here we were in the Canadian Rockies, as part of Travel Alberta’s inaugural ski boot camp, designed to get us fit for the winter ski season. We split into two groups; one did press ups and dips on a snow covered metal stand, while the others performed three sets of 50m stair climbs. It was not for the faint hearted but it was hardly a military test – no one stood over us barking “more reps” or “dig deeper”.
Once Tracy – who runs more than 35 miles a day – was satisfied with us, we made a “quick” run across the ruggedly handsome terrain. I battled to stay with her as she breezed along at the head of the group, telling us tales of seeing wolves and bumping into bears on this route – one of hundreds of established tracks on a 1,000km trail system. She could probably outrun anything.
Away from boot camp stints, there is time to enjoy the locations, tear up the slopes and savour the scenery which feeds the soul. Jasper seemed to sum up the entire trip for me – laid back (which defines most Canadians), peaceful and non-commercialised. The town is part of Jasper National Park and strikes a fine balance between conservation and development, ecology and economics.
In its untamed heart, it’s a gateway to adventure within the largest and most northerly Canada rocky mountain national park, part of a World Heritage Site. You’re as likely to share a silent moment with grazing elk as you are with people. Banff is a skiing destination of genuine note and my lasting memory is of sprinting 100m across a thickly blanketed sports field, pulling a 25kg weighted sled attached to my chest by a harness. Personal trainers from the Banff Athletic Conditioning Club were providing this particular test.
The word Ashtanga now instils me with respect and fear – though it was made infinitely harder by my stupid decision to wear a figure-hugging, heat-trapping sports top. As Mindy, our instructor, journeyed through a catalogue of hamstring pulling and core trembling poses, or “asanas”, my top had to come off before I melted or drowned in a pool of perspiration. It was one of the toughest hours I’ve had and fulfilled its design – increasing heart rate, improving lung capacity and focusing on meditative breathing.
We were accompanied on our week-long trip by celebrity personal trainer Niko Algieri. A kick-boxing black belt, he was an integral part of the experience. He uses a TRX system – a cord with handles for your hands or feet – enabling a full body work out using your own body weight as resistance. And one-on-one time really gives you a chance to learn how to reach your goals, both in and out of the white stuff.
Most boot camp sessions lasted an hour and we usually had two a day, in addition to the skiing and time with Niko. With such a lot of time off-piste, Travel Alberta’s boot camp is hard work, with big physical demands placed on anybody who tackles it. But I doubt there’s a better way to get fit while having so much fun.
John Fahey was a guest of Travel Alberta and Ski Solutions. Alberta Ski Boot camp in March from £2,350 (four sharing) including return Gatwick-Calgary flights, ten nights’ hotel accommodation, ski passes, transfers, choice of massages and fitness classes, admission to Banff Hot Springs and National Park entrance fees, transfers and luggage handling.
Platinum Package (from £3,100) includes all the above plus sessions with Celebrity Personal Trainer, Niko Algieri and his team (www.nikoalgieri.com; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcy9_9DoNNM), both before and during trip. They plan bespoke exercises for each individual and accompany them in Alberta. Price based on four people in the booking.
Ski Solutions reservations: 020 7471 7741 or visit www.skisolutions.com.
www.travelalberta.com and http://uk.canada.travel/.