Date: 3 January 2017. 2017!
Location: Platinum Plaza lounge, Vancouver Airport.
Jasper, Alberta, Canada, is just how I remember it from 2010 — before I was a lawyer, before I had developed a taste for actual champagne (thankfully, for it was well before I could afford it), before my parents broke up and married other people, before I lived in Lonfon, before my mum lived in Jasper.
It's in the middle of a Canadian national park, hours from anywhere, and it looks exactly like you would expect it to. It is cradled by jagged snow-capped mountains. The trans-Canadian railway borders one side of town. There is a local band of elk, no decent coffee, a lot of places offering maple bacon and BC salmon. The town holds 5,000, all of whom seem to know one another. There's a lot of polar-fleece. It's bloody cold.
So much happens during our time in Jasper that I won't take you through it for as it would exhaust us both. It's Christmas. I've just acquired a handful of new family members — whom, wonderfully, I like a lot. We spend Christmas doing a secret Santa, eating everything, I run a 'How Well Do You Know Your New Family' quiz to much laughter.
My 3 cousins from the other side of the family turn up (the Bager, the Cub and their little sister, Bunny). There's snow. We ski. We drink. Like, a lot. It only slightly impedes our skiing.
On one particularly messy night the 'kids' (the nine 34 and unders) go from lifeless pub The Dead Dog to some underground nightclub reccomended by the locals and it turns into quite the bender. We play the dreaded Buffalo. Our new cousin (nickname still pending) warns us about the jackalopes: the fearsome critters that are half rabbit and half antelope and one hundred percent hungry for men who have been drinking whiskey, whom they lure into the forest by mimicking the human voice. Bunky, having seen a sign warning about caribou, asks earnestly whether caribou eat people.
I was one of the first to call it a night around 2am and — somehow — wander home in the snow alone, dodging elk. The next morning, feeling incredibly sorry for myself but damn well determined to ski, I reluctantly kit up and trudge out to the ski bus stop for the midday bus, the last bus up of the day. It's sunny and a crispy negative eight degrees Celsius. I pass some time sending stupid festive Snapchats and then stare in disbelief as my brother, also all kitted up, wanders out of the hotel into the dazzling sun to catch the bus up to the mountain too. “Yo,” he says, pushing hair out of his eyes and looking blearily desolate. We sit and have quiet time. Disbelief is no longer a strong enough word for my state when I see my little sister, blinking into the sunlight and rubbing at her panda eyes, emerge — also in her ski gear. “Hi,” she mutters softly and sits down between us. The three of us endure the bus ride up the mountain in the companionable, hungover silence. I think it's the only time we spend with just the three of us and is sweet for that (otherwise it mega sucked). Up at Marmot Basin, the resort, a round of Caesers somewhat restore us, I go on a brief and bleary-eyed shopping binge in the gear shop (goggles, sweater, bandana, beanie — sure I'll take it) and and we get everyone out onto the mountain, catching up with those more diligent souls who have been here since first tracks. I get to ski with my brother which is something I never thought I would ever do. Anyway, hashtag wholesome, hashtag Canadian heritage, hashtag siblings.
We have all made up it up for a reason other than just the delights of riding Tranquilliser and Paradise. My mum and Teddy are holding a very special cocktail party from sunset. On top of the mountain. Unfortunately all of us kids are all in very poor form indeed and, despite temporarily perking up a little after another round of Ceasers, we can't even muster much enthusiasm for fireball hot chocolates. But then the party ends and we get to the best bit: the ski down. All of the guests (save those not inclined) slip back into ski gear, shove feet into ski boots and don headlamps. There's a soft snow falling out there in the dark and palpable excitement as we open the door into it. Then, in the cool silence of night in a remote national park, we ski down in the dark. The groomers have been and we get the freshest, crispest corduroy of my life. It's impossible not to grin, laugh even, at the magic of it. Enchanted but exhausted, we return to silence for the bus ride home.
In the morning it's time to hug mum and Teddy and cousin (nickname pending) goodbye and pile into cars and go to the lake house at Sicamous for a few days.
There we meet up with yet more family (my dad's side this time, keep up) and Nakiska. Nakiska is my cousins' cousin. When I was growing up irrationally despised her and her little sister. They were the 'other' cousins of Badger, the Cub and Bunny, rivals for my cousins' attentions. Often we would leave the lake house in July knowing that they'd be coming down from Calgary just the nex day. Oh how jealous I was! Then we finally met, at about age 26. Turns out, she's awesome. We're just months apart in age (our troublesome mutual cousin, the Cub, sandwiched in between in mid 1985) and of a similar disposition. Also, she has the most hilarious laugh ever and is about to get a puppy. Her brilliant restless excitement about this is delightful. New photos of the litter make her jittery with thrill all day.
After a few days of rest and recovery and Fluxx it's on to Silverstar.
In Silverstar we meet up with Flipper! He's there with his entire family and newly acquired Swedish girlfriend. Silverstar, the Canadian ski resort near Vernon, BC, is quite literally my happy place, the image I conjur up to restore calm to my raging mind on late work nights, the backdrop to too many of my favourite memories. With my family and Flipper and his around, beautiful snow turning trees into ghosts along the edge of familiar runs, the little gingerbread village alight with fairy lights, I'm ecstatic with love for it. I'm like Nakiska with a puppy. There are seven of us crammed into a tiny flat made for four (Bunky and Powerjam are across the resort in a much more civilised accomodation) that we quickly fill with our gear, beers and bottles of Fireball and noise — and I don't even mind.
We have the New Year's Eve I want to have every year from now on. There's a silly game of Kings in our hovel of a flat (which escalates quickly and soon there's a rule obliging my brother to pluck one of his own nose hairs every time he draws a face card), then fireworks on the snow, then jugs and jugs and jugs (why does the UK not do jugs?) of beer with our gang — me, brother, sister, cousins x 3, Nakiska, Bunky, Powerjam — and Flipper's — his parents, his sister and and her very Aussie boyfriend, the lovely new Swede– and then dancing to a live rock n roll band.
And now, now we go home. I'm siting here in the lounge looking at my little sister and thinking that it's been a truly wonderful two weeks.
You know I love my space: I like to travel solo; I like to live alone. However, I just know that when I walk into my little flat in Islington tomorrow morning my heart will crumble at the edges a little with loss. I miss you all already.