Our Traveling Australian Skier Recalls Characters, Odd Places, And Skiing In The US/Canadian West.

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Beautiful downtown Curlew, WA, a ghost town stop on the way to BC.

Have you been to Curlew, WA? We try several routes in an attempt to exit the USA, having already skied at Schweitzer Ski Resort. When I say skied, I use the term advisedly. Due to lack of snow, most of the ski hill is closed. But now we are still in the wild vacant Northwest back woods.. The landscape is quite depleted of signs. You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult to get back into Canada. I mean, the border, is 5,000 miles long.

The Curlew Saloon on Main Street

While pursuing a route, we chance upon the town of Curlew. I say town, it was once a town now a ghost town more than any ghost could conceive. I walked casually, quietly, through the door of the Curlew Saloon. I notice the licensee, silver hair, beau-fount style, piled high on her head, like Dolly Parton but raggedy eyed. A patron, her worn body reflecting all of her ninety years affected by smoke and booze. She eyed me, a stranger, with a leery eye. A stranger is noticed here.

Curlew Saloon is a taxidermist’s showcase. Credit: Dave Chambers

Ahead of me, launching out of the ceiling, a Cougar, within its snarly jaws, sharp and yellowed teeth. Further in a delicate patterned rattlesnake skin now devoid of its body is flattened against the weathered timber wall. The scene is old, faded and dreary. Several skulls and horns decorate. No one really engages with a stranger here. Two of three other occupants whisper in the quiet space. One a city slicker wants to move to a quieter town. Maybe he could move to this old gold mining town, its heyday long now a memory. I say g’day to the cowboy in the big hat. With an efficiency of movement, a vacant stare, he leans forward and barely nods a response.

The short wide Main Street looks like a western set in an old Hollywood back lot. The rear of which is littered with the ruins and detritus of the last century. Old cars, a fire truck still equipped with ladders on the side sits on flat tires adding more junk to the back streets. Part of the scene is the General Store in Curlew near the hotel on the main street. It fits in to this worn landscape, dilapidated and tired. The owner here also of advanced age sells items almost equal to her age. Brand new cassettes all covered in dust lie waiting for purchase. Century old posters decorate the splintered paintwork. It’s now a forgotten town Curlew, with history slowly seeping out of the old grey wooden buildings, like sand through an hourglass.

We leave Curlew, head north, and exit America. Apex, Penticton, BC is a ski town inside the Canadian border in the Okanagan region.  On this occasion, we find the border guards are Canadian. Almost like magic, the landscape changes to fields and hills laden with snow.

Apex resort, a hidden gem in British Columbia

Our disposition is much improved with a few new snowflakes drifting in the occasional sunshine. Here at Apex where the vertical is surprisingly anything but the average height for a Canadian Resort, we learned, that Apex is still two hundred feet higher than Whistler.

We are greeted in the morning by wafting light snow drifting down between the large fir trees. Lovely. Our mountain host, Dale, likes Aussies, he says. Doesn’t everybody. Took us on a tour and regaled us with stories of his son and daughter and a guy named Fred Smith, an Aussie, rich, says Dale, but lives in an old camper van near the resort for the season.

Somewhat of a legend is Fred. He took his chainsaw to the firs in a steep gully here at Apex and cut his own tree glade. The management of the mountain, when they found out, were not pleased but eventually consented and included it within the ski boundary. Over our only two days at Apex we have three mountain hosts. Russill with an I, Dale with an A and Fred with an E. Dale is a character and is referred to by the local skiers as the Apex CEO.

Cruising all day down blacks that are really blue runs, we had a great time with Dale. The next day we had Fred with an E and in the afternoon Russill with an I.

Don’t tell anybody but Apex is a secret waiting to explode. Russill with an I, seemed quite excited when Ray and I suggested a shoot down the back runs over at Wildside. Double Blacks and Impossible Blacks abound. There almost seems no way down. Russill with an I said he couldn’t ski down there. He is an excellent skier in my estimation. And now Whistler beckons but the snow reports are quite ordinary. We are not surprised at this a strange season indeed. But off we go.

Apex Resort is several hundred feet higher than Whistler.


One Comment

  1. Thank you for your observations.

    I happen to a us national long term resident on the East Coast of Australia; mainly in Melbourne. Over the last year living on the Mornington Pensisula.

    Maybe we might ski together either in North America, Europe , NZ or here at Oz post 2021 provided COVID vaccination works.

    Can’t get excited about eating lunch outside at high altitudes.


    0419 550 890

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