How to spend an awesome winter weekend in Cypress Hills Park
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Sun sparkles on snow at the top of the quad chair at Hidden Valley Ski Resort. At 1,400 metres (4,593 feet) elevation, we can see clear across the park. It’s hard to fathom a ski hill in southeast Alberta, but it’s here, and it’s great. Bernard Blackburn chuckles at my astonished expression and whoops, “We’re skiing in the Prairies!” before taking off down McGee for a warm-up run with his daughter, Gabrielle (Gabby), 10.
The Blackburns are season’s passholders who have skied here since Gabby was 5. They live on an acreage nearby and ski as often as possible. “We came every day over the holidays and now we're skiing for free,” Blackburn says. “I love it!” (Family season’s passes pay for themselves in only five or six visits.)
I ask Gabby what her favourite run is and she says, “All of them.” There are nine altogether –including a freestyle run and two black runs – and the longest is two kilometres. Hidden Valley Ski Resort also has a terrain park, mini park and magic carpet learning area.
“The moon will rise at 8 p.m,” Jeff says, checking an app, “so we will have dark skies until then.” We’re standing near the west end of Elkwater Lake and its pitch black save for the stars. Coyotes howl to remind us we’re where the wild things are.
Jeff explains why the Milky Way looks the way it does, shows us how to locate major constellations in relation to each other, and teaches me how to find the North Star, Polaris. He has done this countless times, but is passionate about sharing his knowledge.
“I want people to have a basic understanding of what we call a moon/satellite, planet, star, galaxy… To understand what's happening in our sky here in our northern hemisphere, and understand how lucky we are.”
Our planet is amazing, and you appreciate it more in a place like Cypress Hills, where stars burn brighter and nature is all around.