Saturday, 20 March 2010

Big White Restaurant Reviews: A 2010 Update

Back in 2008, I blogged about the restaurants at Big White. Here's this year's update.

Pappa's Roasters is gone, thank goodness. The 4th restaurant in there in 10 years is Gigi's, and this deserves to stay. The food is very good; we went there for lunch twice and dinner once. They didn't do much with the decor that Pappa's had, and the tables and chairs still look a bit tacky, though the bar is quite elegant and nice. They have great and very creative grilled paninis for lunch, excellent salads, and very good soups. They have a 3 of 4 for $10 lunch special, with a half a panini special with two of soup, salad or fries. The panini yesterday was clubhouse with shrimp, and it was excellent, though the bacon was a bit underdone. They also feature a "share" menu in the evenings, which is to say "tapas" style plates to share (how do you share soup?). Tapas is very "in". Which leads me to...

The 6° Bistro, also new for 2010. This place is tiny, seating probably 24; reservations a few days in advance are essential. It's a pretty pretentious little place, with yet another overpriced exclusively Okanagan wine list. There are two dinner seatings, 6 PM and 8 PM. It calls itself a tapas place, but there's no Spanish influence, just a bunch of $10-$15 appetizer sized items on the menu, another half dozen on special, and a few "full entree sized" items. I can highly recommend the beef short ribs, which were to die for. The Risotto is good, and a nice size. We had the Tuna Carpaccio, which was a lot less successful, being nearly minced tuna, with no texture whatsoever. The Beet Salad is very good, with both red and yellow beets. The 2 seating thing makes you feel a little rushed when, at 7:45 PM, the doors are opened, and you are frozen out. The place is run by the guy who owns the Beano's coffee shop in the Village Centre.

Globe remains on my list of places to go, though it's even smaller than 6°, seating probably only 15 or so. It's an awkward place to get to for lunch, and so tiny as to prevent me from making it over for dinner. It, too, is a tapas place, and by the online menu, an actual one at that. One day.

The White Crystal hasn't changed; the food's still fine, the service spotty and the wine list still overpriced. Raakel's is even more seedy than ever, if that's possible, and the service hasn't improved. Sam's is still Sam's.

I've still never made it to Kettle Valley Steakhouse, nor Carver's, nor have I been to Coltino's in the last few years. Another new cafe is supposed to open in one of the myriad of the generic condo complexes being constructed.

Most places we went to this week were busy but not full. Emptiest was White Crystal, fullest was 6° (though they were full Tuesday and Wednesday, they had space Thursday, and the 8 PM seating is more popular than the 6 PM version). Gigi's lunch business is steady.

So welcome Gigi's, I'll return for sure. 6° remains a maybe.

Ski Day 26: Who took the grooming?

Vert: 10,900 m YTD Cum Vert: 260,559 m
Vert this week at Big White: 61,585 m
Runs: 24 YTD Cum Runs: 481
Runs this week at Big White: 142

Not a great way to end the week. More freeze thaw meant everything was like rock this morning in the -10° AM temps, including the Sun Bowl and the Enchanted Forest. Somehow, even though neither were above zero yesterday, both were hard as rock virtually the whole day. Made the mistake of heading to Gem in the AM to find hard crusts in the Sun Bowl and nothing groomed at all. I was actually surprised how little was groomed on the entire mountain; heard a rumour that several folks either quit or didn't show up last night, so picking were slim until after noon (especially on Gem where nothing had been groomed and everything was frozen ruts, plus there was a 30 mph wind at the top).

So we ended up criss-crossing the mountain looking for good snow & didn't really find it until the PM. The Cliff was nice with not much freeze thaw action, but a bit windy.

Ran a trip through Falcon/Grizzly Bowl at 2 PM and it was still a very firm ice crust, and not fun. Late (3-ish) there was sugar snow down very low, but thin overcast that had a mostly sunny AM got thicker as the day progressed and the afternoon heating never really softened things much.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Ski Day 25: Back to Winter

Vert: 8,070 m YTD Cum Vert: 249,659 m
Runs: 17 YTD Cum Runs: 457

From winter to spring and back to winter in a matter of days. Impressive. Cold (-12°) temps overnight has insured snow preservation, and it's only the lower traffic (Serwa's), steep high traffic (Powder Keg, Kalina's Rainbow) or just plain low runs that remain icy. The rest? Well, even the great all day sun couldn't melt/spoil the fun, as these folks in the Cliff can attest to.

The snow quality up high remains great. We made it over to Gem this afternoon, which was a good thing, as the snow in the Sun Bowl remains wonderful. We also found a way to the unadvertised grooming on Black Magic, so that was great, too. On the way back, the Powder chair was sick, so we uploaded on the Falcon Chair, giving new photo vantage points.

In fact, the snow up in the Enchanted Forest remains great, too.

My vert was low today. I have been sick all week, and today I woke up coughing badly, so stayed in bed till 9:30 while the rest of the gang got runs in. So they easily broke 10,000 m; I'm quite pleased that even diseased, I could get over 8,000 m in.

Alan & Claire seemed to like the day, as did KC.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Ski Day 24: Better, but Cold

Vert: 9,215 m YTD Cum Vert: 241,599 m
Runs: 22 YTD Cum Runs: 440

The snow showers that blew in overnight leaving some fluff here and there. It's amazing how much of a difference 3 cm makes to glare ice when groomed, like for instance KC on Corkscrew -- where the Death Muffins were yesterday.

However, even 10 cm of blow in on ice is still ice.

A strong wind blew from the North all day and kept temps well below zero despite the continuous sunshine.

Accordingly, only the lowest most reaches of the mountain on faces pointing directly at the sun (like lower Perfection and lower Born to Run) saw any real softening, and that only happened around 2 PM. Anything facing the wind and groomed was wind polished and rock hard (like Powder Keg and Powder Gulch). And uniquely, some of the faces notorious for icing up (the top of Bullet, for instance) were in the right place to catch blow in, and so were actually really silky most of the day. Good examples were upper Sun Run and the trees at the top of Secret. Generally, though, it was suicide to venture off the groomed, even though it looked very nice, as KC and my attempts in Easter Gully would attest to.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Ski Day 23: Zamboni Polished & Death Muffins

Vert: 5,360 m YTD Cum Vert: 232,394 m
Runs: 13 YTD Cum Runs: 418

It rained a bit last night down low, and dusted a tiny bit up top. But that combined with the warm temps yesterday and cold temps this morning made the snow brutally hard all the way to the top of the Ridge Rocket, and made many of the groomed runs more like they were groomed by a Zamboni, polished to an icy sheen. Worse, there were no longer death cookies, but monster death muffins, like these.

We hoped that it would warm up through the day, but by 1 PM it was still wickedly hard even on the sun exposed faces (like Exhibition, Paradise & Perfection) despite the +3° temps, likely due to the presence of a frigid wind. There was evidence of softening at around 3 PM in the Village...

...but I can't attest to the rest of the hill as we bailed after lunch, having brought our skis and not our ice skates, hence the low vert and run count.

Strangely enough, while I type this, there's a wicked blizzarding snow shower.

Welcome to spring at Big White.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Ski Day 22: Frozen Death Cookies

Vert: 9,585 m YTD Cum Vert: 227,034 m
Runs: 22 YTD Cum Runs: 405

The overnight freeze from yesterday's thaw meant lots of frozen death cookies in the AM. It warmed a little, softening things here and there, but never got sunny until late. Some grooming was good (Mervyns, Cougar Alley, Hwy 33) some less so (Born to Run, Perfection).

However, by after lunch, there was good softening on most anything groomed, and the small crowd meant no new moguls (though there were lots left over from last night). It warmed enough to venture onto the ungroomed, however, and several forays into the trees just about rattled my teeth out.

The winds came up in the PM and closed Gem. KC and Alan were willing to show how strong the winds were at the top of Bullet.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Ski Day 21: The Start of Spring

Vert: 8,130 m YTD Cum Vert: 217,449 m
Runs: 22 YTD Cum Runs: 383

There was more very silky snow overnight, but the 4 more cm felt like a lot more. However, it was overcast in the AM and warm, with 9 AM temps above zero. Got first track in lots of tress in the Black Forest, and elsewhere (like here on Spruce Trail/Secret)...

...and as the cloudbase rose, moved across the mountain with it. But the temps and eventual sun took the toll.

By 1:30 PM it was a sunny +6° at Ridge base and sloppy, and the snow was wet and heavy all the way to the top of the T-Bar. Even the trees off Powder chair were wet, but the stuff that had been protected completely from the sun stayed OK. By 3 PM, most had quit and were drinking beer in the +12° warmth of Raakel's deck -- including us -- or just hanging out in front of the condo.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Ski Day 20: Back To Big White

Vert: 10,355 m YTD Cum Vert: 209,329 m
Runs: 22 YTD Runs: 361

After a cruddy and extended drive over yesterday (due to the an accident closing the Trans Canada between Field and Golden, necessitating an hour detour via Radium and missing a trip over the cool new bridge), we are once again installed at Big White for a week.

It snowed about 25 cm on Friday. We had heard that Saturday was the busiest day on the hill all year, and it looked like it by the traffic heading down as we were heading up. And the hill clearly showed evidence of freshies.

We were all over the mountain today, from the Sun Bowl to the Cliff to the Enchanted Forest, rather enjoying the conditions.

The weather (as you can see) was mostly sunny, but there was a wicker kick butt wind at the top of Gem, and it was generally warm, with peak temps in the +3° that felt a lot warmer that with the sun. In fact, late in the PM, some of the snow down low was getting sloppy. Word has it that it could snow tonight, not that more coverage is needed. It is, however, nice to be back in really soft fresh powder.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Nuevo TiVo

Neither KC nor I watch a lot of TV. KC because she watches it all day, and me because there's nothing on I like. But there's a few things we do watch, like Formula 1 racing and House. Then there's other things we want to watch but never seem to find out about until too late, like concerts (especially PBS's SoundStage and Austin City Limits) or Cirque de Solei performances. Once in a while, a special thing will come on we really want to see; right now, that's the CIS Basketball National Championships.

But it has been rare that we have caught most of what I listed above. We are busy and don't remember to set the VCR. We're out at the West Wing when we find something is on. Or we're out of town period. On top of this, because we watch so little TV, we don't have HD nor anything except basic cable (but we do have a whole bunch of channels we pay for but rarely watch).

Last year, for instance, I missed the single most critical race of the entire F1 season because I set it to record at the wrong time (F1 races take place around the world; the race was the Brazil GP and I even now have no idea what time the race was actually on). In addition, Speed TV didn't have the rights for that particular race (TSN did), so I taped the wrong channel at the wrong time.

This weekend marks the first race of the 2010 F1 season, and also is the CIS Women's Basketball Championship weekend. And we're on the road to Big White, leaving the house before we will know what's on when.

So determined to figure a solution, I did a bunch of research and discovered TiVo. Now I'd heard about this technology before a little bit, and was always intrigued. The more I learned about TiVo, the more it fit the bill.

If you have not heard of TiVo, it's basically a really, really smart digital PVR. In Canada, the only TiVo service available works only with SD (cable, a cable box, or a satellite box), which suits me just fine. Here's what sets TiVo apart from your basic VCR, or even the PVRs offered by Bell, Shaw or Telus:

TiVo is programmed not by channel and time (it can be, but it's not necessary), but instead by program and channel. You like House? Tell TiVo, and with one click, TiVo will automatically record your choice of every House that shows up on that channel, only the new episodes, or only the current season's episodes. Even if the station moves House for a hockey game, you won't miss it.

Do you like F1 racing? You can program it exactly once, to automatically search all TV listings for any F1 racing show whenever it shows up on any channel, and record whatever it finds.

Like Bruce Willis? Tell TiVo. TiVo will automatically record any of his movies that comes on, any time he's a guest on a talk show, or any episode of Moonlighting (or any other TV show he was ever in).

TiVo learns. Based on what you record, how you rate it, and whether or not you actually watch it, TiVo will start automatically record things similar to what you record. Watch every Soundstage that features blues, but skip the country & western ones? TiVo knows. Magically, it records any blues music that comes on any channel any time and makes suggestions to you about what to watch.

Watching live TV and need to hit the john? It automatically records 30 min of live TV as you watch it, enabling you to pause and even fast forward through the commercials you missed.

Are you sitting at work, and hear about a cool show or movie you wanted to see, but it starts before you get home? Go on line and set up the recording just as you would at home. You can do this as late as 1 hr before the show starts.

More importantly, on the road during playoffs of our favourite sport (like CIS basketball)? You can go on line, check the schedules, find out who's playing, and set up an individual recording for the one game you want.

Got two things on at once you want to record? No problem. TiVo records two channels at once, AND still allows you to pause live TV.

Flipping through the on screen TV guide and see something you want to record? One button records it. One more records every episode forever.

There's 80 hrs of recording capacity. So with all this automated recording, what happens if you run short of space? Simply tell it your priorities, and it will keep your highest priority shows.

Want to keep something permanently? Use the TiVoToGo program to send it to your laptop, and burn it to a DVD.

We bought one this week, and installed it, a fairly simple process (other than the step to temporarily take security off my network, which had nothing to do with TiVo). This is seriously cool. I never have to worry about missing a race ever again. I can set up new recordings while on the road. Now, if I just got TSN2, I could record my women's basketball game.

Okay, so TiVo has one problem. It can't record channels you don't get. But other than that...

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Ski Day 19: Sun again

Vert: 10,485 YTD Cum Vert: 198,974 m
Runs: 17 YTD Cum Runs: 339

See yesterday. It was a carbon copy except for a bit of wind in the afternoon, and a slightly smaller crowd. Here's KC carving it up all by her lonesome in Bye Bye Bowl.

The forecast is calling for snow the next couple of days. We need it. Skiing endless groomers is getting boring.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Ski day 18: Surprisingly good

Vert: 10,525 m YTD cum vert: 188,489 m
Runs: 19 YTD Cum Runs: 322

I had low expectations (1 cm in 7 days?). But I was completely surprised. No, there's no powder to be found, but coverage remains fine, with fewer rocks than I found 2 weeks ago. There's a bunch of freeze-thaw going on, so it's best to stick to the groomers in the AM...

and also on runs in the shade, at least until the temps create softening. And it was nice and warm in today's bright blue sun -- +4° at Divide Base at 2 pm -- but aside from the parking lot, I found no real melting nor slop. Instead, you get that sugary silky ground up snow that skiers create. Even the really hard scraped bits were carveable in the afternoon.

For a change, we got over to Standish today. I don't ususally get there because of a plethora of boarders and relatively low vert. But it did give me the opportunity for photos from a different perspective than I usually get.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A Weekend in Victoria

Got out to Victoria to visit Chesley this past weekend, as I had to go out on business. Despite living there for 2 years, this was the first time I had been on the UVic campus, which is infested with rabbits.

...many of whom are quite friendly.

At one point, we counted over 50 rabbits visible at once.

The campus is very green (of course), with something growing nearly everywhere...

I think the coolest building was the aboriginal studies building, both inside & out.

We got to wander through the garden, too, which was full of blooming rhododendrons and other flours including cherry blossoms -- and bamboo.

I never knew Victoria was home to year round hummingbirds, either. We found one at the Oak Bay Marina on Saturday...

...and one while visiting Witty's Lagoon on Sunday.

We found seals. There were "tame" one that you could feed at Oak Bay Marina.

They were too friendly, and had learned to perform for their handouts. One barked and splashed his flipper when food was near.

One swam around upside down.

One had a wonky eye, making it look like he was winking, which the crowd seemed to like.

We also saw seals as they're supposed to be seen, out in the wild at Witty's, too. There's 4 in this photo alone. No, those are not logs, they're seals that were sunning themselves. Look for the whiskers.

We saw Great Blue Herons at both Oak Bay Marina and Witty's, too.

Witty's Lagoon always was my favourite park in Victoria. The greenery is nice and lush, there's a cool stream and big waterfall, and neat beach scenery.

Okay, I cheated. The last photo was at Oak Bay Marina.

We had nice views from out hotel room window of the inner harbour, Empress Hotel and the Harbour Air Seaplane Base

As you can tell, the weather was typical Victoria winter-spring weather. Saturday was a drizzly 10° (that felt like 2°). Sunday was a mostly sunny 13° (that felt like 15°). Monday was a damp and cloudy 12° (that felt like 8°).

Oh, and Sunday was the last day of the Olympics. We ran into the aftermath of the hockey game at 4 PM as we tried to drive through downtown to go back to the hotel. I say "tried to". Government St was blocked with people. Douglas wasn't much better. Bastion Square was a zoo. People were driving around dangling out of windows & sunroofs waving Canadian flags. At our hotel, some drunk guy was running through the cars on Bellville waving a huge flag, high fiving men and kissing women. Chesley found it hilarious.