In January last year, as part of our coast-to-coast tour of Canada, we took the VIA Rail Canadian route from Vancouver to Toronto.
The Canadian route wends its way through the Rocky Mountains, giving rise to some stunning scenery. I'm sure the Rockies are beautiful at any time of year; I love mountains, and these are some serious mountains. But they're especially fabulous in the snow.
You do have to be dedicated to wrapping up warm: January is truly the depths of winter. It wasn't just cold, it was -35°C, broken-rail freezing. When the temperatures have dropped too low for even the Canadian railways to maintain normal operation, then you know you're looking at some serious weather.
When we stopped to stretch our legs in Jasper and Winnipeg, woe betide anyone who forgot their gloves or decided they could get away with only a couple of warm layers. Even walking to the buffet car, you had to crunch through minor snowdrifts in the vestibules.
Jasper in particular had the look of a European ski resort, all wooden chalets with snow-capped roofs. I've only ever been skiing in Europe, but the gorgeous scenery on this trip got me interested in looking at ski holidays in Canada. North American ski resorts have a reputation for being less technical than some of the European mountains, but also having more space on the slopes, which I think would suit my (somewhat haphazard) style. Either way, it would be fun to find out, and to experience a different style of ski holiday.
We had to settle for admiring the mountains from a distance this time (although we did pop up to go snowshoeing on Grouse Mountain while we were in Vancouver), with the occasional short walk when the train stopped to refuel. If we'd been able to plan a longer trip, I wished we'd had time to stop off in the middle of the country, so I'm sure we'll be returning before long to correct that omission.
And we did actually get one extra day of scenery, compared to the scheduled service. We'd planned a day in Toronto before hopping across to Montreal to catch the Ocean route to Halifax on the Atlantic coast, but instead, we woke on the fourth morning to find the train hadn't moved in the night. The aforementioned fractured rail, coupled with a couple of broken-down trains, had led to a backlog on the route - and one interesting feature of Canadian railways is that the passenger trains have to give way to the all-important freight. (For the 'inconvenience' of the delay, we got a refund of half our fare. Not bad compensation for an extra day of sightseeing!)