Manitoba’s vast flatlands seem an unlikely setting to sow an enthusiasm and dedication for alpine skiing, let alone in the 1950s. But it’s here that a Christmas present of wooden skis, complete with bear trap bindings, gave Grant Johnson a taste of a thrill that would eventually be shared for generations in Banff National Park’s ski resorts.
Johnson did what he could with the Manitoban landscape, logging negative vertical laps in coulees and creek beds near his childhood home and taking ski trips to Holiday Mountain ski resort in La Rivière. But, it wasn’t long until he sought bigger trips to bigger hills. Just shy of 20 years old, Johnson and the two older brothers of a friend living in Edmonton piled into his father’s Ford in 1966 to cross the prairies for their first taste of the mountains. They would all meet in Banff, Alberta.
This marked the inaugural year of what they now fondly refer to as the “Brooks Connection,” a yearly spring ski trip of close buddies crossing three provinces for a weekend of antics both on and off the slopes. They have unwavered with their annual Banff reunion, never missing a beat in 50 years.
WHY CALL IT THE BROOKS CONNECTION?
“I wish I had a better story for you,” Johnson says with a laugh. “That first trip was a long drive, and I let my friends take the wheel for awhile while I slept. I’d wake up every 30 minutes or so and ask where we were, and the response I’d always get was ‘just this side of Brooks,’ [the town in Alberta]. It became a running joke, and we needed a good name to promote the trip to our friends, so it worked.”
They established only two rules to take part in the trip: no girlfriends (it was a guys-only kind of weekend), and the expenses were shared evenly by all who joined.
“The trip has evolved a bit from the first days when it cost $50 for the whole trip and we were piling five or six guys into an RV,” says Johnson. “Now we’re staying in chalets and some of us are flying in.”
Today, the rules still stand. While sons and daughters have been invited as they have come of age throughout the years, the Brooks Connection is exclusive to the guys and their kids, some of whom eventually made their own connections in Banff, and now call it home.
THE TRADITION CONTINUES
Originally from Winnipeg, Donald joined her first Brooks Connection at the age of 18. “It was such a neat thing to go with him, and to get to know his friends and their kids,” says Donald. “It developed new friendships and gave a new appreciation for old ones, across the two generations.”
Donald learned how to ski at Sunshine Village at the age of two, and frequently headed West with her family for ski trips at different resorts throughout the Rockies.
After visiting Banff on the Brooks Connection in 2006 , she was convinced to give Banff a try the following winter. A 6-month stint was all it took for Donald to return long-term. She has called Banff home for the past nine years. As the years go by and the Brooks Connection grows, friendships continue to deepen while new ones are created. This year will see almost 50 people signed up for the annual ski trip in May, including the first third generation participant.