An all-star clean-up act

Famous sights ... Alec Baldwin meets the Mounties.
Famous sights ... Alec Baldwin meets the Mounties.

Matthew Benns takes to Alberta's celebrity-packed ski fields for a taste of the high life.

So there I was, in the hot springs spa with Alec Baldwin. No, really.

Only when he tells it he says: "I was in the pool with Mimi Rodgers." No mention of yours truly but then again, who can blame him?

When the travel editor said: "I want you to go skiing with the stars in Canada," she wasn't kidding. There are no Z-list Australian soap stars here at the Fairmont Banff Springs 2012 Sports Invitational, just Hollywood gold.

"You know you are in Banff when you order fresh ice to your room at 5pm and it's still frozen the next morning, true story in my room today," joked Baldwin, award-winning star of the cult TV show 30 Rock.

The stars flew in to the town of Banff in the middle of Alberta's stunning World Heritage-listed Banff National Park for a weekend on the slopes to raise money for charity in the form of Robert F. Kennedy's Waterkeeper Alliance.

The Alliance is the world's fastest growing environmental movement, uniting people who protect waterways worldwide, arming them with the adversarial teeth to tackle polluters.

"We have about seven or eight active groups protecting Australian water now," Kennedy said of the group that is growing worldwide from the grass roots up.

"Water is a critical social, environmental and community issue. Everybody has the right to clean water."

Certainly the galaxy of stars flying into Canada for the weekend fund-raiser agreed with him.

"We are here for this charity which has made massive leaps and bounds for the environment. The fact that it is set in this unbelievable location, where we are enveloped by nature, really brings home the necessity to take care of this," said Emmy Award-winning The Bold and the Beautiful actress Jennifer Finnegan.

The stars took to the slopes for two days of winter competition and pure ski indulgence in champagne powder snow on 107 runs spread across 1360 skiable hectares at Sunshine Village.

First up was a toboggan and snowshoe race. It certainly helped if you had Olympic gold medallist triple jumper Al Joyner doing the running part up the hill. And the right attitude to be riding the sled back down the hill.

"Wow, I am as high as a kite," yelled a euphoric Baldwin after his ride. "I could feel the toboggan. I said let's be the toboggan. I took a very Eastern approach to this."

"I had fun and that's the main thing," said glamorous grandmother Kelly LeBrock, star of The Woman in Red, after a less successful and quite unladylike descent down the hill.

Batgirl Alicia Silverstone, the vegan star of Clueless, said: "It's such a fun event, I love to come to Canada."

Afterwards the celebrities repaired to the sumptuous surrounds of the Fairmont Banff Springs, a splendid Scottish baronial castle overlooking the town and packed with history.

In fact, too much history for some. Criminal Minds star Matthew Gubler said: "It was 12.45 in the morning. We went to the eighth floor and as we were walking I heard an alarm going. We made our way to the ninth floor and from my room I could hear a different alarm going. Then as I fell asleep I could see the glass on the bedside table moving ..."

Gubler's experience ties in with tales from other guests about being helped to their rooms by a kindly white-haired gentleman known as Sam the bellhop. The only problem is he died shortly after being forced to retire from the hotel in 1978.

Kennedy, son of the assassinated senator Robert F. Kennedy, was there with partner and Curb Your Enthusiasm comedienne Cheryl Hines, together with assorted offspring.

The highlight was not the celebrity poker night - won by Easy Rider Peter Fonda - but the gala dinner and auction fund-raiser for Kennedy's charity. This was open to any members of the public happy to pay $500 a ticket. Music was provided by former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, who was unexpectedly joined on stage by singer Kenny Loggins for an impromptu set.

Baldwin ramped up the bidding, going head to head against co-host and Academy Award-winner and Mystic River actress Marcia Gay Harden for a luxury stay in the Fairmont hotels in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper.

Hotel boss Francisco Gomez agreed to provide two packages instead of one and the two Hollywood A-listers each coughed up $50,000, with ski fan Baldwin vowing to return shortly.

"We are bidding this item up to save the world," he said. "I love Alberta and I love Banff." After being thrown off an American Airlines plane for refusing to stop playing the game Words With Friends on his phone, Baldwin was very keen to thank sponsor Westjet for flying in the stars.

"If it wasn't for them many of us wouldn't be here - take my word for it," he joked.

There were 18 auction prizes in total, including a day of falconry with Robert Kennedy and a 10-day trek with him to Bhutan. "If you are not a nice person, please don't bid," he implored as the consequences of his offer hit home.

Among the prizes - such as seven days in George Soros's favourite villa on St Bart's in the Caribbean and a day on the set of 30 Rock with Baldwin - was a night playing poker at the home of Everyone Loves Raymond star Brad Garrett. He took to the stage to extol the virtues of his weekly game.

The event, which was also attended by Hercules star Kevin Sorbo, Camryn Manheim from The Practice and many, many more celebrities, raised over $US1 million for the Waterkeeper Alliance. One local benefactor even auctioned off his immaculate 1975 V8 silver Corvette Stingray Convertible.

Later, in the spa, I was lamenting how much I would have loved that one. "Never mind," Baldwin said, "There are plenty more Corvettes out there for you."

Maybe next year.

The writer was a guest of Travel Alberta.

Trip notes

Getting there

Air Canada flies direct from Sydney to Vancouver with connections to Calgary, from where shuttles operate to Banff.

When to go

Celebrity Sports Banff National Park will be held from January 31 to February 3, 2013.. It attracts a range of celebrities — musicians, actors and comedians. Most don't confirm their attendance until one or two weeks ahead of the actual event.

Best star spotting

Skiing at Sunshine — during the celebrity snow sports events and then skiing around the area. Check who you are sitting next to on the lift.

Buy a ticket to the closing night gala dinner and charity auction. Seats start at about $500.

Sit in the Fairmont Banff Springs lobby or coffee shop and watch them go by.

Staying there

Stay where the celebrities stay at The Fairmont Banff Springs. Ski Max has a nine-day package for $1579 a person: three nights at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (Banff), three nights at Fairmont Chateau Hotel (Lake Louise), three nights at Fairmont Jasper Park Hotel (Jasper); six-day lift pass (four days at Lake Louise, Norquay and Sunshine and two days at Marmot Basin); and transfers. Conditions apply. Book and pay by October 31, 2012. Airfares and departure taxes are not included. 1300 136 997.

This story An all-star clean-up act first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.