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Insider’s Guide to Skiing Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, Kananaksis, Golden & Panorama

Sunshine Village (Photo: Richard Hallman)

Sunshine Village (Photo: Richard Hallman)

Seven ski areas, tons of snow and a November through May ski season. A world-class combination of ski terrain, high-speed lifts and on-hill amenities. No wonder Banff, Jasper and area draws skiers and snowboarders from around the world. Read on for insider ideas to help you make the most of your time on the slopes.

Jasper National Park

At 10,878 sq km (4200 sq mi), Jasper is Canada’s largest Mountain Park. Its ski area is big too. We like Marmot Basin for its lack of pretension and crowds (you seldom wait for a lift). The overall ski experience is amongst the best in Canada.

Connecting Lake Louise to Jasper, the 230 km (143 mi) Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) is lined by peaks of the Continental Divide; 100 glaciers flank its western side and wildlife sightings are common. Drive with plenty of gas, and take food and warm clothes; for road conditions call 780-852-3311 (Jasper), 403-762-1450 (Banff).

Mountain Connector (1-888-786-3641) offers daily shuttles to Jasper from Banff, Calgary and Edmonton through April. They co-ordinate multi-day packages and Jasper sightseeing and activities.

Eagle's Nest at Marmot Basin

Eagle's Nest at Marmot Basin

Marmot Basin Ski Area
Located 20 minutes south of Jasper townsite (shuttle bus available), Marmot’s 1675 acres include huge alpine bowls framed by rugged pinnacles and ridges. Tree-lined runs and snowmaking are lower mountain features, while the Rogers Terrain Park is off the Paradise chair. Enjoy the 100 peak view everywhere.

Insider tips:
New quad: The Canadian Rockies Express is the region’s longest high-speed quad; ride 2.3 km (1.4 mi) up in 7.5 min.
Efficient rentals: It’s a streamlined process to get Head gear. Free overnight storage saves lugging skis to and from town.
Private guide: $438 buys an all-day guide/instructor for up to 3; get lift line priority and access to the best pistes.
Route picks: Open terrain lets you choose a run while riding the lift; there’s an easy way down off every chair.
Food favourites: Poutine (fries with cheese and gravy) is in high demand; cafeterias serve all-day breakfasts.
Sit down lunch: Eagle’s Nest  (mid mountain chalet), and Caribou Lounge (base) offer service weekends and holidays.
Best Tan: Sunshine saturates Kokanee Glacier Deck off Caribou Lounge; enjoy great views.
Expert run for intermediates: Try black Showoff and Highway 16 off Paradise chair if they’ve been recently groomed.
Big powder: Ski the Knob chair after a snowfall for above treeline lines. For hidden powder, hike skier’s left 10-minutes from the Eagle Ridge chair to Cornice run. Or, cross gates to ski open slopes and glades of Eagle East. Or, take Keefer’s Dream off the Paradise chair and through the easy-to-miss gate on the left; watch closely for the outrun on the right.

Banff National Park

Mt Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are Banff’s Big 3, a 7750-acre alpine paradise so big you could ski for a month and never take the same run twice. Forget images you have of massive slopeside development at resorts like Whistler. In Canada’s first national park the protected, majestic wilderness remains intact.

Volcom Rail Jam at Lake Louise (Photo: Mathew Timmins)

Volcom Rail Jam at Lake Louise (Photo: Mathew Timmins)

Lake Louise Ski Area
Located north of Lake Louise Village and 35 minutes west of Banff townsite, The Lake racks up accolades such as Skiing magazine’s “most scenic resort.” With runs on four mountain faces, this is Canada’s largest single ski area. You can find sun-lit slopes all times of day.

Ride the 6-person Grizzly Express Gondola 3 km (2 mi) from the base to an upper ridge. From mid mountain, the Canadian Rockies’ only 6-person high-speed chairlift (The 6-Pack) goes to the Saddle. There are 139 named bowls, chutes and tree-lined runs. Beginner to advanced routes from every chair makes the entire resort accessible to all, and a new simplified trail map makes it easy to find your way.

Insider tips:
Killer blog: Read Lake Louise Lowdown on their website for Mountain Operations’ Chris Mosley photos and insights.
Valet parking: Pay $27.50 to park out front. But, we find the ample free parking with car-to-lift shuttles convenient.
Infant daycare: Veteran child-care specialist Jane Herman takes infants from 18 days old. Imagine Mom ripping up the slopes 18 days after giving birth!
Slope for kids: They love the animal cutouts at the Wilderness Adventure Park.
Fresh powder: Book First Tracks after a snowfall. $99 gets up to five people a guide and rides up the hill a half hour before lifts open to the public.
Air time: Last year The Lake re-introduced Terrain Park jumps; this year shredders find more air and rail jam features.
Backside: Frontside views of Lake Louise and Temple Mountain are famous. But we marvel at the rugged backside powder bowls with 2500 acres of open skiing and steeps.
Favourite chutes: Summit Platter accesses Whitehorn 2 backside chutes that trap blowing snow. Intermediates can tour the entire backside by traversing left to Boomerang.
Old school lift: We like the uncrowded Paradise triple that accesses powder bowls and chutes of Paradise, Eagle Ridge and The Wall.
Timing is everything: On busy days lines form for Larch and Ptarmigan quads. So, we ski here early for corduroy and during lunch when crowds thin.
“We serve Starbucks”: Slopeside Coffee Kiosk at the base.
$5.25 Canadian beer: We drink ours outdoors at base area Kokanee Kabin with fire pit, or newly expanded Powderkeg Lounge upstairs in Lodge of Ten Peaks with leather seats and organic crust pizzas.
Crowd alert: Temple Lodge at Larch gets busy on peak days. Otherwise, we love this rustic chalet with cafeteria, big BBQ deck and full service Sawyer’s Nook (try the lamb burger).
Downhill at Dusk: Spend Fri night at this buffet dinner and live music event (p 39).
Wilderness retreat: Access log-built 1930s Skoki Lodge by an 11 km (7 mi) backcountry ski over two mountain passes.

Sunshine Village
Located 8 km (5 mi) west of Banff via Hwy 1 is Canada’s highest ski resort with the nation’s longest ski season. Sunshine is blessed with awesome natural snow that shows 24/7 on its webcams. The resort straddles the Continental Divide; ski Boundary Bowl that begins in Alberta, passes into BC, and ends back in Alberta.

Sunshine is 81 years old, but its lifts are modern. From the base, ride the world’s fastest 8-passenger gondola to the region’s biggest concentration of high-speed quad chairs. Built on three mountains, much of the terrain is above treeline, which affords views to 80 km (50 mi). Look south to see Mt Assiniboine, “Canada’s Matterhorn.”

Insider tips:
Arrive early: On busy days parking lots fill leaving only roadside parking, so get here by 9:30 am or take a ski bus. Fortunately, shuttles run from your car to the gondola. $25 gets you VIP parking.
Cruisers’ heaven: Try the open bowl off the Continental Divide quad, and Goat’s Eye blue runs that start open and become tree-lined.
Best slopes of the day: For the best light and snow, ski Goat’s Eye in morning, and Lookout and Standish in the afternoon.
Amazing steeps: Delirium Dive, Wild West and Silver City freeride zones are open to those with partner, shovel and avalanche beacon (rentals at Banff Springs Sports). The Dive is our favourite run at Sunshine; most access the slope down the stairs, but we prefer the small cornice jump at far skier’s left. Sunshine offers guided tours down Delirium.
More amazing steeps: No avalanche beacon is needed for Goat’s Eye black/double black gullies and glades on skier’s left.
Trick treasure: A Park Bully grooms the Terrain Park.
Novice alternative: Most stick to gentle terrain off the slow Strawberry chair. Instead, ride high-speed lifts and take Green Run off Angel and Borderline and Creek Runs off Standish.
Old-time skiing: Ride the ancient Tee Pee Town double to access steep and rugged slopes that never see a groomer.
Snowhost: Hook up in front of Mad Trappers Saloon at noon for free mountain tours.
Coffee time: Starbucks at Java Express in the Day Lodge.
Beer time: Mad Trapper’s Saloon, in the 1928 log lodge.
Lunch time: Chimney Corner Restaurant & Sports Bar with table service and sports big screens at Sunshine Lodge.
Overnight: Sunshine Mountain Lodge is Banff’s only on-hill hotel (1-877-542-2633). Get a luxury suite with jetted tub and fireplace in the new wing. Go during Taste of Sunshine wine and food pairing events Dec 12, Jan 23, Feb 20, Mar 20 and Apr 17.

Mt Norquay
Banff’s original ski area (established 1926) is where locals go when they should be working and where their kids learn to ski and race. Canadian ski legend Ken Read along with other ski enthusiasts intent on preserving the family-friendly character of Norquay are the resort owners.

This is home mountain to World Cup gold medalist Thomas Grandi; he’s the one that skied by you like you were standing still. Giver Grandi run honours Banff’s favourite son.

Located 10 minutes north of downtown Banff (Norquay Rd over Hwy 1), this resort is a good choice for a mellow day, or few-hour escape. You’re treated to Cascade Mountain views, and summit cliffs give the area a rugged feel and shelter ski runs below. The snowmaking system blows tons of white stuff, and nightly grooming of all beginner and intermediate runs makes Norquay great for fall-line cruising.

Insider tips:
Fresh corduroy: Arrive at opening (9 am) for Giver Grandi, Banshee and Knight Flight cruisers. Even on weekends there is never a lift line.
Canada’s first double blacks: Tackle steep lines off the North American chair after the sun has softened the bumps.
Ski by the hour: Norquay offers unique hourly lift pass options; its day rates are the least pricey of all Banff resorts.
Floodlit slopes: Cascade quad runs and the Backyard Terrain Park are lit 5 to 10 pm, Wed (Jan 27 to Mar 24) and Fri (Jan 8 to Mar 26).
Pub pleasures: The post and beam daylodge has a cafeteria, but try full service dining at Lone Pine Pub; musicians play Sat and Sun noon to 4:30 pm.
Non-skiing fun: New is Norquay’s tubing park with four wide shoots (great for racing) and a dedicated lift.

Bordering Banff

Between Banff and Calgary is Nakiska, while west and south of Banff are the Kootenay Rockies’ Kicking Horse and Panorama Mountain Resorts.

Kicking Horse (Photo: Mike McPhee)

Kicking Horse (Photo: Mike McPhee)

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Called the “Champagne Capital of Canada” for its abundant dry snow, Kicking Horse is near Golden under two hours west of Banff and one hour from Lake Louise via Hwy 1 and Yoho National Park (at Spiral Tunnel viewpoint see a feat of railway engineering).

Kicking Horse Resort is named for an accident that befell Sir James Hector during his 1858 railroad route quest. Hector was presumed dead after being kicked by a horse but regained consciousness as he was being prepared for burial.
Highlights of the ski area are three rugged powder bowls, and the Golden Eagle Express gondola that shuttles skiers quickly from base to upper ridge in comfy 8-person cabins. It’s a long, exhilarating run down the highest vertical rise of all Canadian Rockies resorts (1260 m/4133 ft).

Insider tips:
Ditch your car: Take the daily Powder Express shuttle (403-760-5465) from your Banff or Lake Louise hotel, a bargain at $89 with lift pass.
Amazing glades: Drop into the trees from the CPR Ridge traverse off the gondola.
Best steeps: Take Whitewall into Feuz Bowl (once heliski domain); ride the Stairway to Heaven quad and go right.
Family zone: Wildlife-themed Horse Play Corral has contour grooming and play trails.
Tubing: Take the surface lift by the daylodge up and ride a tube down; no skill required. Sat night is “disco tubing.”
Kids Club: Enroll 18-month to 5-year-olds; you make turns.
“Hidden” village eateries: Try Sushi Kuma, Horse Thief Café and The Peaks Bar & Grill.
Ice rink: Rent skates on-site; join Wed “hockey night” fun.
Dawn Mountain Nordic Trails: 30 km (18.6 mi) of groomed classic and skate skiing. A cozy hut with is one km (.6 mi) from the trailhead.
Ski-in/out lodging: Book at 1-866-754-5425; go for $2195 a night Eagle Eye Suite with personal ski instructor, valet, meals and first tracks for two.
Canada’s highest restaurant: Eagle’s Eye at 2350 m/7700 ft has a fireplace, vaulted ceilings and stunning views; the food is good too! On busy days arrive early or late to avoid the noon rush. Reserve Fri or Sat dinner with free gondola ride.

Panorama Mountain Village
Located two hours from Banff via Hwy 93S, the drive to Panorama is though Kootenay National Park. Stop for a half hour walk at Marble Canyon.

At the resort, three quads (2 high-speed) ascend a 1220 m (4000 ft) vertical rise. This year Founders Ridge runs have been graded making this intermediate slope more fun to ski. Try the new Taynton Bowl expert area off the View of 1000 Peaks run.

Insider tips:
Banff ski bus: It’s $99 with lift pass; reserve 403-762-5900.
Steep and deep: Big Taynton Bowl is former heliski terrain; also try Extreme Dream.
Carving capers: Check posted grooming reports and ski early for corduroy on long cruisers.
Beginner haven: A fenced area is serviced by a 135 m (443 ft) long Magic Carpet.
Air show: Enjoy Terrain Park antics while riding Mile 1 quad.
Night ski: Toby Chair runs are lit some weekends/holidays.
Adventure Club: 8 to 14 year olds learn and lunch 10:30 am to 3 pm while parents play.
Hot pools: On-hill guests (1-800-663-2929) access the Panorama Springs complex.

Nakiska Ski Area
Host of the ‘88 Olympics, Nakiska is 15 min south of Hwy 1 via Hwy 40, near Kananaskis Village. Snowmaking, a long run down and slopes that are groomed nightly make this cruise and carve crowd favourite. Slow skiing and self-contained beginner zones are family-friendly, while upper slopes offer steeps and glades.

Insider tips:
New quad: Ride the Gold Chair Express to access upper mountain runs including the new Monster Glades.
Ski early: Nakiska is best in the morning when the grooming is fresh, crowds are light, and the slopes are sun-lit.
Best eats: Try the upstairs restaurant/bar with table service, fireplace and sports TV.

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