By Michael Fulton
It had been a decade since Eric, Pete, and I went on a trip together. After being nearly inseparable for our university years, we were soon forced into the realities of the working world; I moved back to Mississauga, Eric to Sudbury, and Pete to Ingersoll. The days of throwing a ball around in my residence room were now in the rear-view mirror and the wolf pack was no more. Solo howl…
Now, that’s not to say we don’t see each other, but between extended travelling, jobs, nuptials, and the like, it was becoming harder and harder to do. At this point, we’re lucky to all be in the same room once a year. Thankfully, that one time for 2017 would be a 5-day ski trip to Banff.
As we met at the Calgary airport and hopped into our rental car, it instantly felt like we were right back in my residence room. Although the conversation topics may have changed (apparently funnelling beers is a much less popular topic at 30 … shocking), the friendship’s as strong as ever.
While making the drive to Banff we snap pictures of the mountains on our phones through dirty car windows, point left and right at which peak is more impressive, and blast Bad and Boujee to our heart’s content. We arrive in Banff and it has that ski town charm down to a “T”: snowy sidewalks, rustic storefronts and restaurants, antlers galore, an ice rink in the downtown square, and Sulphur Mountain acting as the perfect backdrop. We stock up on the essentials (beer, rye, eggs, bacon, and jerky…ok, maybe not that much has changed), arrive at our hotel, and retreat to the hot tub to schedule the upcoming days’ events.
This is going to be fun.
We decide our first day of skiing must be spent at the iconic Lake Louise. We somehow manage to wake up at a respectable hour, wolf down some bacon and eggs, and make the hour-long drive to the resort. Walking up to the base lodge I can’t help but get excited. This beautiful wooden chalet, surrounded by snowy mountains and lush forest; it’s a dream-like setting.
We take the Glacier Express chair up the hill, ski down Juniper for our first run, and it’s magic. The view is so amazing I’m finding it difficult to focus on the skiing. But we persevere. After a few hours of “perfecting” our turns, we slalom over to Whitehorn Bistro for an on-mountain meal. Finally, a view we can enjoy without the risk of falling. We share a delicious plate of mussels and veal meatballs, enjoy a hearty lobster corn chowder, and wash it all down with a local craft beer. It wasn’t exactly a cafeteria-priced bill, but who cares – we’re on vacation!
We manage to ski 25-30 different runs and decide it’s time to head back to the hotel to soak our legs in the hot tub and our livers in beer.
Skating on Lake Louise
We decide to swap our skis for skates on Day 2 and head to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, passing a two-horse open sleigh on the way to the rental shop, because this place is a fairy tale after all.
As I glide around on Lake Louise I have serious nostalgia from skating on the lake at our family cottage – only better. In fact, at one point I’m pretty sure I was hovering outside of my body, watching myself skate. Surreal. We take corny pictures tossing snow in the air, Pete tries (and fails) to propel himself over the snow mounds, and we enjoy our last few rips around the rink before taking the scenic route along the Bow Valley back to our hotel.
We spend the evening at Banff Avenue Brewing Co., getting happy with some appy’s and enjoying pint after pint of local brews, before a quick pit stop at McDonald’s for some late-night burgers (wow, we really haven’t changed at all since University…).
To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect at Mt. Norquay. It doesn’t have the notoriety of Lake Louise or Sunshine, plus our bodies don’t seem to bounce back quite as quickly as they did in our university days (putting cranberry goat cheese in our scrambled eggs didn’t help, Pete), but if the trip up Mt Norquay Scenic Drive is any indication, the views alone will be worth it.
And boy were they worth it. Each time we rode up Mystic chairlift I was turning in my seat to enjoy the distant views of Cascade Mountain. Turns out, the skiing was fantastic as well. Although the runs are shorter than Lake Louise and Sunshine, they’re just as challenging. After a few icy runs down Monods Legacy, we decide to up the ante and end up finding our favourite run of the day, Giv’er Grandi. Its black diamond listing must have scared off most of the crowd, leaving the fresh snow to us. Oh well, their loss. We rip down the slope again and again, finding a fun jump to hit along the way, before racing off to the Cascade Lodge for burgers and beer. Another great day, eh boys?
We didn’t know it at the time, but we saved the best day of skiing for last. Although not as classically handsome as Lake Louise, Sunshine Village was the perfect place for our mix of skiing skills. With more wide-open runs, we felt like the mountain was there just for us.
Sunshine also humbled us. After a few days of big mountain skiing, we started to believe our technique was utterly flawless. That is until we accidentally encountered moguls on Birdcage. This was far from an out-of-body experience, but instead being a please-don’t-fall-please-don’t-fall-please-don’t-fall life lesson. The mantra worked and we came out unscathed thanks to willpower and – mostly – luck.
Soaking up our last few runs at this expansive playground, I’m wishing we had 10 more days in this winter paradise. Not only has this been the best skiing experience of my life, but I’ve been able to do it with two of the best people I know.
Before we head to the airport we take a quick drive to Lake Minnewanka for one last chance to savour the views and watch some elk challenge each other to duels. Turns out they’re fighting more than us, as we didn’t argue, bicker, or complain once on this trip. Just three good friends enjoying each other’s company, sharing a laugh, and skiing beautiful Banff.
Maybe we’ll bicker next year when we ski in BC.