Ski for $10 less; National Parks free in 2017 making skiing more affordable

Anyone heading to the four ski resorts inside Canada’s National Parks has to pay a park fee. In 2016 it ranges from $10 per person for a day pass to $20 for a family. Annual passes are $67.70 for an adult and $136.40 for a family. The cost is not included in lift tickets, savings cards or season passes at Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park or Banff National Park’s Big 3, Lake Louise Ski Resort, Sunshine Village Ski Area or Mount Norquay.

But come January 1, 2017, those fees will disappear.

Canada turns 150 years young in 2017. As part of the celebration the federal government is waiving access fees to national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas across the country for the year. Yes, skiing at the Big 3 and Marmot Basin just got $10 a day cheaper.

That’s plenty of reasons to check out what I consider the some of the best skiing in world. No one can argue that these resorts win in the scenery category – covered in ice, impressive rock walls and no clear cuts in sight, the Canadian Rockies can’t be beat. The snow is as light as it comes; a 10 centimetre dump feels a lot deeper than it would elsewhere. The terrain is steep with lots of fall line. And the snowpack, while not deep, is dependable and long lasting – Sunshine Village routinely brags one of the longest ski season’s on the continent without any snowmaking. (Exhibit A: Sunshine opened on November 3 this winter, the first resort in the country, with 70 centimetre base, 3 lifts and 20 runs.)

That’s lots of incentive. Here’s how to take advantage of the savings.

Marmot Basin
Jasper is a quieter version of Banff, with more elk wandering around the town, fewer crowds and just as much amazing scenery. Marmot is about a 20 minute drive out of town. The resort’s laid out in a big bowl. Every lift can be seen from the other lifts, so getting lost isn’t possible and off just about every lift are options for every kind of skier. It’s a great family destination with plenty to keep anyone interested for a week on the hill and in town.

On powder days head to the Knob Chair for above treeline ripping and blown in stashes. Then session the always quiet Eagle Ridge Quad for lots of hidden pockets of left over powder. In fact, even when there isn’t fresh snow these lifts service the most interesting terrain for intermediates and up.

Sunshine Village
Leave Sunshine Village for nicer weather days. Almost all above treeline, when the clouds descend the skiing gets limited. But when the visibility is good it’s hard to beat the mega dose of solar Canada’s highest ski resort delivers. Whenever you come, show up early. Parking and catching the gondola up to the resort base often backs up badly – plan to be in the parking lot by 8:30. Then you’ll have the mountain nice and quiet for the first two hours.

Rippers should hike to Delirium Dive, a partially controlled, avalanche gear mandatory area that’s immense and wild. Everyone should ride the Divide Chair, crossing in and out of BC along the way, and carve the supple snow and perfect pitch of Bye Bye Bowl. The chutes of TeePee Town are another good bet. If you can, stay at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, the only on slope accommodation in the national parks. It’s magic up there when the ski hill closes.

Lake Louise
I grew up skiing the Lake and have a soft spot for its Back Bowls – a huge collection of alpine terrain on the backside of the mountain. I have yet to ski better fall line steeps in bounds. In fact, Lake Louise is full of great fall line skiing. That’s good for strong skiers, but for those newer to the sport or coming from the east may find it exhausting and intimidating.

An exception, but still an awesome run, is Grizzly Bowl, a huge gully right under the Top of the World lift. Anyone can have fun swinging back and forth through the guts or ski traverse and ski, traverse and ski, top to bottom through the open trees. Intermediate skiers should bee line to the Larch Area before the crowds descend on the cruisers. Anyone that can handle it should ride the Summit Poma to the mountain top and maybe the best view in skiing across the valley at the actual Lake Louise and Mount Victoria. Then ski off the back, down one of the Whitehorn Chutes.

Mount Norquay
The smallest hill of the four, what Norquay lacks in area it makes up for in convenience. Directly above Banff, it’s a good pick for a half day or even an hour of skiing. When I’m in Banff at Christmas I’ll whip up here in a non-ski afternoon for the final hour, the best deal in skiing. For about $15 I can race down the fall line moguls of the North American Chair four or five times. My legs are burning by the time the lift closes and I feel like I’ve done a lot more skiing than I did.

Norquay sells skiing by the two hour chunk the rest of the day, just enough time to ski across Mystic Ridge and back. This is stellar intermediate and advanced terrain, just steep enough to be interesting, but mellow enough to not be scary. This is a great place to start a Banff vacation for eastern skiers: it’s a perfect warm up to what you’ll find at the bigger western mountains.

– By Ryan Stuart.

This post is also available in: French