Stop 2: Banff, Alberta

Lori Knowles is a Toronto-based ski writer. Lori and her family are skiing across North America this season with Mountain Collective Passes. #FUNtasticSkiFour

BY: Lori Knowles

 

Week 2

One thing’s for sure, this continent is huge. Eight states, four provinces, plus I-don’t-know-how-many stops at Tim Hortons later, and here we are at the top of Lake Louise Ski Area. The signpost at the peak says we’ve travelled 2,862 km from Toronto. After all those road miles, the #FUNtasticSkiFour is more than ready to ski.

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The Arrival

We pull into pretty Banff National Park late afternoon, just as the sun is bathing the Rockies in a pinkish alpenglow. “It looks animated,” my son says. Translation: It doesn’t look real. “It’s Canada’s most iconic scene,” I tell him. “Silver rock, sharp peaks, all that snow. It’s what the rest of the world associates with Canada.” “Really?” Emmett answers. His Grade 8 brain processes the idea. “That’s weird.”

Sunshine Lodge

The very first person we encounter after all those kilometres is a woman we know. A mom from my kids’ Toronto school in Leaside is checking out of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge as we’re checking in. How odd. We travel across the continent only to run into a person we see in the schoolyard nearly every day back home. She tells us the snow conditions at Sunshine Village are fabulous—soft and fluffy, like a feathery pillow. Plus, she says, the service is optimal.

I agree. The lodge is situated mid-mountain at an elevation of 2,200 metres. It’s Banff’s only ski-in/ski-out hotel, which means it’s surrounded by snow. There’s one way to reach the lodge in winter, and that’s by gondola, luggage and all. Fifteen of our heavy bags, four sets of skis, and eight unwieldy ski poles are hauled into gondola cars and carried for us to the snowbound lodge. Beleaguered valets do this with a smile. Yes, the service is optimal.

After watching other people carry our bags, we’re exhausted. We hunker down for the night in a timber-lined suite—one with a loft, down duvets, a fireplace, and floor-to-ceiling windows that present a framed view of pretty Rocky Mountain peaks. My kids are more fascinated by the automatic window shades than they are by this postcard scene. Up and down, up and down they go. No matter. I pour Peter and myself a glass of red wine, step outside, and close the balcony door. We toast our arrival, the snow, these diamond-cut peaks. “Cheers,” Peter says. “Here’s to our year of daring greatly.”

Sunshine Skiing

Sunshine Village — a member of the Mountain Collective — delivers on its promise of Banff’s greatest natural snow. It’s dry and light, like flour. Plus, it’s deep. “I can’t see my skis!” Grace hollers. She’s 9, and this is her first real powder time. We sing The Weeknd: I can’t see my skis when I’m with you… But I love you…

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We explore Sunshine like a herd of mountain goats—up one lift, down a fluffy bowl, up another lift, and so on. Much of Sunshine is above treeline, with rocky outcroppings and—as far as the eye can see—snow. But further down there are fabulous trees, too. Emmett and I follow lines through the snowy evergreens, twisting and turning over bumps and dropping over faces and steeps. We’d be content all day to ride Sunshine’s new TeePee Town LX, Canada’s first heated chairlift. (The LX stands for luxury.) But there’s much to see, including the Great Divide. At Sunshine, you can ski on either side of this continental divide between the Atlantic and Pacific. “See?” I tell myself. “Missing six weeks of school is no big deal. I’m giving my kids geography lessons in the field.”

A Castle in the Snow

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The following night we check-in to Canada’s castle in the snow. The Fairmont Banff Springs makes us feel like Royals with its majestic setting by the Bow River, cavernous rooms, medieval décor. There are knights in shining armor along one castle wall. The kids battle over who gets to sit in the King’s throne, the chair that holds court in the hotel’s ballroom — the one with the leaded windows and grand views. Peter and I dance a waltz; Gracie sings A Kiss from a Rose… a song by Seal. But it’s the outdoor pool that wins the day. Steam rises into the mountain air, giving the surrounding peaks a mystical zeal. I half expect Sir Lancelot to emerge from the mist with Lady Guinevere. After our swim, we get lost in the castle’s meandering hallways. Literally,

But it’s the outdoor pool that wins the day. Steam rises into the mountain air, giving the surrounding peaks a mystical zeal. I half expect Sir Lancelot to emerge from the mist with Lady Guinevere. After our swim, we get lost in the castle’s meandering hallways. Literally, we get lost. We’re all wrapped up in fluffy, white robes.

Skiing Lake Louise

Skiing Lake Louise Ski Resort — also a member of the Mountain Collective — the next day is different yet again. The fastest skiers e.v.e.r. ride its front-side, barreling down the World Cup downhill run like wannabe Lindsey Vonn’s. We join them, marvelling how our fat, powder-friendly Head skis still manage to hold an edge.

We ride the Top of the World six-pack and snap a photo of the Ten Peaks, forcing our friendly guide to name them. It’s true what they say about the top of Lake Louise: The view of Canada’s Rockies simply can’t be beaten. Next, we dip into the bowls, laying down short, snappy turns through the crud and bumps. Translation: heaven. Around 1 p.m. we stop at Whitehorn Lodge for a gourmet bite to eat. One day there will be a larger lodge higher up, our guide tells us, plus expanded terrain to skier’s left of the bowls. It’s a plan Parks Canada has just approved. I can’t wait to ski it.

Banff Avenue

We close out our visit to Banff with après-ski at the Park Distillery on Banff Avenue. The kids liken its quirky atmosphere to their summer camp in Muskoka. Mac-and-cheese served in tin pots, smoky ribs, s’mores for dessert. Our cheeky waiter, with his “Hey kids!” greeting and his Flock of Seagulls hair, is wearing jean cutoffs and a plaid shirt. Yes, I think. The Park Distillery in Canada’s most famous National Park is like camp. It’s an appropriate way to close out our visit to Banff. (www.SkiBig3.com)

Next Stop for the #FUNtasticSkiFour

Next stop for the #FUNtasticSkiFour: British Columbia. We’re going to ski Revelstoke Mountain Resort in the Columbia mountain ranges, followed by a city break in Vancouver. Then one of my all-time favourites: Whistler.

This post is also available in: French

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