Skiing Alberta: An Avalanche of Winter Wonders

One of my favorite places to ski, the Rocky Mountain slopes of Alberta, Canada, are open for the 2012-2013 ski season and packed with some great new developments. Here’s a sampling.

Banff’s Mt. Norquay has been open since October 25, so it has had plenty of time to work out any pre-season kinks. Current snowfall is reported at more that 30 inches, with 30 runs open. This is a really fun little resort with an edgy vibe, though note trails can be quite steep and icy in the upper areas of the mountain. They have night skiing here, as well as lift tickets by the hour, so a good one if you want to get in a half-day on the slopes along with some additional Banff National Park sightseeing.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is probably my favorite of the Banff-Lake Louise area’s three resorts (although you really can’t go wrong at any given the snow, uncrowded conditions, and spectacular views). At a whopping 4,200 acres, Lake Louise offers a massive amount of terrain for all comers, including a new Learning & Adventure Centre with magic carpets and other beginner-friendly amenities. This is where I’d start if you’re new to the sport, or want to get back in the groove.

Sunshine Village

Sunshine Village is the Banff area’s most complete resort, with arguably the best quality snow and most diverse mix of terrain. Although slightly smaller than Lake Louise, its 3,358 acres offer some real challenges across 107 runs (25 percent of which are rated advanced/expert). The mountain has also upped the ante this season with the addition of a new on-mountain smokehouse, Vietnamese pho café, and European-style creperie for the 2012-2013 season. Ski and be sated. What’s not to love?

As someone who’s skied this area (as well as visited in both winter and summer seasons), it’s hard to recommend any one resort over another, as they’re all cradled in some of the most spectacular scenery you can imagine. Try them all if you can! Non-skiers can even venture beyond the lower confines of the Bow Valley River corridor. This season, the new Tri-Area Sightseeing Pass ($39.95 Canadian for adults) offers access to Norquay’s chairlift as well as the two gondolas at Sunshine and Lake Louise. Drink in the views without having to strap on skis, plus get a complimentary $12 (Canadian) food and beverage voucher to redeem at participating resort eateries; incredibly, the pass also includes complimentary round-trip transport from downtown Banff and Lake Louise hotels.

And while I have your attention about why you should plan a ski trip to Alberta this season, don’t overlook another fantastic resort tucked within the soaring folds of Banff and Jasper national parks. Located at the other end of Alberta’s world-famous Icefields Parkway is the lovely little resort of Marmot Basin. Given its more remote location, it doesn’t see the same traffic as the “Big 3” to its south. If you do get up there, expect crowd-free skiing, slopes that are exposed to some of the continent’s best views, and a very relaxed, mellow vibe. Marmot also benefits from one of North America’s longest seasons, with spring skiing available as late as May.

Lastly (and I haven’t skied here), Kananaskis Country’s Fortress Mountain is back in business with its first season of cat-skiing. Closed in 2007 after the original owner lost its re-issuing permit, Fortress’s new management team has re-opened the glorious untracked terrain—seen in flicks including Inception and The Bourne Legacy—to members of the public through its new KPOW cat-skiing operation. Eventually the goal is to restore Fortress to its original glory, a boon to skiers looking for yet another reason to pack up the skis and head north.

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