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Skiing in Alberta - 3 Days, 3 Different Ski Resorts
Located in and around Banff National park, Sunshine, Lake Louise and Nakiska Ski Resorts have some of the best downhill skiing in Alberta.
Lake Louise is the annual home to the World-cup slalom and giant-slalom race. People from all over the world travel here to witness the best skiers in the world fly down the winter slopes in Banff National Park.
Sunshine Village ski resort is my personal favourite which offers excellent snow, scenic views of the Rocky Mountains and wide, open runs on 3 different mountains. Nakiska ski resort, located in Kananaskis Provincial Park, is located in the front ranges and played host to the alpine events for the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Unlike the snow in BC, the white-stuff in Alberta is dry and powdery and known as 'Champagne Powder'. Ski season starts in November but I wouldn't recommend using your best equipment at this time of the year (too many rocks). The great skiing starts in December when the temperatures are cold and the snow base is thick.
These resorts have lots of terrain and use the latest high-speed, high capacity chairlifts. Lift lines longer than 5 minutes are rare (except during the Christmas holidays and Spring Break in March). There's plenty of groomed runs, fresh-powder & long stretches of moguls for skiers of every level.
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Where to Stay
We based our Alberta ski-trip out of Canmore, Alberta, so that we'd be within an hour drive of all three resorts. Some people make the daily commute from Calgary, but that adds an extra hour of driving each way. Banff was another option but we chose Canmore this time around.
For convenience, we rented a car and got dropped off at the different ski-resort each day while the non-skiers in out party went on their daily adventures in town.
Canmore, Alberta is a fun, funky mountain town (with EXPENSIVE real estate) that has lots of hotels, restaurants and other fun things to do.
While we were on the hill all day, the non-skiing friends enjoyed trail-riding, cross-country skiing and even cave-exploring. We missed out on an afternoon at the spa... but didn't mind since we were on the slippery slopes of heaven!
Incidentally, this Rocky Mountain town at the base of the Three Sisters Mountain was so picturesque, we extended our trip by one day and spent a relaxing romantic getaway in town.
Day 1 - Calgary to CanmoreWe arrived late into Calgary International Airport (or very early for the next ski day). We drove 1.5 hours from the city to the town of Canmore.
The Trans-Canada Highway was in great condition but we were warned by the rental-car clerk to check the road conditions frequently since the weather could change quickly in the mountains (click here for up-to-date AMA Road Reports). We arrived at the hotel, ate a late dinner & hit the sack.
Day 2 - Skiing Sunshine VillageSunshine is the oldest and largest ski resort in the region. With over 9 meters of snow & powder each year (and tons of sunshine) it has lots of varying terrain for all level of skiers.
The runs can be groomed & easy or steep with moguls. The best part is that all the runs are LONG and endless! In 1995, the Goat's Eye ski area was opened which almost doubled the amount of ski-able terrain at Sunshine. In this new section, the runs are steeper but never crowded.
I love Sunshine Village, right from the first gondola ride that whisks people up to the skier's village to the end of the 3.8 kilometer ski-out Trail (a real leg-burner so taking the gondola is an alternative). The snow is always good in the winter and the mountain views from the Continental Divide Express chair are unparalleled.
Remember that skiing in Canada can be cold. The snow is great below -7 C (the skies carve and chatter when coming to a stop) but skiing in colder temperatures requires extra layers & determination! The worst part is going up the chairlifts heading into the wind.
- Lift Ticket - $76.14
- Snowfall - Over 9 meters (30 feet)
- Ski-season - Mid-November to Mid-May (weather permitting). General ski conditions:
- November - not all the runs are open; rocky conditions.
- December - good snow but the air temperature could be cold (below -25 C). The resort is PACKED during the Christmas holidays and free buses bring in skiers from the outlying parking lots.
- January - good snow but the air temperature could be cold (below -25 C). The holiday crowds are long gone and the big resort feels personal and private.
- February - good snow, the days are longer. It's usually not that cold (-10 C). University students show up for a Reading Week break but the lift lines still move quickly.
- March - Spring skiing conditions start in mid-March. The sun is bright & strong, the snow is in EXCELLENT condition (bring sunscreen). Spring break is on and families usually invade the hill.
- April - Spring skiing is still great on the upper runs but it's a bit slushy near the base. I ski without a jacket when the temperature is above +5 C.
- May - I don't ski at the end of the season. I love my skis too much.
- Ski-able Terrain: 3358 acres (13.6 square kilometers) - 25% beginner, 50% intermediate, 25% expert.
- Vertical: over 3500 feet (1070 meters)
- Number of Lifts: 12
- Temperature at which the hill closes: -30 C
- Where to Stay: Sunshine does have on-hill accommodations but the inn is a bit dated. There are plenty of romantic getaways and other hotels in Banff & Canmore with daily ski-buses to the resort.
- Where to Eat: Canmore & Banff all types of restaurants from Japanese food to steak houses.
- Après Ski: Sulfur Mountain Hot Springs, numerous spas and clubs (if your legs can take it). I enjoy the intimate pubs where I can rest after a hearty day of skiing.
- Sunshine Ski Village is located 140 kilometers (1.5 hours) from Calgary or 15 kilometers (20 minutes) from Banff, Alberta.
Day 3 - Nakiska Ski Resort in Kananaskis
Nakiska is located off the beaten path on Kananaskis Provincial Park, about 30 minutes from Canmore. It hosted the downhill alpine events for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and hasn't changed much since.
Nakiska is never crowded because it's always stayed in the shadows off Sunshine & Lake Louise.
Personally, I've found Nakiska to have icy conditions throughout the year. It faces east and is exposed to the sun until mid-afternoon so this must cause soft snow to form an icy crust. The tiny snow crystals from the extensive snow-making capability may also contribute to the icy conditions.
The views are pretty in the Front Ranges but not as dramatic as the rocky peaks near the other resorts. Also, Albertans mandated that Kananaskis Provincial Park not be developed and the amenities are limited. The one hotel is nice (the G8 summit was held here) but the choice of restaurants is small. The closest night-life can be found 30 minutes away in Canmore.
I drive past Nakiska on daytrips from Calgary.
- Lift Ticket:$64.95
- Snowfall:2.5 meters (8 feet) + snow-making on 95% of the mountain
- Ski-season:Late November to Early April (weather permitting)
- Ski-able Terrain: about 400 acres
- Vertical: 779m (2555 feet)
- Number of Lifts:6
- Temperature at which the hill closes:-30 C
- Where to Stay:Kananaskis Village is 5 minutes away but there are more options in Canmore & Banff.
- Where to Eat:Again, head to Canmore & Banff for a full selection of eateries.
- Après Ski: If you're looking for seclusion and rest, stay in Kananaskis. If you're looking for a party, head to Canmore & Banff.
- Nakiska Ski Resort in Kananaskis, Alberta is 95 kilometers (1 hour) west of downtown Calgary, Alberta or 75 kilometers (50 minutes) from Banff, Alberta.
Day 3 - Skiing Lake Louise
There's something about the Canadian Rocky Mountains that gets to your heart. The scenic and uncrowded beauty always creates lasting memories... and that's before you hit the slopes!
Lake Louise Ski Resort offers big runs and lots of ski-able terrain. You have the choice of skiing on 3 faces which have different views, snow and grade.
The front side is the biggest and has awesome views of the valley. On the other side is the frozen, majestic Lake Louise. The snow is great on this side except in the spring when the lower portion becomes slushy from the warm sun. In winter, it can get a bit windy but you can always escape to the back side.
Ptarmigan/Paradise Back Bowls is a quiet, snowy area that has long runs blue and black runs. If leg-busting moguls are your thing, you'll love the extended run Paradise Chair. Needless to say, this run is NEVER crowded.
The Larch area is my favourite ski area. Located in the shadow of the Lipalian Mountain, the snow is always deep and soft and rarely icy. The views are unbelievable and the silence is tremendous. You have to experience it believe it!
- Lift Ticket: $75.95
- Snowfall: over 9 meters (30 feet)
- Ski-season: Mid-November to Mid-April (weather permitting)
- Ski-able Terrain: 4200 acres (1700 hectares)!!! 25% Beginner, 45% Intermediate, 30% Advanced
- Vertical: 991 meters (3250 feet)
- Number of Lifts:9
- Temperature at which the hill closes: - 30 C
- Where to Stay:There are no on-site accommodations. There are a few hotels in the valley but most people stay in Canmore & Banff.
- Where to Eat:Limited selection but not nearly as many as in Canmore & Banff.
- Après Ski:There are plenty of winter activities happening at the hotel at Lake Louise. But for a night-life, head to Canmore & Banff.
- Lake Louise Ski Resort is located 181 kilometers (2 hours) from Calgary or 58 kilometers (50 minutes) from Banff, Alberta.
Surviving the slopes means resting and relaxing at the end of the ski-day. Our favourite activity was to soak in the Sulphur Hot Springs just south of the town of Banff, near the base of the gondola.
The heat from the hot mineral water soaked into the sore muscles and tired bones. Being warmed and tenderized made for a good, après-ski nap after a memorable day of skiing in Alberta.
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