It’s January 4 and after celebrating an awesome Staebler Family New Year, we were heading to the Land of the Midnight Sun. After hours of driving in blustery conditions, we got to the Canadian border at about 11:30 pm. Things are quiet that time of night and when we pulled up to the young border agent, he had a little extra time to chat.
“Turn off the battlewagon!” he hollered when we pulled up. After checking our paperwork, he gave us some good natured local’s advice, “Just so you know, they aren’t going to like that rig up in Banff. There’s a bunch of hippies up there.”
We felt pretty confident that we could hold our own against the “Hippies of Banff”, so we turned on Jackie Moon, in all his loud diesel-devouring glory and drove north.
After a pit stop for sleeping, we arrived at Norquay, one of 3 Banff ski areas where we can use the Ikon Pass. This was clearly a local’s mountain. We were surrounded by families with picnic lunches, moms knitting in the lodge as their teenagers took racing clinics, and lots of knee-high skiers who could beat me down the mountain blindfolded.
It was a perfect intro to Canada.
Norquay faces east and is a steep, icy, racers’ paradise. This is where many Canadian teams come to train and as a new alpine skier, I just tried to stay out of people’s way. Tim discovered an untouched powder stash and had a great time off trail for multiple runs. After a few hours, we got our first Canadian Pint (which is larger than the American Pint, just one more reason to love this place) and celebrated a bluebird ski day.
After a quick trip to Lake Louise, we then spent the next several days exploring the town of Banff. It was charming, friendly and nobody seemed to mind a white van parked in the street for a few days.
Next we checked out Sunshine Village, a unique ski area about 20 minutes from Banff. When we drove to the parking lot, it was unclear where there was any skiing. The lodge was tucked in a deep canyon surrounded by cliffs and forests. A single gondola headed up the mountain and then disappeared, but there was no other sign of a ski lift.
We took the gondola and after a 15 minute ride up the mountain, everything opened up. There were 6 lifts, 2 huge lodges and restaurants. But NO ROADS! Everything needed for the ski area to run was brought up by Snow Cats or by Gondola. It was an impressive production.
We loved Sunshine Village. The snow was fine, but again, it was the people that made this place terrific. We stayed overnight in the parking lot, not the only camper here, and spent two days enjoying the snow.
Next it was off to the jewel of Banff skiing, Lake Louise Ski Area. This vast mountain reminded me of Vail, with its pristine groomers and large bowls. This is Lyndsey Vonn’s favorite stop on the World Tour. We could see why.
We spent 3 days here working in the large Lake Louise Ski Lodge, where the internet was fast and it was quiet during the week. Most morning started well before sun up with coffee and meetings. We’d watch the sun rise over the mountain and then spend the afternoon skiing. I was able to take 2 ski lessons and my skiing and confidence both soared.
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We couldn’t stay at Lake Louise without exploring the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
My plan of inventing a story so that we could get a tour of the inside was thwarted when a surprisingly intimidating 20-year-old with a clipboard made it clear that the lobby, bar, and restaurants were for guests only, thank you.
I can’t imagine how she knew we weren’t staying there? Maybe it was the ski pants that gave it away. Anyway, never underestimate the power of a clipboard, they can frazzle the best of us. It was ok though, we were able to tour the grounds, take in the views and enjoy the ice.