Lake Louise: Canada's little resort with big scenery
Sunday 23 January 2011
When skiers who are used to the Alps first experience North America's resorts they commonly complain that the scenery is a bit of an anti-climax – it's often gently rolling rather than sharp and pointy.
But that criticism cannot be levelled at the vista that unfolds as you drive west on the Trans-Canadian highway from Calgary to the Banff National Park, where the Rocky Mountains loom down in front of you.
The route leads to a dozen world-class ski areas on each side of the border of Alberta and British Columbia. But for scenic grandeur, imaginative terrain design, and sheer scale, the Lake Louise ski area (skilouise.com) is unsurpassed. Covering 11 square miles, with 139 trails in four separate areas – interconnected by an impressive lift and trail system – as well as thousands of acres of open powder bowls, glades and chutes, this is one of the largest ski areas in Canada.
Many visitors choose to stay in Banff, 45 minutes' drive away, which is one of those rare ski towns that's actually busier in summer due to hikers bound for the surrounding National Park. The upside of this is that there's strong competition between businesses for the diminished winter client base, which drives down prices. The town also offers a triple ski-area pass (skibig3.co), which covers the nearby Norquay and Sunshine ski centres.
But Lake Louise does have a small resort of its own, much more convenient and 10 minutes away from the slopes themselves by free "lobby-to-lifts" shuttle. Plans to expand it in the 1970s were thankfully blocked. So the village is an intimate affair and home to several classy hotels, including Chateau Lake Louise, which was established in 1890 (when the railroad arrived in the area) on the shores of the famous lake, against a backdrop of majestic mountains. Packages here are available through Crystal Ski (crystalski.co.uk) among other tour operators.
For independent travellers, one of the best deals is at the Great Divide Lodge (greatdividelodge.ca), which offers a room and lift ticket for $79 (£49) per night midweek and $99 at weekends. As a lift ticket is $79.75, it's quite a deal.
When it comes to reliable snow, "The Lake" is again hard to beat. With copious amounts of natural snow and Canada's largest snow-making system, the season runs to the middle of May – making it a good choice for a late ski break when most of North America's other ski areas have closed.
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