Ski reality TV, that’s my daughter view of our ski trips…“Ski travels with the Burke family” would be highly scenic, a bit hectic and therefore humorous, with plenty of action packed skiing. For our pilot, we could premier our family ski trip to western Canada.
Our family ski adventure would star spectacular footage of snow-capped Rocky Mountains, skiing four famous resorts in eight days, hopping from one extraordinary hotel to the next. Watch us repeatedly cram our gear into our mid-size rental, like clowns in a Volkswagen, for our scenic Trans-Canada drive from Calgary to Banff Lake Louise, to Jasper in Alberta, then Panorama in British Columbia. Along the way we encounter some very cool Canadians (wearing tuques, eh). No one was hurt, that would be bad for ratings, but my husband squared off with a big horn sheep, and we were all frisked by Canadian Royal Mounties as we were escorted out of the country.
Until our ski series gets picked up by Bravo, MTV or HBO, here’s our “Game of Skiing” travels and photos fer’ sure (I speak Canadian now eh?!).
Our premier opens with Sunshine. To reach our lodging, Sunshine Mountain Lodge is the only slopeside lodging in Banff National Park, we must ride the gondola. Of course we arrive too late (thank you un-named airlines) despite my husband driving 140 kph (you do the math), so our gracious Albertan hosts deliver us to 7,200′ via their Ford Excursion snowcat. Kids think this is cool! They’re right, it was!
Looking out at Sunshine’s jagged snowcapped peaks from our spacious loft’s floor to ceiling windows gives promise of big mountain skiing the next day. The newly redesigned hotel sports an enviro-friendly art-deco mountain style. Native “rockies” stonework surrounds the oversized outdoor Jacuzzi, with views of Goat’s Eye extreme terrain and starry skies above. The chic hotel has everything you need: a delightful staff (of mostly fun Aussies), dining, a bar, cafe, Spa, and game room, high-thread linens and location, location, location.
We are first out on the slopes skiing Sunshine’s 3,368-acres, the best benefit of sleeping on mountain. By noon we have skied three mountains, across the Continental Divide from Alberta to B.C. and back again. Sunshine proclaims “best snow in Canada” with its highest elevation, and I would add “best views” as you look out at countless peaks including the pinnacle Mount Assiniboine – the Matterhorn of the Rockies. We even skied over the Continental Divide, something for our kids’ lesson books – call it “ski school” or edicuation on vacation.
Episode 1 concludes as we hear rumors “the Dive is open.” Equipped with a guide, avalanche beacons and shovels, we dove into Delirium Dive – one of the steepest runs in Canada at 50-degrees. This is gated-access, no-fall, no faint of heart terrain. The deep natural snow and steep shots make me delirious – its namesake, eh?! Our son tackled it expertly, the steepest he’d encountered yet.
In Episode 2 we dog sled with a burly bearded dude named Uel, Yukon Cornelius’ cousin perhaps, and his herd of happy sled dogs with Kingmik Dogsledding. We strap into sleds for a classic Canadian adventure. My daughter pets and memorizes all of her new four-legged friends’ names. My son is psyched to take the reins and drive the dog sled. My husband loves the photo opp and is impressed by the sheer power of nine sleek strong dogs. Me, I have tears in my eyes – not from the chill, but from the beauty and joy of this magical moment, as I am snug in my down sleeping bag in the narrow sled as we charge through the frosted Canadian forest.
Episode 3 we arrive in the most magical setting, the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. This celebrated hotel was dreamed up by Canadian Railroad entrepreneur Cornelius Van Horne in 1890, along with his posh Canadian Pacific Railway train. Victoria Glacier plummets to a sparkling frozen Lake – Lake Louise – with the grand castle Hotel perched on its shore. Guests skate amid huge ice sculptures. Sleigh rides glide around the snowy Lake. Inside the immense Chateau is luxury and opulence; grand lobbies and lounges with picture windows frame the glacial scenery outside, and a harpist plays by a sparkling holiday tree – I am not making this up. Our palatial suite was dubbed the “Princess Quarters” by our daughter.
Next morning at the grand Lodge of Ten Peaks at Lake Louise Ski Area, just a 10-minute shuttle from the Chateau, we get ready to ski. Riding three consecutive lifts we arrive at the top of the world, with extraordinary scenery and expansive ski terrain, 11` sq. miles. “If you can see it, you can ski it,” said our local guide, Mr. Best. He was not the best, however, hitting on my teenage daughter was not cool, nor was intentionally trying to lose my husband. Well, he was unsuccessful on both attempts, and he was the only not-cool Canadian we met in 8 days!
Exploring Lake Louise’s 4,200-acres we find everything from groomed front side cruisers (one was 5-miles long with 3,250’ vertical) to the steeps of a World Cup Downhill where Bode and Lindsey Vonn have won. But the best of Lake Louise, is off the 8,765’summit, reached by an expert’s only poma.
The backside bowls of Whitehorn and Powder and ten others from my quick count easily hold a torch to Vail for extreme skiing. A chairlift mate, ski patrol Dan pointed out proudly that Jackson Hole’s ski patrol come here to train on the big steeps and chutes.
Our cozy lunch at the historic wood frame Temple Lodge is on the backside of Lake Louise. Our son loves the Poutine – a Canadian mix of French fries, cheese curds and gravy!
Episode 4 is something out of a Harry Potter film as we walk through mazes of stone archways leading to grand rooms with gorgeous views. This is not Hogwarts, its our one-night stay at The Banff Springs Hotel, elder-sister to the Château Lake Louise, built in 1888. Our time in this spectacular palace is far too brief since it takes time just to find our room and get our bearigns. The immense baronial castle hotel features 11 restaurants and lounges from fondue to samurai sushi, swank shops, and the most posh Willow Stream Spa with therapeutic minerals pools and cascading waterfalls in varying invigorating temperatures. Guests can walk to the town of Banff from here and take a shuttle to Ski Banff’s Big 3 resorts, Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, and Norquay, or just bask in their good fortune by the Chateau’s immense fireplace.
To conclude we feast at Banff’s Sleeping Buffalo, where the elk we saw roaming near town make their way to our plates at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge.
Episode 5 we enter Jasper National Park – the largest park of the Rocky Mountains. No one asks “are we there yet?” in our cramped three-hour car ride because we pass sparkling glaciers, gigantic peaks and acres of shimmering snow draped pines. I dub Alberta the land of a billion Christmas trees, and Greg says his fears of global warming are temporarily assuaged.
Arriving at Jasper Park Lodge, our third Fairmont hotel, we do the touristy selfies with the elk and bear (ok, stuffed) in the Grand Rocky Mountain lobby. From the posh window-lined saloon (where I would be content to sit and drink in the views and the vino), we can see Marmot Basin where we will ski the next day. We quickly recognize that many families never leave the 700-acre resort, choosing instead to skate on Lake Beauvert, enjoy horse rides, kids programs, the swimming pool, elegant restaurants and just sit by the sumptuous fireplaces. The kids are ecstatic to get their own room; we are lodged in one of the out cabins that dot the property. We bundle up like Nanook from the North to walk back to the lodge for dinner. Its cold in Canada eh?! Greg and I spot a discarded Christmas tree in a snowbank and sneak it back to our cabin with a note, cookies and hot cocoa from Santa.
Episode 6 we ski Marmot laps on the longest, fastest high-speed quad in the Canadian Rockies. Marmot Basin’s lift, rising 2,000’ vertical from base to near the summit. Marmot’s snow was amusingly squeaky and dry – due to its northern location and 8,570’ summit. After cruising the lower mountain’s progression from greens to black, we venture up the summit Knob Chair to find expansive snow bowls. Marmot reminds me of Loveland Colorado with its above-tree-line bowls, only with far less skiers amid the 1,675 acres and far more stunning peaks in remote Canada.
After our exhilarating day skiing Marmot, we pass elk grazing lazily by the roadside in the funky frontier town of Jasper. The namesake marmots must have been hibernating.
Episode 7 stars big horn sheep standing in the road on our way to our next park, The Kootenay National Forest of inner British Columbia. We are all a bit punchy pulling into our fourth ski resort, Panorama. Its not always easy being a ski journalist, or the family of a ski writer for that matter!
An Intrawest resort since 1994, Panorama is the perfect place for our finale, a well-planned condo resort with outdoor pools, shops, and restaurants all within walking distance so we can kiss our car goodbye for a few days in the underground parking.
Panorama is far more condensed and boutiquey than sisters Whistler or Tremblant but the mountain offers up a huge 4,265’ vertical with expansive groomed resort skiing. We also find some adventuresome off-piste terrain in Founders Ridge and Taynton Bowl, this terrain in the Purcell Mountains was previously accessed only by heli-skiing. It’s legendary ski country – charted by The Purcell Family and CMP heli skiing.
Lunch at the mid mountain Elkhorn Lodge delivers delicious homemade fare, trumped only by fantastic views and the host family’s history in this cozy 1952 cabin. Don Bilodeau’s bear story had the hairs on our collective necks on end. Skiing seemed tame after that. Side note. Bilodeau has written sevearl PSIA endorsed ski instruction booklets, he says he’s the ski turn guru.
Ending our Panorama scene, we enjoy a sophisticated evening at Earl Gray Lodge, the “prix fixed” chef’s dinner followed by resort fireworks was fantastic. Teh kids loved being entrusted to go to the hot tub for New Year’s Eve, Greg & I could see the outoodr pool and tub from our condo balcony… helicopter parents… perhaps. Next time, we should take the kids heli-skiing in Canada, then we’d be cool helicopter parents.
After skiing four famous Canadian Rocky ski resorts and lodging at equally impressive properties, our family loved the setting of Sunshine, the terrain of Lake Louise, the light fluffy snow of Marmot Basin and the resort village of Panorama. Since you can’t combine these Canadian qualities into one, and our ski-road-trip reality show is yet to be televised, I recommend you visit them all for their remarkable beauty. Alberta claims to be “the sunniest province,” and I would add “the friendliest”. The Canadian Royal Mounties made our full body search at the Calgary Airport pleasant, eh?!
See more Canada ski reviews
Banff Sunshine Village
Bella Coola Heli Skiing
Purcell Heli Skiing
Cat Skiing in the Monashees