When you stand atop the western flank of Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta’s Banff National Park, the mountainscape almost makes you forget you’re skiing. Above the Trans-Canada highway and the Bow River, Victoria Glacier lords over the icy gray of Lake Louise. Chiseled walls and white-ribbon slide paths etch relief into the blue hue of 5,000-foot peaks.
Ah, the Canadian Rockies, your soul croons. Then you look down at your ski tips and remember 2,000 feet of undeveloped woods and gravitational euphoria await below. Even better, these goods are now inbounds.
This ski season, Lake Louise put a new zone, known as West Bowl, on the map. If you have skied Lake Louise Ski Resort—or pined over the trail map—you’ll find the new terrain on the frontside of the mountain, all the way to looker’s left (northwest).
Here, the infamous Summit Platter, an often-wind-hammered surface lift, plops you on the shoulder of 8,652-foot Mount Whitehorn. A quick traverse leads to the tops of steep lettered gullies, “A” through “I,” that descend the backside to the right. In the past, skiing off the Platter has mostly been about beating the masses to these steeps when they’re in. With West Bowl open, skiers will be able to opt for the frontside to the left. And the platter? Replaced by a new fixed-grip quad.
It’s not that West Bowl is new ski terrain. For years, Banff skiers have been dipping into its close-to-the-rope gullies and even slapping on skins to explore further. But now, the zone is avalanche-controlled, and skiers enter through gates. While you won’t pass a beacon check to ski West Bowl, avalanche safety gear is recommended.
So, like Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin expansion to The Beavers and The Steep Gullies in 2018, West Bowl’s opening will be novel to most skiers—and perhaps ominous to the familiar crowd. “Locals will grumble,” says Dave Petch, who heads-up avalanche control for Lake Louise ski patrol. “But everything will balance out. There’s a lot to ski here.”
Banff local Julia LoVecchio, who heads up marketing for CMH and has been skiing Lake Louise since 1980, is part of that familiar crowd. She wondered what the West Bowl expansion would mean. “Yes, more people are skiing West Bowl,” she says. “But the expansion has given access to places that before were a haul to get to. West Bowl is magical because it’s introduced some incredible glades for us who like to ski them.”
She’s not kidding. West Bowl adds 480 acres to Lake Louise’s 4,200-acre footprint, making it the second-largest ski resort in Canada behind Whistler Blackcomb with 8,171 acres. In the same way The Beavers and The Steep Gullies immediately sweetened Arapahoe Basin’s terrain buffet—and reduced pressure on other favorite zones like the East Wall—West Bowl adds an off-piste frontier to Lake Louise.
One thing grumblers can’t say is that Lake Louise is diluting the terrain. Beyond a 1.5-mile groomed egress trail back to civilization, the Lake Louise brain trust plans to keep West Bowl wild. No cuts, no grades, no trail signs—just a little general area nomenclature. “We don’t want to mark it. We want to let people explore,” Petch says.
I was lucky enough to sample West Bowl with Petch on one of the last powder days at Lake Louise before Covid-19 shuttered last ski season ahead of schedule.
He and 30-year Lake Louise veteran Rocket Miller chaperoned my crew of three through West Bowl’s network of chutes, groves, and faces in a foot of fresh snow. We sampled some steeper 35-degree shots and boulder drops, as well as low-angle pow, turns through open pines. West Bowl checks the boxes for adventure-minded skiers with the intermediate ability and above.
Our third lap found us pushing further beyond the rope. Creamy arcs between frozen hobbit pines gave way to some quick-footed surfing down tightly treed chutes. Even Petch and Miller needed to reorient themselves a couple of times to keep us on track.
Surrounded by the dead quiet of powder-choked vegetation, I found myself surprised and impressed with the resort’s laissez-faire approach to the new terrain. It’s refreshing to ski an inbounds zone that feels far-flung. The all but unmissable catch road at the bottom adds the necessary advantage of ensuring people can’t get too lost.
That the resort exists in a national park makes it unique to American visitors. It also comes with a high bar for conservation.
Lake Louise’s approach to the expansion leaves a reassuring aftertaste. That the resort exists in a national park makes it unique to American visitors. It also comes with a high bar for conservation. To the extent that a massive ski resort can be a land steward, Lake Louise walks the walk.
Because the new terrain sits outside the original boundaries of the leasehold, Lake Louise is giving back roughly 1,000 acres to Banff National Park. Much of that is vital grizzly habitat, and the new lease boundaries will reconnect a bear migration route. Taken together with the rest of the resort’s long-range plan, this terrain expansion actually reduces the resort’s overall footprint by about 30 percent, adds minimal infrastructure, and preserves the mountain’s natural topography.
In West Bowl, LoVecchio says, that vast natural terrain adds a new element to Lake Louise. “Locals skiing West Bowl get to the trees and everybody turns around and says they feel like they’re at a different resort,” she says. “The combination of the new summit lift with this terrain is that the hill is skiing in a different way than it has in its entire history.”
Of course, the Canadian border is still closed to American tourists. So unless you can get Border Patrol to agree that powder skiing is an essential function, Banff locals are enjoying first dibs on West Bowl.
Rather than letting COVID-19 claim more of your happiness, though, stash away some travel points: An Ikon Pass gets you access to Lake Louise, so if you’re Team Alterra, be ready to pounce next season. Until then, find some gravitational euphoria in your nearest West Bowl.