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Ski Resort Life

The Local’s Lake Louise

Nestled above stunning Banff, Lake Louise is home to some of the best scenery and skiing on the continent. Here's how to ski Lake Louise like a local.

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Situated within the Alberta’s Banff National Park, Lake Louise boasts 4,200 skiable acres of glades, bowls and cruisers surrounded by a world-famous panorama. But like any big ski area, it helps to create a plan and bring some local knowledge with you up onto the hill.

With 3,240 vertical feet of both raw and manicured terrain, the resort might be best known as the site of Canada’s only men’s and women’s World Cup downhills. But beyond the speed course, Louise offers big-mountain lines for ambitious skiers and classic elegance for connoisseurs of the mountain lifestyle.

This shot along the ridgeline shows both sides of Lake Louise. Draping down the left are the famous “Powder Bowls,” which live up to their name in this early-December photo. Also pictured front-right, is backcountry access off the top of the Platter, which is not yet primed in these early-season conditions.

Skiers of all abilities can explore the 600-acre Larch Area, pictured back left, which couples intermediate and advanced terrain (green through double black) surrounded by backcountry touring areas and bowls.

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From the Lake Louise base area, there are two primary options for accessing the mountain. The Grizzly Express Gondola is the fastest, most direct route to the top, but the best way to crack into expert terrain is by way of the triple-combo ride: Take the Glacier Express quad directly to the Top of the World six pack chair. Then, it’s just a fun, quick traverse over to the Summit Platter (poma lift), which is the locals’ route for snagging steep powder-day lines on both the front and backsides of the resort.

Cruising around the base area, you might happen upon Lake Louise owner Charlie Locke, a legend not just of the resort, but also of the greater Canadian Rockies.

Outfitted with a pair of skis that cost $7 and homemade ski boots, Locke first came to Lake Louise in 1954 when he was 7 years old. In those days, it was called the Temple Ski Area and his family stayed at the Post Hotel.

Locke soon became Canada’s youngest certified mountain guide with international credentials by the time he was 21, and he holds several first ascents on some of the area’s most serious peaks.

Known to his friends as Charlie Locke, Stock and Barrel — cattle and oil being his life’s other pursuits — the Alberta native became a shareholder of Lake Louise in 1974, when he was 25. In 1981 he bought out his partners, and the resort has been family owned ever since.

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The Summit Platter (poma lift) brings you to the highest point on Lake Louise, nearly to the top of Mount Whitehorn, which rises to 8,765 feet. Don’t expect a sleepy escalator ride to the top. The Platter is steep, really steep at times, so hang on.

From there, skiers have several options. Dropping back down the front side for a lap on the Platter is a great way to warm up the legs on off-piste terrain with rolling pitch. However, skiers looking to dive right in should head down the backside of the resort — northwest toward Whitehorn 2, Boomerang Bowl or North Cornice. All are great options for long, steep, open runs.

Some locals will duck into West Bowl, a backcountry access area, which funnels back toward the front of the resort. But be careful; there’s a gnarly rock field under the snow, so ski it later in the season with someone familiar with the terrain and proper avalanche gear. 

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One of the best ways to see the Lake Louise is from a helicopter. An hour-long ride runs about $2,500, so it might not be the most realistic option for most visitors. But take our word for it; there are nine bowls (or bowl-like zones) amounting to 2,500 skiable acres on the backside of Lake Louise, and some of the best terrain can be found on the outskirts of the map. Shown here, Mount Whitehorn offers advanced lines in every direction — both inbounds and out.

On the opposite end of Louise’s backside is the double-black terrain looker’s left of the Grizzly Express. The area is among the resort’s most extreme and, with a Mount Temple backdrop, most photographed. But skiers should definitely wait for a solid, mid-season base.

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There are discreet powder stashes throughout the back bowls. Skiing the big, open faces is an absolute must, but don’t forget to explore the gladed terrain, which is home to some of the best snow on the mountain. Be patient and take a couple laps through each bowl because there are a bunch of off-the-beaten-path spots, like this one in lower Saddleback Bowl.

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Standing atop Louise’s back bowls, there is definitely some serious terrain. And there are places you should drop in and places you probably shouldn’t. Along the top of the bowls, skiers will encounter dozens of bare, wooden posts — that’s where you drop in.

There is no signage on any of these posts because the resort doesn’t want to encourage the masses into areas they shouldn’t be skiing, and the presence of a post does not necessarily indicate an abundance of snow. That said, for expert skiers looking for terrain through cliffs and chutes, the posts mark the spots (but scout your line from the chairlift first).
 

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The Paradise triple chair is one of the quickest ways to re-access the front of the mountain. It’s also a great for scouting lines and establishing a sense of direction on the backside. From the top, skiers can get just about anywhere on the mountain. Ski diagonally in a westward direction for another lap on the Platter, or let the eastward winds blow you back the way you came — back into Paradise.

Feel like calling it quits for the day? Head straight down the front of the mountain on intermediate crusiers or through the more challenging gladed terrain toward the base.

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Hungry? Thirsty? There’s no need to venture back to the front of the mountain. Stay in the back and grab a burger and a brew at the Temple Lodge at the base of the Ptarmigan Lift in the back bowls. The lodge, which is actually the original base lodge for Lake Louise, offers fine dining upstairs and cafeteria-style eats downstairs. As you might suspect by its name, the lodge overlooks the iconic Mount Temple, shown here in the distance, and serves as the springtime venue for on-mountain parties.

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The scenery from Lake Louise is about as dramatic as anything you’ll find from a commercial ski resort. Be aware of other skiers on the mountain who might be looking left, right, up — anywhere but the direction they’re skiing. Views of Mount Temple, the highest mountain in the Lake Louise area, and the Valley of the Ten Peaks dominate a competitive landscape. It can be difficult to look away, so take advantage of the on-mountain viewing areas, like this one, for snapping photos and enjoying the Rocky Mountain scenery.

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With impeccable hospitality and a friendly staff that anticipates your needs (often before you do), a stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is an experience to check off the bucket list. One of the most famous hotels in the world, the Chateau is worth a visit even if you’re not planning to sleep there. Get lost exploring the expansive, fairy tale-like lobbies with towering windows overlooking one of the most striking mountain lakes on the planet, from which the town and ski resort derive their names. It’s a 10-minute drive or shuttle to the base of the ski mountain from the Chateau.

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With scenery that has long adorned backside of the Canadian $20 bill, request a lakeside room overlooking the picturesque Louise and the glacial peaks that surround her. For added exclusivity and comfort, reserve a room on the Gold Floor, which is equipped with personal concierge, a well-rounded breakfast, nightly h’orderves and complementary drinks.

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Forget the mixed greens salad and start your dining experience off with a true Canadian appetizer: The Rocky Mountain charcuterie platter at the Deer Lodge. Smoked air-dried buffalo, prosciutto, pepper duck breast, game pate, Sylvan Star gouda, elk salami, mustard melons and cranberry relish — put it all together for unique assortment of the area’s most delicious wild treats, for two.

Then as a main course, the lodge has composed an array of fine dishes. But when in Canada, do as the Canadians do and indulge in succulent wild caribou medallions with potato, squash reosti and raspberry glaze. For a slightly gamier cut, order the grilled elk striploin steak with roast fingerling potatoes and a Saskatoon berry game glaze.

Guests staying at the Chateau can’t miss the Deer Lodge, which located on the right as you approach the hotel.

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The Post Hotel offers accommodations for travelers seeking a more secluded, yet equally elegant experience as the Chateau. Professional athletes, dignitaries and high-profile businesspeople frequent the impressive mountain lodge.

Strolling through the wine cellar, shown here, is an experience unto itself. With an inventory of over 25,500 bottles, the Post houses some of the finest wines from all over the world, valued at upwards of $35,000 per bottle and amounting to one of the most comprehensive collections in Canada. Have a cigar and glass of wine in one of the Post’s luxurious lounges. You never know whom you might wind up sitting next to.