Take Off: The Canadian Rockies Campaign

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Great Canadian Heli-skiing

You've scored a cheap flight to Calgary, taken the week off of work, and are now heading west on the Trans-Canada Highway with your best friend grinning in the passenger seat. It hasn't snowed here in weeks—but that's about to change. The poofy-haired person on TV told you a massive front is set to unload on the region in three days. Your fix is coming—you can feel it.


Elk graze in the rolling fields out the window. Ahead a wall of mountains rises from the plains, marking the eastern edge of the Canadian Rockies. You start daydreaming about the powder and steeps that you're driving into…

Then your rented Ford Taurus station wagon (it's beige) drifts into the other lane…and you snap out of it as you jerk the wheel. Twangy Canadian country music fills the car. OK, your best friend is no longer smiling, and the Taurus isn't exactly the rugged pimp-mobile you'd envisioned. But so what? The exchange rate is holding steady, and you've got a plan: Warm up on the Canadian Rockies' overlooked gems—Sunshine Village and Lake Louise—and then throttle 80 miles west, out of Alberta and into British Columbia for four days of cat-skiing north of Golden. And finally, the sprinkles on the Tim Hortons doughnut: three days in the bird with Great Canadian Heli-Skiing. A straight shot back to Calgary has you at work the following Monday.

STARTING POINT: Calgary, Alberta
TOTAL MILES: 390
RESORTS/OUTFITS: Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Chatter Creek Lodge (cat-skiing), Great Canadian Heli-Skiing
MINIMUM # OF DAYS NEEDED: 7
ROAD INFO: 403-246-5853; theweathernetwork.com

["Sunshine Village, Alberta"]
SUNSHINE VILLAGE, ALBERTA (right)

ELEVATION: 8,954 feet
VERTICAL DROP: 3,514 feet
SNOWFALL: 396 inches
SIZE: 3,358 acres
CONTACT: skibanff.com

THE LOWDOWN
Sunshine is finally shaking its family image, thanks to newly opened steep terrain like Delirium Dive. A two-year-old high-speed gondola and refurbished lodging help too. But an old-school vibe still lingers—the parking lot shuttle is still a farm tractor with a trailer.

FIRST TRACKS
Patrol tends to keep a tight leash on the 180-acre cirque that is Delirium Dive, but when the beacon-activated gate is open (you'll also need a shovel, a probe, and a buddy), 2,000 feet of 35- to 50-degree open bowls and pinchy chutes await.

GIVE 'ER
From the top of the Continental Divide Express quad, stay between the snow fence and the cliff edge demarcating the North Divide. Once you hit the trees, cut hard right and nab the Shoulder, a 40-degree hit tucked under a cliff face that holds snow well after a storm.

BEER-THIRTY
Sunshine is nearly surrounded by Banff National Park, so for a night out you should head to the town of Banff. Have a plate of halibut and chips with salty locals at the St. James pub. Later, buy cute French-Canadian snowboarders drinks at Wild Bill's.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
Avoid the nasty weekend traffic back and forth from Banff by booking a room at the mid-mountain, lift-accessed-only Sunshine Inn. It's cheap (ski and lodging packages for two start at C$200 a night) and on powder days you'll wake up in the pole position.

["Lake Louise, Alberta"]
LAKE LOUISE, ALBERTA (right)

ELEVATION: 8,650 feet
VERTICAL DROP: 3,250 feet
SNOWFALL: 179 inches
SIZE: 4,200 acres
CONTACT: skilouise.com

THE LOWDOWN
Louise's massive terrain parks fill up with jibbers from Banff and Calgary on weekends, and most of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise's well-heeled guests prefer groomers. Which leaves the rest of the resort's 4,200 acres of rocky chutes and wind-loaded alpine bowls wide open.

FIRST TRACKS
After a dump, hike 45 minutes above the Larch Express chr to Elevator Shaft, a yawning 40- to 50-degree, 1,300-foot snowfield that spills out back at the lift. From here, bank left into the trees and ski Lookout Chutes, a series of hidden pillow drops.

GIVE 'ER
From the top of the Summit Platter, head skier's left over a shoulder toward the Back Bowls, a 2,500-acre (and often wind-loaded) dish between Ptarmigan Peak and Mount Whitehorn. The farther left you go, the more hairball the chutes—Gullies A to H—get.

BEER-THIRTY
Splurge: The castle-like Chateau Lake Louise has Switzerland-quality views. Ski packages start at C$395 and include lift passes and all meals. We suggest the venison or bison at the Walliser Stube restaurant, followed by a rye and ginger at the faux-western Glacier Saloon.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
If you can't swing the Chateau, stay at the surprisingly clean and ritzy (for a hostel) HI-Banff Alpine Centre (hihostels.ca), just north of the resort. Then head to the Outpost Pub, a resort-employees' hangout crammed with wild-eyed Aussies and long-eyelashed Argentines.

["Chatter Creek Cat Skiing, Golden, B.C."]
CHATTER CREEK CAT SKIING, GOLDEN, B.C. (right)

MAX ELEVATION: 9,600 feet
MAX VERTICAL DROP: 2,200 feet
AVERAGE VERTICAL/DAY: 12,000—18,000 feet
PRICE: from US$1,750/four days
CONTACT: catskiingbc.com

THE LOWDOWN
Choppering into Chatter Creek's lodge (a quick 25-minute flight north from Golden) is like viewing the trailer to a blockbuster ski weekend: 59,000 acres of hanging couloirs and steep subalpine glades. Last winter, the government gave Chatter Creek access to an additional 26,000 acres. Head there now and they'll let you name your own run.

THE TERRAIN
The East Ridge has 2,000-vertical-foot runs through old burn and old growth. In the new area, SX3 is an above-treeline, 1,500-foot, 30-degree shot. SX2 is a 1,000-acre stash of high-angle, northeast-facing clusters of spruce and regrowth cedars.

THE SNOW
An average year? Forty feet. The new terrain provides access to two distinct weather zones: If northwesterly flows are pumping, expect to be skiing wind deposits in the Clamshell and Lakeside Addition sections. If it's blowing out of the southwest, you'll be pillaging lines on the Vertebrae Glacier and East Ridge.

DIGS AND GRUB
The year-old Solitude Lodge was hewn from local evergreens and features double rooms. In the food department, expect homemade granola, fresh-baked cinnamon buns, and three-course dinners.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
Go early. Rates in January, the snowiest month, are cheaper than in other months by 30 percent ($2,049 versus $2,899).

["Great Canadian Heli-Skiing, Golden, B.C."]
GREAT CANADIAN HELI-SKIING, GOLDEN, B.C. (right)

MAX ELEVATION: 10,300 feet
MAX VERTICAL DROP: 2,200 feet
AVERAGE VERTICAL/DAY: 20-23,000 feet
PRICE: from US$2,950/three days
CONTACT: canadianheli-skiing.com

THE LOWDOWN
Thirty miles west of Golden, the stucco-and-beam Heather Mountain Lodge might not look like much. Then again, you didn't come here to sleep. And because the heli takes off right from the parking lot, Great Canadian can fly in weather that would skunk you at most outfits.

THE TERRAIN
GCH's 68,000 acres include everything from mellow glades to mandatory straightlines to creek-bed runouts. The best skiing tends to be the long hero shots like Perfect Glacier, a 2,000-foot, 35-degree slope requiring old-school powder turns, or the Burn, an eerie and appropriately named 30-degree stand of blackened pine trunks.

THE SNOW
Consistent snow (30 feet a year is common) and even more consistent cold temps (five to 20 degrees is the norm) make for a predictable amount of airy powder. March is the best bet for bluebird skies above and bottomless love dust below.

DIGS AND GRUB
Half the rooms have flat screen TVs, and the main lodge has a pool table, Internet access, and a big-screen TV. With ranch-style breakfast buffets, three-course gourmet dinners, and heavy-duty après snacks (wings, veggies, and quesadillas), expect to leave with heli-belly.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
The small-group format (four skiers to one guide), which GCH pioneered in 1988, reduces your chances of getting stuck with a punter. As always, your best option for maximum vert is to book with three friends.e and bottomless love dust below.

DIGS AND GRUB
Half the rooms have flat screen TVs, and the main lodge has a pool table, Internet access, and a big-screen TV. With ranch-style breakfast buffets, three-course gourmet dinners, and heavy-duty après snacks (wings, veggies, and quesadillas), expect to leave with heli-belly.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
The small-group format (four skiers to one guide), which GCH pioneered in 1988, reduces your chances of getting stuck with a punter. As always, your best option for maximum vert is to book with three friends.

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