Lake Louise is a body of water, a resort village, a mammoth ski venue (4,200 acres), and a state of mind. From the ski area's several summits, within Banff National Park, you gaze at a sea of peaks whose characteristic banded cliffs, vast snowfields, and slim chutes stretch to infinity. There's nothing like it in the U.S.
And that state of mind? Sheer euphoria. Stand at the top of Swede's Gully, tips suspended over a chute so precarious you can barely see the bottom, suck a deep breath, and jump in. Expansive snowfields? Mount Whitehorn has half a dozen. Steep glades? The Ptarmigan chair accesses six. Bumps? Ptarmigan and Raven are among Canada's best mogul runs. In the mood to cruise? The longest boulevard is five miles.
This far north, the tree line is low, so much of the terrain in Louise's vast back basin is wide open. The area claims only 140 inches of annual snowfall, but with abundant off-piste skiing, you can find freshies off the back side almost every day. December and January can be nippy, with short days and long nights; by February, average daytime temperatures approach the balmy.
Play: Though Louise is on the quieter side, nearby Banff rocks. The St. James's Gate Irish bar is perennially popular, and the hottest live music is at the Barbary Coast. At the Outabounds, the decibel level is so high the dance floor vibrates. The Aurora offers a martini lounge and cigar bar.
Stay: Since most tourists visit in summer, winter rates are rock bottom. Sleep at the posh Chateau Lake Louise or Banff Springs Hotel for a (relative) pittance, or stay for a song at one of Banff's motels or the Alpine Center's hostel at Lake Louise.
Save the Date: World Cup races are held each December -- start planning for next year.