Family Travel: Three Perfect Days in Banff National Park
posted by: Amber Johnson
I wake up in mourning with the realization I will be skiing my final SkiBig3 Resort. I’m incrementally working my way up in size—starting with the baby bear (Norquay), Mama Sunshine and ending with Papa Bear: Lake Louise’s 4,200-acre expanse across four mountains that is consistently voted the most scenic resort in North America. Hear me roar.
My memories of Lake Louise Ski Area are ambiguous so I’m grateful to have my guide Pat Lynch to navigate. We quickly determine we graduated rival Calgary high schools the same year and have common friends. He has spent 17 years parlaying between working as one of Lake Louise’s most trusted ski instructors/trainers, with Parks Canada in the summer. My envy is tainted powder-white.
We ease into our adventure with some groomers off Glacier and Top of the World Express. Unlike my previous two bluebird days, the sky is overcast with flurries and the light is flat. Pat is truly leading the blind until I bust out my glasses and am blown away by the views of the commanding Valley of Ten Peaks while the distant Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise bordering the shoreline looks like a LEGO replica.
From Saddleback Ridge at 8,300 feet, we cruise into the bowl, catching the peek-a-boo sunlight that casts dramatic shadows and the visual planes dazzle our eyes in this world of white.
The Larch area has the best conditions of the day. Located on the backside of the mountain, this intermediate-level playground is not as sun-affected and boasts more permanent snow without the crowds. Pat expounds upon the larch tree. “Although it’s a conifer, the larch is a deciduous tree and loses its leaves in the fall after turning yellow-gold.”
“So, the trees were named after the Larch lift?”
“Actually, I think it’s the other way around.” Pat joked. That devil is all detail.
For lunch at mid-mountain Whitehorn Lodge we, of course, order the Rocky Mountain Game Platter’s assorted Valbella artisanal meats, farmstead cheeses, crisps and Chinook honey. I’m on venison overload and almost vow to become a vegetarian until I take another bite of the mouth-watering buffalo and figure why would I want to be?
Lake Louise is the only World Cup venue outside of Europe to join the ranks of the famous Club 5 Ski Classics. Quite appropriately, I love channeling Lindsey Vonn as I blast down the Woman’s Downhill, until Pat tells me the resort has claimed her as its own.
“You know she’s from Vail, COLORADO, right?”
“She’s had more World Cup wins in Lake Louise than anywhere. She came off her two-year-long injury to win her 60th World Cup race here in December.”
I almost get into a toddler -esque brawl but ultimately decide we can just share her.
A Final Farewell
Before saying good-bye to Banff, I have one last bucket list item. I adore skating for miles on Canada’s frozen rivers and lakes and was devastated that the temperate weather forced most to close. Someone tips me off that Lake Louise (about 10 minutes from the ski area) is still open so I stop to rent skates at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and sadly discovered they, too have succumbed.
I pout, gaze out upon the still-frozen-yet-not-frozen-enough-to-skate-on-it ice and see people hiking and skating across. With the backdrop of Victoria Glacier beckoning, I mindlessly follow the legions of people making their pilgrimage to Mecca, a glacial landscape of remarkable beauty. It isn’t until I am almost across the lake that I realize their final destination is a crystal-blue waterfall that marks the trailhead of the Plain of Six Glaciers leading to the Lake Agnes Tea House in the summer.
Some ridiculous fools are sliding down the snowfield in front of waterfall so I ridiculously start hiking the glassy trail to join them, fall after my third step and determined this wasn’t the kind of ice adventure I was looking for.
After all, there’s always next year.
When you go:
For more information on purchasing a tri-area lift ticket go to SkiBig3, the official website for ski vacations and passes in Banff, Canada.
For additional lodging information and rates, go to Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts.
Thanks to Travel Alberta for hosting. All photographs, opinions and childhood memories are my own.