There’s no such thing as too much snow.” – renowned American skier Doug Coombs.
It’s a sentiment shared by skiers and riders from around the globe heading in the new year as the Canadian Rockies are back open for business with some notable new additions.
At Lake Louise Ski Resort, visitors will be treated to plenty of fresh perks within its 4,200 diverse acres of world-class terrain – notably an all-new learning area at its base near the Whiskey Jack Lodge.
Dubbed the Juniper Learning Area, it’s highlighted by a new high-speed quad that can take guests to the junction of three new runs: Men’s Downhill, Juniper Jungle and West Bowl egress.
“This will increase our capacity from the base area by 50 per cent and give us the highest lift capacity out of the base in the Canadian Rockies,” says Kim Locke, vice-president of strategy and corporate affairs at Lake Louise, noting the Juniper quad is expected to officially open in mid-January.
Locke noted the new runs accessible from Juniper are well-suited to learner and intermediate skiers and riders as they progress from the Sunnyside Learning Area before moving to the upper mountain runs. Meanwhile, more experienced skiers and riders can benefit by a few cruisy groomer warm-up laps.
“It’s a very unintimidating area for learners and families,” says Locke, noting snowmaking infrastructure is also being installed to provide reliable early-season access to this new area for future seasons.
Meanwhile, for guests who were treated to Lake Louise’s new Summit Quad Chair last winter, they will be able to further explore 480 acres of new terrain in West Bowl.
This past fall, resort staff continued their glading program that will further enhance the West Bowl experience and allow easier egress back to the base area from all of the various glades, chutes, gullies and bowls.
“We’re very committed to enhancing the skier experience. And so, we expect that we’ll be doing one major project a year for the next five to 10 years,” says Locke, also pointing to a new fine dining option at Whitehorn Bistro, located 2,042 metres above sea level, which joins returning culinary favourites such as the Kuma Yama sushi restaurant at the lodge in Ten Peaks.
Sunshine Village Ski Resort has similarly experienced a busy off-season prior to its official opening this past November. The resort, located just minutes from Banff’s historic downtown, made several upgrades to its Bourgeau Base Area, including adding 15 per cent to the existing parking capacity – or approximately 250 new parking spots within walking distance to the gondola.
Once up top and overlooking the 3,500 acres to play on, skiers can get a familiar taste for the best snow the Rockies has to offer, says Kendra Scurfield, brand and communications manager at Sunshine.
“They can look forward to an escape from their day-to-day,” she says, noting you can still be connected if you choose thanks to investments made by Rogers over the past year to make the resort fully 5G compatible.
“Up top is absolutely beautiful. We call it our island in the sky. It’s miles away from ordinary, yet you’re still only 90 minutes away from Calgary.”
And for resort-goers looking to fill their tanks after carving up the slopes, Sunshine has added two new remote kitchens for this season. Visitors will be able to ski up to a southern-style remote kitchen and a Beaver Tails on Goat’s Eye, near the Goat’s Eye Lodge. The Ten Roof Co. Outdoor Taco Kitchen will still be based in Sunshine’s village area. (Pro tip: the loaded tater tots are must-haves!)
This winter, both Lake Louise and Sunshine have elected to participate in the province’s restriction exemption program, aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19. This means all guests ages 12 and over are required to provide proof of vaccination to access all indoor spaces, the gondola, programs, tours and shuttle buses.
Alternatively, guests can provide a written or printed copy of a privately paid PCR, a rapid antibody negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours or a valid medical exemption letter.
Scurfield notes the restriction exemption program is not only providing resorts like Sunshine with the ability to provide safe environments, but also return to full capacity again, whether on the gondola, lifts or restaurants.
“Our daycare is open again, lessons are back … it’s a much more normal experience,” she says.
And after a year in which international visitors were kept away due to travel restrictions, Scurfield adds she’s looking forward to seeing plenty of familiar faces now that the border has re-opened.
“We’re not out of the woods, but it is a step in the right direction,” she says. “We’re already seeing many of our international regulars come back … it’s nice to see those friendly faces on the slopes again.”
Before hitting the slopes this season, Ski West manager Jean-François Ravenelle says it pays to take a bit of time in advance and ensure you are using the right equipment.
“There’s a mind-blowing attrition rate of people who try skiing for the first time and they don’t do it again, and that’s because they’re not prepared,” he says.
Ravenelle recommends the best place to start is to paint a picture: What will the trip look like? Have you downloaded the trail map? Should you pre-book a lesson? Do you have the proper goggles? The proper clothing? Enough layers? The right socks?
“My best piece of advice: Be familiar with what you’ll be wearing. Don’t try your ski jacket on for the first time on the hill,” he says, with the extra tip of putting gear in the backseat instead of the trunk so that it arrives warm.
“And take your time. Get situated. Get there early if you have to so you’re not feeling rushed and putting your boots on in the parking lot. The chalets are open again. Find a table. Enjoy the experience.”
As for the gear itself, Ravenelle says it’s not always about price, but about finding the right fit. When it comes to boots, for example, it should fit like a firm handshake.
Unfortunately, he notes many skiers don’t buy the right-sized boot, which can lead to discomfort and even serious injury.
“The binding is designed to release the boot from the ski at a particular torque point. The more room in your boot, the more your ski has to twist before the binding finally releases, which this can lead to considerable harm,” says Ravenelle. “A loose-fitting boot is like loosening the steering wheel on your car. You’re not connected anymore.”
And thick socks are not the solution. At least from the outset given that the boot will expand over time. Instead, he suggests thinner ski socks in the beginning, complemented by a footbed that will lead to a more comfortable fit.
Ravenelle also urges customers to shop at stores that offer boot fit guarantees.
“Boots are not Crocks. They’re ski boots. They’re supposed to fit like an orthotic,” he says. “There’s nothing that can replace going in, getting properly fitted and actually trying on several different types to find the right fit. At the end of the day, no one will ever cancel a ski vacation because their feet are too comfortable.”