(Above picture credits: Chris Moseley)
On Monday February 20, my Ski Media partner Jonathan and I left Montreal for a ski day at Lake Louise. After a comfortable 4 hour flight (Air Canada flies direct to Calgary 3 times a day), an amazing 2 hour drive through the Rockies brought us to our final destination: the Lake Louise ski resort.
The park entrance fee is usually $17 per car however this year, thanks to Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, the entrance fee is waived.
There is a multitude of lodging choices at Lake Louise, from the low cost motels to the sumptuous Chateau Lake Louise with its gorgeous view of the lake.
A brief history of Lake Louise:
People have been skiing on this mountain for close to 100 years. The Temple Lodge was built in 1938 and the first chairlift was installed in 1953 followed by the Whitehorn gondola in 1959 (on the front side), which was the beginning of the ski resort as we know it today.
There are 10 chairlifts and gondolas at Lake Louise with 145 marked slopes plus vast glades and bowls. This mountain is huge (17 square km of skiable area) and the view of the surroundings is worth the trip! The vertical skiable area is 991 meters. The longest slope is 8 km long.
If you travel alone and you don’t really enjoy skiing by yourself all day, you can join a group of skiers of your own caliber guided by a “Ski Friend” everyday at 10:30 am and 1 pm. These Ski Friends are volunteers that will guide each group of skiers around the mountain to safely maximize their experience.
For the beginners, the Lake Louise ski school is one of the best in the area. There are two beginner slopes at the front of the main lodge, right alongside tubing slopes and a daycare centre. There are also many long and wide green slopes on the mountain itself.
If you decide to travel without your skis, you can rent top of the line equipment here. You can also rent powder skis if you wish to be more adventurous during or after a snow storm.
This is a family oriented resort where safety comes first (I have witnessed avalanche safety inspections in the past). The entire family can take the same chairlift together and ski different slopes based on their ability level and rendez-vous at the bottom of the mountain. A win-win!
Weather wise, Alberta gets variable temperatures. I have skied this mountain at +5 deg Celsius, at -5 deg (like this trip), and also at -35 deg in December. You have to be prepared.
Ski Big3 pass.
It is possible to buy a 3 resorts ski pass. A single (Big3) ski resort ticket will allow you to ski Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Norquay. This is the perfect ski ticket for a week-long ski trip between Banff and Lake Louise.
Lake Louise Plus ski pass:
This is the card I buy every year. This pass is available online in the fall. For $109, you get to ski for free on your first, fourth and seventh visits and every other day, the regular ticket price is $20 off. This card pays itself on your first day. Even better news, you can also use this card to ski at Castle Mountain, Panorama, Red Mountain, Revelstoke, Silverstar and Schweitzer. This is ideal for a full week ski trip across Alberta and British Columbia.
Our ski day:
We arrived at 7:30 am at the 10 Peaks Lodge. This main lodge was named after the 10 mountain peaks we see behind. It was built using the wood recycled from the mountain that was cleared to build the slopes.
We had breakfast at this lodge. There are many restaurants offering a wide variety of foods from cafeteria style to full service dining. The choice is yours.
At 8:30 am we got dressed and took the time to put sunscreen (we are at high altitude, let’s not forget). At 9 am sharp we walked to the Grizzly Express gondola, skis in hand, ready to take on the world.
The way up to the Grizzly gondola area took about 15 minutes.
The summit is at 2400 metres in elevation. The view is just amazing! Our first descent was 4 km long and a vertical drop of 765 metres.
The grooming of the slopes was of pristine quality. They were fast; we reached 94 km/hr speed in some areas.
We did a few more descents on the front side before taking the Top of the World Express chairlift, which brought us to the bowls on the backside of the mountain. From this point, most of the slopes were single or double black diamonds. Only one green and one blue slope could bring beginner and intermediate skiers around the bowls. The view in this area is just breathtaking! The snow quality was amazing. Over 400 cm of snow had fallen so far.
My ski partner went down Couloir 105 which was very challenging and was his best descent of the day.
A sharp right turn at the bottom of the bowl brought us on a 4 km green run all the way to 2 other mountain sides, Larch and Ptarmigan.
We opted for the Larch chair (to the left) first. The way up felt good with the sun warming our faces. At the top of this mountain we saw people climbing another peak which is accessible from this point only with avalanche gear (shovel, probe and transponder). This peak offers a variety of double black diamond options with untracked powder (see map and slope 156).
On Larch, there are slopes to cater to every skier’s ability. The vertical drop is only 400 m, but well worth the trip. Being on the back side of Lake Louise Mountain, the snow is at its best. After a couple of descents we headed to the other chairlift and climbed Ptarmigan. From the top we had 2 choices: turn left and head back to the front side of the mountain or turn right and continue on the back side, which we did, towards the Ptarmigan (black), Old Ptarmigan (blue) or to a multitude of other slopes, glades and mogul runs. This mountain side offers a lot of variety.
We also took the Paradise chairlift which brought us to the scenic Saddleback Summit (at 2530 m). From this summit you can ski a wide variety of double black diamond runs. We opted for sliding down to the Top of the World and headed down to the base of the Summit Platter Poma lift. This surface lift brought us to the top of Mt-Whitehorn, sitting at 2637 m. From this summit you can ski 2 blue runs, a couple of single black diamond and lot of double black diamond runs. This is where the snow is the best on the mountain, and believe me, it is the least crowded.
All that skiing got us hungry. Since we were on the back side of the mountain we stopped at the Temple Lodge. This is a really nice snack bar with the sun shining on the terrace.
If you are on the front side and don’t want to go all the way to the base of the mountain to eat you must stop at mid-mountain and try the Whitehorn Lodge. This lodge offers everything from burgers to fine dining and the view is spectacular!
After skiing more than 45 km and 8500 m of vertical on 15 runs we decided to call it a day and promised ourselves to come back soon. This mountain will make you fall in love with skiing at every run.
I have had the privilege of skiing here at least 4 times a year for the past 4 years. I make it a point of coming here in early November and also on the last day of the ski season. The advantage of skiing here the first week of May is that you will have the mountain all for yourself most of the day (on the back side). The conditions are still really good at this time (I have been caught in some good snow storms) but most people have already moved onto summer sports. I have included videos from May 3rd, 2016. There is a certain charm to be alone skiing a massive mountain.
Alpine touring to Skoki Lodge:
For the backcountry touring enthusiasts, Lake Louise offers an amazing backcountry option. From the Top of the World or Grizzly gondola summits, a descent to the Temple Lodge will be the starting point of an 11km touring journey that will make you go through Boulder Pass, Ptarmigan Lake and Deception Pass all the way to the Skoki Lodge where you will spend the night before skiing the next morning (reservations are required to spend the night at the lodge).
Sitting at 2150 m, the Skoki Lodge is very luxurious although it doesn’t have electricity or internet. Built in 1930, it was the first backcountry lodge in Western Canada. You will live a wonderful experience (I have included a link to an episode of Ski Television). There is a chef, on premise, that will prepare sumptuous dinners and a staff to make your stay memorable. You can reserve the lodge for more than one night. The backcountry skiing in this location is known to be second to none as there are very few skiers in the area.
To return to Lake Louise, you will need to tour the same 11km trail to Temple Lodge.
I hope that I have inspired you to give Lake Louise a try. You won’t regret it!
Cheers from Western Canada!