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TRIP REPORT: SkiBig3 - Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine, & Mt. Norquay

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The following trip report was written by Tamra Malczyk, a longtime friend of OpenSnow and Banff, Alberta resident. 


Unlike most ski destinations across North America, winter is technically the slow season in Banff. Of the more than 4 million visitors to Banff National Park annually, only a small percent actually visit in the winter months.

As a resident of Banff and a passholder of the SkiBig3 resorts, I would prefer to keep this dirty little secret to myself so I can continue to have the dry Rocky Mountain powder, empty slopes, and jaw-dropping views all to myself. However, as one of four children and the daughter of a kindergarten teacher, I was taught, “sharing is caring.” So I will practice my newfound Canadian politeness, and give you a peek into the day (or three) in the life of a Banff and SkiBig3 skier.

LAKE LOUISE

I call Lake Louise my home mountain for two reasons: the terrain and the unparalleled views. The steeps, chutes, and scrappy terrain are perfect for experts that take pride in their ski base’s patchwork of gouges and base welds. Couple this big mountain terrain with big mountain panoramas and you have an expert skier’s paradise.

I have been told Lake Louise has lovely groomers and intermediate terrain, but this skier learned how to patch a core shot at a young age, so today we are heading straight to the fun stuff.

Follow along with the Lake Louise trail map

My day typically starts with the same failsafe routine: Glacier chair to Top of the World to Summit Platter. While gliding up the platter, you will notice fences running parallel to the runs. These fences are actually a clever method of natural “snowmaking” that has been employed by the resorts in the national park. Blowing snow builds up along the fences and once enough snow has built up, the fences are moved and the process restarts. Snow farming in the literal sense!

Twenty minutes from base to summit and I am perched atop a Vegas-style buffet for the expert skier: steeps, chutes, bowls, gullies, cliffs, hucks, bumps, cornices. A little taste of everything!

Some days I will do a quick warm-up lap on Summit, with its short open wind-buffed bowls. However, today the backside is already open, so I waste no time and head directly to the goods.

From skier’s right to left off the backside, you can access steep open bowls in Whitehorn 1, rocky gullies in Whitehorn 2 & 3, or head further out to the mellower, lesser trafficked Boomerang and Boundary Bowl. I opt for fall-line turns and hug the rope line separating Whitehorn 1 & 2. Untracked turns greet me on this often-overlooked rollover and then it's all smiles down to the Paradise chair.

From the top of Paradise, after taking a mandatory scenery pause, I skate left along the ridgeline and consider my options from one of the many steep, rocky chutes falling off the backside. Anxious little huckers peel off into Swedes and ER3, but a little patience and restraint reward me with untracked turns down Crow Bowl into East Bowl trees. The rest of my day is an endless trip back to the buffet with Summit and Paradise laps, every time opting for something new. The gullies of Whitehorn 3, the chalky steeps of ER7, the aesthetic chute of Brownshirt main. The backside of Louise keeps my plate filled all day.

When my legs are finally showing wear, I head down to Ptarmigan chair and connect to the front-side, where it’s GS turns all the way to the base via Meadowlark. With a latte from the Trailhead Café in the cup holder, I opt for the slower pace and views of Highway 1A to take me back home to Banff.

BANFF SUNSHINE

In spring, while most US ski resorts are shutting down, the skiing north of the border is still going strong. Sunshine’s higher elevation can hold mid-winter conditions long into May, while only 15 minutes away in Banff, the temperatures can be pleasantly mild and local roads and trails start becoming rideable.

With the highest annual snowfall of the SkiBig3, spring is my favorite time to visit Sunshine so I can take advantage of a full season’s snowpack and longer days in the sun.

Follow along with the Banff Sunshine trail map

From the base of Sunshine, the gondola provides passage uphill, with the first jump-off point at Goat’s Eye (mostly expert runs) and terminating at the Village, which technically serves as the "base" area for the resort.

From the Village, I first do a few quick laps on the short, but fun mini-golf-like runs serviced by the Standish and WaWa chairs. These chairs also service mellow intermediate terrain, so they are great if you are a group of mixed abilities.

After the warm-up, it is onto the Great Divide Chair, which passes through both Alberta and British Columbia along with its journey to the top. Ducking over to Bye Bye Bowl rewards us with smooth gs arcs all the way down this wide-open but sometimes overlooked cruiser.

At the bottom of Bye Bye bowl, if you are the flippy-spinny type of skier, you would be hard-pressed to realize that they create the terrain park located here without the use of snowmaking.

Back at the top of the Divide, our group equipped with the required gear (beacon, shovel, probe, and partners) heads up the short hike to Delirium Dive. "The Dive is open!" is an anxiously anticipated phrase every season for Sunshine skiers, with pucker-inducing steeps and challenging freeride terrain awaiting those with the skills. 

From the top of the hike, take the stairs down to the more tame entrance of Delirium proper, or head skiers left to the steeper Bre-X, granting you entrance to 2,000 vertical feet of consistent northerly facing steeps. Although it takes a few more lift rides to get back to the top, our group can’t resist another lap through the Dive to explore the endless line options of this massive steep cirque.

Not wanting to neglect the other great zones at Sunshine, we continue our quest for steep chutes and follow the spring sun to the Goat’s Eye chair, where we track out the long, corn-filled runs in the Southside chutes. 

Finally, we call it quits and head to the Trappers Saloon in the Village for a tasty adult après beverage while we give our wintery white skin a jumpstart on the summer.

MT NORQUAY

Norquay’s proximity to town makes it easy to get in a full day of skiing, while also being able to take in the off-hill activities and attractions Banff has to offer. A visit to Norquay is also a must as it is was the first ski area in the long history of skiing in Banff National Park.

Follow along with the Mt. Norquay trail map

My day at Norquay starts at the Mystic Chair, where I lay down run after run of train tracks on the long empty groomers under the watchful eye of Cascade Mountain. With my groomer fix complete, I make my way over to the Big Chair (the North American).

The Big Chair is a funny old pulse style double-chairlift that was opened in 1948, making it one of the oldest in North America. The runs off Big Chair (the North American) are full of natural bumps and consistent steeps, yet even on powder days, these slopes are virtually devoid of other human beings. I enjoy run after run of steep, powdery solitude, accompanied only by the massive view of Mt. Rundle. 

After a day at the Quay, it is only a 5-minute ride back to my home in Banff where I sit on my porch, admire my own tracks, and thank the lucky stars I get to live in this beautiful valley with three amazing ski resorts right out my own front door (literally).

TAMRA MALCZYK


Visit SkiBig3.com for all lodging, event, and other ski-related information.


OPENSNOW RESOURCES

Snow Forecast & Report: Lake Louise

Snow Forecast & Report: Banff Sunshine

Snow Forecast & Report: Mt. Norquay

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hailing from the big mountain mecca of Mt. Southington, CT (300 vertical feet), Tamra Malczyk was employed in Steamboat Springs, CO for 14 years (and also served as Joel Gratz's local guide) before maple syrup and the metric system lured her north. Living in Banff, AB for the past two and a half years, she now conducts powder audits as the Director of Finance for CMH Heli-Skiing.


This guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at SkiBig3.

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