by G. Kunkel
(This article was originally published on Helium.com on November 25, 2009)
According to the Canadian Ski Council there were 18.4 million skier visits to Canadian ski resorts for the 08/09 ski season. Canadians and internationals alike experienced skiing from mighty British Columbia in the west to tiny Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada. With such a vast amount of terrain to ski, how do you decide which ones to visit?
Die-hard skiers and riders use a very strict set of criteria to find the ultimate ski resort. The vast majority look at the ski resorts skiable acres, available terrain, annual snowfall, trail system, number of lifts, crowd conditions, backcountry skiing access, and apres-ski. If you are in search of deep fresh powder, uncrowded slopes, challenging terrain, and a bit of nightlife this ski season, here’s a list that nearly all skiers and riders in the world consider the top ten ski areas in Canada.
Undoubtedly, Whistler-Blackcomb is the center of North American skiing and nightlife. Whistler-Blackcomb’s two mountains contain a massive 8,171 acres of skiable terrain and over 200 named trails. The trails are covered with over 402 inches of annual snowfall and are classified 15-20% Beginner, 55% Intermediate, and 25-30% Expert. It has 38 lifts including the new record-breaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola. With a maximum elevation of 7,494 ft, Whistler-Blackcomb is altitude friendly to those coming from sea-level. While Intrawest recommends everyone wear helmets, only children 17 and under are required to wear helmets in lessons. Ski in the trees with a buddy and wear a whistle. If you get trapped in a tree well, use it to summon help. Suffocation is a real threat.
2) Banff – Sunshine Village
For over 80 years Sunshine Village has provided skiers with powder dreams and challenging terrain on the Continental Divide. It’s three mountains offer over 3300 acres of uncrowded terrain covered with an annual snowfall of 30 ft. The 107 trails are designated 20% Beginner, 55% Intermediate, 25% Expert with a maximum elevation of 8,954ft. It’s 12 lifts never have more than a 10 minute lift line. Due to Sunshine Village’s location, its terrain allows you to ski in two provinces – Alberta and British Columbia.
If you want to experience three types of skiing at one ski resort, Revelstoke has you covered. Revelstoke offers in-bounds trails, heli-skiing, and cat skiing out of its base area. It has over 3,031 acres of skiiable terrain accessed by 4 line-free lifts. The 52 designated trails are designated 10% Beginner, 43% Intermediate, and 47% Advanced covered by an astonishing 40 to 60 feet of annual snowfall. With that much snowfall, check with the Canadian Avalanche Centre before exploring the available backcountry terrain.
4) Fernie Alpine Resort
Which Canadian ski resort has five large alpine bowls, challenging terrain, and is covered with over 29 ft of snowfall annually? Why Fernie of course! Skiing Magazine rates it as a Top 10 Resort, while Ski Canada Magazine says it has the Best Powder, Best Ski Town, Best Bars, Best Deck Party, and Best Apres Antics. It’s also a favorite on the North American Free Ski Tour. Located in the Kootenay’s of Canada, Fernie has over 2504 acres of skiable terrain that includes bowls, chutes, and glades. The 114 trails are relatively uncrowded and are serviced by 10 lifts. Skiable terrain is designated 30% Beginner, 40% Intermediate, and 30% Advanced/Expert. Children 12 and under must now wear a helmet when enrolled in lessons. Hit up the Griz Bar for apres-ski.
5) Banff – Lake Louise
Combine scenery and value at a Canadian ski resort and you’re at Banff – Lake Louise. Ski Magazine and Ski Canada routinely pick it as one of their top ranked resorts in North America. It encompasses over 4200 acres of terrain with 139 trails serviced by 9 lifts. The trails are ranked 25% Beginner, 45% Intermediate, 30% Advanced and receive over 140 inches of annual snowfall. There are steeps, chutes, and bowls for the expert skiers to enjoy. Backcountry gates are available so check avalanche reports with Parks Canada before entering them. Helmets are recommended but not required in the terrain park. Kids 12 and under must wear a helmet in snowsport programs. Enjoy the views! Take pictures! The Banff Crasher Squirrel may decide to join you.
6) Red Mountain
With 111 years of skiing in its pedigree, Red Mountain has established itself as the oldest ski mountain in the Monashees of western Canada. After years of use and some neglect, Red Mountain’s purchase in 2004 has resulted in infrastructure upgrades by the new owner. The lift electrical systems have been rewired and the lift system upgraded. Its 6 lifts will now reliably let skiers access the 1596 acres on in-bounds terrain and 4000 acres of backcountry. The trails are designated 15% Beginner, 40% Intermediate, 22% Advanced and 23% Expert covered with 300 inches of annual snowfall. Lively apres-ski can be found at Rafters Lounge.
7) Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
If you are looking for expert skiing without all the nonsense of a destination resort, Kicking Horse is your mountain. Kicking Horse’s 2750 acres of skiable terrain contains over 70 in-bound chutes, wide open bowls, and mandatory air drops. It’s not a mountain for beginners or intermediate skiers. While its 106 trails are considered 20% Beginner, 20% Intermediate, 45% Advanced, and 15% Expert, this is definitely under-rating the difficulty of the terrain. All skiers will enjoy the 275 inches of annual snowfall. The terrain is serviced by 5 lifts including a sometimes crowded gondola. Skiers hitting up the backcountry should first examine avalanche reports by the Canadian Avalanche Centre. If you can still move at the end of the day, amble on into Local Hero for some apres-ski.
8) Panorama Mountain Village
Skiers looking for skiing and nightlife shouldn’t miss this resort located in British Columbia. Visitors can find over 2,847 acres of uncrowded terrain with over 188 inches of annual snowfall. Its 9 lifts provide access to 120 trails and bowls rated 20% Beginner, 55% Intermediate/Advanced, and 25% Expert. Skiers wanting a backcountry challenge can book heli-skiing adventures in the village. With advance planning, one can find off-peak and holiday bargains. Be aware that nearby Kicking Horse can have more reliable snowfall. Helmets are now required on all kids 14 years old and under in lessons. All ages must wear helmets in freestyle lessons.
9) Sun Peaks Resort
Those looking for family-friendly skiing will enjoy uncrowded Sun Peaks Resort. Rated in 2008 as the 2nd Best Ski Resort in Canada by Conde Nast, it offers ski-in/ski-out lodging destination resort style. The 3,678 acres of terrain features 2 alpine bowls and 12 glades serviced by 11 lifts. The slopes are classified 10% Beginner, 58% Intermediate, and 32% Expert with an annual snowfall of 220 inches. January offers maximum powder while spring brings more discounts. Spring Breakers beware, nightlife is noticeably absent at this ski resort. Those on a budget should explore close by Kamloops.
10) Mont Tremblant Ski Resort
If skiing in western Canada is out of the question, Mont Tremblant offers the best skiing in eastern Canada. Its faux European village offers ample opportunities for skiing and very boisterous nightlife. Skiers will find 94 trails situated on 631 acres of skiable terrain accessed by 13 lifts. The slopes are designated 17% Beginner, 33% Intermediate, and 50% Expert. Lift lines really only occur on weekends. Skiers can expect the best snowfall in January. Those who prefer warmer temperatures and bargains may want to wait until spring. Spring Breakers are out in force in March. Helmets are now required in the terrain park and on kids in lessons.
This ski season escape to a Canadian ski resort catering to skiing enthusiasts. The powder is deep, fresh, and untracked. Crowded slopes are almost non-existant and the apres-ski scence is lively. Come experience skiing in its finest form.
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