Seamless ski safari in Canada
As we age, we need to take as many hassles as possible out of a ski trip. We don’t want to have to walk far to the slopes, we don’t want to carry heavy gear, we don’t want to wait around in the cold for ski buses, and we really need all the extras like hot tubs, massage, ski valets and ski in/out conveniences. So this season I am on the lookout for the perfect places to keep on skiing in comfort into older age. I will be covering Colorado and Utah in subsequent articles but here are the top tips from my recent ski safari to Canada where I found fabulous ski in/out hotels at Sunshine Village, Revelstoke, Fernie and Kimberley. We were driving to each destination (which I highly recommend if you have the time and rent a 4WD) but you can also get shuttle buses to link them up to arrival airports or between resorts.
Straddling the Continental Divide between Alberta and BC, the Sunshine Mountain Lodge is a must-do Mecca for middle-aged mountain-lovers. Perched at 7,200 ft (2200m), it is the highest accommodation in Alberta’s Rockies and also the only ski in/ski out hotel in Banff National Park. On arrival you park or get off the bus right near the base check-in and your bags are whisked away by lifties leaving you to ski on your first day or, if you arrive in the evening, go for cocktails and dinner without having to worry about lugging luggage. Once in the Lodge, think remote luxury, with mountain modern West Wing suites whose 27 ft windows (with remote control blinds) overlook the unique UNESCO World Heritage Site outside. Other luxuries include in-floor heating and jetted tubs with windows onto the view. You’ll be first on the slopes each day for pristine powder or carver corduroy, and there’s a huge outdoor hot tub to take you from energetic outdoor ski mode to chilled après ski sloth! As the stars start to come out, serene silence descends outdoors and can explore the wilderness further by snowshoe - with the cushy comforts of the Lodge to lure you back. As well as a cozy fireside dining room, there’s the Eagle’s Nest eatery with top-end delicacies from around Canada and just outside there’s Mad Trappers for pub fare and fun. Near the huge hot tub (almost swimming pool size), there’s a gym, yoga classes and spa, designed to restore flexibility. The ski locker room is right by the front door, just one turn from the Standish Quad so you can be on and off your skis in seconds. Great for morning stop-offs or afternoon tea, the Java Lift coffee bar and creperie is in the basement of the hotel, just opposite the quad. There’s a comfortable sofa seating area around the fireplace by the café, exclusively for hotel residents to sip their coffee or hot chocolate. For those prone to painfully cold extremities, the Orange Bubble Chairlift, serving the Teepee Town area, is a beneficent blessing with heated seats and wind-defeating pull-down shutters to restore circulation between runs - a huge bonus when out all day in the elements.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort, British Columbia
Skiing rugged Revy all day long is gratifying but grueling, so it is an absolute necessity to stay right on the lower slopes. Sutton Place Hotel, where lucky lifestyle-movers actually live, has a range of different self-catering condos for rent in its three buildings which form the basis of the village. Pick building 1 for the closest access to the slopes, with great views over the gondola and learning area. This main building houses the lobby which offers mix and mingle wine and cheese parties each night - a sociable way to get to know other holidaymakers as well as some of the Revy residents. There’s also a big hot tub here with an indoor/outdoor feel through huge open windows overlooking the Purcell panorama and Columbia River Valley. But nothing is too far away from any of the ski in/out accommodation here and building 2 has the bonus of a huge heated outdoor swimming pool, sunbathing deck (great in spring) and hot tubs. With really well-kitted kitchens, it’s a good idea to stock up on groceries before arriving. But if you can’t, then there’s Stoke Solutions, a grocery (and booze) delivery service. As there’s a $75 delivery fee, a cheaper option would be the free hotel shuttle into town if you can tear yourself away from the sensational skiing. With 69 runs, alpine bowls, and endless ungroomed glades, this is the place to bring your powder skis as it gets something between 30 and 45 ft (9-14 m) of snowfall annually. Until 2007 when the resort was launched, it was a cat and heli-ski haven, which a two-stage gondola, two chairlifts and two towlifts has turned into a pristine powder playground for all. It has North America’s greatest vertical at 5,620 ft (1,713m) and the longest run on the continent at 9.5 miles. Its hedonistic hotel, abundant amenities and 3,121 acres of fall line skiing have resulted in the ultimate accolade: Revelstoke was voted this season, by tourists and travel industry professionals, as Canada's Best Ski Resort at the World Ski Awards in Austria.
Fernie Alpine Resort, British Columbia
Fancy trying ski touring but not sure where to start? Fernie has just launched Backcountry Basics which are introductory courses into the use of ski touring equipment, snow safety, and uphill travel techniques. The 2,500-acre resort combines these courses with overnight stays at ski in/out 4.5 star hotel, Lizard Creek Lodge which is right by the Elk Chair. Benefits here include the ritziest restaurant on the hill, Cirque, and a vodka-tasting Ice Bar. Outside, looking onto the village and slopes, is a lovely pool and hot tub area adjacent to the hotel spa. Hardy participants in the touring program top off their energetic experience at the nearby Griz Bar, famous for flamboyant drinks, authentic atmosphere and live bands at weekends. Having mastered the Basics, Fernie then offers Uptracking Tours to introduce the sidecountry bordering the resort’s five bowls. Experienced guides provide all the education required for safe and successful ski touring. With massive fitness benefits, ski touring in Fernie (which incidentally gets up to 37ft of snow per season) offers fresh tracks and an affinity with the natural beauty of the wilderness. Make sure to ski the resort, too, as it has some of the best bowl and glade skiing in Canada as well as 142 runs. Another bonus of staying at Fernie is All In Skier Services, a custom boot specialist hidden away under the Griz Inn. You can ski straight down there at the end of the day or scoot over from Lizard Creek Lodge. This is THE place to come if you have foot problems, which so many of us do as we age. I spent 30 years in pain on the slopes until I discovered custom boots and I haven’t had a murmur since. I have high, knobbly insteps, wide toe area, narrow heel area, one foot pronating and the other supranating and low calf muscles – all of which are a nightmare for off-the-shelf boots. But Donny Dion from All In sorted out all of these problems, giving me a boot that is an extension of my foot with perfect boot-ski compatibility. Once your boots and skis are in alignment you will find that reacting to the vast and varied terrain at Fernie is so much less effort!
Kimberley Alpine Resort, British Columbia
Ideal for older couples or multi-generational families, Trickle Creek Lodge borders the bunny hill, a quick traverse to and from the main Kimberley Quad. You can ski right to the back entrance with handy ski lockers just inside the door. There’s a very quick transition from ski to après ski via the hot tubs and heated pool area at the hotel, overlooking the condos dotted around the runs. Montana’s Restaurant is inside the Lodge with a great cocktail bar and grill style restaurant. A few paces away, just past the ice rink, is The Stemwinder Pub with a lovely patio and large interior for après hilarity, games, and live music. A bus service takes you downtown to see the Bavarian buildings of the downtown Platzl which also houses the world’s largest cuckoo clock. This is a locals’ lifestyle town rather than just a ski resort and everyone is open, chatty and helpful, happy to share their joie de vivre. You’ll notice that instead of the typical lineup of international lifties, in their late teens or early 20s, the staff on the hill at Kimberley tend to be from the community and of an older demographic. Many of them have European heritage, their ancestors migrating there at the beginning of the 1900s, bringing their Scandinavian and German Alpine culture. When staying on the hill, The Old Bauernhaus is a real boon. Just a couple of minutes drive down the hill, it has a Bavarian and fondue focus in an actual 17th century farmhouse. It was dismantled in Germany, shipped and then rebuilt in this similar alpine area in 1989. This is the perfect place to celebrate a great visit to Kimberley with its tranquil tree-line skiing, gentle glades and seductively sunny slopes.
Ten Tips for Seamless Ski Safaris in Canada:
- Invest in the latest lightweight skis – e.g. Rossignol’s Temptation 84s
- Get fat skis to help you float effortlessly in powder – e.g. Rossignol’s Savory 7s
- Service skis regularly to perform at optimum level and help you out in difficult situations.
- Find warm, supportive boots that are of the right standard to pair with your skis - custom fitted if you have difficult feet. (All In Skier Services)
- Indulge in heavenly heated accessories such as Abom’s heated fog-free goggles, Volt’s heated vests, Volt’s heated socks and scarves, ThermaCell’s heated insoles for ski and apres ski use and heated hand packs for use in pockets or gloves, Therm-ic’s ski boot heaters, and Seirus heated gloves - I’ve tried all of these and can guarantee you will be able to ski longer on a cold day with them.
- For car travel, use a heated boot bag so your boots are not too tight and cold to get on when you arrive at hill.
Ski Bag - so easy to manipulate around airport, carparks and into
- Lightweight but resilient helmets from Bolle - falls are more likely as we age so we need all the protection we can get!
- Stretch ski gear for ease of movement, bending etc. - Obermeyer
does stretch pants and Nils
has stretch jackets.
- Plan days off - explore the surrounding townships such as Banff if you are staying at Sunshine, or the historical and authentic downtown cores of Revelstoke, Fernie or Kimberley. The more varied your visit, the more mountain memories you will have!
More about Louise
After 45 ski seasons and 13 years of ski journalism, Louise
Hudson is an expert on most aspects of the ski and snowboard industry. Since
2005 her ski articles have been published in three countries. In Canada: Globe
and Mail, Ski Canada Magazine, Calgary Herald, MORE magazine, canada.com network, Calgary Sun, canoe.ca network, Calgary’s Child Magazine, Eat.Drink.Travel mag, Alberta Hospitality,
and BC Inn Focus. In the USA: LA Times, The Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe,
Houston Chronicle, Sheen magazine and Huntington Beach News. And in Great
Britain: Silver Travel Advisor, ABC magazine and travelmag.co.uk. As well as her own blog – www.onetwoski.blogspot.com - she
also works for many travel websites including tripedia.org.
A British/Canadian citizen living in the States, she notches up ski adventures
every season in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Alberta and British Columbia.