Banff-Alberta: Ski The Big 3 -
Calgary's airport is the gateway to the ski areas of Alberta, particularly Ski the Big 3 resorts of Lake Louise, Sunshine, and Banff/Norquay. Fly in, pick up a rental car, and head West on the TransCanada Highway to Banff itself, or Lake Louise farther along.
Banff/Norquay has a well-deserved reputation for unrelenting steepness. Even so, 20 percent of its terrain is for beginners and a third for intermediates.
Mount Norquay looms like the prow of a giant ship over a town that, in a generation, has grown from a frontier way station with a single main street into a mecca of upscale boutiques. The resort offers a vertical rise of 1,650 feet, 28 trails on 190 acres, and five lifts - a high-speed quad, two fixed-grip quads, a double and a surface lift.
Drive another hour West to Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, where intermediate terrain makes up about half the offerings at Lake Louise and a third at Sunshine.
Sunshine has a vertical rise of 3,514 feet, from a base elevation of 5,440 feet, with 3.358 skiable acres, 107 runs, and 12 lifts including a high-speed eight-passenger gondola, seven quads, a triple, a double and two surface lifts.
Lake Louise claims to be "Canada's largest single ski resort" and, in combo with Sunshine and Banff/Norquay, offers fabulous big mountain skiing in some of the most breathtaking alpine scenery in the world.
Standing atop Lake Louise for the first time, looking down in all directions, breathing in noticeably thin air while your heart pounds is unforgettable.
It is the biggest of the big three, with 4,200 skiable acres, 139 trails and several enormous bowls, and a longest run of 5 miles, although its vertical is only 3,250 feet.
Sunshine Village is a self-contained community high on the mountainside, with lodging, restaurants and ski area, all nestled into an alpine bowl.
Lake Louise and Whistler Blackcomb, in British Columbia, are locked in advertising warfare over size, and apparently to both, size does matter.
Whistler Blackcomb's operators say their two mountains "virtually defines the big-mountain resort scene with the highest vertical, biggest acreage, most glaciers, best glades, a renowned terrain park and, arguably, the world's best mountain bike park. The longest winter season in North America in combination with summer glacier skiing and riding, alpine sightseeing and hiking, and the Whistler Mountain Bike Park make Whistler Blackcomb a year round, world class resort destination."
Ski the Big 3 are not Alberta's only resorts, but they are the headliners.
Others include Canyon Ski Area, Castle Mountain Resort, Edmonton Ski Club, Hidden Valley, Kinosoo Ridge, Marmot Basin/Jasper National Park, Nakiska Ski Resort, Nitehawk Ski Hill, Rabbit Hill Ski and Snowboard Center, Snow Valley Ski Club, and Sunridge Ski Area.