Calgary: Leap Into The Canadian Rockies -
The Canadian Rockies are famed for extraordinary rugged beauty. Their peaks - the tallest in Canada and sprawling between Alberta and eastern British Columbia - pile up voluminous snows each winter. Northern latitudes, elevation, and a blend of Pacific and arctic storms permit some resorts to open early in November and close in late May.
Calgary sits on the prairie just east of the Rockies, where it is home to its own in-town ski hill. Canada Olympic Park - a legacy from the Calgary 1988 Olympic Games - attracts local kids who find themselves popping out of the superpipe next to World Cup contenders training for the upcoming Olympics.
Drive beyond the outskirts of Calgary, and 12 resorts sprawl across the Rocky Mountains within a four-hour road trip or less.
The closest ski hill - Nakiska—sits only one hour from the city in Kananaskis Country. It, too, was built for the 1988 Olympics, and recent upgrades to both the slopes and lodges maintain it as an official national training facility with wide buffed out groomers, with the longest stretching two miles.
The town of Banff, at a 90-minute drive from Calgary in Banff National Park, is the hub for three resorts. You can get tri-resort lift tickets to ski all three and hop shuttles connecting them.
Mt. Norquay, the closest ski hill on the edge of town, is the smallest, but its slopes still pack a punch with long, steep mogul fields. Four lifts climb up a lee-side ridge, which shelters skiers from extreme weather. Family friendly terrain surrounds the lodge.
Access the Sunshine Village via gondola to its base area, the highest of the three where deep snows keep lifts running until late May. Sunshine gained renown for steeps with Delirium Dive and Wild West freeride zones - terrain spilling with unmarked cliffs and open only to experts with avalanche beacons, shovels, and a buddy. Reach more moderate slopes on several lifts around the Continental Divide.
Drive 45 minutes north of Banff to reach Lake Louise. Its 4,200 acres ranks its among some of the largest resorts in North America. Steeps, groomers, moguls, and bowls descend from its lifts, along with at least one green run from the top of every lift allowing family members of varied abilities to ski together.
Find three other resorts a short 2.5-hour drive from Calgary. Castle Mountain added new lifts up Mt. Haig for novices and intermediates two winters ago, but its extreme terrain requires a three-hour hike or less to reach pitches that plummet down 50-degree slopes. Fernie Alpine Resort collects reams of snow in its five giant bowls as attested to by the resort's avalanche program - one of North America's biggest. Kicking Horse, which claims a big vertical at 4,133 feet with 70 in-bounds chutes, caters to advanced and expert skiers with 60 percent of its runs never seeing the tracks of a grooming machine.
You can also get to five more resorts in less than four hours from Calgary. Driving to Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park adds a bonus of touring the Icefields Parkway as it cuts through some of the Canadian Rockies' most impressive scenery. The ski hill looms above the Jasper town site, with 3,000 vertical feet of slopes to ski and lifts that rarely see waiting lines.
The Purcell Mountains are home to two resorts. Panorama Mountain Village, near Invermere, built its reputation on big vertical of 4,000 feet, plus added the backcountry-style Taynton Bowl and the new Showoff terrain park. Kimberley, in a Bavarian-style town just to the south, draws families to its sunnier, drier slopes.
The Selkirk Mountains harbor two more ski areas. Whitewater, a smaller resort in Nelson with two lifts, claims fame with piles of snow, an average of 45 feet falling each year into big powder bowls. But Revelstoke sees up to 60 feet snowfall. Its $1 billion development - which includes lift-, cat-, and heli-skiing right from the resort - has already landed it in the record books for North America's longest lift-served descent of 5,620 feet vertical.
Calgary is the springboard into the Canadian Rockies, where you'll find ski slopes and dramatic beauty all rolled into one trip.