An Australian's Guide to Skiing and Snowboarding Canada

November 04, 2015
An Australian's Guide to Skiing and Snowboarding Canada

The snow might have left Australian shores, but dedicated powder hounds are in pursuit, sniffing out fresh snowfall wherever it touches down.

We think it’s important that people know the winter party is never over — it’s always snowing somewhere!

To that end, we've pulled together the ultimate Australian's guide to skiing and snowboarding in Canada so that you know where to go when it starts to get warm and sunny, and there is far too much talk of beach bods for any sane person to handle.

Canada


Fernie skiing deep powder

Image Credit: Resorts of the Canadian Rockies


The tenth Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, once observed that “If some countries have too much history, we [Canada] have too much geography.”

Looking at old pictures of Prime Minister King, he didn’t look like much of a skier…

Canada is famous the world over for many things: fishing, beavers, caesars, bears, poutine, moose, Sasquatch, and generally (incorrectly) being considered the younger brother to America that cops a lot of flack, all the while taking it very well.

Canada is also well known as home to some of the best mountains in the world; mountains that consistently receive glorious dumps of fresh powder year after year.

We’ll zoom in on a few locations throughout the Great White North to give you an idea where to go this Aussie summer and what to do while you’re there.


Royce Sihlis 7

Image Credit: Royce Sihlis


Snow Season

We all know that Canada is a cold place, but it is also a very, very big country: the second largest by landmass in fact. That means there is a lot of room for fluctuations in climate. While it might be snowing heavily in December in BC, it might not have started in Ontario just yet. Travelling from Australia to Canada for the ski season isn’t something your just pack up and do on a whim, so the best advice we can give is to plan you trip according to the current weather conditions in the area to which you are travelling. We will try to give you an idea of the best time of year to travel to each destination that we discuss, but always make sure you check before you book.

Where to Go

The best snow conditions are arguably found in Canada’s Western and Eastern Provinces. Canada is separated into ten provinces and three territories; here we are going to be focusing on three of those provinces: British Columbia, Alberta and the predominately French speaking Quebec.

Quebec

Named by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1608, Quebec would act as an administrative outpost for New France. Spotted with lakes, Quebec is home to 3% of the world’s fresh water supply, with over a million lakes supporting an array of wildlife literally inconceivable to the human mind. It is a favourite destination for outdoor adventurers of all types, from fisherman, to canoers and hikers, and of course, skiers and snowboarders.

Getting to Quebec

Your best bet is to aim for Montreal. There is a huge number of slopes within a couple of hours drive from the island city, and connections are easy from Montréal-Trudeau International Airport (YUL). While the city’s locals speak predominately French, most people are bilingual so you shouldn’t have too much trouble ordering your croissant first thing off the plane…

But which mountain to choose? There are so many it’s not an easy task, but if we had to choose one to get things started, it would be Mont-Tremblant.

Mont-Tremblant Ski Resort

All year round, the city of Mont-Tremblant at the base of the mountain looks as though it was thought up in the mind of some master painter. Named by the Algonquin Natives, the ‘trembling mountain’ dominates the village tucked neatly on the edge of Lake Tremblant.

The terrain at Mont-Tremblant lends itself beautifully to some stunning tree runs, which make for unique skiing when the powder is deep. Tremblant can get a little crowded, but the huge range of facilities makes it a great destination for those visiting with kids.

Those who want to avoid the crowds head to Versant Nord, the North side of Tremblant. Parking in Lodge La Fourchette du Diable provides easy access to trails that get less traffic and consequentially, better snow.


skiing and snowboarding tremblant

Image Credit: @Tremblant


Getting to Mont-Tremblant

Only 130km or so Northwest of Montreal, Mont-Tremblant is easy to get to and difficult to leave. Hiring a car in Montreal is a good way to go, otherwise there is are a range of intercity bus services to get you there. Just make sure to book ahead.

Skiing and snowboarding options are numerous, the ski resort itself lies only five kilometres from the village.


Directions to Mon Tremblant 1

Image Credit: @Tremblant


To avoid trembling yourself, you are going to need somewhere to stay and somewhere to warm up in-between runs, not to mention somewhere to fill your belly.

Food & Accommodation

If you are not careful, you might just spend more time eating than skiing in Mont-Tremblant. French cuisine has inspired chefs the world over for its precision and decadency. Throughout Canada you can find unique dishes originally inspired by traditional French flavour combinations, coupled with Canadian produce. Poutine has made its way to the shores of Australia, but you would be mad not to sample the real thing in Mont-Tremblant: Pomme Frites covered in cheese curds and topped with steaming hot gravy — (droooool) carbo-loading for a big day on the snow.

There is a range of accommodation for travellers on any budget. From backpackers to chalets with all the trimmings in the height of French colonial style, you can stay a stone’s throw away from the snow meaning you’ll be out and locked in your bindings in no time.


tremblant village and lake at twilight

Image Credit: @Tremblant


Mont-Tremblant Ski Resort at a Glance

  • 4 Mountain faces

  • Ski and snowboard rental facilities available

  • Elevation at Summit: 875m

  • 96 runs

  • 3 Snow Parks

  • 662 acres of terrain

Lifts

High Speed Quad Chairs: 5

Quad Chairs: 1

Triple Chairs: 2

Gondolas: 2

Magic Carpets: 3

Terrain Difficulty

Beginner: 21%

Intermediate: 32%

Advanced: 47%

Expert: off-piste


dogsledding tremblant

Image Credit: @Tremblant


Alberta

If you are interested in a trip to Canada’s snow covered peaks, you have no doubt heard of the ‘Rockies’. The Rocky Mountains stretch nearly 5000km from British Columbia through Alberta and right down the Western coastline of North America. The Rockies are where you go for light, fluffy, deep ‘pow’ in Canada.

Banff is a little town about 130km west of Calgary, Alberta. In Banff, the Rocky Mountains inform the culture of the people who live there; the mountains are part of them and part of their way of life. It’s no surprise that the world’s biggest film festival dedicated to mountain culture, sports and alpine conservation started in Banff and is held there each year to this day.


Ski Snowboard Mount Norquay Paul Zizka 12 Horizontal

Image Credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism - Paul Zizka Photography


Getting to Banff

From Calgary it’s only a short drive to Banff by hire car. The other great option is to take the Banff Airporter which runs services all day from 5am between Calgary International Airport and Banff. Sit back and enjoy your first views of the magnificent mountains foreshadowing the best runs of your life.


Directions to Banff


From Banff, there are limitless options for skiing, snowboarding and exploring the Rockies. There are three ski resorts nearby that deserve your attention, and conveniently, you can get access to the Big 3 with one pass…

Food & Accommodation

Accommodation in Banff is plentiful with beautiful old ski chalets, cosy backpackers and motels with space to park your hire care on offer. Canadian hospitality is famous the world over, and the welcome you will receive in Banff is no exception. With views of the surrounding landscape and quick access to the mountains each day, you won’t want to jump ship.

You’ll find food from every corner of the world. Being a popular tourist destination, Banff caters to every palate. You’ve gotta get stuck in to a Beaver Tail while you are there (not quite what you are thinking…). Fried pastry in the shape of a Beaver’s tail and covered with your choice of sweet topping: “less velvet, more Nutella please!”

The Big 3 – Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mt. Norquay

Nestled within this World Heritage Site you will find more mountains than you could explore in a lifetime. The Big 3 are a great place to start, and with your pass you have unlimited access to two towns, three resorts, and over 8000 acres of ski and snowboard-able terrain. Lake Louise itself is only about 40 minutes’ drive from Banff and is a sight to behold in itself.

Lake Louise is the biggest resort near Banff with the most terrain, but also attracts the biggest crowds. It’s a good place to get your legs when you first arrive. In saying that there is a huge amount of advanced and expert level terrain here, so if you have the skills to get out in the back country, avoiding the crowds shouldn’t be too hard.


Banff Lake Louise Tourism   Paul Zizka Photography

Image Credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism - Paul Zizka Photography


Lake Lousie Ski Resort Facilities at a Glance

  • Elevation at Summit: 2637m

  • Ski and snowboard rental facilities available

  • 145 marked runs

  • 4200 acres of terrain

Lifts

Gondolas: 1

Six Person Chairs: 1

Quad Chairs: 3

Triple Chairs: 1

Magic Carpets: 5

Platter Lifts (Poma): 1

Terrain:

Beginner: 25%

Intermediate: 45%

Advanced: 30%

Expert: off-piste

Sunshine Village

We don’t have to tell you that it gets cold in Canada, and Sunshine Village is no exception. But in 2015-2016 the first heated chairlift ever in Canada will be running at Sunshine Village, so you can be confident in a warm toosh at the very least!

Only fifteen minutes’ drive from Banff, Sunshine has a huge range of terrain and some of the best snow in the country, boasting the longest season of any ski resort in Canada usually stretching from November through to May.


Sunshine village tree skiing

Image Credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism - Paul Zizka Photography


Sunshine Village Ski Resort Facilities at a Glance

  • Elevation at Summit: 2730m

  • Ski and snowboard rental facilities available

  • 145+ runs

  • 3,358 acres of terrain

Lifts

Bubble Heated High Speed Quads: 1

Gondolas: 1

High Speed Quads: 8

Surface Lifts: 2

Terrain Difficulty

Beginner: 20%

Intermediate: 55%

Advanced: 25%

Expert: off-piste

Mt. Norquay

The little sister to Lake Louise and Sunshine in every way except age, Mt. Norquay Ski Resort has been attracting the locals, pros and overseas adventurers alike since it first opened in 1926.

There is a great range of terrain at Norquay, from terrain parks to some of the best moguls in the area, you’ll even find a tubing park to entertain the kids if they want a break from ski school. There might be less runs at Norquay, but no matter what your level of ability, there is definitely terrain to challenge you.


Mt Norquay Banff Lake Louise Tourism   Paul Zizka Photography

Image Credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism - Paul Zizka Photography


Mt. Norquay Ski Resort Facilities at a Glance

  • Elevation at Summit: 2133m

  • Ski and snowboard rental facilities available

  • 28 runs

  • 190 acres of terrain

Lifts

High Speed Quads: 1

Quad Chars: 2

Double Chairs: 1

Surface Lifts: 2

Terrain Difficulty

Beginner: 20%

Intermediate: 36%

Advanced: 28%

Expert: 16%

Aprés Ski

Along with the amazing food and bars in the area, there is plenty to do in Banff once you get off the mountain. It’s a great idea to plan your days off accordingly. Coming from Australia, there is a very good chance that your legs are not conditioned to the level of powder skiing in Canada, and allowing time for them to harden up will only allow you to ski more throughout your trip. Make sure you try a caesar: the locals will love you, we can't promise you will love the drink — think Bloody Mary made with a special house blend of tomato juice and clam broth (affectionately known as 'Clamato' juice).

If the weather permits, Banff is the perfect location for outdoor activities of every kind, from hiking to mountain biking and kayaking. Just make sure you wrap up warm, the mountain isn’t the only cold place round here.

Ski Snowboard Mount Norquay Cliff House Paul Zizka 15 Horizontal

Image Credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism - Paul Zizka Photography


British Columbia

Before Christ there was British Columbia.

BC is home to some of the biggest and baddest mountains on the planet; it's a region that inspires skiers and snowboarders to go bigger and badder themselves.

Around 80 to 55 million years ago (give or take a million) the Rockies slowly began to form as tectonic plates pushed up from underneath the North American plate forming a gargantuan chain of mountains. Over tens of millions of years, that process has created some of the best skiable terrain in Canada, which due to its unique climate receives heavy doses of powder.


6097157713 84cd1d99c6 b

Image Credit: Resorts of the Canadian Rockies


Getting to British Columbia

The various resorts in the Rockies can be pretty far apart, and this is certainly the case with the two resorts we are going to focus on.

Your two best options for getting to the Rockies is to fly into Vancouver on the West coast, or Calgary in Alberta. Calgary is closer and is a great destination for getting to a number of slopes (yep the Rockies extend into Alberta as well), whereas Vancouver is a good stepping stone for a connecting flight to the Canadian Rockies International Airport – and there is plenty to do in VC of course…

Flights from VC to the CRIA take about 1.5 hours, whereas domestic flights from CG take about 50mins.

Once you are in the Rockies, there are a bunch of ways to get around. Hiring a car is a great way to control the pace and stop when you want, whereas guided bus tours take away the hassle and allow you sit back and enjoy the view as you hop to your chosen mountain destination.

Whilst Banff makes a great base for exploring a number of mountains, in BC you are going to want to choose your destinations wisely as they are more spread out.

We’ve chosen two, they are five hours apart, so you get the idea. But they are two of the most highly regarded ski resorts this side of the Common Era.

Fernie

The city of Fernie is embraced by the Canadian Rockies just a short trip west of the border of Alberta. And like most spots in the Rockies you can expect a warm welcome, warm fires, and freezing cold ski conditions; so be prepared.

The mountain itself is world renowned for its terrain and the quality of its snow, not to mention the sheer quantity or it. With over 10 metres of snow dropping on average each season, you can ski and board lines yet to experience sharpened edges.

A mix of tree studded glades and wide open bowls, Fernie has enough to keep you occupied for your whole trip, regardless of age or ability.


snowboarding fernie

Image Credit: Resorts of the Canadian Rockies


Directions to Fernie 1


Food & Accommodation

You have the option of either staying off-mountain in Fernie itself, or if you book far enough in advance you could score a lodge right on the mountain itself in the resort, allowing ski-in ski-out living. There are hotels, motels and classic lodges for those who would like a more authentic alpine experience.

Canadians love travellers and love to travel, so it’s no shock to find that you can sample every type of food imaginable in Fernie — whether it’s class Japanese at Yamagoya, or the best cupcakes of your season at Crumbs, you won’t be short of fuel when you are kicking up powder each day.


Mountain From Town

Image Credit: Resorts of the Canadian Rockies


Fernie Alpine Resort Facilities at a Glance

  • Elevation at Summit: 2134m

  • Ski and snowboard rental facilities available

  • 142 runs, 5 bowls and tree skiing

  • 2,500 acres of terrain

Lifts

High Speed Quads: 2

Quad Chars: 2

Triple Chairs: 3

Surface Lifts: 3

Terrain

Beginner: 30%

Intermediate: 40%

Advanced: 30%

Expert: Lots

Aprés Ski

The nightlife in Fernie is lively to put it mildly. But there is plenty to do once you get off the snow whether you prefer a pint or poutine. Lizard Creek Lodge offers a great range of spa treatments, and if you are looking at getting out and stretching your legs on rest days, dog-sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling are all awesome ways to experience the Rockies from an alternative pint of view.

Revelstoke

Situated on the banks of the Columbia River, the city of Revelstoke has only recently become a destination for snowboarders and skiers the world over.


Garrett Grove 1

Image Credit: Garrett Grove


The youngest ski resort in Canada also offers the greatest range of skiing and snowboarding options from one single village base.

Five hours north of Fernie, Revelstoke reaches for the sky and comes close. Easily accessible from Canadian Rockies International airport by bus or by car, you could spend season after season and never exhaust the possibilities on offer by this world class snow destination. The only resort in the world to offer heli-skiing, cat-skiing, lift-skiing and back country from one village base, Revelstoke is set up with skiers and boarders of all dispositions and disciplines in mind.


Directions to Revelstoke


Food & Accommodation

Regarding food, you can see a trend forming here. Canada is home to so many people of different cultural backgrounds that you are sure to find something that you like to eat in Revelstoke. Whether you are staying in the resort itself, or off-mountain in the city, Canadian hospitality caters to your palate. Being a tip-based culture (more on that soon) Canadians work hard to make sure that you leave an establishment satisfied.

La Baguette is the place to go at the resort itself for Melbourne quality coffee, delicious fresh soups and sandwiches, while the Rockford Grill serves up cracking Asian and bistro style dishes with stunning views of the mountain.

You can stay on mountain in the resort, or in the city and make the trip each day. It really comes down to how you are able to spend and whether ski-in ski-out is a priority.


Royce Sihlis 2

Image Credit: Royce Sihlis


Revelstoke Alpine Resort Facilities at a Glance

  • Ski and snowboard rental facilities available

  • Elevation at Summit: 2,466m

  • 65 marked runs

  • 3,121 + acres of terrain

Lifts

Gondolas: 1

High Speed Quad Chairs: 2

Magic Carpet: 2

Terrain Difficulty

Beginner: 7%

Intermediate: 45.5%

Advanced: 47.5%

Expert: Plenty of off-piste action, heli-skiing and big bowls


John Antoniuk 8

Image Credit: John Antoniuk


Customs and things to consider

  1. Canada is a tipping based economy, many workers rely heavily on their tips to make up a large percentage of their income. It’s common to tip 15-20% for good or standard service. You can tip more or less if the service is great or abysmal, but make sure you let them know why, otherwise you might find yourself copping some nasty looks.

  2. Not tipping is a bad idea. Play it safe and account for tipping in your budget because it could be taken as a personal insult if you fail to tip. Obviously ski resorts are used to travellers so if you make an honest mistake, just make sure they understand that.

  3. Larger groups may be charged a set gratuity of around 18%, so pay attention to your bill and enquire before you dine so that you don’t accidentally tip twice or get a surprise when you look at the bill after paying.

  4. Ice Hockey is amazing — get amongst it.

  5. hey can probably drink more than you (this is not a challenge).

  6. Beaver jokes are old bad news.

Now you’ve got a bit of an idea of what’s in store in the Great White North, get out and aboot and start booking your great Canadian snow adventure!


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