News from the snow
Banff Mount Norquay Canada
There are few true 'ski towns' around the world, especially those with a choice of top ski areas on their doorstep, each with independent ownership. Austria's Innsbruck, Utah's Park City, New Zealand's Queenstown and Argentina's Bariloche are some of the few examples, Aspen grew up that way but with all the ski areas nearby now owned by one company some feel the character there has gone. Not so in Banff, where the Mount Norquay is the nearest to town and offers flexible skiing by the hour if you just have a little time to spare for a few turns. If you are planning a full day of skiing or riding there is much more terrain available at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise - generally regarded as one of the world's most beautiful ski areas. Banff came in to being in 1883 when three railway workers building Canada's first trans-Continental railway staked a claim on the hot springs area that bubbled up there. It was named by a Canadian Pacific employee after his home area of Banffshire in North Eastern Scotland, although it doesn't look much like it! Two years later the railway was competed and soon afterwards the Canadian Pacific railway Company built the incredible Banff Springs hotel and Canada's first national park was established, "the rest is history". The town has a reputation also for being extremely good value and having genuinely friendly inhabitants. It's particularly impressive that they manage to keep cheerful when you consider the 7600 'Banffites' have to keep smiling at more than three million visitors a year. The snow on the surrounding mountains is known for its quality and abundance which help Sunshine and Lake Louise to open from early November to late May every year - one of the world's longest ski seasons. The experience of being able to spend the day in true wilderness terrain or modern ski areas and then the evenings in a lively resort also appeals to many. The success of Banff as a world leading ski destination was laid out more than a century ago when Swiss mountain guides led parties of climbers on first ascents of the surrounding peaks and traversed prehistoric glaciers. In leather bindings and wooden skis they discovered untracked snow in wide-open bowls and meadows, laying the groundwork for what was to become a viable ski industry. Settling in Banff and Lake Louise the pioneers helped build trails then roads through the raw, rugged and largely uninhabited landscape and eventually they established hotels and businesses.
The original of the three Banff Ski areas, smallest and still the closest, with great skiing including several top to bottom blacks.
Sunshine is the oldest ski area, established in the 1930s but has been expanding rapidly in recent years with new high speed quads including the Goat''s Eye express which was the world''s fastest on opening and the
Continental Divide. After a short ride from Banff, skiers hop on a gondola ride to stunning upper alpine terrain with wide-open bowls and tree runs carved through the forest. The resort has terrain to suit all abilities.
For advanced skiers and snowboarders the Delirium Drive, the ultimate front country adventure with pitches of 40 degrees and vertical footage of 1919 feet. Delirium will be located on the north face of Lookout Mountain. Sunshine Village also offers the only on-mountain accommodation in Banff National Park and services including pubs, lounges, dining, live entertainment and day care. The world's fastest high-speed quads dominate the three different mountain faces available to skiers. With close to 30 feet of snow each year and the longest season in the Rockies, Sunshine Village's 100 per cent natural snow is generally
regarded as some of the world's best.
For scenic grandeur, imaginative terrain design, and sheer size, the Lake Louise Ski Area, 57km (35 miles) west of Banff ranks with the finest in the world. One of Canada's largest ski areas, Lake Louise offers skiers and snowboarders of all abilities virtually unlimited skiing and riding. Skiing Louise's vast terrain is over 11 square miles and is spread across four mountain faces, offering open powder bowls, glades, chutes, and over 100 groomed trails. Featuring some of North America's most exciting terrain, Louise is also a skier friendly mountain with a green, or easy run, from every chairlift on the mountain. Tied together with a system of 11 interconnecting lifts, Lake Louise has an abundant amount of natural snow (15 feet in the bowls), backed up with Canada's largest snowmaking system, Louise has dozens of long protected tree lined runs, and 65% of the terrain below treeline, you can ski at Louise even when it is snowing.
As the pioneer ski resort in Banff National Park, Mount Norquay completed its first chair lift in 1948 and has continued to change with the times. Recently fully revamped with new lifts and runs as well as an expanded fleet of grooming and snowmaking equipment, Norquay's beginner, intermediate and advanced terrain is spread over 25 tree-sheltered runs. The brand-new lodge sports post and beam wood construction, cathedral ceilings, fireplaces and wrap-around sun decks. Night skiing is also offered every Friday. With five lifts, including two quads, Mount Norquay is the smallest of Banff's three areas, but also the closest, only 6km (4 miles) and served by a free shuttle bus from the town's hotels. Last season Norquay opened a new section of terrain known as the American Basin - located to the skier's right of the North American run its expert terrain includes a wide open powder bowl.
Early mountain guides from Switzerland, Austria and Germany learned from the Native people how to identify and cook local foods. They learned how to cure and smoke game and fish so they could survive the long winters. They found out about tasty vegetables, fruits and flavourings from the forest which could be pickled for the winter. But, wilderness ingredients were seldom seen of fashionable restaurant menus. Thanks to classically trained chefs who appreciate the creative and nutritional approaches to food, today's Mountain menus are a meeting ground of culinary creativity.
Popular eateries in the town include the Magpie and Stump, Georgio's, the Paris Restaurant and Waldhaus.
The last ten days of January traditionally sees the resort's famous Winterfest, which has run for more than 80 years. Events start to roll with the ever-popular Town Party (1500 people and five bands at the Banff Springs Hotel), and continue with the Snow Ambassador Contest, Art Walk, "Bar Golf" Pub Crawl, Wine Challenge, Snowboarding competition, Oktoberfest in January, giant tug of war, and outdoor snow carnival relay races, just to name a handful of the over 30 events which make up the Festival. The Annual Mountain Madness Relay is a local favourite - a five-person relay race from the top of Mount Norquay to Central Park. Other facilities available throughout the summer include a four screen cinema and night skiing is possible on Mount Norquay.