Alberta’s quiet giant, this sleepy, small hill in the southern reaches of the province speaks volumes with its steep pitches and a lack of the crowds that can plague the Banff mountains. It’s delightfully old-school – don’t be surprised to hear folks in lift lines with long, skinny skis shouting “single!” Extra points for the T-Bar Pub and Grill, one of Western Canada’s most authentic aprs-ski bars.
Fernie is a perpetual contender in many “best of” categories: powder, trees, steeps, gnarliest, terrain, etc. The little B.C. town has struggled at times with good service and has become more expensive in recent years, but there’s no denying the lusty allure of this snowy, steep utopia. Bonus: whereas Fernie experienced a few boom years of redonkulously long lineups, the hoards have moved onto the next big thing and lines are reasonable again. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.
The rough-around-the-edges railway town of Golden, B.C., might lack a certain sexiness that towns like Banff and Whistler boast about, but it makes up for it with balls-to-the-wall skiing. It’s steep and awesome here, with beautiful views. And rustic reputation aside, you can munch on truffle fries and duck confit with your Kettle Valley pinot noir at the mountaintop Eagle’s Eye Restaurant. The best of both worlds? Perhaps.
Less rowdy and more family-oriented, Kimberley, B.C.’s little mountain brings a charm all its own. Maybe the most accurately marketed resort, this place truly does appeal to the whole family of skiers and riders … as long as no one wants steep pitches. Where Kimberley shines on-hill is in its tree skiing, groomers, moguls and Purcell powder. Off-hill, the resort runs at a lower frequency, so head into town and soak up some ale and music at the Pedal & Tap pub before relaxing in your room.
Iconic, legendary and – at times – maybe overrated, Lake Louise is the go-to for Calgary. What Lake Louise has that no one else has is a truly breathtaking park setting and huge terrain. What it lacks is consistent snowfall. Plainly put, it can get rocky and icy here. However, this is inarguably one of Canada’s most beautiful places and is accessible to anyone, from child to grandparent. While the crowds, conditions and white-knuckle racecourse from city to resort can be daunting, Lake Louise is an absolute must-do annual visit for skiers and riders. The view alone makes it worthy of its reputation.
Arguably too far away to be included alongside the rest of the list, we’d feel remiss if we didn’t stretch the parameters for Marmot Basin. This mountain is fun for everyone. From groomers to sneaky, steep chutes hidden in the trees, Marmot delivers. It’s a fair distance – about five hours by car – but that only means fewer people on the slopes. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some classic Rockies powder, but be careful of the infamous “shark fins” that lie right below the surface. Part of Marmot’s charm lies in the town of Jasper, a great place to spend time with either friends or family. Ignore the awkward kitsch of the souvenir shops and spend your money in the restaurants.
Calgary’s true local hill, Nakiska is small, easy to navigate and as family-friendly as it gets. While it rarely gets a proper powder day, and there are few (read: no) options for hard-core experts, Nakiska shines because of this one simple fact – it is a real mountain only 45 minutes from the city. Add impeccable grooming and decent vertical, and most intermediate skiers will be happy here. There’s a lot to be said for an accessible, affordable, easy-to-ski mountain so close to the city.
Panorama might be the only true “resort” in the business. Just under a half-hour from Invermere, B.C., this “mountain village” has everything you need for your vacation. Some people like that. Some don’t. If you’re looking for an ultra-easy ski vacation, though, it’s hard to beat the set-up Panorama features. There’s a ton of hotels with (artificial) hot springs, a huge array of family activities, an okay selection of restaurants and pubs and a general store to fill other needs. It’s not glamourous, and the skiing is only above average, but for families it’s a hard-to-beat equation.
What if we told you that Revelstoke was not only the best option for Calgary skiers but the best option for Canadian skiers? Revy sports an incredible mountain, a burgeoning dining scene and a very cool atmosphere. It’s approximately five hours by car, so too far for a day trip, but it should be on your list at some point. The varied terrain, huge vertical and great snow make Revelstoke one of Canada’s – if not North America’s – best places to ski.
If rocky, steep, snowy snowboarding and skiing is what you’re seeking, Sunshine Village has most of the other options beat. Better snow and steeper, more-exposed terrain can be found here, putting it in the same league as Kicking Horse and Fernie. There is only one (excellent) hotel on-mountain, so you’ll likely want to stay in Banff for eating, boozing and getting spa treatments. From a true expert skier’s perspective, this is probably Banff’s best mountain.
Since 1967, Fortress Mountain has been a powdery jewel located only 75 minutes from Calgary in beautiful Kananaskis Country. In 2004, much to the displeasure of a passionate group of fans, the mountain closed due to some financial struggles. But Fortress’s story was far from over.
In 2010, Fortress Mountain Holdings took over the lease and began operating KPOW cat-skiing on the terrain, with an eye to reopening one or more of the lifts for the 2018-19 season. Can they do it? If they do, be sure to visit this underrated destination. With an average of seven to nine metres of snowfall a season and the closest quality ski terrain to the city, the reopening of Fortress is nothing but good news for Calgary skiers and riders. [This section of the story has been updated to reflect the goal of a 2018-19 season opening for the lifts]