There was a time when spring heralded a season of jeans and powder jackets on the slushy slopes. That time, thankfully, has passed.
Now, spring skiing is about schussing a couple of runs before and after a patio lunch (cue beer), catching an outdoor concert with ski boots still on and ending the day on another sunny patio with friends (cue more suds). Though some resorts in the west stay open into April and even May, spring skiing isn’t really about skiing. Sure, some of the biggest storms take place in March and April, the snow base is at its highest of the season and the weather is warmer, but let’s be honest – by the time spring arrives, we’re so over the 9-to-4 job of tracking up virgin slopes and racking up vertical for bragging rights.
We see the light of summer on the horizon and, with it, the long days and patio nights. So we come to the mountains to ski, and by “ski” we mean bust out the vintage 1980s snow suit, make a cardboard sled to ride down the mountain and, afterward, toast the coming thaw. Here are the best resorts to partake in this annual tradition.
Lake Louise Ski Resort, Banff National Park, Alta.
As anyone who’s ever done laps on Paradise chair in March knows, Lake Louise’s backside is the best place to catch some morning rays between steep descents in a snowy bowl with just enough cliffs and glades for added interest. When it’s time to reapply the sunscreen, a warm sunny patio awaits at Temple Lodge. This rustic throwback of a lodge barbecues tasty burgers and hot dogs that taste great with a frosty beer or two. Looking for a goggle tan with a leg workout? Ride the summit platter all afternoon. Or stick to the backside – the punishing moguls in Paradise bowl should have softened up. (skilouise.com)
Refuel at day’s end with the Lake’s famous cocktail, The Shaft, at the Village Grill & Bar. This boozy doozy (vodka, Kahlua, milk and espresso) will boost your aprs energy.
April 12: The Ski Louise Stampede pits the country’s top rodeo cowboys and cowgirls against the mountain’s steepest slopes.
May 2 to 3: Bid farewell to winter with the Monster Energy Ruckus in the Rockies, a live music blowout billed as the best season-ender party in Banff National Park.
May 3: Closing day.
Fernie Alpine Resort, Fernie, B.C.
Fernival. Photograph courtesy of Resorts of the Canadian Rockies Inc.
Fernie is known for its deep powder, but, come March, all that snow has formed an incredible base that turns face shots into satisfying slushy rooster tails. The sunshine finally peeks out and skiers who dare to venture to the top of Polar Peak are rewarded with magnificent views of the Lizard Range – and forgiving corn snow for the descent down Fernie’s gnarliest terrain. There’s a more relaxed vibe on the mountain and off, where you’ll find aprs-ski fun starting at lunch on the outdoor patios. (skifernie.com)
March 22: Hot Tub Time Machine comes to life during the Bud Light Retro Party, where locals and out-of-towners dust off their skinny skis and neon headbands to party like it’s 1989.
April 12: Get ready to boogie, slope-side, as Fernival returns with classic rock acts that put on the biggest free concert in the Canadian Rockies.
April 13: Closing day.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Golden, B.C.
Photograph by Alex Giesbrecht.
Sunny spring days at the Horse are ideal for a short hike to the top of Terminator (T1) Ridge, where you can access some of the mountain’s steepest alpine fall lines. Go with the north-facing slopes, which keep the powder nice and light.
Now that you’ve broken a sweat, it’s time to replenish those electrolytes during a long lunch at the award-winning Eagle Eye’s Restaurant, Canada’s highest dining spot, where your biggest decision will be between the Iron Horse (vodka, Kahlua, Baileys and espresso, served warm) and the Pineapple Express (Triple Sec, Pimm’s and pineapple juice, on ice). You may want to ride the gondola down. (kickinghorseresort.com)
Get the inside track on the best powder stashes by seeking out a guide from the Big Mountain Centre. You’ll skip the lift line all day and get to know the mountain from a local’s perspective.
March 15 and 16: Watch the sport’s best free riders defy gravity during Wrangle the Chute, a big mountain showdown.
April 5, 6 and 12, 13: The Sun Splash Fun Fest takes place over two weekends with a dummy downhill, slush cup and live funk music.
April 20: Closing day.
Sunshine Village, Banff National Park, Alta.
Sunshine Village. Photograph courtesy of Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort.
There aren’t many ski resorts where snow bunnies can shed their Lycra suits in favour of bikinis. Sunshine Village, which boasts the longest non-glacial ski season in North America, is one of them. With skiing until Victoria Day, April and May are bonus ski months where more sun and warmer temperatures mean less clothing. And, even though the base is still big, spring at Sunshine also means less actual skiing, with weekly events like a free outdoor concert series and the annual Slush Cup. (skibanff.com)
After skiing Goat’s Eye Mountain all morning with virtually no lineups, enjoy a burger and beer at the Goat’s Eye Garden patio while soaking in some of the resort’s namesake rays.
April and May: Champagne on champagne powder? Mais oui! There will be bubbles for your slope-side troubles all spring at the Veuve Clicquot snow bar.
May 18: Ski or snowboard in a bikini or banana hammock during the 6th annual Bikinis & Boardshorts Ride and Ski for Breast Cancer, in support of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
May 19: Closing day.
Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish, Mont.
Photograph courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort/Dave Ericson.
Not only is Montana skiing as good as what you’ll find in Canada, it’s a better value (when was the last time you saw a lift ticket south of US$70 here?). Whitefish, a five-hour drive southwest of Calgary, is also one cool town. There’s a dedicated Canadian bar (The Bulldog Saloon) that accepts loonies at par. And, since the beer is so cheap and plentiful, just imagine the heights of revelry achieved aprs-spring skiing – the whole town goes off while the snow ghosts melt away. (skiwhitefish.com)
Stop by the Great Northern Bar & Grill in downtown Whitefish for $1 beers during the week, plus $2 Tuesdays for Canadians featuring Kokanee tallboys.
March 15: Dine at the top of the mountain while overlooking the snow-capped peaks of Glacier National Park, then ski down during the Moonlight Dine & Ski.
March 29: Watch dummies on skis meet their demise and follow it up with a celebration of Montana breweries during the annual Dummy Derby and Brewfest.
April 6: Closing day.