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JimK

Great 2018 Northern Rockies and Canada Tour

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I'm back in my cube at work today:-(  I finished the drive back from the Rockies last night.  The MCP worked very well.  I used it for 16 "free" ski days and a handful of half-price days this winter during two trips to the West. 

 

During my long March road trip from Mar 1 - 26 I skied 16 of 20 days between Mar 4-23 at these MCP resorts:

Utah:  Snowbasin, Alta, Snowbird,

Wyoming:  Jackson Hole,

British Columbia:  Revelstoke,

Alberta:  Lake Louise, Sunshine Village (part of Sunshine's terrain is in BC), and Mt. Norquay.  

 

I put 7,070 miles on my car during this trip.  I got a nice lodging discount (half-off full price) with the MCP to stay two nights at Sunshine Lodge, which was the accommodations highlight of the trip and a good bargain at about $150 per night.  It's a very nice mid-mountain lodge at Sunshine Village ski area with a big hot tub and several dining options.  It is accessible only by a long gondola (no car access) and that provided a really fun feeling of leaving the world behind for a total immersion in skiing.  In the Banff area, the MCP got me two free days each at Lake Louise and Sunshine.  It was also accepted for a single free day at Mt. Norquay, which I used as my final day of very enjoyable and scenic skiing in the Canadian Rockies before beginning the long road trip home.

 

I had good to very good snow conditions everywhere I went on this trip and got powder days in UT, Revy, and Sunshine.  I was quite fortunate that I also had good driving conditions everywhere on the trip.  Completing thousands of miles of driving in the Rockies in winter without a hitch is not trivial.  The Trans-Canadian Highway was closed occasionally during my visit to BC, but on the day we drove from Revy to Banff it opened just after we finished skiing and started our planned evening drive Eastward.  Earlier in the trip we had one of our most memorable drives in a remote part of western Montana.  We left I90 near Missoula around 8:30 PM to start heading north to Revelstoke.  There was a motel at the exit, but I was not sleepy and decided to drive a little longer.  We saw very little in the way of civilization from then on traveling two lane roads.  At 10:30 PM we saw a gas station and the little Seeley Lake Motor Lodge.  I was very glad to make stops at both!  When we hit the road again in the morning it took another 90 miles before we came to the next motel/gas places near Kalispell, MT.

 

Trip highlights:

Best ski conditions:  Mar 4 - 10 in Utah, Banff area later in the month was good too.

Best scenery:  tie between Lake Louise, Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay

Best run:  watching my son lap Corbet's Couloir at Jackson Hole, for me personally it was cool to do Delirium Dive at Sunshine

Best meal:  my wife made some nice homemade dinners during a week at my son's house in SLC, but dining out was probably at The Grizzly House in Banff.

Best town:  the Banff/Canmore area was really neat, and we did some fun things there besides skiing, such as soaking in Banff Hot Springs, doing high tea at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, snowshoeing on frozen Lake Louise, and hiking Johnston Canyon to see frozen waterfalls.  The vibe walking around Banff was very down to earth and not pretentious at all.  The English-speaking tourists looked very middle class, but there were also many foreigners, including many Asian visitors. 

Best lodging:  the aforementioned Sunshine Lodge.  It's mid-mtn location is really neat.  They let us check-in at 11 AM on our first day.  On our last day they let us check out at 1 PM and it snowed about one foot around the lodge and slopes.  The skiing was great and when we took the gondola at the end of the day to go to our car there was no snow down there and the roads were clear all the way to Calgary.

Best new friends:  we met two friendly guys from Alberta while skiing with a group in UT.  Two weeks later they guided us for two days at Louise and Sunshine and showed us all their favorite runs.

Best surprise:  the beauty and history at Mt. Norquay.  I skied it on Mar 23 on what will probably be my last ski day of the winter.  I got some great images/memories in my head to last until next season.

Worst moment:  getting hit on the head by the Summit platter after the last of multiple rides I took on that iconic surface lift Lake Louise.  I was ok, but my helmet took a good little dent:-)  My favorite goggles are getting worn out, so this might motivate me to get a new goggle/helmet combo for next year:-)

Edited by JimK
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Really awesome reporting Jim!  I can imagine stealing your itinerary to plan a trip.

How did you find the crowds in Banff/Canmore?  I was there last year in Late March/Early April and it was sheer madness.  We had planned to spend some time there but we bailed straight almost as we encountered the traffic jams in town. 

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The crowds were fine everywhere on my trip.  Probably the busiest place was Mon and Tues March 12 and 13 at Jackson Hole, but often ski-on most lifts even there.  We skied Louise on Sat 3/17 and it was fine for crowds even though they got more than a foot of snow about two days earlier.  Local friends were surprised it wasn't busier.  Sunshine was fine for next three days after that.  When I ate at the Grizzly House (popular Banff restaurant with tourists) on Wed Mar 21 my wife and I just walked in about 6 PM without reservation and got seated immediately, although place was lively.  I think this week Mar 24-31 is spring break for Calgary schools, so could be a different story now.  Maybe that is what you hit last year?  While in Canada I spent two nights in Revy, two nights in Banff, two nights mid-mtn at Sunshine and three nights in Canmore, then one night in Medicine Hat on drive home.  Canmore is less touristy and possibly where wealthier 2nd home owners gather.  It is just outside the Banff national park boundary.  Wife found a good dinner special we enjoyed in Canmore on her smart phone at The Wood Restaurant for steak, potato, large side salad and one bottle kokanee beer that equated to $12.40 american total for one person.

I travel widely to ski and this is not something I say often, but the Big 3 ski areas at Banff represent a destination I could possibly return to.  These resorts are super beautiful with some very neat off-slope things to do.  Lodging and dining are a good bargain for Americans right now due to favorable exchange rate.  Access via highway from Calgary is a very gentle 90 minute climb with no hairy driving like what you can see from Denver to Summit County or from RNO/SMF/SFO to Lake Tahoe.

Edited by JimK
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Thanks for the comments to go with the pictures.

How many days would you recommend for a first trip to Banff?  Does it take more than a day to figure out how to get around the three ski resorts?

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Really awesome reporting Jim!  I can imagine stealing your itinerary to plan a trip.
How did you find the crowds in Banff/Canmore?  I was there last year in Late March/Early April and it was sheer madness.  We had planned to spend some time there but we bailed straight almost as we encountered the traffic jams in town. 


Wow, the crowd thing you encountered shocks me. I stayed in Canmore for 5 nights during the first week of April last year. It was dead, like we owned the town.

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8 hours ago, MarzNC said:

Thanks for the comments to go with the pictures.

How many days would you recommend for a first trip to Banff?  Does it take more than a day to figure out how to get around the three ski resorts?

As you know, I favor longer visits over weekends, because just about all major western ski areas can take several days to get a good sampling.  I would say the Big 3 in Banff deserve a full week visit.  With MCP that would mean taking advantage of all five free days offered on that pass; i. e., at least two days each at LL and SSV and one day at Norquay.   You would definitely want one or two non-ski days to visit the incredible hotels like Fairmont Chateau LL and Banff Springs Hotel and just walk around town.  I combined a day of hiking with a visit to the famous Banff Hot Springs, but the springs facility, while scenic, is a little thread-worn and could be done in an evening after skiing.  For skiing alone I would rank LL as most interesting to advanced skiers, SSV has some very nice above tree-line intermediate terrain.  I couild ski either of those for many days.  Because of the really nice slopeside lodging I had at SSV I stayed there for three straight ski days.  Good thing, because visibility was not so great on first and third days (but fresh snow).  we used avi gear to go into Delirium Dive on on second day, which was our clearest day and very beautiful.  Norquay is much smaller than other two, but not tiny and of great scenic and historic interest.  It's especially nice for families and worth a full day visit. 

Edited by JimK
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Wow, the crowd thing you encountered shocks me. I stayed in Canmore for 5 nights during the first week of April last year. It was dead, like we owned the town.

Who knows. I don't recall the exact date. Maybe it was a holiday or something. It's good to hear that from you and Jim. It's a place I want to check out again but have been worried about the crowds. Now I'm not so worried about it.

 

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On 3/15/2018 at 12:49 PM, Jcb890 said:

Great photos!

If you had to pick a favorite - which would it be?

I could write about five typed pages on this question:-)

If you want to do some bone crushing in great snow conditions on high testosterone terrain - Snowbird.

If you want more bone crushing skiing on high testosterone terrain with even better scenery - Jackson Hole.

If you want to have fun exploring a wide variety of terrain, while enjoying beautiful lodges and lifts - Snowbasin.

If you want the absolute best chance of primo snow conditions in legendary terrain on a mountain where every little nook and cranny has a nickname - Alta.

If you want 5000+ vertical feet of trees with 69 trails and a handful of alpine bowls thrown-in, but not many people - Revelstoke.

If you want a nice variety of terrain and a great, unpretentious vibe among some of the most spectacular scenery in the ski world - Lake Louise.

If you want some beautiful intermediate skiing with a dash of exciting black diamonds and some very cool mid-mountain accommodations - Sunshine Village.

If you enjoy a more intimate mountain with great history, scenery, and some killer bumps and trees - Mt. Norquay.

 

I hope to return to Utah quite often in the future because of a family connection, but this was my first time in the Banff area and I really liked the combination and close proximity of the Big 3 (LL, SSV, Norquay) because of the following factors during my visit:  good snow, terrain variety, beautiful scenery, non-ski attractions, low key vibe, and good affordability.

 

Edited by JimK
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