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Canadian Ski SafariJanuary 30, 2009 By: Frederick Folmer Travel Agent
Banff and Lake Louise provide mountain luxury and powdery slopes
Though you might know Banff and Lake Louise in the canadian province of Alberta as summer destinations, you might be less inclined to think of them for winter vacations. But the region has some of the most beautiful ski mountains in North America, as well as two unforgettable Fairmont properties that are as splendid in winter as they are the rest of the year—and more affordable to boot, since winter is the low season here.
View of Hot Springs at The Fairmont Banff Springs
It’s also to travelers’ advantage that these hotels and ski areas all sit within the confines of Banff National Park, so views of massive rocky peaks or untamed forests are largely unobstructed. Nowhere is this point clearer than at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which easily ranks as one of the most scenic combinations of hotel and surroundings in the world. The 554-room hotel is dwarfed by Mother Nature: Directly behind the property sits a crystal-blue lake, frozen in winter, that’s framed by gigantic mountain cliffs and a glacier. Guests at the hotel can head out on snowshoeing excursions, cross-country skiing trips and sleigh rides, as well as enjoy a spa and eight bars and restaurants. When booking, insist that clients obtain a lake view; the seventh-floor Fairmont Gold section is a good choice, as rooms come with a separate concierge service, complimentary high-speed Internet, breakfast and hors d’oeuvres, and an honor bar. Rates at the Chateau run from approximately $209 to $335 per night, January through April.
When it’s time to hit the slopes, travelers will find Lake Louise Mountain Resort a short five-minute drive away. A seemingly endless sea of evergreens lies in the valley below, backed by rows of jagged, towering, gasp-inducing peaks. The skiing’s no slouch either, and at more than 4,200 skiable acres, it’s just plain massive. Four mountain faces are available, and some of them include powder bowls above the tree line. For everyone else, there’s plenty of terrain, including a dedicated kids’ area at the bottom of the mountain. For sales information, agents can contact Sales & Marketing Manager Jacqueline Birk (403-522-1305, [email protected]). For general information, call 877-253-6888 or visit www.skilouise.com.
The mountain town of Banff is a 45-minute drive down the Trans-Canada Highway from Lake Louise, and the classic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is about 1.2 miles from the town center. The 120-year-old, 768-room property evokes not so much the Alps as it does the Scottish Highlands, and it’s hard to think of a property outside of Scotland itself that could so completely create the feeling of an enormous baronial castle. Suggest that clients stay in the newer Stanley Thompson Wing, which provides picture-perfect views of the surrounding mountains and Bow Valley; rooms on the upper 13th and 14th floors should fit the bill nicely. Guests can indulge in more than 10 first-class bars and restaurants and plenty of winter activities. Off-site options include a walk through the ice-covered Johnston Canyon, available from local outfitters such as Discover Banff Tours (877-565-9372). A trip to the Willow Stream Spa is a must. A huge menu of treatments is available, but even if clients aren’t getting a massage or wrap, they’ll enjoy the series of European-style mineral pools, as much for the aesthetics as for the health benefits. Winter room rates run from approximately $243 to $503 per night; for sales information for either the Chateau Lake Louise or the Banff Springs Hotel, contact Regional Sales Manager Kathy Dales ([email protected]). For general Fairmont information, call 800-257-7544.
Skiing at Sunshine Village
Surrounding Banff are not one but two ski mountains, and both provide a compelling niche for travelers. Sunshine Village is the larger of the two; from the base area, guests are whisked up in a gondola, and following the 25-minute ride, they’ll find themselves amid more than 3,000 acres of terrain, with unforgettable vistas of mountain ranges in every direction. Guests can choose from a number of directions: They can stay among the snow-covered trees, where traditional trails for all abilities can be found, or they can head for the massive above-treeline areas, where they can test themselves on the open, European-style bowl skiing. Sunshine also is the only area ski resort to offer on-mountain lodging; guests at the 54-room Sunshine Mountain Lodge check their luggage at the base and ride to their lodging on the gondola. For sales information, contact In-Resort Sales Manager Dana Degeer (403-762-7883, [email protected]). For general information, call 87-SKI-BANFF.
A room with a mountain view at Sunshine Mountain Lodge
Finally, just outside the town is Mount Norquay, a smaller mountain that nonetheless has an excellent mix of beginner, intermediate and expert terrain. Two- or three-hour lift tickets are available for those who just want to dabble. Call 403-762-4421 or visit www.banffnorquay.com. Bus service provides transportation among the hotels and the three area ski resorts, and combination lift tickets are available for those who wish to sample more than one. Call 877-754-7080 or visit www.skibig3.com. For general travel information in the Banff/Lake Louise area, call 403-762-8421 or visit www.banfflakelouise.com.