On our second day in Banff, we planned to head to Lake Louise, which boasts 3250 vertical feet, 9 lifts, and Canada’s second-largest area!
While temperatures that day would be similar to the (brutal) previous day, it was worth noting the effect caused by elevation. Lake Louise’s upper mountain is at a similar elevation to Sunshine Village’s base area! This meant that the base area would be 5-10 degrees warmer than the summit. Nevertheless, a cold warning was still in effect, with the mountain offering discounted tickets, and free hot drinks, to accommodate for the lift delays.
At 8am, we boarded the Lake Louise Shuttle, and enjoyed some amazing views on our 45 minute ride there!
We arrive a little before 9am, and since the lifts did not plan on opening until 10am, we decided to give our skis a much-needed wax (due to the extreme cold causing the snow to be less slippery), and grabbed a delicious breakfast at the base area. Prices were much more reasonable at Lake Louise, in comparison to Sunshine Village. It is without a doubt that this ski area has the nicest log cabin and ski lodge I have ever seen:
By 9:30am, the lower mountain gondola and chairlift were spinning, and by 10, nearly every lift on the mountain had started to spin. Despite the weather ranging from -30 to -20 throughout the day, there weren’t any significant gusts of wind, which slightly masked the cold’s effect. We headed out, boarding the gondola, taking skiers all the way to the right summit (see the above trail map for clarity). Upon disembarking the gondola, I was shocked to see the view:
Since the previous day had been so cold, windy, and foggy, there was no view to be seen, hence this was one of my first summit views from a ski hill this trip! Words and pictures cannot even begin to describe the sheer size of these mountains! Since we were all eager to ski the backside bowls, in addition to the Grizzly Gully run, we headed down a short intermediate cruiser (amazed by the feeling of no ice!) to connect to the Top of the World 6 Express, which I can now say is my favourite lift of the trip.
The observation deck next to the lift:
From the lift, we were able to see the one of the resort’s more popular runs, the intermediate grizzly gully, which takes the shape of a natural half-pipe:
This lift is truly a scenic wonder, as it transports skiers and riders up the final half of the mountain, leading to a summit on lookers left, where the back bowl cruisers, steeps, and the summit chair, can all be accessed. Nearly the entire lift services sub-alpine and alpine terrain!
At the top of the lift, we decided to ski the gully for our first proper run, before heading to the backside.
The gully was fairly skiied-out, meaning that the snow was on the harder/icier side, and while I had become accustomed to moguls while night skiing at my home hill (Camp Fortune), this run was long, not super steep, and extremely mogulled the entire length! This combination led to an exhausting and leg-burning run, which took me more time to descend than I had initially thought 😂. Still, it was an amazing experience, with some amazing views. We then headed up the Top of the World Chair once more, this time with the goal of skiing the backside. We would be taking a green cruiser, saddleback, to weave its way down the backside, in addition to some moderate off-trail sections where ungroomed and chopped powder conditions were to be found.
The back side was simply incredible. While the lower portion was a fairly flat groomed run, the upper portion would it’s way down the back bowls, leaving us in awe as we (east-coasters) skied a high alpine, unfamiliar landscape!
The run led to the Paradise chair, which a friend who had visited the resort a few months prior had claimed to be the “sketchiest chairlift ride of his life”. The Paradise chair is a triple chair that is known for servicing some extreme single and double black, mogulled, steep, and cliff/chute terrain on the resort’s backside. In one section, this chair passes over 70 feet off the ground, in a large and frankly terrifying span! That being said, I was too mesmerized by the views, and didn’t find the chairlift to be crazy fear-inducing.
At the chair, my one friend decided that he wanted to do a black diamond run known as Corridor, and my other friend unknowingly followed. I had looked at the trail map, and saw that the run in question was a steep, narrow, and mogulled connection run between the summit of this lift, to the gondola chair summit area. Oh, did I mention that there are cliffs or double black runs on either side! The following is taken from his GoPro footage:
The friend who blindly followed was terrified, and I think it’s safe to say that I’m glad I didn’t follow them! I took the same backside cruiser as earlier, and continued further on to meet them at the bottom of the Larch chairlift. The Larch express quad is the far-side lift at Lake Louise, servicing glades terrain, groomed runs, and most famously, the rock garden. This intermediate run is another of the resort’s signature runs, and with the recent snowfall, conditions would be in their peak. While the feeling of skiing through and around large boulders was unique and took some adjustment, the run itself wasn’t much more difficult than a mogulled run out east, having many paths through the rocks. The second photo is from the following day:
Taken from the Larch summit, the rest of the resort is visible on the left of the image:
After the rock garden, as well as an intermediate cruiser lap on the Larch Chair, we headed to the beautiful Temple (backside) lodge, to take a break from the elements and have some lunch. At this beautiful log cabin, prices were even cheaper than the main lodge!
We then returned to the frontside, taking the Ptarmigan chair, which services steep, mogulled, and gladed terrain (once again, the photo is from the following day):
We then headed back down to the main lodge, where we took another break.
Sticking the frontside for the remaining few hours of skiing, we took the Glacier express chair up the start of TOTW.
While on the TOTW, we noticed that the summit chair, a small, fixed grip chair servicing some front and backside side-country terrain (of which most was too advanced and closed for our visit), was open. This lift transports skiers and riders to the highest point at the resort.
On our first run, we skied a narrow intermediate run with large wind blown powder stashes, and my friend and I both took a tumble in the same spot when our thin carving skis poked right through a snowdrift! It was honestly hillarious!
We then made several top to bottom runs of the resort, weaving in and out of the sub-alpine trees, as well as enjoying some nice cruiser laps.
We even took the Men’s World Cup Downhill run, a black run equivalent to a double black out east, though the amazing snow conditions did not make it too intimidating.
We finished the day at 4pm, boarding the 4:30 shuttle to head back to Banff. After a miserable first day, this day was a significant improvement, as the temps were cold but still bearable with breaks, goggles functioned and did not freeze, and snow conditions were amazing! Sitting on the left side of the shuttle home, we enjoyed an amazing view of Castle Mountain!
We then spent a relaxing evening in Banff, and greeted our 4th and final member, who arrived that night.
Two more ski reports to come!