When it comes to skiing and snowboarding in Canada, you’ve likely heard a lot about how Vancouver and the surrounding areas feature some of the best hills in the Great White North. And while it’s true that British Columbia is a great place to start your Canadian adventure, it shouldn’t end there. Ask around in Canada and you’ll start to hear more about Alberta.[related_articles]60199,59354[/related_articles]
Canada’s fourth largest province is a booming oil-rich spot nearly three times the size of Victoria that is one of only two provinces with two National Hockey League teams to its name. Whether you’re based out of the capital city of Edmonton or Calgary, the party-friendly city to the south, you’ll have no trouble hitting the slopes. Ask around and the friendly locals will be able to share even more info on the hot spots, but for now check out five things you probably didn’t know about skiing in Alberta: one of Canada’s most underrated provinces.
#1 You can ride down ACTUAL Olympic Mountains
OK, the Winter Olympics might not be the biggest draw in Australia but they’re always the talk of the town in Canada and in 1988 Calgary played host to the Winter Olympics for the first time in Canada’s history.
If you’re starting in Calgary, you won’t have to go far to check out Canada Olympic Park, which is currently used for high performance training. It’s also open to you, oh brave one. In 1988 it was the venue for ski jumping, bobsleigh and luge so if you’d just like to have a look around, you can learn about these sports and more at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, which highlights the country’s rich sports history. (Yes, there’s more than just ice hockey.)
But if you’re a thrill seeker looking to brag to your friends about your pseudo-Olympic exploits, the park offers both skiing and snowboarding opportunities for beginners and seasoned veterans alike. What’s more, the park goes to great lengths to introduce newcomers and people of all ages to a variety of winter sports. Lessons from some of the province’s best are available throughout the winter season. Snowboarding and skiing tickets are $21AUD, a remarkably affordable deal considering you may find yourself whizzing down the hill beside an upcoming Gold Medalist.
#2 Dog sledding is a thing and it is incredible
Want to get up close and personal with Alberta’s expansive natural surroundings? Then let those who know it best guide you. Dog sledding is a popular pastime in northern Canada with a number of parks and tours offering day trips and shorter jaunts throughout forests. Huddle up with a friend and a blanket and let the huskies whisk you away. Wherever you land in Alberta, you’ll be able to find a memorable dogsledding adventure.[related_articles]64090,58759[/related_articles]
Snowy Owl tours in Canmore offers 28 years of experience and trips throughout mountains as far as the eye can see. They’ll load you up with state of the art clothing to keep you warm and offer campfires afterwards. Mad Dogs and Englishmen Expeditions offer shorter trips but also allow you to learn the ways of a “Musher” and offer training in dog sledding and handling. You’ll learn to feed the dogs and work with them to ensure an authentic experience throughout Canada’s Rocky Mountains.
#3 Banff National Park is full of “firsts” and “mosts”
Banff is certainly ground zero for skiing and snowboarding in Alberta. It offers world-class experiences in both and often plays home to visiting celebrities and royalty. And, oh, it’s stunning. It’s the highest town in Canada with an elevation of 1383 metres and was established in 1885 as Canada’s first national park. You can’t argue with history like that.
Lake Louise in Banff National Park is home to the kind of postcard photography you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It offers over 2000 campsites for you to dig in and get up close with its beauty. The skiing and snowboarding in hills throughout the park are unparalleled. It may be difficult for you to keep your eyes on the hill and away from the Rocky Mountains around you, so make sure you’ve got your camera handy on the ski-lift.[related_articles]55258,47944[/related_articles]
If you’re keen to get away from the tourists, have a roam through Castleguard Caves, the longest in Canada. It may provide the tranquility you’re after a day of hustling on the hills.
#4 Jasper is Banff’s younger, hipper sibling
There is no shortage of Australians working and living in Banff. You can’t exactly blame them, but a four-hour drive north of Banff lies Jasper – the lesser known but equally gorgeous skiing and snowboarding town complete with every amenity imaginable.
The wilderness in jasper is all but untouched and is the perfect place for you to stretch your legs out and discover what Alberta is truly all about. In true Canadian style, locals welcome visitors like family. Marmot Basin offers Canada’s highest base elevation at 1698 metres and the air atop it is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Many have said the sheer size of Jasper leaves them awed beyond belief and the ski runs are perfectly split between novice, intermediate and expert so you’ll be able to enjoy Jasper regardless of your experience.
Eat and drink beside locals in one of Jasper’s many establishments such as Jasper Pizza, serving arguably the best wood-fired pizza in the province. Or stop in to the De’d Dog Bar and Grill for some live music to accompany a few pints of Canadian lager. Either way, you’ll feel at home from the second you arrive in Jasper.
#5 Alberta ski hills are often policed by skiing Mounties
Sure, this may seem like a buzzkill at first, but ask yourself this: wouldn’t you want to feel as safe as possible as a first-time skier or snowboarder on Alberta’s massive hills? And really, could you argue with policeman whose standard dress looks like this?
The Royal Canadian Mountain Police or “Mounties” (as they’re affectionately known as) patrol the mountains in full uniforms and armed with guns on on skis and snowboards. They are very, very serious about their mountains. Officers insist they’re not there to “sneak through the trees” but instead to make sure everyone has fun and stays safe.[related_articles]38666,21382[/related_articles]
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(Lead image: James Brown / Flickr)
Joshua Kloke is a freelance travel, music and sports writer. His work has appeared in Vice and the Vancouver Sun and his debut book Escape is at Hand for the Travellin' Man was released on Eternal Cavalier Press. He likes hanging out in the world's best record shops and pizzerias and is just waiting for someone to combine the two.