Skiing and Snowboarding, Banff + Jasper
Concierge.com's insider take:
The Rockies that delineate the Alberta-British Columbia border just west of Lake Louise soar above 11,000 feet, so they intercept many eastbound storms. The clouds consequently dump most of their water in B.C., leaving the Alberta side relatively sunny and dry. The snow is light, like Utah's or Idaho's, while gracing huge peaks that could be twins with Europe's Alps.
Four miles above town atop a switchback road, Ski Norquay is the closest mountain to Banff (403-762-4421; www.banffnorquay.com). Any modern-day rider will be impressed that Canadians skied the steeps of Norquay with the leather boots and flimsy bindings that comprised state-of-the-art gear when the resort was founded in 1926. (It was also home to Canada's first chairlift.) Since you can virtually ski here on your lunch break, it's full of locals (there's actually a ski-by-the-hour option). Follow the Banffites to the demanding 34-degree pitch of Memorial Bowl before slowing down on the less steep terrain near the Cascade Quad Chair.
Sunshine Village claims Canada's longest ski season (403-277-7669; www.skibanff.com); it usually has snow until late May. A 3,514-foot vertical rise also makes it one of the continent's highest resorts— one chairlift goes to nearly 9,000 feet. Since 1998, previously off-limits terrain has been opened to experienced skiers and snowboarders. Delirium Dive, the Wild West, and Silver City areas are "free-ride zones," where hazards aren't marked and route selection is up to you. Those who partake must have a partner and bring an avalanche beacon and shovel. A special phone number, 403-762-6511, regularly updates the status of these areas.
At 11 square miles, Lake Louise Mountain Resort is Canada's largest ski area, sprawling across four mountain faces (403-522-3555; www.skilouise.com). Amid alpine bowls and forested gullies, Lake Louise has 139 runs and an impressive 3,250-foot vertcal drop. And boy, does it look like the Alps, with craggy granite spires and vast snowfields. Off its backside are the Powder Bowls: a series of chutes and wide-open pitches that beckon fast, sure powder-skiers. With runs tracing World Cup courses (called, helpfully, Men's Downhill and Ladies' Downhill) Lake Louise is also an ideal place to give into gravity and get vacuumed down a fast, steep, groomed fall line.
Another marquee mountain destination lies an hour outside the park, on the British Columbia side of the border: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (866-754-5425; www.kickinghorseresort.com). Kicking Horse is a giant, with 4,133 vertical feet and 2,750 skiable acres. It's a haven for experts, with 71 controlled-avalanche slide paths to drop into. There is bus service during the ski season to Kicking Horse from Banff and Lake Louise on the Powder Express (reservations required; call 403-760-5465).