Hey, welcome to the west. Not the wet, we won’t be talking about Whistler here.
Skiing is a great sport enjoyed by millions across the country. In a country as large and diverse as Canada however there are regional and distinct differences that come to light. Here’s a little help for those of you about to embark on the Powder Highway.
In the west travel time is a huge factor, it is not uncommon for ski towns and/or resorts to be hours and hours apart. If you are travelling from Lake Louise to Revelstoke for instance there is not a gas station for almost 300km. Fill up with gas and snacks and have emergency supplies in your car (some rental companies supply these some don’t). While on the subject of rental cars get an all wheel drive or 4×4 your peace of mind is worth the extra cost. Remember it’s a rental but if you get all inclusive insurance it becomes a recreational vehicle.
Once you are in the area of your choice you may notice something else unlike home. In most Alberta and East Kootenay ski towns the “ski area or resort” is actually nowhere near town, a drive in the morning is common or if you happen to be at a ski in-ski out resort a drive into town for dinner or nightlife is required. If you need anything other than basic boot or ski service you may also be travelling from the ski resort to get it.
Skis? Everybody loves their skis but do you fly with them? Or do you rent/demo skis when you arrive at your destination? I know in Fernie, Banff and Lake Louise most local shops have a fairly large fleet of skis that are regionally specific and guaranteed to give you the best day on snow compared to what you may normally ski at home. On average a ski out west will be 20-30mm wider than what you would see on snow in Quebec. Personally, unless it’s early season I would stay away from ski areas demos available in rental shops primarily because they get abused and may not ski as well as more cared for ski.
Lift lines? Yes, we may have them and by may I mean Christmas/New Years and whatever weekend the Family Day Holiday falls on (usually mid-February). Weekdays and non-peak season you may have to wait if you want to ride up with someone. I have skied full days in Fernie and not waited in line at all. This low skier density means you should be aware of a couple other things. First, it’s easy to lose yourself in the vastness of the outdoors. Ski Patrol, Search and Rescue and the news are filled with tales of newcomers getting lost (even in bounds). Ski with a buddy or let people know where you are going (most areas do have cell coverage but not always). Second, you may be getting more vertical in one run than a whole day back home. It is very easy to get fatigued, so fatigued that your skiing becomes erratic. Take a break.
Common terms thrown around in ski shops and marketing propaganda are “sidecountry” and “slack country”. These are made up terms to get people to buy gear they didn’t know they needed. Once you leave the resort boundaries it’s all BACKCOUNTRY. You need the full setup if you leave the resort or go touring. Beacon, probe, shovel, skins, saw and most of all knowledge.