PLANETSKI IS BACK IN BANFF
14th February 2018 | James Cove, Banff
Last modified on May 12th, 2020
It’s one of our favourite ski towns and we’re in Banff in Canada this week. Next up – Delirium Dive, the signature run of Sunshine Village. UPDATED
FRIDAY 16TH FEBRUARY
Lake Louise or Delirium Dive?
The Lake would have to wait.
Delirium Dive is the signature run of Sunshine Village.
It is rated as one of the best and most challenging freeride areas on the North America continent.
“At it’s easiest the Dive provides willing participants with a nervous walk down some steep stairs where they must negotiate a wind scoured and rocky ridge line to gain access to powder filled 45 degree chutes,” is how it is described.
“For the more adventurous the possibilities are vast: jumping off the top cliffs and cornices to gain entry, “billy-goating” through rocks and cliffs to link heavily exposed 50 degree slopes, and hucking off frozen waterfalls and pillow drops.”
The area has only been open to advanced skiers and snowboarders in its current set up since 1999.
Prior to that it was out of bounds.
It sits at the top of the Great Divide Express chairlift and then there is a short boot up to the summit of Lookout Mountain.
There are some relatively straightforward ways down and then some lines that are total no-fall zones.
It should not be undertaken lightly.
It is compulsory to have an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe and people are not allowed to do it alone.
The access is through a metal gate that opens when it detects you have a working transceiver on.
At the top the weather was bleak.
I skied Delirium Dive for the first time back in 2015.
This time I was doing it with my son 23-year old son Alex who works as a ski instructor in the resort.
He has just passed the course enabling him to take clients down its slopes and is able to chose any route he deems fit.
I was in good hands.
Unfortunately my legs were not in such good working order as his hands.
I would like to report that I tackled the steep top section with style and control.
I managed the latter but not the former.
I did a controlled side-slip down its 40 degree entrance slope while Alex jumped in and put some short turns on its steep face.
It wasn’t even a no fall zone. Pathetic from me!
“Come on old man put a bit of commitment in and stop being such a woosie,” he advised me.
Funny how times change as not so long ago I was educating him about off piste safety and the different mind-set needed for skiing the steeps.
He was of course right.
“That’s better you are skiing with a positive mind rather than a negative one,” he said after the second pitch where I decided to pull myself together.
My turns were tight and aggressive.
There snow was hard packed rather than powder but it was chalky and grippy.
He told me about the different routes.
“If you tackle this pitch first I will watch for any snow coming off the cliffs above. Don’t stop in the middle unless you have to and keep a fluid motion. Then take a sharp right turn and wait under that cliff”.
I did as I was told.
And though it may not look so steep in this video I can assure you it was steep enough.
Next it was a long traverse over avalanche debris and plenty of exposed rocks and ice.
And all too soon the main sections of the Dive were over and it was into the trees.
To be honest there are many such routes in the Alps in resorts like Verbier, St Anton, Tignes and the rest.
However there are less so in North America and Alex and I had come down one of the simplest routes.
There are some proper lines in the Dive if you want them.
Last time I had been here was with Alex a couple of years ago when we went in with the ski patrol as they made it safe from avalanche – unfortunately they deemed it unsafe to drop in that time.
This time we did the Dive – father and son.
THURSDAY 15TH FEBRUARY
Well, well, well.
What a difference a day makes here in Canada.
From freezing temperatures, poor visibility and high winds one day (see my video report lower down this article from Wednesday) to this:
Now if you are unfamiliar with Sunshine Village near Banff in Alberta it is a 10-minute drive down Highway 1 and then a short drive up to the main base station.
It is one of my favourite approaches to a ski resort and makes me feel I am heading deep into the Rockies.
It brings on a sense of adventure and my pulse quickens.
I should declare an immediate interest as my son is now in his third season here as a ski instructor.
He came here on my advice and I think the phrase that springs to mind is ‘like father like son” – he too has fallen in love with the place.
I have waxed lyrical about the resort in the past:
And check out what it looked like today as it actually lived up to its name: Sunshine!
However I have never quite been able to work why I am so fond of the place.
– There are certainly bigger resorts in Canada.
– There are steeper ones.
– There are ones with better terrain.
– Certainly ones with better mountain restaurants.
A half decent skier can whip round the whole area of Sunshine Village in a morning.
But as I skied down Goat’s Eye this afternoon a thought struck me.
It is like one of my favourite local pubs.
There are better ones by every judgement, but if you have been to a pub over the years, have had good nights and average ones, met old friends and made new ones or simply enjoy being there for its own sake and feel comfortable then you have found a special place.
For me Sunshine Village in Banff is like The Spencers in Putney – home from home.
Tomorrow I have a plan to go to Lake Louise as I only have one more day in Banff before heading down to Idaho in the USA, but then again….
Oh, and the surrounding peaks at Sunshine are pretty good too.
WEDNESDAY 14TH FEBRUARY
Banff is a ski town, not a ski resort.
It was first settled in the 1880s after the trans-continental railway was built through the Bow Valley in Alberta.
Thermal springs were discovered and hotels soon followed.
The area was named Banff in 1884 by George Stephen, the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, recalling his birthplace in Banff in Scotland.
Later on PlanetSKI we will be posting about the fascinating history of the town that has turned into one of the premier winter and summer destinations in Canada.
We save that for next week once we have done some research and spoken to local historians.
So, what about the now…… the town and the skiing?
It sits at 1,400m and has a resident population of 8,000.
There is no skiing straight from Banff – it has a local hill, Mt Norquay that is a 10-minute drive away.
Sunshine Village is about half an hour away and Lake Louise just under an hour.
There are buses serving the resorts or people use a hire car.
If you want ski-in/ski-out then you perhaps ought to go somewhere else.
But if you want a beautiful and genuine ski town set in some truly spectacular mountain scenery with a character & atmosphere all to itself then look no further.
The trick is to regard any drive as just another ski lift and one that passes through the most beautiful scenery.
It enables you to see and experience the real Canada – as opposed just being in a ski resort on the other side of the world in a sealed bubble.
Banff is the real deal and the reason why we at PlanetSKI visit each winter and never tire of the place.
We are nt the only ones.
“After the USA the United Kingdom is our No 1 foreign market as it just seems to appeal to the British. Numbers have held strdy this year after signidicant growth, but that is probably because the snow is so good in the Alps this winter,” said the International Sales Manager, Steve Pampell.
“Interestingly people are staying for longer and doing a wider range of activities whether it be visiting the museum to find out about the history of the area or taking to the spas.”
The town is a simple main street, Banff Avenue, with a selection of streets off it – there are an assortment of bars, restaurants and shops.
This week the locals are out enjoying winter in the park – on ice skates of course.
It is a tourist town but doesn’t feel like one – especially with all the snow this week, and indeed this season.
It averages around 2m each winter.
The architecture is a beautiful mix of wooden buildings with no high-rise blocks or eyesores.
Without the skiing Banff would still exist in its own right and this week with heavy snow and plummeting temperatures you need to wrap up warm to enjoy it.
“Banff is a easily accessible from Calgary with direct flights from London via either British Airways or Air Canada. The National park setting is stunning and skiing is superb with an exceptional snow record, a very long season and the chance to ski Sunshine Village, Mount Norquay and Lake Louise on a single Tri-Area lift ticket,” said Michael Bennett, the managing director of the North America specialist Ski Independence.
So, what about the ski areas?
Part two of this blog will cover the skiing as we hit the three areas over the next few days, so do check back to find out about the area’s main attraction and what conditions have been like this winter.
PlanetSKI is back in Banff and loving it!
See below for an earlier report this week as we arrived in Banff for the start of our North America ski season and we put our first turns in at Sunshine Village:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
PlanetSKI is staying at the Caribou Lodge – a typical Canadian hotel and popular with Canadians and British alike.
A standard room with Air Canada direct flights from London and including transfers starts at £928 pp for 7-nights with Ski Independence.
Phone or look at the web site for further details: 0131 243 8097 www.ski-i.com
For the Spirit of the Mountains – PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news