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The road to Lake Louise - James Cove, Lake Louise
Sunday February 8, 2015 - Email this article to a friend

The PlanetSKI Canadian road trip heads to one of the best-known Canadian resorts. We were fortunate to get there at all as the weather closed in.

Little did I know it at the time as I battled through a Canadian blizzard, but I was one of the lucky ones.

I was heading on Highway One from Banff to Lake Louise mid-afternoon as the daylight began to fade and snow started falling on an already treacherously icy road. 

It was light to begin with.

On either side of me vehicles slid off the road.

Treacherous iceTreacherous ice












Extreme caution neededExtreme caution needed












I am not a great driver in winter conditions at the best of times and the snow was getting heavier by the minute.

My grip tightened on the steering wheel and concentration levels went up.

In theory it is reasonably simple to drive in these conditions - slow down, leave, plenty of room and do not acclerate or brake quickly but seeing vehicles skiding off the road was unsettling.

Canadian road tripCanadian road trip













The snowploughs were out but it made little difference.

Canadian road tripCanadian road trip













The radio informed me that Highway One had closed in both directions at the turn off to Sunshine ski resort.

There had been a multiple accident on one side of the road and the drivers on the other side of the road had slowed down to look. You can guess the rest.

I had passed through the junction 10 minutes earlier.

I then heard that a lorry carrying live chickens had overturned and the chickens had made their bid for freedom. Hundreds of them.

I smiled at the mental image of the chaos and then hoped it wasn't between myself and Lake Louise.  It turned out to be the other side of Banff behind me.

My guardian angel seemed to be hard at work.

I was mighty relieved when the sign for the Lake Louise turn-off loomed out of the blizzard and even more so when I reached my hotel, Deer Lodge.

It seemed to be buried under snow.

Welcome sightWelcome sight













The vehicles in the car park were.

A dig awaitsA dig awaits













And to think I had been worried about the snow here in Canada given the current conditions in Europe - unfounded anxieties I wrote about in my first blog from the resort of Kicking Horse.

The next morning a powder day in Lake Louise awaited.

As I collected some fat skis the guy in the rental shop told me I was lucky to have arrived last night.

"This morning is utter chaos on Highway One in the snow and ice with the road completely shut. There have been four major accidents, no-one is hurt but the road is closed," he informed me as he set the bindings on my powder skis.

My first thought was 'great' as that meant less people would be getting through to the resort. 

I wondered who had first come up with the line 'there are no friends on a powder day'?

I had last visited Lake Louise back in 2013 when I toured to the Skoki Lodge. We passed through the resort on touring skis but I saw little of the area; see here for that earlier report.

Today I was going to have a good ski round and enjoy the powder.

First the front side and then some sweet turns in the Pika trees. Sadly some of the terrain in the back bowls was closed due to the risk of avalanche, but no matter the snow in the Larch area and the runs off the Ptarmigan lift were plenty good enough.

However at lunchtime the temperature shot up and the powder quickly turned heavy and wet.

I was glad to have been on the first lifts.

The weather is very odd for the time of year as the resort is known for its very low temperatures, but this season it has been raining at resort level in February.

Apparently it is all due to the so-called 'Pineapple Express' which is a warm wind that comes in quickly all the way from Hawaii. 

It is similar to the Foehn wind in the Alps that comes from North Africa bringing with it warm temperatures and the 'Pineapple Express' has the same impact on the snowpack.

Lake Louise is of course famous for hosting the World  Cup race at the beginning of the season but, like many North American resorts, there is not a huge vertical descent. 

There is though challenging and varied skiing in the in-bounds area.

Lake Louise, CanadaLake Louise, Canada













Lake Louise, CanadaLake Louise, Canada












The village itself is very quiet and many prefer to stay in the town of Banff that is 45-minutes or so away and connected by shuttle bus.

It has a small shopping mall and the hotels and lodgings are spread out in the trees, the most famous of which is the huge, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, that is set beside the lake and has some of the most memorable mountain views in North America.

"The resort does not compare to the mega-resorts of the Alps in size but we more than make up for it in terrain and of course our snow record," said the director of sales for the resort, Jason Connell.

"We are set in a National Park and the scenery is stunning, some of the best in the Rockies," he added.

It also has some stunning in-bounds freeride terrain.

Lake Louise powderLake Louise powder












The idea of off piste in-bounds is alien to most Europeans but it is what, in my view makes, skiing here so special.

In Europe the resorts open the marked runs, but any off piste is done at the responsibility of the individual skiers.

Here the off piste in the boundary area is controlled and safe when open so it makes for some great powder turns without the lingering doubts about safety.

Tree skiing is available in abundance.

Sadly I only had one day in Lake Louise. 

I wish I could have stayed longer - there can't be many people that come all the way from the UK and only stayed for a single day.

But this is  a road trip and that means moving from resort to resort.

The next morning I once again had to clean the snow off the car as more had fallen overnight.

Daily morning routineDaily morning routine













On the drive back towards Banff I saw some of the carnage from the day before being removed.

Clear up underwayClear up underway













Next stop the resort of Sunshine.

It has a signature off piste run called Delirium Dive and was on my list to tick off.

I just hoped it would be open.

For the spirit of the mountains

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