Obviously, I’m asked a lot of questions about skiing. The first, and one I steal my answer to from a well-known skier is: What is your favorite ski area?

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

If I select a ski area, I make one area happy and a whole bunch unhappy. So I quote ski filmmaker Warren Miller: “My favorite ski area is where I find myself skiing with bright sunshine on my face and fresh snow under my skis.” That may not help a skier looking for a recommendation, but it is the truth.

Another frequent question I’m happy to answer is for those thinking of making their first trip West to ski. Here I go to the site of my first Western ski trip, which came in 1984. It was a meeting for the United States Ski Writers Association (now North American Snowsports Journalists Association, or NASJA). The price was right and the schedule and theme of the trip made sense. The trip included a tour of the venues for the 1988 Calgary Olympics. It even included a few days in Calgary and lunch at the Stampede grounds, site of one of the world’s greatest rodeos. We were even made honorary cowboys and given white cowboy hats, which were important on our trip home.

But the skiing was even more important. The bus ride from Calgary to Banff is only a little over an hour, and we checked in at the Chateau Lake Louise in late afternoon. The Chateau is part of the CP chain and occupies one of the world’s most spectacular settings. In front, we could look across the valley at Skiing Louise, where we would ski the next day. The hotel sits at the end of Lake Louise, with a glacier at the far end completely surrounded by mountains.

The next morning, we rode the bus to the base of Mount Allen, where a drawing on an easel showed us where the Olympic Downhill would be run a few years later on a brand-new ski area. We were unaware at the time that this new area was a bit contentious. A number of locals felt that with Louise already hosting World Cup Downhills, why build a new ski area for the Olympics?

Maybe this is why we’re seeing articles about having the games rotate among a handful of permanent sites rather than build new facilities every four years for the games. It could save millions and make more countries likely to bid for the winter games. Nevertheless, the lifts and trails were built and the games went on in 1988. But, if you make your first Western trip to Calgary and Banff, Louise will be one of the best days of the trip.


As we rode the chair up the front side of Louise for the first skiing of the trip, we had our doubts. It was mid-April and there was a lot of bare ground on the trails. At the top, our guide led us around the peak, where we found a huge valley with plenty of snow. The skiing was great, with partly skied-out fresh powder.

On the valley floor, we received another example of our host’s hospitality. Burgers and sausages were being grilled and plenty of Kokanee and Molson beer was being chilled in the snow. After lunch, we proceeded down the valley to a lodge with another chair lift and a part of Louise that would have been a mid-size ski area by itself here in New England. The vastness of Louise was illustrated by the 15-minute bus ride back to the main base area. From this one mountain lodge.

The next morning, after an early bus ride, we found ourselves in a huge parking lot with a single building at one end. The building was the base terminal for the Sunshine Gondola. For three miles we looked down on a single ski trail almost empty of skiers. It was the ski-out for those skiers who chose to ski down from the alpine valley that is Sunshine Village. Most after a full day of skiing ride the gondola back to the base.

Exiting the gondola, we looked out upon a lodge, a hotel, and lifts in every direction. There were acres of open snowfields and plenty of groomed runs. We spent the day exploring various lifts and runs with incredible mountain views from the mostly open slopes. Lunch was in the hotel. At the end of the day, we downloaded on the gondola and boarded the bus which would take us to new hotel.

Our luggage had already been transferred to the Banff Springs, one of the most recognizable hotels in the world and symbol of the Canadian Pacific hotels. The hotel sits immediately above the village of Banff. In exploring the village, we discovered such well-known restaurants as the Irish Pub, which was dismantled in Dublin and moved to and rebuilt in Banff. The Rose and Crown is best known for night life.

The skiing alone is enough reason to consider Banff for that first Western ski trip, whether you choose to stay in one of the classic CP hotels or in Banff village, where you can walk to plenty of entertainment, food and beverages. I think Banff is one of the best choices for a first Western ski trip.


Back to those cowboy hats. There is no way to pack a cowboy hat, so you wear it as part of your carry on. As we headed into U.S. Customs in the Toronto Airport, we were all wearing our hats. One of the inspectors took a look at eight or 10 of us and said, “They’re all wearing white hats, so they must be good guys,” and on his cue we all just sail through customs.

And if you’re a steak lover, don’t forget that Calgary is in the middle of cattle country.

Another reason for my choice is the altitude. A number of ski resorts in the U.S. Rockies have us skiing at 11-12,000 feet, a tough adjustment for those of us living close to sea level. Most of the skiing around Banff is under 10,000 feet, a lot easier to handle with no more than a little shortness of breath.

There is another reason for choosing Banff. Right now, you buy a Canadian dollar for about 74 cents.

If you’re interested, the best source of packages for anywhere in Canada is www.skican.com.

See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at DaveiSkiGolf@aol.com.

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