• By: Karen Temple

Base Camp Canmore

The town of Canmore, Alberta
The town of Canmore, Alberta

On the south-east boundary of Banff National Park, an easy one-hour drive from Calgary sits the beautiful town of Canmore, Alberta. During the 1988 Olympics, the town hosted the Nordic skiing events and never looked back. Filled with trendy boutiques and galleries, great restaurants, eateries and even a brew pub, the main street is quaint and charming.

The Canmore Nordic Centre is a world-class facility with 71 kilometres plus of trails that is available for team training camps but is also open to the general public.

We tried our hand at skate skiing. As a hockey player and downhill skier since almost birth, this was going to be a walk in the park, or so I thought. We met John, owner of Trail Sports at the Nordic Centre who outfitted us with the latest gear before we headed out for a lesson. This sport is a lot harder than it looks. Grace and form were lacking from our attempt but our extremely patient instructor had us on our way and before long we headed out on the trails. It seems like you are forever skiing up hill but soon you forget about your burning thigh muscles and lose yourself in the sheer natural beauty of the place.

Back at our hotel, the -27 temperature did not discourage us from soothing our bodies with a soak in the outdoor hot tub. A two-minute drive from downtown, the Worldmark Resort is tucked into the hillside. We loved this condo-style hotel. The suites have their own kitchenettes which are perfect for breakfast and for those nights you are just too tired to head out on the town. Two-bedroom suites are available for families. The swim-out pool and outdoor hot tub are a hit with all guests.

We came to hit the slopes so we headed up the highway, past the town of Banff, to Sunshine Village. It’s big enough to accommodate very busy holiday  crowds but you’ll want to get there early to park. If you’re a late riser, they do offer shuttle service from over-flow parking. The hill boasts 30 feet of snow annually and it’s 7,000  plus foot base ensures that the snow stays long into May. Sunshine is known for having great snow and the views are pretty awesome too. The three mountains that make up Sunshine (Goat’s Eye, Lookout and Standish) combine to offer 3,300 acres of skiable terrain. It’s a great family resort but also offers extreme skiing for experienced skiers who have their avalanche gear and don’t mind a little up-hill hiking.

The Three Sisters peaks are the backdrop to Canmore, Alberta.

Further up the highway Lake Louise is an alpine lake at the base of glacier peaks. It is also home to 4200 skiable acres with some of the best slope-side scenery in the world. We skied there on one of the busiest days of the year and had no trouble with parking or lift lines. The mountain is well organized and the chutes, glades and gullies will challenge even the best skier. We covered the whole mountain but loved  the back bowl and the glades.

There are three Mountains in Banff/Lake Louise. The final of the “Big Three” is Mt. Norquay. We didn’t get the chance to ski there but locals we spoke with chose it as their favourite and marveled about the views of Sunshine Village across the valley.

Canada's future downhill team practice on the slopes of Nakiska!
Canada’s future downhill team practice on the slopes of Nakiska!

Just 25 minutes from Canmore, (toward Calgary) is Nakiska.  It boats being Canada’s official downhill training centre and hosted 1988 Calgary Olympic Alpine events. Nakiska is smaller than its cousins in Banff and Lake Louise and sees more local Calgary than international traffic but it’s easy to get to. The parking is close to the lodge and you can be on the slopes in no time. The hill is guaranteed to have snow as they make more of it than mother nature does and the lift lines were never a problem. The well-groomed runs are perfect for intermediate skiers and wide enough for whole families to cruise comfortably together. As a powder hound, the snow quality was a little disappointing but the Monster Glades made up for that.

Four hills and one great town to call base camp and it is all found in the jewel of the Canadian Rockies. Visit the following web sites and plan a trip this winter!

www.skibig3.com   www.skinakiska.com   www.tourismcanmore.com