The New North Star

Alberta now rivals British Columbia as Canada's best winter playground

Michael Newhouse    

Clearly Canadian

Some activities we happily share with our northern neighbors, like hockey. Others are best attempted with a Labatt in hand.
a. Curling is just like bowling—with slippery shoes and 40-pound stones for balls (US$9 per hour; calgarycurlingclub.com).
b. Behold the backsides of ten huskies while dogsledding around Spray Lakes, in the Kananaskis Country area (two hours, US$115; maddogsexpeditions.com).
c. Ice fishing's dress code is as strict as Wimbledon's: red flannel and a toque with earflaps. Drop a hook to the walleye of Lesser Slave Lake, 2.5 hours northwest of Edmonton (two days' fishing and lodging for two, US$355; adventurealberta.com).

Calgary: Cow Town No More
A night in Calgary used to be penance for visiting the Canadian Rockies. But with a cash infusion from the booming oil-sands industry up north, the ranching hub has a sharp young vibe to complement some classic fun—like 75-mile-per-hour bobsledding (US$135; coda.ca) and indoor speed skating (US$4; oval.sunergon.com) at the 1988 Olympic venues. For dinner, the Vintage Chophouse & Tavern nods to the city's cowboy roots with dishes like slow-roasted prime rib (vintagechophouse.com). After dark, the beat pulses from the bars on 17th Avenue Southwest. Our pick: the swanky Mynt Ultralounge (mynt.ca). Six blocks southeast, the rooms at Hotel Arts sport faux-fur rugs and skyline views (doubles from US$119; hotelarts.ca).

Banff: Party Till the Fleece Falls Off
There are actually three resorts ringing Lake Louise: Ski Norquay supplies meandering cruisers (lift ticket, US$44; banffnorquay.com), Sunshine Village's Silver City area holds some of Canada's steepest in-bounds terrain (US$63; skibanff.com), and Lake Louise's 4,200 acres and five bowls hide the powder stashes (US$65; skilouise.com). The streets of Banff also claim the province's best nightlife, with live music at Wild Bill's (wbsaloon.com), whisky and microbrew at St. James Gate (403-762-9355), and well-lubed dance scenes at the Hoodoo Lounge (hoodoolounge.com) and Aurora Nightclub (aurorabanff.com). From any of them, it's an easy stumble to the Juniper Hotel (doubles from US$140; decorehotels.comjuniper).

Pincher Creek: The Outpost
Ultra-steep Castle Mountain (US$45; skicastle.ca), outside of Pincher Creek, has long been in the shadow of its northern counterparts. But with a short film about the resort making the rounds with Warren Miller's Off the Grid this year, the 2,500-acre hill is no longer anonymous. Though Castle still doesn't have a high-speed quad, it does have Canada's biggest fall line: the 37-degree, 1,700-vertical-foot Lonestar Chute. After skiing runs like Lonestar, convalescence is mandatory and best accomplished with bratwurst and cheese fondue at the Swiss Alpine Restaurant, followed by hot-tubbing and a down-draped crib at Limber Pine Bed & Breakfast (doubles from US$72; limberpine.ca).

Canmore: Rock Hard
If you're Canadian, sling ice axes, and have six-pack abs, chances are you live in Canmore. For the rest of us, that means top-notch guiding. Yamnuska Mountain Adventures (yamnuska.com) is the biggest outfitter in town and offers ice-climbing classes in numerous locations, including Ghost River Valley (US$213); backcountry skiing in Bull Valley (US$230); and mountaineering-skills courses on a four-day hut-to-hut traverse of the Wapta Icefields (US$656). The Canmore Nordic Centre (US$6.75 per day; www.cd.gov.ab.caenjoying_alberta/parks), another '88 Games venue, features 40 miles of trails to help visitors burn off beers and burgers from the Grizzly Paw on Main (thegrizzlypaw.com). Fire Mountain Lodge opened in July and has two- and three-bedroom condos offering decks with gas grills (from US$158; firemountain.ca).

Jasper: Backcountry Portal
After the summerlong stream of gape-jawed hikers and cyclists clears out, those sapphire-blue lakes and serrated ridgelines are left frozen—and empty. Take a few lift-served runs at Marmot Basin (US$42–US$52; skimarmot.com) before skinning 15 miles into the Tonquin Valley Backcountry Lodge (US$90 per person, including meals; tonquinvalley.com), where hot cinnamon buns await. The six cabins make an ideal base from which to earn turns on Tonquin Hill and Surprise Point. More refined is the stone-and-timber Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (doubles from US$221; fairmont.comjasper), a 30-minute hike from Edith Lake, which makes an ideal spot for viewing the northern lights.

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