The non-ski guide to a ski safari

Back in 2017, sadly, out of ski season, I found myself heading off to see some of the so-called “smaller” resorts Canada has to offer; we actually prefer to refer to them as ‘off-the-beaten-track’.

As our visit was in late spring, after a comfortable flight from Heathrow we picked up a Jeep Grand Cherokee and drove straight to Fernie. It’s daylight driving at that time of year but if travelling in peak season, bear in mind it’s around a 3-hour drive and it gets dark early. Driving in Canada, however, is very easy  with wide roads and not too much traffic; much easier than winter driving in the UK; the SUV’s are equipped to deal with the winter conditions and the roads are kept pretty clear.

Perfect car for a ski-drive!

We stayed at Park Place Lodge which is perfect if you want to be in the town of Fernie rather than on the mountain itself. I loved the small town feel of Fernie and even if you do stay on mountain, I would definitely recommend venturing into the town to explore after skiing. Park Place Lodge is a decent 3-star property with lovely warm pub grub and local cold beers; what more could you want?

After a good night’s sleep (helped by the beers and slight jet lag) we headed up to the resort itself to check it out. First stops, the Griz Inn, Cornerstone Lodge and Lizard Creek Lodge are perfect for people wanting to be close to the base and first out on the slopes. I personally loved the luxury of Snow Creek Lodge and some of the Timberline units, including a huge 5-bedroom cabin which was tucked away among the trees giving a real cabin-in-the-woods feel.

With a bit of time to spare, we made a quick diversion to Kimberley – just under 1.5 hours from Fernie – on our way to Panorama. The town and indeed the resort itself have a real European feel which ties in very nicely with the stunning scenery and is well worth adding in to a ski safari. We had a quick tour of Trickle Creek Lodge which is ideally located at the ski base, a true ski-in/ski-out property.

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Fernie and Kimberley can be combined on your lift pass, so even if you don’t have some time to stay in Kimberly, you can still ski the resort for a day.

Next up was Panorama (just under two hours from Kimberly and about 3.5 hours from Fernie), a resort I had heard a lot about – and recommended to lots of clients – so was keen to see it for myself. We arrived at the central check-in where everything is taken care of;  the resort arranges your accommodation, lift passes, rentals and transfers and really do take care of you. We were staying at Peaks Lodge which is the newest accommodation on the mountain and would be my first-choice as it is the most modern out of all the options.

The base of Panorama off-season!

Summit Lodge also has a newer feel but if you have children travelling with you, then Panorama Springs is where you want to be. They have the huge hot pools on site which anyone staying in resort can use, but seeing how close they are to the rooms, makes it perfect for families. If you are looking for a more personal hot tub, stay at Taynton Lodge as they have two hot tubs which only Taynton guests can use.

The whole resort has a lovely laid-back feel and wherever you look you can see the beautiful surrounding mountains and trees; it is one of the most picturesque resorts I have been to, and the views from the slopes are incredible too.

After our day of driving, it was definitely time to unwind and we headed for the fabulous T-Bar and Grill right at the base which serves some of the best chicken wings I’ve ever tasted; and trust me, I’ve tasted a few! They had a good drinks selection and great menu (other than wings!). We also headed in to the town of Invermere where there are some good bars as well as shops and restaurants.

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The resort also runs a free shuttle to the town of Invermere which runs into the evening and is highly recommended for some après-ski as it has a true Canadian town feel.

After a good night’s sleep it was time to hit the road again, to Kicking Horse (about a 2-hour drive). This resort is all about the skiing, ideal for advanced skiers. They have a number of accommodation options but one of my favourites was Glacier Mountaineer Lodge – where we stayed – which overlooks the ski base. From the door of the ski locker room to the slopes cannot be more than 30 paces! They have studios and larger suites so have options to suit everyone; the mountain lodge feel to the décor and  being able to cook a simple meal or make breakfast with kitchens in the rooms is great.

The other place I really liked was Vagabond Lodge, which was unlike anywhere I had been before. It is essentially a large log style cabin with 10 rooms; there are no tv’s and the owners stay in the lodge and prepare healthy breakfast in the communal living/dining room. It is ideal for people looking to socialise and meet other skiers/boarders, a really unique experience.

There are also two other lodges called Winston and Copper Horse which like Vagabond are smaller lodges with communal areas ideal for meeting new friends.

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Winston Lodge has the latest opening hours for a bar on the mountain!

An early start was required the next day for the drive to Revelstoke but when we arrived it was definitely worth it!  We were staying at The Sutton Place Lodge which is the only accommodation (currently) on the mountain but you really do not need anywhere else. It is one of the nicest places I have ever stayed in (and doing this job we do get to stay in some nice hotels). My large one-bedroom suite had an enormous bathroom, and stunning views over the base; this real luxury suite-hotel stretches across most of the resort meaning you are never far from the slopes.

There are a couple of places to eat on-mountain; the food at The Rockford is described as pan Asian cuisine but they should just describe it as awesome. We ate here twice during our stay and both meals were amazing!

The whole resort has a luxurious feel to it; not quite sure why my colleagues found the fact that I said even the bushes shout luxury so hilarious….

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You can also stay in the town of Revelstoke with options limited to 3-star hotels but the town itself is a vibrant Canadian town with lots of dining and evening entertainment, ideal for those looking for a bit more nightlife than the resort itself has.

Last but by no means least it was time to head off to Lake Louise and Banff, destinations that are worthy of a blog to themselves, being one of the most popular places to visit for our clients.

The skiing in Lake Louise is famous the world over for the amount and variety of the terrain but rather than bore you with ski stats, let me talk about the location and accommodation options. Lake Louise is ideal for those looking for a more laid-back, quiet place to rest after a day on the slopes and the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has prime position over the lake itself. However, to really experience true tranquillity, particularly if you have a car, Emerald Lake Lodge (situated by Emerald Lake believe it or not) is a lovely collection of small cabins tucked away among the trees, about half hour from the resort itself. The main lodge has a fantastic bar/restaurant and a lovely outdoor hot tub area, complete with sign saying no animals in the hot tub; surely that means somebody at some point thought it was a good idea to take their dog into the hot tub…?!

Visiting the rustic-style cabins at Baker Creek Chalets between Lake Louise and Banff gave me the ideal solution for the traditional cabin in the woods feel that so many people ask us about and rather interestingly there is no internet as it would cost them too much money to run the cables from Lake Louise just for this one area.

A quick stop at the Lake Louise base for a substantial lunch – overlooking the slopes where we watched a few die-hard skiers getting the very last runs of the season (it was late-May and still open) – before continuing our journey on to the larger town of Banff, with its extensive accommodation, dining and après options and where the majority of our clients base themselves.

View of the town from Banff Gondola

We stayed in the newly-opened Moose Hotel which is a fantastic place to stay, in the heart of the town. The rooms had a modern alpine feel with quirky artwork and stunning hot tub/pools on the roof overlooking the town of Banff. The bar area was fantastic and we were lucky enough to be there when The Edmonton Oilers were playing in the Stanley Cup making for a great atmosphere. The bar staff were great at recommending local beers and I also recommend eating in the on-site Italian restaurant which has fabulous food.

A day of hotel visits started with breakfast at the nearby Tooloulous which I am glad we had booked; by the time we had left they were queuing out the door. They have one of the most extensive breakfast menus I have ever seen and the food is very good indeed!  It set us up for the day though, which felt like we visited every hotel in Banff…

Some of my personal favourites that we saw were The Elk and Avenue with its modern minimalist feel, which offers unbelievably good value for the quality of the hotel; The Fox – sister property to the Moose – which has a rustic mountain lodge feel, on the edge of town with larger suites for families and includes breakfast, the newly-refurbished Ptarmigan, an excellent 3-star with breakfast included; and lastly The Delta Royal Banff Canadian. I’ve always thought of Delta properties as very good, large hotels, part of a chain with modern rooms; however the Delta Banff is a little different. The rooms here have been decorated with a lot of personal thought (by the original owner) and have a real homely feel. The indoor pool with waterfall is also a great feature!

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Buy a tri-area lift pass before you leave, save on window prices, get the ski bus which takes you from both Lake Louise and Banff to all three ski hills plus children under 12 ski free with a paying adult; this is only possible if you have pre-bought your ticket!

I have done a few self-drive trips around Canada and I have to say it is the best way to visit several resorts on one trip. We did the above in a week (the boss wouldn’t let us out of the office for longer!) but I would suggest 10 – 14 days to get the most out of a trip like this and, of course, to get the most skiing too.

Michael Williamson | Ski Product Manager