As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, Stylist’s Sue Fowler, straps on her skis and tours the Rockies.
I’m not a cold weather person. I’m a summer creature; a woman who whips off her tights the second the clocks spring forward. Needless to say, skiing has never been top of my agenda (I’d only tried it once as a teenager) but I’d always dreamed of going to Canada so the chance to take a whistle-stop tour of the Rockies’ top ski destinations was impossible to turn down. I whipped out my puffa jacket and 100 deniers and flew straight to Calgary.
The Rocky Mountains are a 3,000 mile stretch of heroic mountains and beautiful National Parks that reach from British Columbia in western Canada to New Mexico in the southwestern United States. In summer they’re the perfect place for a strenuous hike (watch out for bears); in winter they’re an unbeatable spot to hurl yourself down a snowy ski-run.
Banff National Park is a 90 minute drive west from Calgary. Rising out of the snow, the gothic architecture of the Banff Springs Hotel (fairmont.com/banff-springs/) where I was staying made it look like a home fit for Dracula but inside, the labyrinthine layout and eclectic décor encouraged a more comforting comparison to Hogwarts.
Each of the 8,000 inhabitants of Banff must work in the national park in order to live there and it’s a pretty attractive deal. You can walk down Banff Avenue, the main shopping street and see Cascade Mountain perfectly framed in one direction then glance backwards to see the equally impressive Mount Rundle in the other.
Known as a party town, Banff offers a selection of visit-worthy bars but it was the food that most impressed me. I ate some of the best steak I’ve ever tasted – the wagyu tenderloin at the 1888 Chop House restaurant - and adored a less glamourous but no less mouth-watering grilled cheese sandwich from the Bear Street Tavern.
Next up was the busy Sunshine Village ski resort, where you can ski in both Alberta and British Columbia during one run and I found myself in winter heaven. The ‘champagne powder’ the Rockies is famed for is the lightest, driest snow anywhere in the world and covered every surface. While I was well catered for as a novice, (the slopes are all boulevard-wide) Sunshine Village also delivers challenging runs including The Delirium Dive which is at the top of every advanced skiers’ hit list for freeriding off-piste.
Heading to Lake Louise, a 45 minute drive north-west further into the Rockies along the Trans-Canada Highway was like entering the world’s most picturesque snow globe. The town of Lake Louise itself is little more than a couple of hotels, a small shopping mall and a ski resort but who needs endless amenities with such picturesque lakes and peaks surrounding you?
Greeted by floor-to-ceiling windows displaying the most spectacular vista of the lake, staying in Chateau Lake Louise (fairmont.com/lake-louise) was like holidaying in Narnia (Stylist’s Acting Editor Susan Riley loved it so much, she got married here). In the depths of winter snow drifts regularly reach 10 foot and, when the lake is completely frozen, the hotel builds an ice castle furnished with an ice-bar where you can sip warming cocktails before skating or playing ice-hockey.
Don’t worry if skiing isn’t your thing. Numerous companies offer snow-shoe hikes, ice-waterfall climbing and sleigh rides or dog-sled tours around the lakes. Surprisingly though, the most popular time of year to visit the area is the summer, thanks to the stunning hikes, canoeing and horseback riding.
My final stop was Jasper. The 3 hour drive there along ‘The Icefields Parkway’ or more officially Highway 93 was jaw-dropping. The 144-mile road runs between magnificent mountain ranges, glaciers and the Weeping Wall, a 1,000 foot high frozen waterfall. Breathtaking doesn’t come close but the area is so desolate - with zero phone reception – that it’s the epitome of being in total wilderness.
In Jasper, ice-cold rivers and still lakes reflected the mountains perfectly. I stayed at Jasper Park Lodge (fairmont.com/jasper/) which is a collection of picturesque cedar chalets (think Dirty Dancing) serviced by a large lodge with a luxury spa.
The continuing lack of snow meant that at Marmot Basin, the local ski resort (skimarmot.com/), I opted to try out fat-tyre biking. These abnormally podgy-wheeled bikes are supposed to make cycling across snow and ice a doddle but, as a newbie, I stuck to the flat areas around the lakes which was exhilarating enough.
My stay in Jasper was completed by a hosted dinner in my cabin with my own chef and waitress - I felt like royalty. Which isn’t unsurprising considering the Queen stayed here on a previous tour of Canada.
My winter dream trip was over and happily I avoided any Bridget-Jones-hurtling-down-a-mountain moments and returned home in one piece, with dreams about my next ‘step through the wardrobe’ moment.
Double rooms at Banff Springs Hotel from £380; rooms at Chateau Lake Louise and Jasper Park Lodge both from £277 a night; all fairmont.com