By Crai Bower
Located within Banff National Park, a two-hour drive on the freeway from Calgary International Airport, Lake Louise freezes beneath the Upper Victoria Glacier in the winter to form one of the loveliest alfresco skating surfaces on earth. Travelers looking for a winter getaway will find that the turquoise lake takes the proverbial snow globe, chisels the seam open with an ice-skate blade, and motions them to come and play.
Go for the Gold
A free-skate oval maintained by The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise parallels a mini hockey rink. Makeshift teams of all skill levels form to play “shinny,” the fresh-air, no-protective-gear (or lifted pucks) version of hockey. Considered the purest form of the game, shinny featured prominently on the 2006-2013 issue of the Canadian five-dollar bill; many of the NHL’s greatest players honed their skills playing it on ponds across Canada. No need to sharpen and stow that old pair of blades – The Fairmont rents skates, sticks, and pucks.
For the Skate-Averse
Ask travel advisors to prearrange rental of snowshoes and cross-country ski gear, plus several other types of winter recreation accessories. Snowshoeing’s popularity has taken off in recent years, thanks in large part to the sport’s accessibility. Certified Mountain Adventure Guides, who combine instructional skills with natural and cultural history expertise, lead groups through the silent forest every day. They also direct night tours, complete with constellation identification, for those who prefer their sylvan playground Robert Frost-style: “lovely, dark and deep.”
Hit the Slopes
The world’s best skiers congregate here during the Lake Louise Alpine Ski World Cup early each season, but the rest of us can ski the same runs as Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller all year long. Lake Louise Ski Resort offers 4,200 acres of skiable terrain, making it one of the largest ski resorts in North America. The ridgeline, accessible to all levels, provides the finest vista of the Bow Range this side of a helicopter. (Of course, if you want to see the Canadian Rockies by helicopter, your travel advisor can arrange that too.)
Not everyone associates winter with aerobic activity, but that shouldn’t melt the seasonal enthusiasm. The Brewster family farm’s draft horse teams have pulled sleighs of giddy guests through the valleys and passes surrounding Lake Louise for six generations. Passengers bundle up beneath Hudson’s Bay blankets as the gentle sable giants trot across the snowscape. Tours depart several times throughout the day, with private cutters available for romantic and family excursions. Dogsled teams offer a more adventurous, if less social, transit along the larch forests’ narrow trails.
Save the Best for Last
Lake Louise Resort’s Powderkeg Lounge draws the best après-ski scene of the Big 3 ski areas (Mount Norquay, Lake Louise, and Sunshine), but the village itself remains quiet enough to hear the snowflakes whisper as they settle. Annual ski, yoga, ice carving, and pond hockey festivals displace the seasonal calm, but only slightly. A visit to Lake Louise is a reminder of just how warm winter’s embrace can feel.
Where to Stay
Banff National Park’s 2,564 square miles lure visitors outdoors for hours, but the 554-room Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise provides plenty of reasons to doff the muffler, stow the mittens, and let winter’s chill disappear within the embers of a fire. Swiss and Austrian guides established the ski culture here in 1909, so it’s fitting to dine on the European alpine menu of fondue and schnitzel at the resort’s Walliser Stube.
Want to extend your stay? Break Away to Banff
Originally appeared in Virtuoso Life magazine, January 2015.
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