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Ski Resorts in Canada in general

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      21.01.2002 19:30
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      I have never written a piece of writing directly about my travels before but I thought I might as well give it a go. I have been lucky enough to travel extensively for all 18 years of my existence. I have done a variety of holidays - summer sun, winter sun, canal boating, cycling, camping, outdoor activities, weekend breaks, coach tours - the lot! But one holiday that has been everpresent in my annual calendar has been skiing. I absolutely adore skiing and often lie in bed (as I am doing now) dreaming about gliding down the slopes of one of my favourite resorts. I have been skiing now for 16 years (I started in Risoul when I was 2) and I have been to over 25 resorts in many different mountain ranges - the American Rockies, the Canadian Rockies, the White Mountains and the Alps. I want to share with you my opinion on which are the best ski resorts and what I have the best of them. I will start off in this op by reviewing the best resorts in North America that I've been to. These are Sunday River, Banff and Jasper. I've also been to Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen and Whistler but these are the most popular resorts and I want to give my opinions on the less known ones first. Maybe I'll review them another time. I could write about the ones in Europe too but the op would be way too long. Again, maybe I'll write about them separately some other time. I notice that tdjackson has written about Banff and Vail recently but in my opinion he hasn't done an awfully good job! Sorry. I'll try to do better. I'll write about them starting with the most recent. Last year I was at Sunday River in early to mid April. Sunday River may be a little known resort, but I would thoroughly recommend it. It is not as small as its reputation might suggest. Sunday River is situated 4 - 5 hours drive north of Boston near the state of Maine but actually in New Hampshire and just a few hours drive from the Canadian border and
      the city of Montreal. It lies in the White Mountains. The good thing about skiing on the east coast is that the plane to Boston only took 6 hours as opposed to a plane to, say, Calgary, which takes 9. This meant we could go for a week and it would still be worth it. The drive north was fantastic - we hired a car at the airport and set off. We stopped off at a few places to admire the scenery and take a few photos of the mountains and the sea. We eventually arrived at the Sunday Lodge and found a very nice hotel waiting for us; the Sunday lodge. This was a big hotel and had its own outdoor pool and conference centre. The rooms were lovely and the whole hotel felt warm and relaxing. The hotel was ski in ski out and had a big heated outdoor swimming pool by the slopes, which was rather nice! As for the skiing itself, we were vastly unlucky. We went in the middle of a heat wave - temperatures were in the 70's! People were skiing in bikinis and swimshorts and it really was truly bizarre. Inevitably the snow started melting and we only skied for 5 days instead of 7. This is not say it was not enjoyable. On the contrary; Sunday River is a wonderful resort with great skiing and excellent services- fast lifts and big, clean restaurants on the slopes. There were also brilliant artificial snowmaking facilities. The resort were very good - everything is owned by the same company (the restaurants, lifts, hotels, car parks etc.) so we got refunded for our 2 unused day's lift passes in vouchers. These could be spent anywhere on the mountain so they quickly disappeared! Had we not had the car we would have been proverbially up the creek without a paddle. But we did have the car and spent the remaining two days shopping 2 hours away at Portland, a big town/city on the coast. Portland has an amazing number of shops in a remarkably small space making an anti-shopper like myself happy at the worst of times. There was Hilf
      iger, Ralph Lauren, Levi's, Gap - everything. They even had a huge L.L.Bean store - the highly rated (and rightly so) camping store. Overall, Sunday River is a great resort with good non-skiing options. I would strongly recommend having a car and also stopping off in Boston for a couple of nights on the way home. Boston is wonderful. The Easter before that I went on the best skiing holiday (and maybe even the best holiday) of my life. The venue was Canada and the resort was split - a week in Jasper and then a week in Banff. Jasper is a lovely resort. Set deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies it is an interesting town because it is so remote. They do have a typical Canadian railway, with 3km long freight trains a common sight, running straight through the middle of the place. Jasper is 5 - 6 hours drive from Calgary so we thought we'd better do this before Banff and get most of the traveling done at the beginning. The journey was pretty tortuous but we drove through most of the night so we all slept most of the way. Jasper is unlike any place I've ever been to. It's immensely beautiful and possesses a magic that I thought I would only see in films. As for the skiing, it is first rate. I found that if you went off piste into little forests between pistes then there were always fast little chutes/paths to be found which was very enjoyable. You have to take a 15-minute bus ride to the mountain from the town. The snow was superb, even in early April and I have concluded that Canada is certainly the place to go for late skiing. As for the hotel, we stayed in the Evergreen Lodge, which was fairly central and adequate for all our needs. We ate out in Jasper every night and the food was mostly of a very good standard. In Jasper there are so many excursions to do and we found ourselves booked up for the Ice Canyon Tour, Wildlife Tour and an extra special helicopter tour. I would
      certainly recommend all of these. The wildlife tour involved us getting a guide and a minibus and being driven in to the mountains. He then drove around showing us all sorts of wildlife - coyotes, bears, elk, caribou, mountain sheep, red squirrels, eagles and even the rarest beast of all - a moose. The trip lasted about 4 hours. As for the other trip, it was equally as good and recommendable. We were minbused up to the Jasper National Park and we trekked with crampons through the gorges. It was also a great excursion and the scenery and atmosphere of the place was second to none. This trip was also half a day. As for the third excursion, for me it is the best trip I have ever done in my life. We were picked up in the early morning and driven to a helicopter centre. We were introduced to our guide and then we took off. We flew in the helicopter over Mount Robson and landed just next to a frozen lake on the other side of the mountain. Mount Robson stands at over 4000m and is Canada's tallest peak. The whole area over the mountain was deserted and there was no evidence of human life to be found. Anyway, after a quick hot chocolate, we donned our snowshoes and trekked across the frozen lake to the bottom of a glacier. The whole place was eerily quiet and I have never experienced anything like it anywhere on earth. We returned to the helicopter for lunch and then set off in a different direction, walking down the side of the lake and into thick forests where wildlife was rife. After a whole afternoon of exploration, we found a clearing and our guide radioed the chopper to come and pick us up, which (thankfully) he did. We then flew back over Mount Robson for a final time. This trip was very expensive but without a shadow of doubt worth every penny. After our week had expired in Jasper, we proceeded to Banff, a 3-hour drive away. Banff is on the way back to Calgary from Jasper so it was really li
      ke a holiday en-route home. Banff is a fairly similar resort in the sense that the town is quite small and is also a stopping point for the Trans-Canada express train. Banff is a charming town with many good hotels and restaurants. We stayed at the Caribou Lodge, which was a superb hotel of an average size. The hotel had good facilities with pleasant rooms, an excellent free health club with steam room, Jacuzzi and sauna. It also had a nice restaurant - The Keg. We ate there once but also enjoyed quality food at the 'Saltlik' restaurant, whose steaks are legendary. There is a complimentary Caribou Inn shuttle bus that runs regularly into town and provides excellent service. As for the skiing at Banff, I think it is some of the best in the world. There is no ski resort actually at Banff but there are free, regular buses to the three nearby resorts of Sunshine, Mount Norquay and Lake Louise. The snow was very similar to Jasper - clean and crisp and plentiful. Mount Norquay is very small resort where one day will be enough. It is simply one mountain with about 5 lifts on it and a few pistes. It is only 5 minutes from Banff but it is not nearly as good as the other two resorts. Nonetheless, it does have some challenging runs to the left of the mountain. Sunshine was probably my personal favourite. It is 20 minutes away from Banff and although it is not nearly as big as Lake Louise, it has a lot of appeal. The only route up to the actual resort is by a new gondola - apparently the fastest gondola in the world, traveling at 13metres/second. The skiing is excellent with a wide variety of slopes ranging from wide, open trails such as the 'World Cup Downhill' to the appropriately named 'Canyon trail', which was a very narrow journey through a canyon. There is also the oddly named Goats Eye Mountain, which is serviced by just one lift but has a wide range of pistes for all skiing
      abilities. Lake Louise is by far the most expansive resort although it is 45 mins drive away from Banff. We found that the best thing to do was to get up early and have breakfast actually at the bottom of the slopes - Whiskyjack lodge does a delicious and cheap breakfast. There is skiing for all abilities - the advanced skiers make their way over to the back bowls which are steep and always full of fresh powder. Banff is well under 2 hours drive from Calgary along the trans-continental highway, which, incidentally, is the longest paved road on earth. I would certainly recommend all three of these resorts. If you need any advice or would like further details or opinions, please leave a comment.

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