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Rule of Three

Skiing in wonderment in Banff National Park

Rule of Three

Skiing in wonderment in Banff National Park

BANFF NATIONAL PARK IS HOME TO 2,564 SQUARE MILES OF BEAUTY AND THREE WORLD CLASS SKI HILLS

Beep.

My beacon was transmitting and the clanky backcountry gate atop Sunshine Village had granted me access to the famed Delirium Dive zone, high in the Canadian Rockies. The snow was soft. The air was calm. Sharp peaks punctured the skies for kilometers and kilometers. I walked a short path to the summit and, with the utmost care, clicked into my bindings and slipped on my pole straps—mindful not to nervously drop any gear down the cornice that was teasing me just a few steps away.

From that angle, way up there, all of the lines below me looked the same: blind entrance into extra-steep slope, concluding with a mandatory cliff drop. I was scared. And while there was a route that wrapped around these lines—the easy way out—I couldn’t take it. Because people go to Banff to be adventurous and wild. Myself included. And I wasn’t going back to the world I came from with one ounce of regret. So, I teetered over the cornice, immediately gaining speed between walls of rock and ice. Then I slashed a couple of survival turns on the cornice’s underbelly, flattened my bases and glided over the precipice into a bowl full of dry, Albertan powder.

“Holy sh#t!” I blurted, looking back at my line with a wide-open smile and arms spread out like an eagle. Then again, louder, for good measure: “Holy SH#T!”

That’s Banff for you—embracing the hell out of the Canadian Rockies and feeling remarkably reborn in doing so. And the particular feeling I experienced in “The Dive,” when I was so overwhelmed with joy that all I could do was curse, wasn’t limited to one resort during my stay. In fact, I experienced awe-on-skis at two others right outside of Banff, as well: Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay. For example, at Louise, when I boot-packed up Whitehorn Mountain, off the Summit Platter T-Bar, and linked long, serpentine turns down a halfpipe-like couloir. Or, at Mt. Norquay, when I rode the legendary North American double chair to the Cliffhouse Bistro, then read up on the resort’s history (it was founded way back in 1926) before arcing down fast-as-hell groomers to the base. Not to mention, I had friendly, ripping locals to show me around, pridefully conveying their love for the place they call home all the while.

“Every mountain has its own stash of memories that I’m hit with every time I ski them,” said Noah Maisonet, a local who was my informal tour guide, touting long, blonde hair and missing a front tooth from a recent cliff-drop incident. “I have so many awesome memories from skiing with my buddies here… with the community of skiers I’ve been shredding with for most of my life.”

For locals like Maisonet and guests such as myself, having three ski resorts (a.k.a SkiBig3) within striking distance of town is a game-changer. (Especially because they’re all easily accessible via public transportation.) And, while I don’t always believe in the “rule of three”—the idea that anything that comes in threes is inherently better than its counterparts—it seemed that rule certainly applied to this skiing haven in the Canadian Rockies. Around the clock, I was completely mesmerized by Banff and its trio of ski mountains.

My sense of wonderment for the area was at its peak at end of each day—my legs sore and mind at ease, strolling down Banff Avenue after many laps in the mountains. Quaint shops, restaurants and bars lined the clean sidewalks. They were warm and welcoming. Locals and visitors conversed with one another, outside on benches and inside on barstools. The occasional deer made its way through town without a worry in the world. They, too, apparently, shared my sense of comfort.

It was almost as if I’d transcended into another world—strictly comprised of this perfect little town and its unbelievable mountains that safeguard the buildings like castle walls. And, I was bewildered by it all. Totally bewildered. But the simple answer to my bewilderment was that Banff, as well as Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay, are all located within Banff National Park. In other words, this place is preserved to a T by law and therefore it’s supposed to feel otherworldly. To take this concept to the next level, the town of Banff even includes a special “reside clause” that goes against the economic grain pertaining to status quo mountain town culture.

“In order to live in Banff, you need to work in Banff,” explained Maisonet, whose family has lived in town for four generations. (His grandfather Eddie is 91 years old and still skis nearly every day. You might have seen him in Sherpas Cinemas’ short film, Sculpted in Time: The Wise Man.) “This creates a tightly-woven community, as opposed to a typical ski town with part-time vacation homes. And, Banff has built below-market housing in order to keep young families in the community, which has allowed my parents to stay and enjoy the mountain lifestyle.”

STAT SHEETBANFF SUNSHINELAKE LOUISEMT. NORQUAY
AVERAGE ANNUAL SNOWFALL:360 INCHES179 INCHES120 INCHES
SKIABLE TERRAIN:3,358 ACRES4,200 ACRES190 ACRES
VERTICAL DROP:3,514 FEET3,250 FEET1,650 FEET
DISTANCE FROM BANFF:20 MINUTES45 MINUTES10 MINUTES
DISTANCE FROM CALGARY (YYC):1 HR 30 MIN2 HR 15 MIN1 HR 30 MIN
NUMBER OF RUNS:145+14574
TRAIL BREAKDOWN
BEGINNER:20%25%20%
INTERMEDIATE:55%45%36%
EXPERT:25%30%44%
New this year, visitors to Banff—Lake Louise can sign up for guided three-day programs, providing thrills at all three ski areas (one per day). Knowledgable and trustworthy mountain guides will cater the skiing experience to intermediate and advanced skill levels, from groomers and sightseeing to powder-bashing in the deepest, most hidden stashes. No wasting time being unfamiliar with the resorts, just head straight to the good stuff. Visit skibig3.com/guided-adventures.

Beep.

The gate attendant scanned my boarding pass and the journey home from Calgary International Airport was underway. The 90-minute car ride from Banff went by too fast to fully comprehend what happened over the past three days. So I turned to my phone and swiped through the photos I had over and over—soaring through the sky and musing until my next adventure in the Canadian Rockies.

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