WORDS — Kevin Hjertaas
The wind smacks our hoods against our cheeks and nudges us toward the backside of Lake Louise. High above treeline, at the summit of Mt. Whitehorn, new snow is blowing sideways. There’s four inches of fresh, but here we call that 10 cm and Louise wears 10 cm well. A rope line disappears down into the white, making the wind our best reference point.
I want to tell you about this place; share some stories with you about the best lines and what skiers before us have done on them. But you can’t hear me above the storm, so I nod downwind, assuming you’ll follow.
The first thing I’d tell you is that this wind could be a good thing, frostbite aside. The southwest-facing front of Louise is a smooth fetch which the wind rakes and scours. But that snow gets deposited behind every bit of shelter, tucking itself into the mountain’s wind-protected crannies. So I let the gale blow us along until we, too, find shelter on the northeast side of the ridge under the cornice at the top of Whitehorn 1, one of the many steep shots off the backside of the mountain.
You’re new here, so I lead. My favorite line is skier’s right off the top, where we play with the descending ridge and enjoy the soft snow just below it. We navigate the ridgeline and air into the opening pocket of Third Gate (Trail 118 on the map), railing steep turns before I trick you into skiing off a rock on the left where things open up.
We glide straight onto the slow Paradise triple-chair (mid-week lift lines don’t exist back here) where we can finally chat in peace. I tell you that some of this new snow will blow to the ranchlands east of us, but most will get sculpted into natural quarter pipes, banks and hip jumps. The Louise terrain park is big, fun, and well-maintained, but the natural features are where it’s at when there’s fresh snow piling up.
We cycle back around to the summit, but this time stay on the front side to session one of Louise’s most iconic runs, The Wave. With GS arcs, we bisect the small start of the cornice. But as The Wave grows taller, we milk it and loft as many airplane turns as possible. With your tweaked re-entries, I can tell you feel like Hoji in a ski movie. You’re beginning to understand why all the pros who start here have a playful, snappy air turn—Andrew Sheppard, Eric Hjorleifson, Chris Rubens, Rob Heule, Jordy Kidner, Alexandra Armstrong; it’s a thing.
SKIER: Eric Hjorleifson
PHOTO: Reuben Krabbe
LOCATION: Lake Louise, AB
We jump on the six-person Top of the World chairlift alone, feeling like small children on a huge couch. I explain the importance of the snow fences we are flying over. The black plastic netting is held up by t-steel pounded into scree at right angles to the prevailing westerlies. The windward sides are scraped, while the lees are loaded with pillowy powder. You’ll figure out which is which quickly—and you’ll hug those lees whenever you find one.
As we ski the fence line on Outer Limits, you get the hang of it. You attack the soft, head-high curl on your right with smooth, deep bottom turns that set you up to smack the lip. Your slashes throw buckets of snow into the breeze. Spontaneously, you boost above the lip, landing on top near the fence. From there, you lay back into a left-hander and drop down again. Getting creative near its end, you drag a hand while you hook a turn on the wall.
You’re missing the views of glaciers and alpine lakes that make Lake Louise famous, but it might be for the better. Those vistas make a person’s knees weak, and we want to ski hard.
The day grows darker yet, and there’s only time for one last lap, so we hike to my favorite Louise run. I’d tell you its name, but you wouldn’t hear it over the gale. It starts with a steep, tight entrance and a left-hand turn around a boulder, which puts you face to face with another wave. The first left we’ve skied all day. It’s steep, but you pop off it and throw caution to the wind.
From this back corner of the resort, it’s a long way home. A cat track to a chairlift to a cat track, then some tree skiing followed by a mellow groomer, and we’re back at the base area, gassed and ready to get out of the storm. I drive us 45 minutes back to Banff and, if you’re offering a twelve-pack from the Three Bears Brewery downtown, I might be inclined to finish the hour-and-a-half trip to the Calgary International Airport with you. Whatever the case, the warm Chinook winds will blow you East through the foothills, out onto the prairies and directly into the heart of the city.