When it comes to stunning natural landscapes, there are few locales on earth that rival the beauty of Banff National Park, located in Alberta, Canada. The country’s first national park stretches across 2,564 square miles of wilderness that includes over 1,000 glaciers, countless peaks in excess of 11,000 feet of elevation and seven national historic sites. Banff National Park is also a skiing mecca, home to the trifecta of ski areas known as SkiBig3, luring lovers of gravity-fed snow sliding from all corners of the world.
Austrian and Swiss mountain guides first introduced skiing to the area in 1909, and the national park’s first ski area, Norquay was established in 1924 with its first mechanical lift opening in 1941. Banff’s other two ski resorts, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise, opened for winter business in 1945 and 1959, respectively. Each winter, upwards of 300 inches of cold-smoke snow blankets the gargantuan uprooted blocks of sedimentary rock, providing a beloved playground for skiers. However, the only thing better than the skiing in Banff-Lake Louise, are the people.
The mountain folk that call Banff home are as rugged and wild as the mountains in their backyard, but their welcoming nature and warm dispositions provide a contrast to the overwhelming scenery of the national park. In this seven-part series, we’ve profiled a handful of local SkiBig3 skiers. Each of them looks at their home in a different way, and were gracious enough to provide insight into why Banff National Park should be at the top of your list when planning your ski vacation this season.
INTERVIEW • DONNY O’NEILL | PHOTOS • DAN EVANS
It’s rare that one can say her family had a strong influence in the formation of a ski town, but being a fifth-generation Banffite, Ginny White certainly can. While she took a brief hiatus to collect a college degree on Canada’s West Coast, she’s been skiing the mountains of Banff-Lake Louise her entire life—from her beginnings skiing around Mt. Norquay with her family to ripping around the expansive terrain of Lake Louise today.
Her talent on skis is so exceptional that she was asked to film with the emerging Canadian female ski crew, The Blondes, for their award-winning short film, Blonde Highlights, this past winter. We caught up with White to see just how her hometown has shaped who she’s become today.
You’re a fifth-generation skier in Banff. It’s safe to say your family roots run deep in Banff National Park.
My family members were pretty big pioneers; they helped found ski tourism in the area. They saw the future of skiing in Banff and helped paved the way. For me, it’s really important to keep exploring and skiing in those same mountains that I grew up in with them.
You left the area, though, to go to college?
I left for a little bit when I went to university, but I always missed the Banff mountains, and there wasn’t really any question that when I finished at university I was coming back to them.
In addition to the mountains, did the people of Banff sway you to come back at all?
We have a pretty big sense of community. Everybody I grew up with ends up coming back to town after leaving, and there’s something to be said about that. There’s a whole generation of kids that stay in the mountains here. I think that sense of community is something we have that maybe other ski towns don’t.
Can you elaborate on that uniqueness of Banff versus other mountain towns you’ve visited?
Because it’s a destination mountain town, it provides the best of all worlds for everyone. It’s a great place to live because you get to see [visitors] enjoying the place that you live in and love, and having a similar purpose. I work in the tourism industry, so every day I get to go out and show people my backyard and see them experience it for themselves.
Then there’s the accessibility of it all. As a local, you can walk around downtown and see everyone’s mom that you grew up with, but within twenty minutes, you’re up in the mountains away from the hustle and bustle.
Not many can say they grew up with access to three incredible ski resorts within a national park. How did that shape you, personally?
Because I grew up in the national park, it has helped me gain a better understanding of why we have national parks and what their purpose is. It’s definitely given me a deep appreciation for the environment. There aren’t many places where you have ski areas within a national park, so growing up in Banff National Park is a unique experience and makes you hyper aware of your physical environment.
As a skier, how did you progress to where you are today?
It’s incredible, you start as a kid at Norquay, skiing on the smaller terrain with your family and [progress] through Norquay. Then, you go to either Sunshine or Lake Louise. As a teenager at Lake Louise, I just had that access to steep, big-mountain, inbounds terrain. It’s definitely cool in terms of progression. You can just slowly start pushing yourself into bigger skiing and becoming a backcountry skier, too. Sunshine has Delirium Dive and Wild West, which are both inbounds, and you’re required to bring a beacon, shovel and probe back there and kind of take that first step towards backcountry skiing.
Being able to ski for such a prolonged season must have helped, too.
That’s one thing that we have that not every place has—the length of season. Especially 2017-18, it was a great snow year, but most years we start in early to mid-November and go all the way through May at the resorts. It’s a pretty long season compared to everywhere else, so we get a great mix of snow. This winter was some of the deepest, lightest snow we’ve ever had. There was one day at Lake Louise that it snowed 50 centimeters [about 20 inches] overnight, and it’s not coastal wet snow, it’s super light blower pow.