The Faces of Banff-Lake Louise: Kevin Hjertaas

The Faces of Banff-Lake Louise: Kevin Hjertaas

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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.


To newcomers, the Canadian Rockies are often overwhelming. Their sheer size and sprawl in every direction—far beyond where the eye can see—is dumbfounding. But to Kevin Hjertaas, these complex mountains are simply home.

Years ago, Hjertaas became well known in the Banff region through International Freeskiing Association competitions, then for his coaching prowess as the Rocky Mountain Freeriders head coach, working alongside skiing legends like Chris Rubens and Eric Hjorleifson. Today, as the owner of the Canmore-based ski guiding company, MTN Guiding, Hjertaas spends nearly every day out in the Canadian Rockies showing skiers dreamlike backcountry terrain. Needless to say, he holds fantastic insight as to why Banff is one of skiing’s greatest destinations.

What’s it like living and working smack in the middle of 2,564-square-mile Banff National Park?

It’s incredible. There’s so much protected space and so much wilderness. The park provides so much for us. It’s so vast, there’s no chance you’re going to ski it all. You don’t need to be secretive about your locations because it’s not like you’re going to get skied out or get overwhelmed by other people because the amount of skiing here is just endless. The lifestyle is like nothing else. At my daughter’s school, they get taught about wildlife safety instead of stranger danger. They talk about staying away from bears and how to deal with an elk that gets in your way [laughs].

It seems like the lifestyle in Banff really makes its citizens very welcoming and friendly.

Absolutely. At the end of the day, there’s not a huge population here, which means there’s not that many skiers here compared to other mountain towns, and there’s so much space. You’re more stoked about finding someone new to ski with and showing them a new place rather than keeping secrets. And it feels really weird, actually, when we go ski somewhere else, and everyone’s doing this mad race to get the powder after a storm because it’s just not part of the scene here, you know?

Would you say that general lack of crowds translates to the local ski resorts, as well?

Yeah, that’s actually something that always surprises people when you bring them here is how uncrowded it is. I heard a local recently say, “Oh, yeah, there were huge lift lines the other day.” And the guest I was with asked, “What, like an hour?” Then the local said, “No, five minutes…” I thought that was hilarious because their definitions for a long lift line differed so much.

What kind of reactions do you see from guests when they venture into these incredible mountains for the first time?

It’s amazing. I had one guy recently who takes big trips every winter to Europe, Chile and Alaska—all the usual stops—and he was just blown away. He kept trying to compare the mountains here to something else, but you can’t do it. It’s just different here, so beautiful, so scenic. The views are just spectacular, especially on a clear day when you’re skiing around looking at these glaciers and huge peaks. It’s pretty dramatic and definitely blows the guests away.

The ski season always seems to be extra long up there in Banff. What’s that like for someone like you who lives to ski?

I know, right? The idea that you can be skiing on Remembrance Day (November 11) on wide-open ski hills, it’s nuts. I usually don’t hang up my skis until June. The thing I think is always hilarious is how pumped up everyone is to ski in November and December, and then when spring rolls around, when we actually have our most stable snow pack and great conditions with easy access to everything, a lot of locals go out mountain biking. But I’m always out skiing, without a doubt.

How has living in the Banff area shaped you as a person over the years?

I think the humility is probably the biggest quality that stands out—having respect for the mountains because they’re a bit more wild here. What’s shaped me the most lately, though, is watching visitors coming to town and seeing how stoked they are on this place. It makes you realize how lucky you are. That’s something I don’t think I appreciated much when I was in my twenties. I was just go, go, go. Now, it’s definitely fun to slow down sometimes and watch people come in and have a great time.