High up in the Canadian Rockies you’ll find the glorious ‘Champagne’ snow and enjoy some of the spectacular scenery that British Columbia and Alberta have to offer. The Canadian resorts have been a little slower to jump aboard the aprés ski bandwagon, but there are certainly increasing number of ‘let your hair’ opportunities emerging
You will probably have heard of Whistler and Banff, but what about trying the all but deserted slopes at the Red Mountain Resort in Rossland? We show you how to tackle a budget ski vacation in Canada. Do tell us about your favourite ski holiday in Canada and share your budget tips below…
Opening : 24th November 2011
Whistler is a top ski resort in North America, it is also the largest, boasting the longest runs in North America. With 39 lifts, an average of 10 metres of snow per year, all rounded off with a nice dose of Canadian hospitality it’s no wonder it was the setting for the 2010 Winter Olympic. As a result, things have been scrubbed up nicely for future skiing holidays in Whistler! The resort sits at the base of two mountains: Whistler and Blackcomb. The new Peak 2 Peak gondola, a record-breaking 4.4km, makes access to both mountains a doddle.
Best for…all skiing levels
Over half of the runs are blue, a quarter black and there is even black diamond territory on the Horstman Glacier and Blackcomb Glacier. You’ll find plenty of facilities for kids so it’s ideal for a family ski break but you’ll notice a younger crowd at Whistler for whom the lively apres ski is a big draw. This is a very safe bet for fresh snow and the season lasts until June. Join them to celebrate WinterPRIDE from 5-12 Feb 2012.
There are opportunities for all ski levels but it is the intermediates who will enjoy the biggest thrills. Beginners should make their way to the Fitzsimmons Express and intermediates to 7th Heaven for Panorama or Ridge Runner. Like a bit of tree-skiing? Head to the Rendezvous restaurant on the Jersey Cream Lift. From here, you can make your way around the Backpacker Trees, a local name given to a tree island. Exhilarating gullies, shallow drop-offs and gentle rolling terrain make this an intimate route with plenty to take in. Perfect for anyone looking for an introduction to tree-skiing – you’ll be hooked.
Whistler Mountain is accessible by gondola from Whistles Village and also the quieter side of town called Creekside. Blackcomb can also be reached by gondola from Whistler Village or via the Peak 2 Peak which runs from Roundhouse Lodge at mid-mountain across to the Blackcomb side called Rendezvous. From there it onwards by fast quad chairs to the peaks.
Whistler is one of the few Canadian resorts to really go in for après-ski. Try Amsterdam Café or, for live music, the Dubh Linn Gate plays a merry Irish tune. Although there are some great budget places to eat, they tend to be small so booking is essential. Great value for money is Shakespeare’s pie shop for a cheap and freshly made (you got it) pie. If you’re making your own sandwiches, pick up ingredients from Gone Bakery.
Whistler Ski Passes
Canadian or Washington State residents should check out the EDGE Card for Whistler Blackcombe ski discounts. A 6-day Whistler ski pass costs $350-$500 (excluding tax) depending on the month you visit while kids under 12 can ski and rent equipment for free.
Vancouver airport, 2 hrs 30 mins
- Car…Whether you are journeying from the airport or you decide to base yourself in Vancouver hostels and make day trips to Whistler, you can use the improved Sea to Sky highway leading to the Whistler mountain ski resorts. This entails a scenic 113km and 2 hour drive along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. A cheaper alternative to car hire would be a Vancouver to Whistler rideshare.
- Bus…Check out Vancouver to Whistler buses. A round trip will cost about $60.
- Train…For something a bit special, take the Rocky Mountaineer Whistler Sea to Sky Climb train from North Vancouver Station for stunning oceanfront vistas of British Columbia. $235 for a return ticket.
The boutique hostel…
Expect a state of the art building with all the mod cons at the HI-Hostel Whistler which opened in July 2010. Stylish furnishings, a slick 52” HD TV and an outdoor deck with fantastic views to the mountains – such luxury! It’s no wonder the hostel was used as part of the Whistler Athletes’ Village during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games! The BC Transit Wave bus #2 stops right outside this Whistler hostel and will drop you off at the Creekside Gondola.
The homely ski chalet…
Alternatively, if you prefer ski lodges, ski right up to the front door at the Whistler Mountain House with views of Sproat Mountain. The welcoming hosts offer a free breakfast, traditional furniture and a hot tub. Guests have access to self-catering facilities and can relax in the lounge with a roaring fire, curl up to watch a movie and enjoy this real mountain-style ski chalet which is just 15 minutes walk from Whistler Village.
Staying in Vancouver…
If you’d like to base yourself in the city, it is still possible to make day trips to the mountains. Book Vancouver hostels and make your way to Cypress Mountain, one of three ski resorts within easy reach of the city. A 30-minute drive from downtown Vancouver and you can enjoy 52 trails, eight lifts and 19km of Nordic trails. Why not catch an ice-hockey match at General Motors Place. Stay at the charming Urban Hideaway in downtown Vancouver. A beautiful Vancouver townhouse offering a free, hearty cooked breakfast, ample storage space and laundry facilities. Staff are knowledgeable about travel in the area and will be happy to assist.
Opening: 5th November 2011
As a cheaper alternative to Whistler, Banff makes for a lovely ski vacation. The resorts of Sunshine, Mount Norquay and Lake Louise are within easy reach, and they offer a tri-area ski pass, which is a nice little money-saver. There’s a nice trickle of European travellers as well as local Canadian skiers, all after that infamous ‘Champagne’ powder that descends on the region for the lightest and fluffiest ride of your life. Sunshine is just 15 minutes from Banff and the high altitude creates one of the longest ski seasons in the world.
Best for…friends and couples
Lake Louise is very popular with honeymooners and because you are spoilt for choice with double black diamond runs at Sunshine and Norquay, Banff attracts experienced skiers.
Beginner, playful freestyler or super-steep enthusiast? There’s something for everyone. Delirium Dive and Wild West are ‘extreme zones’ for the crazy-hearted while novices can stick close to the main ski village for some world class ski instruction. Compared to other resorts, prices in Banff are relatively reasonable both in town, the bars and in the mountain cafeterias.
Buses operate between Banff and the three resorts and transportation is included in your tri-area Banff ski pass.
Budget travellers will appreciate the happy hour at Mad Trapper’s Saloon at the top of the Sunshine gondola and back in town your best bets for live music include the Rose & Crown or Wild Bill’s for a spot of line dancing and traditional burgers.
Aside from skiing, travellers should visit the Banff Hot Springs for spectacular views and nice unwinding after a few days on the slopes. Calgary is within easy reach so enjoy a bit of time in the city and maybe catch a game with Calgary Flames ice-hockey team.
Banff Ski Passes
It’s the Banff lift pass that you get stung for: 6 days of skiing costs $507 for the 2001-2012 ski season plus 5% tax. But then it comes loaded with perks such as free transportation between Banff, Lake Louise, Sunshine and Mt. Norquay, virtually no queueing, access to 3 resorts (8,000 acres of skiable terrain) and Mt. Norquay’s fully lit terrain park for night skiing gives you 5 extra hours on the slope (5- 10pm Wednesday and Fridays from January-March).
Calgary International Airport, 90 mins
- Car…From Calgary Airport, Banff is 90-minute drive along the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy #1) suitable for use in all weather conditions
- Bus…Banff was among the ‘Top 10 No Car Needed Resorts in the World’ by OnTheSnow.com so it’s ideal for saving money on car hire. A number of companies run a scheduled service between the airport and Banff. Banffaiporter.com offers 12 daily buses running from 9am-10:30pm and from Banff to the airport between 5am and 7:30pm. A return costs about $109.
Right on the Banff bus line for easy access to all three ski resorts, AWA Hotel Driftarrow Banff offer private en suite rooms with free tea and coffee and a free daily breakfast. There is a onsite bar and restaurant and guests have use of the hot tub at the sister hotel down the road. It’s a bargain with prices as low as $30 per person, per night.
At the HI-Banff Alpine City Centre they offer great Banff ski packages including lift passes, breakfast and free transportation on check-in. Guests can book the private rooms, dorms and lovely private cabins. The hostel has a games room and on-site bar where travellers can buy cheap drinks and meet fellow guests. Guests can prepare their own meals using the self-catering facilities at this Banff hostel, but when you’re feeling lazy they also have an on-site restaurant.
Alternatively, Samesun Backpackers on Banff Avenue offers lively apres ski in its Beaver Lounge which hosts DJs, open mic nights and offers cheap drinks and dinners to guests.
Whistler and Banff may be the big contenders for a ski vacation in Canada, but Rossland is hugely underrated! At Red Mountain you’ll enjoy crowd-free, natural terrain and experience some of the most pleasant runs in your life. There are 88 runs, almost 1,700 acres of lift-serviced terrain and on top of that, 2,500 acres of accessible back country to explore. Red Mountain Resort opened in 1947 and has kept much of its old-age and traditional charm but all the while renovating and modernising key facilities. There’s plenty to do besides skiing and Canada’s outdoor magazine ‘Explore’ voted it the ‘#1 Outdoor Town’ in 2007. At 1,023 metres, Rossland is Canada’s highest alpine city and there are spectacular views everywhere. You’ll want to enjoy the great outdoors as much as possible.
Best for…off the beaten track
Ideal for skiers wanting to avoid major resorts and join in après-ski with the locals. Rossland also boasts some of the best Nordic skiing opportunities in Canada.
With over 19 miles of trails, Rossland is a wonderful place for cross-country skiing. It has an impressive annual snowfall of about 300 inches and attracts big names in Olympic skiing. All levels of skiers will find satisfaction here with a good selection of green, blue and black diamond runs. The most exhilarating run has to be at Powderfields. This rollercoaster route begins with open terrain (all freshly powdered of course), a run through the trees and – when you hit the first rock band – five-ten metres of sailing through the air, more of a small cliff! You’ll scream your socks off like a giddy kid!
The town itself has a rather cool local community. It may be small but it has bundles of character and personality. The Old Firehall is a stomping bar for jazz lovers.
Rossland Ski Passes
A 6-day Red Mountain ski pass costs $372. However there are a number of deals for students and families. Alternatively, a Vertical Value Card might be worth considering if you plan to stay for longer: the card costs $79 and means your 1st and 5th day of skiing are free and all subsequent day passes will be discounted at 23%.
Spokane WA International Airport, 2.5 hours or from Castlegar Municipal, 30 minutes
- Car…A 4-wheel drive with snow tires or chains is recommended if you are considering car hire.
- Bus…An airport shuttle services Spokane airport-Rossland on Thursdays and Sundays ($110 one way) and
The family-friendly Mountain Shadow Hostel is in the centre of Rossland and just a 3-miute drive from the Red Mountain Resort. Guests have access to two kitchens, a dining area and lovely lounge where you can relax in front of the telly or play video games. Your host can also assist with tours and recommend other activities in the ares.
For more budget accommodation in Canada, check out HostelBookers.com
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