As the largest ski resort in the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise should be on every skier’s bucket list. With 4,200 skiable acres, it offers green, blue, and black runs from every one of its chairs, making it versatile and approachable for all skiers. It has been recognized as the #1 ski resort in Canada by the World Ski Awards for three consecutive years.
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Florida ski club members, don’t miss this breathtaking area. Plan to register for the February 25-March 4, 2017, ski trip that includes 4 nights in Banff and 3 nights in Lake Louise. Based on a site inspection that the trip leaders attended, this second part of the two-part series offers highlights and insight on what to expect on the trip. Click here if you missed the Banff review or want to check it out again.
Transferring to Lake Louise from Banff
We woke in Banff to overcast skies, which soon brought a steady drizzle that we all expected based on the weather forecast. After a quick visit to the downtown ski rental shop, we ducked our heads and briskly walked across the rain-drenched sidewalk to the awaiting bus that would take us to Lake Louise. Lake Louise is only a short 45-minute bus ride from Banff, and after seeing many photos of it and hearing friends gush about its beauty, I was ready to see it first hand and truly explore this wondrous part of the world. (Note: Transportation and luggage transfer will be provided for ski club members on Wednesday during the ski trip).
Lake Louise Ski Resort
After a scenic ride to Lake Louise we arrived at the ski resort. It had closed a few days prior to our arrival, but we still had plans to ride the gondola and see the area. We first gathered in the Northface Bistro in the Whiskey Jack Lodge for lunch while our resort guides gave us a brief overview of the resort.
Our guides reinforced the versatility of Lake Louise since any skier, from the beginner to the most advanced, will find an enjoyable run from each and every chair. Lake Louise offers 10 lifts, a total of 145 runs and, like Banff, it offers a ski ambassador program staffed by volunteers who are available to provide guidance on the mountain.
The weather in Lake Louise produces lots of blue bird ski days with panoramic views that include glimpses of Fairmont Chateau and the lovely Lake Louise in the far distance. Unfortunately, our visit coincided with one of very few cloudy days the area sees annually so we had limited visibility, plus snow was significantly dissipating during our visit, making photo opportunities scarce. Therefore, check the ski resort’s recent photos to get a visual of the area. However, have your cameras and smartphones ready next February for some beautiful photo opportunities!
Dining & Lodges
Dining options are as versatile as the slopes, with everything ranging from a brand new Sushi restaurant, Kuma Yama, or barbeque selections at Kokanee Kabin, both at the base area. On mountain, duck into Temple Lodge and either visit the deli counter to grab a
made-to-order sandwich, or nosh on a pizza or panini at Sawyer’s Nook. For a relaxed, full-service dining experience, ski down Eagle Mountain run to Whitehorn Bistro and indulge in the signature seafood chowder while enjoying the panoramic views.
I was especially impressed with the lodges at the mountain base. After we finished lunch, our guides took us through the Lodge of the Ten Peaks, which adjoins Whiskey Jack Lodge. Ten Peaks is the epitome of a ski lodge. With soaring log ceilings and river rock fireplaces, it just makes you want to have your ski gear on and have a steaming cup of hot coffee to wrap your hands around. I loved that all of the wood in the lodge is sourced directly from the property, which adds to the beauty of the building.
Um, Is There a Theme Here?
As we toured the lodge, we got news that a power outage in Banff threatened to make its way our direction, which initially axed our plans to ride the gondola. However, the alert eventually was canceled and we got the green light to proceed. We eagerly hustled outside to the gondola and piled into several cars. Named the Grizzly Express, we learned that the gondola is typically ideal for seeing wild grizzly bears in their natural environment in the summer months.
However, some of you may have heard in the news that this past April parts of the ski resort had to close as a result of a grizzly bear sighting. This is unusual since bears are typically hibernating during the ski season. But due to an early spring, the bear, affectionately named Olivia by ski resort staff, woke from her hibernation and decided to meander along the slopes well before her typical summer sightings.
Because Olivia was already awake from her slumber, we hoped to catch a glimpse of her as we began the ascent up the mountain. We all craned our necks, searching for her as we traveled upward and over the treetops. Unfortunately, Olivia chose not to cooperate. So we left the slopes stripped of any bragging rights about bear sightings.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
After our tour of the Lake Louise Ski Resort, we had a short 10-minute ride to the Fairmont. When we checked into the hotel, my immediate inclination was to do a comparison against the Fairmont Banff Springs. Where the Banff property offers a charming, European castle-like setting, the Chateau Lake Louise radiates a more modern day ambiance, but certainly with elegance and class. For all the corners, nooks, and crannies the Banff property presents, the Lake Louise property has a more flowing layout designed to maximize the view of the lake.
A Big Mountain Hug
After I wheeled my bag into the room, I immediately walked past the beds to the far end and threw the windows open to see the view. With a slightly curved, crescent-shape, the property towers above the eastern shore of the glacial lake almost as though it’s keeping watch over it. High-peaked mountains, which make the hotel look microscopic in comparison, circle the rest of the lake in a majestic ring. It felt almost as though the mountains were enclosing the hotel in a big embrace.
The lake is known for its vibrant turquoise hue, which was beginning to emerge through the melting ice. Fed by Victoria Glacier high above the far end of the lake, Lake Louise is much smaller than I expected. It reminded me somewhat of a tiny Lake Tahoe. At only .31 square miles, you could easily walk the circumference of Lake Louise, unlike Lake Tahoe, which measures in at 121 square miles.
During ski season, the lake is covered in a layer of ice that looks more akin to a large white, frosty blanket than a turquoise gem. But that has its benefits, too. From what we were told, the hotel features a glorious ice castle and ice skating rink that has received all kinds of accolades from CNN to Fodors. So I think we are in for a real treat, gang.
An afternoon refresher? Don’t Mind if We Do…
With a short break before our hotel tour, several of us opted to meet in the afternoon tea room that we spotted when we first checked in. With its floor to ceiling storybook window that overlooks the lake, it’s hard to miss as you pass by it.
We settled into a table and, well, decided that afternoon “tea” just might be better if it is served in a wine glass. We all opted for a glass from the hotel’s Conviction collection, which are grown and produced in the Okanagan Valley. According to the web site, an industrialist, a priest, and a financier collaborated together to start the winery. You gotta love a winery with that kind of beginning!
Be Treated Like a President
Like in Banff, the standard room for the trip at the Chateau is the Fairmont Room. We learned that the rooms with mountain views are a bit larger than their lakefront counterparts. Otherwise, the rooms are a bit more predictable than Banff’s ‘no single room is alike’ situation, though room amenities and services are relatively the same, such as Keurig coffee makers, refrigerators, and the all-important, spa-like hotel swag. I mean, let’s be honest and collectively agree that a hotel can be measured by its toiletries, whether you use them there or, dare I say, tuck them into your suitcase to take home.
Oh, and to sweeten the standard room amenities, make sure you sign up for Fairmont’s free loyalty program, the President’s Club. This membership offers useful benefits, such as free in-room Wifi, morning newspaper delivery, complimentary access to the fitness center, 15% off at the Fairmont Store, and more.
Also, a note on cell phones. My service provider is Verizon Wireless and for a mere $2 day, I was able to add international service and use my phone just as I would back home. I believe other carriers may do the same, so I would recommend contacting your service provider before you leave to find out what options they offer.
Dining & Other Stuff
With only one night at the hotel, we didn’t have time to explore the town, which I can say looks quite small. In fact, if you blink on your way through it, you would miss it. The village of Lake Louise consists of an outdoor shopping mall, a gas station and a few hotels. But then again, who needs anything more when you’ve got the natural beauty of Lake Louise! This means do your shopping in Banff if the exchange rate is still strong and you want to take advantage of it (at the time of this writing, the exchange rate was about $1.25 Canadian for the U.S. dollar). Given the lack of offsite entertainment, for a non-ski day at Lake Louise, I recommend hitting the spa or hot tub in the morning, then while away the afternoon in the tea room.
Other than the tea room, we only tried two of the hotel’s dining venues. We had dinner at the Glacier Saloon, which is about to undergo renovation and, by the time we arrive next February, it will be transformed into the Alpine Room. This is an excellent spot for apres ski gatherings.
The next morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast at the Chateau Deli. This is ideal for an affordable, easy breakfast before skiing. It had the most beautiful pastries I have ever seen, as well as egg sandwiches and other light fare.
A Closing Farewell
As we prepared to leave the Chateau the next morning, we strolled along the shop windows and finally had our bear sighting! Mary Ann took one for the team and was brave enough to pose for a photo. Olivia, eat your heart out!
Florida Ski Club members, visit your local club web site or contact your trip leader to sign up for what will be an epic ski trip. See you in February!