Lake Louise has my heart – bowls like Vail, side valleys like Chatel France, or Leysin Switzerland, huge vertical, World Cup prowess, and the bottom of the Men’s Downhill reminds me of Whakapapa, NZ. Extraordinary views. Your mind can not begin to comprehend the perspective, the enormity, of what you see. We think we are so important, but the scale of a tiny human in this immense monumental wilderness humbles your ego. Submerges your self importance. The Bow River valley at Lake Louise is 4 miles wide and 50 miles long before even a bend in the road. Which is merely a fraction of the entire length, all 300+ miles of the Bow River. The valley is filled with 300 foot trees, which look like blades of grass from the ski resort. This is Christmas tree land. The colors are a duo tone of black and baby blue and pretty much nothing in between. Stunning. Vast. Dwarfing. I was super excited to be here.
But, and this is a very big BUT, I skied Lake Louise the day after day after Olivia, or Grizzly Bear 138, was sighted on the front face. Eek. I’m a little ambivalent about bears. I kind of wanted to see one, but I also kind of REALLY didn’t want to see one either. We had discussions about what to do, plans of action, how to ski. If the bear was below us, we would stop and wait. If the bear was above, well, we would ski like the clappers. Still, we were all set, and had packed out lunches.
Which were salmon bagels.
There are three resorts around Banff: Sunshine, Norquay, and Lake Louise. Lake Louise is the largest, with a skiable area of almost 7 square miles. You’ll need a car because none of them are close. However there is a bus that runs from the town of Banff to Lake Louise Resort, but it is very infrequent. We headed out on the bus. When I was there it was running five times a day. Be sure not to miss the return, I almost did. Ooops.
Lake Louise is almost 40 miles north of the town of Banff, but the scenery from the road was some of the prettiest I have seen. Like a corridor, flanked by the gorgeous Rockies. A processional of mountain majesty sweeping along the Trans Canada Highway. And all along on both sides ran a 6 foot fence. The Canadians were trying very hard to keep human – wildlife collisions to a minimum.
Arriving safely at Lake Louise with no wildlife encounters, first it was up the Grizzly Express. The irony hadn’t escaped us as we searched the forests from the gondola for a sighting of Olivia the Grizzly. Bear 138. No sign as yet, but on disembarking, we were presented with a rush and crush of a different kind. Lake Louise must be high on the list of ‘must-sees’ for Japanese tourists and honeymooners, because at the top we had to fight our way through the tourists to ski.
Both the Men’s and Women’s downhill are on the front face of Lake Louise, but only the women’s can be accessed from the Grizzly Express, so we headed there for a quick warmup run. And I mean quick, because Olivia was still in the back of my mind. Upon reflection, it was rather foolish to pack that salmon bagel in my ski pants. Perhaps it could be a useful distraction to throw her some food if she was coming at us. Women’s Downhill, check. To access the Men’s Downhill, you have to work your way over skier’s right of the front face, and take the Top of the World Express Chairlift. Men’s Downhill, check. No Olivia.
Now warmed up, we were back up the Grizzly Express and over to the Back Bowls. The Grizzly Express does not run as high as the Top of the World, so you are still in the treeline, but there are some fun mogul black runs off the back down to the bottom of Ptarmigan. And I appreciated how much like Europe it looked.
The back bowls are also the way to access to the Larch area. The Larch Express offers some super fun ridges, valleys, and steeps through the trees. It also provides access to the steep Elevator Shaft, which required a hike up.
One of the major draw cards of skiing Lake Louise for me, was seeing all the photos of people skiing so close to the lake that they could drop straight into it. One unarrested fall and you could dive straight in, like Portillo, Chile or La Grave, France.
Then I arrived and reality hit… all the photos with people skiing seemingly directly above the lake must have been enhanced. The lake is on the other side of the valley. Four miles away. On the other side of the immense Trans Canada Highway for goodness sake.
No chance of jumping into the lake then. Or a little inadvertent unarrested dip. The lake looked smaller than my thumbnail. The 600 room Chateau a mere speck. The little blades of grass in the valley were 300ft trees. The size perspective messes with your head. An alternate reality of apportionment and magnitude.
At the end of the day I did the women’s downhill at a ridiculous speed for the end of season, leg-grabbing snow, because I miscalculated the timing and almost missed the infrequent bus back to Banff. But all was well in the world. The elusive bus was caught, the correct being ate the salmon bagel.
And no one ate the skier.