The Alberta You Ought to Meet - Page 2

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Alberta's Banff National Park
Alberta's Banff National Park  (Courtesy, Travel Alberta)

Along the way, we hit a few of Alberta’s alpine ski resorts, including three clustered around the tiny resort town of Banff. Each has its own flavor: Ski Norquay is family-friendly, with a variety of slopes funneling into a main base area; Sunshine Village resembles the grand resorts of the Alps, with wide-open peaks that melt into wildflower meadows in summer and newer cliff-ridden extreme areas like Wild West and Delirium Dive; Lake Louise, 4,200 acres, the largest resort of the three and one of the largest on the continent, offers a lip-smacking variety of terrain from chutes and glades to spacious bowls.

These three resorts and the allures of Banff tend to snag most cool-weather visitors, but Tim and I are equally entertained by the less frequented sites we hit, like Castle Mountain. Located in the remote southwestern corner of Alberta, it is often overlooked. The region is characterized by a wild, grassy emptiness punctuated by small mining towns and mountain ranges. This is where cow country meets mountain country.

“We’ve got guys coming out with their Carhartt’s with cow shit on ‘em and they feel perfectly comfortable here," Andrew Rusynyk, the director of ski school, tells us. And we believe him. The area is decidedly down-home and laid-back, and we stay in the only on-mountain lodging—a comfortable and cheap ski dorm. Here, it’s all about the skiing; we explore pleasantly spaced glades and a series of chutes with steep, continuous fall lines. We also ogle a series of tree-studded do-‘em-if-you-dare slopes recently opened to hikers that are starting to make Castle notorious for sphincter-tightening terrain.

Farther north, in Canmore, Tim goes skate skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre, home of the 1988 Olympic cross-country events, while I try dogsledding for the first time on Spray Lakes, about a half-hour drive outside of Canmore. “The golden rule of dogsledding is don’t let go of the sled," my guide Russell Donald, a Brit who owns the outfit Mad Dogs and Englishmen, tells me. I heed his advice by assuming a bracing, bent-knee stance on the runners and a death grip on the sled handle. We glide across the lake and through the forest with nary a human in sight, other than the occasional ice angler. While dogsledding as a means of transportation is quickly dying in the north country as snowmobiles take over, it’s gaining popularity as a means for tourists to see the landscape in silence. I am perfectly happy to play the part on these long stretches of ice, forest and mountains.

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