Alberta Winter Redux
Calgary is the main gateway to both Banff and Jasper national parks, though Edmonton (250 miles northeast of Banff) is another option. Major carriers servicing Calgary include Air Canada, American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Lufthansa, Northwest, and United; Edmonton is served by Air Canada, Continental, Northwest, and United. The Banff Airporter shuttle service departs approximately every hour; return tickets cost $82 for the 80-mile journey to/from Banff (1-888-449-2901, www.banffairporter.com). The journey from Edmonton to Jasper is best enjoyed aboard VIA Rail Canada's Snow Train, departing at 8:55 a.m. three times weekly (Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays) and costing $200 for a round-trip (www.snowtraintojasper.com). The journey takes five hours, ten minutes.
For those not in a hire car, regular shuttle services connect Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff, and Calgary. Sun Dog Tours runs daily services via the Icefields Parkway from early December through late April; the journey takes approximately four hours (more if you convince the driver to make frequent photo-op stops!) and tickets costs $55, or $49 for service to Lake Louise (1-888-786-364, www.sundogtours.com). Regular buses shuttle skiers from their hotels to the slopes, with tickets usually costing approximately $10 for a round-trip. Check at your hotel's front desk for more details.
Where to Stay
Accommodations run the gamut from five-star luxury to simple hostels. For the big splurge, The Fairmont chain operates the laid-back lakeside Jasper Park Lodge, spectacular Chateau Lake Louise, and old-world Banff Springs (sample prices start from $379; 1-800-257-7544, www.fairmont.com). Other mid-range alternatives include the convenient and comfortable Sawridge Inn & Conference Centre in Jasper (sample prices start from $87; 1-800-661-6427, www.sawridgejasper.com) or Banff's downtown Mount Royal Hotel (sample prices from $130; 1-877-442-2623). Because the area's ski resorts lie within national park boundaries, there is no slopeside accommodation, with the one exception of the Sunshine Inn at Sunshine Village (1-877-542-2633). In addition, look for ski-lodging deals at the three Banff area resorts by visiting the Web site of SkiBig3.com. Winter accommodation is generally easy to organize given that the Banff/Lake Louise area boasts over 100 hotels, lodges, condos, and B&Bs ready to handle the much bigger summer influx of tourists.
Where to Eat
Banff is the best-served ski base town, with a good variety of restaurants, pubs, and nightspots (you don't expect those Aussies to hit the hay early, do you?). Here, locals rate Café Soleil for good tapas and fusion food, or Evelyns for on-the-money pre-ski java and pastries. If time and budget permit, head to the high ground at Buffalo Mountain Lodge (1-800-661-1367, www.buffalomountainlodge.com) to savor their to-die-for selection of game meats, including mouthwatering free-range buffalo and caribou. The lodge is also a good out-of-town alternative for those looking for a quintessentialand quieterRockies retreat. Options are more limited in Lake Louise, though dinner at Chateau Lake Louise overlooking the moonlit, snow-dusted lake is a sure way to any après-skier's heart. Jasper, being that much more inaccessible, has a quieter, more laid-back vibe than its southerly cousins, though there are still ample restaurants and pub choices along the town's main drag.
Lift Tickets (2004-05 season)
For the best deal on the Lake Louise, Ski Banff at Norquay, and Sunshine Village triumvirate, opt for a Tri-Area lift pass that offers unlimited access to all three resorts, plus free use of the resort-hotel shuttle services between Banff and Lake Louise and one Friday-night's free skiing at Norquay. Sample adult prices include CDN$198 for three out of four days, or $455 for seven out of nine days. Sample prices for Marmot include CDN$55 (not including sales tax) for one day's skiing, or $268 for five days.
Lake Louise: 1-877-253-6888, www.skilouise.com
Marmot Basin: 780-852-3816
Ski Banff at Norquay: 403-762-4421, www.banffnorquay.com
Sunshine Village: 1-877-SKI-BANFF, www.skibanff.com
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Best Hotels in Alberta
Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Acclaim Hotel Calgary Airport
Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Calgary-Airport, AB