Alberta Winter Redux
The next day, still legsore from the skiing and a thrilling moonlit ice walk through the frozen depths of Maligne Canyon, we piled into a minivan for the next stop on our blitz of Alberta's best resorts. Truth be told, I felt peeved to be pulled so quickly from a place I had so instantly enjoyed. I'd barely got started on Marmot's 84 named trails! There was cross-country skiing to be had from the doorway of my lodge!
My grumpiness didn't last long, though, as we swept south along the 143-mile Icefields Parkway and settled into an awed silence as Mother Nature's munificence unraveled at every turn: think crenellated, sharp mountain flanks, the promise of miles of wilderness beyond, and the wind-lashed maw of Athabasca Glacier, the largest icefield south of Alaska. Now more disappointment as we were spat out onto the grubby four-lane highway that announces the end of the Parkway and the approach to the touristy towns of Lake Louise and Banff, set in the heart of Banff National Park and the base camps for some four million gawping tourists each year.
Day two in my induction into the worldwide fraternity of powder-spoiled Alberta alpinists was spent at the hip-hoppy resort of Ski Banff at Norquay, essentially an extension of downtown where boarders and day-trippers go to strut their stuff and style the latest in snow-chic. Only ten minutes from town, our arrival at Norquay was punctuated by the gut-churning sight of the mountain flank that's creased with gruesome-looking double blacks. I could feel the confident turns under Heinz's wing only the day before disappear as quickly as a Cairngorms snowfall. What if I fell and cracked my head? What if the groms laughed at my cloddish outfit?
I did take an early spill as we set out on our half-day foray at 190-acre Norquay, quickly looking for excuses to save face with the gang. Luckily, they'd all schussed on down to the Spirit quad to ply the other half of the mountain (the better half, in my opinion) that you don't see from the approach road. Dusting myself off, I quickly caught up, growled something about blue ice, and boarded the quad in search of the mountain's narrow, challenging blues and blacksand my hard-to-nail mojo.
By day's end, our guide had lost all but two of his starting posse of six. Maybe it was something about the Norquay vibe that lent itself to the anarchic desire to ditch him and go ballistic. Whatever, the narrow, tree-lined chutes and easily accessible slopes make skiing at Norquay an intense rush. Set in the steep-walled lee of east-facing Mount Norquay, the cooling shadows cast by the setting sun, plus the powder-shaving action of carving snowboarders, did make for some hairy moments over icy patches (honest, I stick to my story). However, that shouldn't detract from Norquay's attraction to the day-tripping skier, where you can pay by the hour, should you choose. Better still, it's the perfect place to warm up for the nearby big guns of Sunshine Village and Lake Louise.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication