North of the Border, Nothing but Powder

Kananaskis Valley
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High peaks of Northern Alberta
High peaks of Northern Alberta

Those who hanker to explore little-known resorts need to try to the Kananaskis Valley, site of two ski areas as different, and as complementary, as peanut butter and jelly. Nakiska hosted the Alpine events of the 1988 Winter Olympics and provides miles of tree-lined trails on a 2,400-foot vertical mountain that was state-of-the-art just over a decade ago. Half an hour up-valley, Fortress Mountain is a vest-pocked resort set in a vast powder bowl. Funky old lifts and a barebones infrastructure combine with fabulous terrain to offer laid-back, quality skiing and snowboarding. Limited lodging is available in Kananaskis Village and at Fortress Mountain, but you can find ample accommodations of all sorts in nearby Canmore. (Canmore, incidentally, is also a reasonable commute to Banff, with free daily bus service to the slopes.)

Another vastly underrated ski area is Marmot Basin, which lies on a high peak near Jasper and is easily accessible from Edmonton by road or rail. Nestled amid the spectacular peaks of Jasper National Park, this area boasts more than 1,000 acres of skiable terrain on a 1,944-foot vertical and claims western Canada's lightest powder. If Banff is a bargain, Jasper is even more so—a bustling summer destination that is so quiet in winter that elk graze right in town. A ski shuttle ferries guests from town to the mountain. The best deal of all for anyone who can escape across the border a few times is a season pass to much of western Canada, both Alberta and British Columbia. For US $499, you can ski or snowboard all winter long at the three Banff/Lake Louise areas, the '84 Olympic venue at Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, Fortress Mountain, Fernie, Panorama, Marmot Basin and a small hill near Calgary called Wintergreen.

Thrifty young skiers and riders can also check out Alberta's well-priced, well-located hostels. Some even offer ski packages. Can you afford not to ski up north this year?

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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