Category Archives: Skiing

Start your Winter Getaway to the Rockies in Canmore

Canmore, located just 5 minutes east of the Banff National Park boundary, is the gateway to the Canadian Rockies. It’s not within the park, so there’s no park entry pass required.

Cross country skiing at Canmore Nordic Centre
Cross country skiing at Canmore Nordic Centre photo: Sherel Purcell

At the heart of the snow action sits the Canmore Nordic Centre. Built for the 1988 Winter Olympics, it hosts international cross-country ski tournaments and serves as the training ground for Canada’s national cross-country ski team. The Canmore Nordic Centre provides miles of cross-country and snowshoe trails for snow lovers of all skill levels and offers a complete rental shop to gear up for these winter sports.

The best way to enjoy winter here is to start early, especially if you’re renting equipment – mornings are less hectic at the Nordic Centre rental counter.  Early risers will be rewarded with great views of the alpenglow – the pinky-orange light that touches the mountain peaks at sunrise.

Grab a pair of snowshoes and drive further into the mountains to the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes trail or venture further west to the trails circling Johnson Lake. You can even rent a fat tire bike specially designed to glide over the snow-packed trails, normally reserved for cross-country skiers.

Cross country skiers at Canmore Nordic Centre
Cross country skiers at Canmore Nordic Centre

Downhill skiers and boarders are spoilt for choice. You can head to Mount Norquay 20 minutes west of Canmore, which offers the only night skiing in the region. Eighteen miles west, Sunshine Resort is a particular favorite of boarders. And further afield, the slopes at Lake Louise are worth the trek. Or just 30 minutes from Canmore in Kananaskis Country, try Nakiska, which hosted alpine skiers during the 1988 Olympics.

Three different dog sledding companies in Canmore will let you become a dog musher: bond with the huskies while traversing stunning mountain trails. One company, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, offers skijoring, a Scandinavian sport that combines dog sledding with skiing.

Whatever your choice of snow sport, remember the days are short here. The winter sun starts to dip behind the mountains in late afternoon.  At the end of the day, head to the nearest hot tub to watch the sun set over the mountains – best enjoyed while sipping a warming beverage – before heading out for dinner at one of the 90+ restaurants in Canmore.

Sage Bistro, Canmore, Alberta
Sage Bistro, Canmore, Alberta

“Where’s the best place to eat in Banff?”  “Canmore,” is the usual response. You’ll find highbrow as well as lowbrow here – and all of it delicious. For finer dining and regional specialties, look to Rocky Mountain Flatbread, Sage Bistro and, especially for breakfast, Chez Francoise.

For a more casual environment, look to the Miner’s Lamp Pub, which feature old photos of the town’s coal mining past, or the Iron Goat, named for the train that transported the coal from the mines.

Proximity to the Nordic Center and great food and drink choices aside, Canmore makes an excellent base from which to explore the Canadian Rockies. Accommodations are plentiful and offer better value than those at Banff, 20 minutes away.

Rundle Cliffs Mountain Lodge
Rundle Cliffs Mountain Lodge

Book a one, two or three-bedroom condo at Rundle Cliffs Mountain Lodge from Spring Creek Vacations. Situated at the base of Mount Lawrence Grassi, adjacent the Three Sisters mountains, all units are equipped with fireplaces, balconies and barbecues with direct mountains views. Enjoy your apres snow activity in front of a fire with a steaming cup of organic coffee, green tea or perhaps a local brew from Grizzly Paw or a glass of British Columbia red wine.

Need a break from the snow? Other activities of note here include a visit to Elevation Place, for a swim in the indoor pool, and a shopping trip to the Ammonite Factory, where you can interact with the artisans who make jewelry from these rare gems of southern Alberta. Previously published in USA Today 10 Best

Eat Play Ski Vermont

Vermont offers visitors a ski vacation free of runaway development, big box stores and billboards, thanks to the state’s tough zoning and construction laws. Locally sourced food and drink have been a staple here long before the movement became popular elsewhere. Think Vermont maple syrup, award-winning cheddar cheeses, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, for starters.

“Forging the bonds between the ski and culinary industries in Vermont allows skiers to experience the combined pleasure of snowy slopes and delicious Vermont food—a great pairing,” says Sarah Neith, Ski Vermont’s public affairs director.

Quebec skiers are long-time fans of the northern Vermont peaks, an easy one-and-a-half to two-hour drive or bus ride from Montreal. Porter Airlines, in partnership with Ski Vermont, now offers skiers one-hour flights between Toronto and Burlington, eliminating an eight to ten-hour drive.

Smugglers’ Notch

Only 35 minutes from the Burlington Airport, Smugglers’ Notch Resort (Smuggs)—named for a prohibition-era hideout—is a long-time family favourite, encompassing 78 trails topping out at 2,610 feet on three of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Ski-out condos from studios to five-bedroom units feature gas fireplaces mounted above soaker tubs that act as a room divider from the master bedroom. A grocery store and several bars and restaurants are all located onsite. The Hearth & Candle features innovative dishes, including fresh seafood, lamb, roast duck and homemade desserts mostly prepared with local ingredients. A cozy, full-service bar with an extensive wine list completes the ambiance.

Kids as young as 30 months can enroll in the Little Rascals on Snow program, while older kids can après-ski at the Courtside Pool, FunZone and Teen Alley—no parents allowed. Ice skating and challenging Nordic skiing are free for those with their own equipment, while rentals, snowmobile tours and ziplining are available at extra cost.

Parents can take advantage of a chocolate tasting night featuring local Lake Champlain chocolate paired with wines on Wednesday evenings.

Smugglers’ Notch Distillery offers tastings of its warming whisky with strong hints of bourbon and award-winning vodka—voted best in the U.S. by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Their gin, made from the distilled vodka, at 88 proof, pulls more flavour from the six botanicals—well worth the $28 a bottle.

Stowe Mountain Resort

Stowe Mountain Resort, one of the newest and greenest ski resorts in the U.S., partnered with local farmers, cheese producers and the Vermont Fresh Network to supply its two innovative restaurants. Take the gondola 3,625 feet to the Cliff House for great mountain views and a cider-braised veal shank or wild mushroom flan. At Solstice in the main lodge, chef Josh Berry’s imaginative tasting menu is paired with notable local wines, beers and spirits.

Mount Mansfield (4,395 feet), served by a new high-speed quad ski lift, is connected via an inter-mountain transfer gondola with Spruce Peak’s high-speed lifts, serving the intermediate and advanced ski runs that comprise 85 percent of the terrain.

On site après-ski entertainment includes shows at the new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center and an indoor/outdoor heated pool and sauna. Offsite, take in a Ben and Jerry’s tour or join in a Sound of Music singalong at the Trapp Family Lodge. In neighbouring Waterbury, stop by the Prohibition Pig, a popular barbeque and cocktail stop.

Nearby, Cold Hollow Cider Mill tempts with hot apple cider and dark and delicious cider donuts and preserves.

Sugarbush Ski Resort

Once known as Mascara Mountain for the glamorous New York set it attracted, Sugarbush sits in the Mad River Valley, an artists’ enclave. Today, the owner’s friendly Bernese Mountain dog, Rumble (named for the tricky, narrow ski run that defines the property), mingles with guests.

The founder of EZ Wider rolling papers and Green Mountain Coffee is one of Sugarbush’s biggest fans. Upon arrival, guests can enjoy his famous brew around the large fireplace with complimentary copies of the New York Times.

Named “Best Ski Town in the East” by Outside magazine, Sugarbush has six distinct peaks, two uncrowded mountains connected by a shuttle service, and 2,000 acres of backcountry skiing in the Slide Brook Basin. The resort now has its own app allowing groups and family members to keep track of each other and to record completed ski runs.

After an intense workout on the slopes, visitors and locals head to Timbers Restaurant for pints of Vermont’s favourite, Switchback, an unfiltered red-amber ale with hints of orange. Offsite, check out brunch at the local hostel.

Jay Peak

Sitting in stark yellow fields set against frost-topped mountains, weathered red barns line the desolate road to Jay Peak, an hour and a half from Montreal. Famous for its backcountry skiing, Jay Peak is also home to 76 alpine runs with 20 percent of the terrain designated true beginner. The Nordic ski trails allow visitors to explore the stark landscape at a more leisurely pace.

After a day on the slopes combined with cross-country skiing, complete the triathlon with a swim against the strong current of the Action River, part of Jay Peak’s massive indoor water park. Here, daredevils brave the rushing waters of the waterskiing ride only to be tossed backward into the churning abyss. Or stay dry and enjoy the action from the comforts of the overhead bar with the friendly, fun-loving bartenders. It’s hot in here, so even if you’re no fan of water, wear your swimsuit.

Alice’s Table—Jay’s best restaurant—is named for a hospitable former employee. Dishes range from apple squash bisque to seafood chowder to maple bourbon pork. Next door, check out the Jay Peak memorabilia at the Tower Bar. Exiting the property, say goodbye to the locals at the venerable Belfry Pub.