Its Sunday afternoon and I wish I had gone skiing again. Some days you just want to sleep in, some days you wish you hadn’t, especially when you wake up to big fluffy flakes falling in the city that taper off to blue skies before noon. There is just no way to describe what its like skiing thru fresh powdered on a blue bird day! Well if I can’t ski it, I might as well write about it. ‘It’ being where to go on days like today, ski hills to put on your radar, their chairs you should head to first, and where to go afterwards for a well deserved beer. Just like skiing, its indescribable as to how delicious a beer tastes after you have earned it from a day on the slopes. So here’s my black diamonds in the rough list, I somewhat reluctantly offer this up, because there are no friends on powder days but everyone deserves to experience a perma-grin in those covered hills. Hopefully some of these suggestions, both to ski and to drink, will be new and inspire you to add it to your list. Regardless make sure you shine up those boards, get out to the mountains and work up a beer worthy thirst!
Ski – Gold Chair
Nakiska?! Yes Nakiska is up first because I love this little hill and its proximity to Calgary. On days that you do sleep in and just need a little dose of the slopes, depending where you are in the city, you can be at the hill eagerly strapping up in an hour! Nakiska is a groomer hill and rarely gets epic powder days but there is always fun to be found off the Gold Chair. At the base take Olympic Chair, avoid Silver because it is always lined up, and take Olympic up to Gold Chair where you should plan on spending a couple of three hours exploring the Glades or if there enough snow hit Eagle Tail and Bull’s Head. Remember this hill is more of a little taste than a meal, but you’ll get lots of runs in and if you stick close to the trees there will be more snow than ice.
Apres Ski – Off the Beaten Path
Just down the hill from Nakiska is Kananaskis Village, if you haven’t been its worth checking out to wander around the quiet property and its beautiful trials throughout the trees. Woody’s Pub and Patio is a quaint place that has some worthy libations on tap to quench your thirst including Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale and Wild Rose Electric Ave.
This will be a peaceful beer experience believe me, and if this makes you crave even more solitude, instead of driving back to the Trans-Canada take Highway 68, the turn-off is before you get to the visitor center. Be advised this is a gravel road most of the way that can be prone to snow drifts but if you packed some snacks and your own choice of beer, may I suggest Common Crown Brown Ale to warm your innards, there are many picnic spots along the way to stop and enjoy your beer to the sounds of silence. Highway 68 will pop you back out on #1 by Sibbald Flats, take it slow and stick to the suggested speed signs, especially around the corners, believe you me!
Ski – Goat’s Eye Chair
Do not sleep in if you are going to Sunshine, parking is a challenge up there especially if you get there after 9am on the weekend. But the early bird will get parking in the lot and a minimal line at the Gondola. Jump off at the Goat’s Eyes station, actually just walk off you wouldn’t want the soreness to sink in til after the day ends, and prepare to ski Goat’s Eye chair with no lines the first part of the day. At the top of the chair look right, if the south chutes are open do it, and do it often! If they aren’t open the glades down below are way fun too as is Freefall and Gladerunner runs. Once other people discover your hidden gem take the Wolverine chair to Tee Pee Town chair to warm the butt and get over to Lookout Mountain to get some runs off of Great Divide.
Apres Ski – Chimney Corner & Banff
Right beside Standish chair is the Sunshine Mountain Lodge, on the second floor you will find the Chimney Corner. This is a great place to warm the bones, fuel up for a late lunch and have a beer. They have a decent selection of beer including Granville Island’s Lions Winter Ale that will always taste like another and makes the ski out that much more tolerable.
Banff is a short 15 minutes away and a great spot to stop for a bevy as you drive past all the cars parked all the way down the Sunshine access road, see you should reward yourself for getting up that early! Banff Ave Brewing Co. is a must stop for apres ski because they have delicious food (order the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich) and fantastic beer selection that is brewed onsite! I highly recommend the yummy Brewer’s Oar Cream Ale, but be forewarned you may stay longer than anticipate and have to spend the night…oh damn and ski again tomorrow.
Ski – Summit Platter
Again best to hit the road early if you are going to Lake Louise, the earlier you get there the closer you will be to the lodge in the parking lot. You don’t want to spend all your energy walking forever in your ski boots before you hit the slopes. Hey wait its before 9am and the chairs aren’t even open yet, the best way to ease into a full day of epic skiing is to stuff yourself buffet style! Hit up the Northface Bistro for their $14 breakfast buffet and have enough fuel to get you to that beer at the end of the day. You have a great view of the Glacier Express Chair and can judge the best time to finish your bottomless coffee and jump in line. Take Top of the World chair next and look left towards Mt Whitehorn to ensure the Summit Platter is running, if it is that is where you are headed especially if there is fresh powder that fell from the heavens the night before. Drop into any of the Whitehorn chutes or do a little hiking to get over to Brown Shirt. Once you have cut a fresh line in the back bowl you need to take Paradise Chair to get back to the front side to do the Summit Platter again. If there is flat light up at the top head over to Larch to ski in the trees from either Ptarmigan or Larch chairs.
Apre Ski – LL
Kokanee Kabin is right beside the Glacier Chair and a great spot to end off the day when the sun is shining on a blue bird day. They have an ample selection of beers, including Mill Street Organic that is very crushable after a leg burning day up at the top, and sitting on the patio by the fire pit is surely the best way to reflect on an epic day!
Need a wider selection of local beers? Head to the Chateau Lake Louise that is down from the ski hill, past the village and right on the lake. Park in the public parking area to avoid paying for parking at the hotel, besides you will want to take the short walk to the hotel to fully enjoy the breathtaking views! Seek out the Alpine Social on the downstairs level, “inspired by the glory days of Canadian mountaineering, Alpine Social is the place to meet, eat and celebrate”. They have a surprisingly fantastic selection of beer from Goat Locker, Blind Man, Bench Creek, Brewster’s and Banded Peak. Really you can’t go wrong with any one of those choices, but be advised you will pay resort prices here but if you have some change left over the Deer Lodge is super close by with very reasonable rates for basic rooms, and a chance to ski LL the next day.
Apres Ski – Canmore
Another option is Canmore, it’s a great way to break up the longish drive from Lake Louise. This town is blessed with two breweries, Grizzly Paw Brewing and the new Canmore Brewing Co. Grizzly Paw gives you a couple of options, if you just want to sample a few brews and take a growler or bomber home of your favorite hit the brewery up that is located by the Benchlands Trail exit. If its the stomach that’s growling, stop in at their brew pub on Main Street, grab a spot by the fireplaces either inside or on the patio. I recommend trying the Rutting Elk Red Ale but they have so much selection you best order a flight to sample a few different ones with your meal. Canmore Brewing Co is close to the Safeway along the train tracks and they welcome you to stop by their tasting room and be an official taste-tester of their test brews before they are released in cans. WHOA now there is a mission you can sink your taste buds into!
Ski – Triple Chair
So you travel highway 2 between Edmonton and Calgary just as much as highway 1 into the mountains. Now if you are a ski freak and your ski gear is always in your vehicle, there is a little gem east of Red Deer called Canyon Ski Resort off of highway 11. Plan on excusing yourself from that meeting so you get to the hill between 3 and 5pm because lift tickets are only $22. A couple of hours skiing Lemon Drop, Karl’s Mistake and Nordic Jump will give you that skiing smile and no one will be the wiser except you.
Apres Ski – Chalet/Breweries
Step back in time at the lodge and go upstairs to the Chalet, the 70s never looked so good! They also have Troubled Monk on tap, their Golden Gaetz will glide effortlessly out of your glass and into your mouth after your quick turns. Want a larger selection to choose from, stop by Trouble Monk Brewery’s tap room on your way back thru Red Deer where you can sample their award winning Open Road American Brown Ale from the 2015 World Beer Cup in Philadelphia, all in their top notch tap room with informative and knowledgeable beer staff. Or if you are heading north once you are in Red Deer there is Something Brewing’s tasting room where you can try their Star War’s inspired Delicious Dark Side Schwarzbier or their Hop Bomb IPA, if you are into that kind of IBUs.
Ski – Red Chair
Sticking with the back to the future theme, Castle Mountain is a little gem tucked away in by the Crowsnest Pass. Regardless of what turnoff you take from highway 3 you will end up driving thru Beaver Mines, plan on stopping there to grab a homemade style breakfast before you go all the way to the hill. Head up to the Blue Chair (Sundance) that will take you up to your destination, the Red Chair (Tamarack). You will instantly get nostalgic as you ski over to the grinding of the diesel engine bletching those fumes into the air and providing the Lifties a constant high thru their shift. Oh and be sure to thank em after they help you on by somewhat taming the chair’s urge to launch your ass into orbit. At the top follow Skyline Traverse all the way right, yes keep going until you hit the North Bowl. Those powder filled glades are just calling your name, it’s a long run and you’ll end up at the bottom and have to do the two chairs again, but be patient enjoy the views and know you’ll be cutting another set of tracks beside your first ones soon! Another option is The Chutes off to the left of at the top but ensure they are open before venturing in.
Apres Ski – Fernie Brewing
Ok so Fernie is an hour and change away but you’ve already ventured this far, you might as well go into BC! Fernie Brewing Co has been at their current location coming up ten years and is thirsty for making great beer, they’ve been doing so since 2003. The brewery features a Tap Room and Store, and has 8 fresh beers on tap at one time, including year-round, seasonal and, when available, limited release brews. Speaking of which, there first-ever barrel aged beer, the Barrel Aged Maple Porter just launched and is ready for sampling right now! Told ya you should go west young man (or women), and I’ll give you my inside track about BC skiing and beer in the next article. In the meantime, keep an eye on the snow reports, that doctor’s note handy and your beer thirst ready for a ski adventure!