After skiing the Canadian Rockies and the European Alps, you will see immediate differences. The first being that some of the ski resorts in North America are actually situated away from the nearby towns you would stay in. Banff, for example, is situated near three main ski areas; Banff Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise at about 15, 20 and 40 minutes respectively. Your Tri-Area lift pass covers all three ski resorts as well as the ski shuttles to and from these ski resorts.
Jasper Marmot Basin is also situated about 20 minutes away from Jasper townsite where you would stay. Fernie, Kimberley and Panorama all have newer ski-in/ski-out developments not constrained by National Park rules. Banff is located in Banff National Park and Jasper in Jasper National Park making ski resort expansion a challenge but at the same time maintaing the natural beauty.
The most well known of the ski hills in Canada is of course, Whistler (Whistler and Blackcomb). This resort has huge expanses of terrain for you to explore across two mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb, which are now connected by the new PEAK2PEAK gondola and there are plenty of ski-in/ski-out properties to choose from. Whistler Blackcomb has the greatest ski vertical in North America. However, due to its great vertical, often their may be rain at the base, but head through the clouds to the powder at the top. One thing to note too is that Whistler is NOT in the Canadian Rockies, which is assumed by many. It is actually located in the Coastal Mountains in the west and so receives wetter, heavier snow compared to the resorts located further inland.
Although there are no ski-in/ski-out properties in Banff, Sunshine Village does have a ski-in/ski out hotel at the top of the gondola. The Sunshine Lodge (formally known as the Sunshine Inn), is great for getting those first tracks and had an additional wing added in 2009. In the Banff area, the Sunshine Lodge is the only ski-in, ski-out accommodation.
Kicking Horse, Canada, the second newest resort in Canada (Revelstoke being the first), has the greatest vertical in the Canadian Rockies at 4,133 feet. These runs are steep and if you are lucky, you can experience one of their famed “champagne powder” days. The cold dry air of the Canadian Rockies means that the snow is light and fluffy. This light, dry snow means you will find it hard to make snowballs out of it. You can be in up to your waste in powder and still move freely.
In the Alps, the snow can be a little wetter and heavier on powder days. The resorts too, with some exceptions, are usually lower and milder. The higher resorts in the Canadian Rockies resorts tend to get quite cold particularly in January and February.
In the resorts in the Canadian Rockies, you do not get the Alpine Charm and history you get in the Alps. The best way to describe Canadian Rocky ski resorts are that they are designed to be easy. They’re built so that you can always get back to one central point, the base, so it is hard to get lost. In the Alps, there is more opportunity to go exploring, visiting other countries, but your timing is everything, you miss the last lift up and you are looking at taxis or buses to get back to your starting point over in the other valley.
Ski resorts in the Canadian Rockies have wide valleys and plenty of steep and deep, terrain to challenge most. We have green, blue, black diamond and black double diamond runs. In the Alps, they have the additional red rated runs, which are between our blue and black runs. This means a blue run in the Canadian Rockies can be the equivalent of an easy blue or challenging red in the Alps. Resorts in the Canadian Rockies are a lot more open with wide open pistes.
The weather in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta is mainly sunshine. Based on weather records this has been proved, due to us being located on the east side of the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide acts as a barrier for the weather. To the west, Whistler receives a lot of warm moist air from the Pacific ocean, whereas east of the continental divide, the clouds have much less moisture creating the dry “champagne powder” we mentioned earlier.
So, to conclude, there is no better place to ski, the Alps give you the chance to explore and visit other countries in a day, and experience a wide variety of terrain. The resorts in the Canadian Rockies offer blue skies, dry air, fluffy snow and a less likely chance to get lost!