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GCSA Lake Louise

2023-04-16 6 min read Snow Updates marco


We got up “late,” around 8. The storm had dumped about a foot of snow and the host (actually, the neighbor) came out to clear it. Then we got to the car, which was covered thick, to nobody’s surprise. At least, it started just fine and we could drive away with no issue.

The drive was what you’d expect after a major snow storm. While it’s just 28 km, less than 20 miles, it requires going up to Kicking Horse Pass and then down into the valley of the Bow river. Just to tell you how steep it is, the railway connection from Golden to Calgary had to be built over the pass, and necessitated two corkscrew, Spiral Tunnels cut into the mountainside, one to the North and one to the South of the valley. The trains would enter the tunnel, do a fully loop, and find themselves at the exit slightly higher (or lower) the where they got in.

The drive was uneventful, and the parking was unproblematic. The lot was a little over a mile from the highway, easy to find, and plenty large enough for the amount of cars. Things might get busier, but at this point, we only needed three minutes to walk to the lodge.

It was still high holiday in Canada, and the lifts were crowded. As mentioned, the parking lot was not, so most of the people must have stayed overnight or bussed in. We quickly familiarized ourselves with the layout and started boarding the least crowded chair. We first wanted to get an idea of what the snow was like.

Now, as with many resorts built in glacial valleys, Lake Louise suffers from the U-shape associated with them. The bottom is flat, the top is steep. The lodge fans out into three lifts: Juniper is a short lift that gets to a lower mountain location (and had no lines). Glacier is a mid-mountain lift, and Grizzly gets most of the way to the top. There is another express lift on the front side, a six-pack from the top of Glacier, named (aptly) Top of the World. A short quad accessible from the top of Top of the World (Summit) gets you a little farther and allows access to the West Bowl.

On the other side, two lifts (Paradise and Ptarmigan) churn skiers on the back bowl. Paradise is a double black heaven, while Ptarmigan offers some amazing tree runs. To round it all off, a second mountain is accessed by an express lift, Larch.

It was a mistake to start with Juniper: the runs were short and flat, and the amounts of powder that had fallen overnight made for fun conditions, but Tim got stuck most of the time and needed to crawl out of the stickies. He gave up after a few runs and we repaired into the lodge for late morning lunch (“secondsies?”). He stayed there while I explored the rest of the mountain.

I should mention, since this is the relevant section, that food and drink options at the lodge were phenomenal. It all tasted good and there was no sign of the usual price gouging that happens at even less fancy resorts. I would have expected a huge bill for our tenders and fries, but it was regular mountain food cost at above average quality (if in a smallish portion).

I got myself into the gondola, and started exploring. The crowds were not abating, so my matching orders were to follow the smallest line. Paradise and Top/Summit were closed because of avalanche danger, so I started going down the side of Ptarmigan.

And boy was that fun! The turns in the trees were fantastic, and I was surrounded by people that knew what they were doing. I did loop after loop, marveling at the fantastic quality of the snow, at the features buried in the runs (visibly on purpose), at the glades and meadows. I found chutes, I found rock hops, I found tree tunnels. It was amazing, as long as you left the marked runs.

Here, I noticed explicitly an odd thing at the resorts we visited: they all seemed to have green runs that criss-crossed the mountain, as if to get stranded skiers to safety. It was slightly annoying, as that meant you had to constantly watch for people from the side, but I could see how that might be a selling point for some.

Once Ptarmigan was filling up with the masses of people that were going back to the main lodge (there is a smaller lodge at the base), I moved on to the other lift at the location. Larch accessed okay terrain, but it wasn’t the same kind of fun as on the back side. Mainly, that was because the steeps ended in an endless cat track.

Eventually, around 15:30, traffic eased. I did a few more turns of Ptarmigan and then went to pick up Tim at the lodge. He had been sitting there for most of the day, the poor, patient soul, catching up on TikToks.

At the end of the day, we get into town. There is a restaurant and we feel like going out. It’s the food place in a hostel, Bill Peyto’s Cafe, and we actually have a great meal there. Probably the best meal of the entire trip.

Meanwhile, we get bad news: both our phones buzz with a notification. EXTREME COLD ALERT, it proclaims. The whole area (the Bow River valley) is going to be gripped by a cold front for the next four days. Temperatures are going to be negative day and night, with windchills of up to -40.

We figure that if the Alberta Weather Service issues an EXTREME COLD WARNING, they mean it. It’s a sigh – what are we going to do?

We try. The next morning, it’s so cold, we can’t even sit in the car. We have to let it warm up to avoid freezing to the surfaces. It fortunately starts on its own, without need for emergency power or jump starter, but the cold is so bitter, even opening the door makes the temperature inside drop by 50 degrees in a matter of seconds.

We get to the car and drive off. We park, and the crowds have gone – apparently everybody has read the same warning. We strap on and get onto the lift – Glacier – and come down. And my bindings are so cold, they won’t even shut close. I have to ride all the way down on open bindings (left side) and have to hope my foot doesn’t slip out.

The bottom of the run brings release. I confer with Tim and we decide to leave. We had back to the AirBnB, watch some Last of Us thanks to the hosts’ HBO Max subscription, and figure out what we want to do next.