Spring destinations for every skier
Story by Adam Bisby
Not everyone looks forward to seeing the snow melt. Spring is often the best season to hit the slopes, what with the warmer temperatures and longer sunny days. It’s a time of year when a wide range of travellers share Canada’s hills and mountains, from students on spring break to families on March Break to couples embracing that frisky energy in the air. Here, then, are the top resort options across Canada for spring skiers and snowboarders of every stripe:
FOR THE HARDCORE SKIER
Sunshine Village, Banff, Alberta
After riding the 4.3-kilometre gondola to Sunshine’s resort hub high in the Rocky Mountains, there’s relatively little to distract skiers from the kilometre-plus vertical drop, 3,000 acres of in-bounds terrain, and nearly 10 metres of annual snowfall. The recently refurbished Sunshine Mountain Lodge offers the only on-hill lodgings at the sunniest ski resort in Canada, which makes it easy to squeeze every second out of your slope time. Just make sure you don’t spend too much time on the legendary patio at Mad Trapper’s Saloon.
Skiing provides irrefutable proof that there’s more to snow than shovelling. That said, it also provides proof that gravity and inexperience can be a dangerous mix without proper instruction. The latter is especially true for adults, who may feel embarrassed learning the basics amid a sea of tiny tykes on the bunny hill. This isn’t an issue at Mont Tremblant, however, as the Quebec resort’s ski school spreads adults’ and kids’ classes across three different learning areas, each of which features an easy-to-ride magic carpet lift. Students can then graduate to the Express Flying Mile chairlift, which takes them to the top of the beginner-friendly Nansen run. And unlike smaller eastern hills, there’s plenty more mountain to explore when the time comes.
You know a ski resort caters to families when there’s a public school on its slopes. Such is the case with the Okanagan Valley‘s Sun Peaks, which this season became Canada’s second-largest ski destination with the addition of 202 hectares on two of its three mountains. There’s terrain for the whole family, yes, but there’s also an award-winning ski school, a wealth of alternative wintry activities including sleigh rides, ice skating and a hilarious looping tube park, and a compact, charming village where accommodations, restaurants, shops and more are just steps from the slopes.
FOR SPRING BREAKERS
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
You know those après-ski beer commercials in which everyone is good looking and partying like it’s 1999? Most of those scenes could be set in Whistler, where North America’s most extensive ski slopes meet a resort village with more than 130 restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as well as 200-plus retail stores and dozens of hotels and lodges. If you happen to tire of this non-stop action, there are always zip-line tours of snow-clad forests, bobsled runs at the Whistler Sliding Centre, or the boundless backcountry wilderness right on the resort’s doorstep.
Blue Mountain, Ontario
Ontario’s largest ski resort does a surprisingly convincing Whistler impression (which isn’t really that surprising, as both spots were developed by Intrawest). The village offers a pleasing array of dining, shopping, nightlife and diversions like indoor tennis, and there’s a Scandinave Spa nearby. The Plunge! aquatic centre takes the hot tub to another level with various indoor-outdoor pools — some warm, some hot — an indoor water playground, rope swings and slides. Grown-ups assume their young passengers will be the ones covering their eyes on the Ridge Runner, a “mountain coaster” that zips down the Niagara Escarpment for just over a kilometre. But don’t be surprised if the adult driver leans on the break while junior yells, “Faster!”
If your significant other’s idea of bliss involves gliding across powder-choked alpine bowls, then this ski resort in the Purcell Mountains just outside the town of Golden could be just the ticket. If they’re more in the mood for something less adventurous (but more delicious), dinner at the mountain-top Eagle’s Eye Restaurant could work wonders, as could the uniquely spectacular gondola ride up. If they want to ski, then dine, then retire to an intimate alpine lodge, then a trip to Kicking Horse will be a home run.
FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
Marble Mountain, Newfoundland & Labrador
Atlantic Canada isn’t exactly synonymous with snow sports, but the region’s largest ski resort, about five kilometres east of Corner Brook, is out to change that. Beyond skiing and snowboarding there’s an array of diversions unique to The Rock, such as day trips to nearby Gros Morne National Park, where ski and snowshoe trails lead to dramatic scenery that’s strewn with cascades in spring. You will also be tempted to try Marble’s zip-line tours, which explore a gorge’s 200-foot waterfall.