Story by Karen Evenden
KANANASKIS, ALBERTA — Living in Edmonton means that I have an enviable choice of world-class ski resorts only four hours away in the Canadian Rockies. Once the bug hits, though, even a “poor intermediate” skier like me is keen to try new ground.
It was inevitable that the time would come to check out Nakiska Mountain Resort. This lesser-known resort in Kananaskis, Alberta, on the outskirts of Banff National Park, hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics Alpine events and these days is considered to be a good resort for beginners.
Nakiska receives less snow annually than some other resorts in the Rockies, but has exceptional snowmaking facilities. The resort actually broke records by being the first to open for the 2011-12 season in Canada and was also the first resort in the country to ever open as early as October 29, just in time for Halloween.
Nakiska is a Cree word that means “to meet.” It was fitting that with snow barely starting to fall in some parts of Alberta, I, along with a group of 18 others, met at Nakiska in late November.
One of the key advantages of skiing Nakiska is the proximity to accommodation in Kananaskis. The resort is a short drive from the village; in fact with a little enthusiasm you can even walk to the base.
I usually begin the season with a warm-up on a green beginner run, then hop to blue intermediate trails, but a quick glance at the trail map showed that aside from the beginner area there are merely three short green trails at the resort, and they are only reachable by undertaking blue runs too. That’s an interesting twist, considering this is believed to be a beginner resort.
Our warm-up run was selected as we boarded the Silver Chair and then took the Grand Trunk and Lower Homesteader trails, blue runs which curve around the east side of the hill. Perhaps it was just the excitement of the first run of the season, but the consensus among the six skiers in the group was that the trail was excellent. Being wide and well groomed with stunning views certainly helped.
The remainder of the morning was spent exploring the rest of the blue and some black trails, and although only 39 of the 64 trails were open so early in the season, there were enough to keep us occupied until lunchtime.
At the base lodge, we met three of the group who had just finished their beginner lessons. Everyone had enjoyed the morning and some of the more experienced skiers and boarders were surprised by the variety of trails available, the glade runs being particularly popular. It seemed that the resort could keep even expert skiers occupied for a couple of days.
It was also interesting to note how friendly and helpful the staff proved to be. The rental shop employees were particularly speedy and efficient and there was barely a line-up; a welcome attribute for weekend skiing in the Rockies. The chairlift employees were also very conscientious; a fellow skier was reminded to remove her backpack every time she boarded the chair, to ensure that it did not catch when dismounting.
The wind increased significantly during the afternoon, causing the conditions to become a little icy, and sending a few of the skiers and boarders home. For those of us who had driven four hours to enjoy our ski day, such quandaries were minor. When the lift runs stopped, a much more serious issue arose. Being early season, the bar was not yet open.
Not to worry, we just had to drive five minutes to our accommodation to quench our thirst. Over the obligatory post-ski beer, our tired but enthusiastic group of skiers and boarders discussed Nakiska and came to a unanimous decision. This small resort, we said, had won our hearts and we would all return.
MORE ABOUT NAKISKA MOUNTAIN RESORT
Hours of operation: 9 am-4 pm; 12:30 pm-4 pm (half day)
Location: 3 Mount Allan Drive Kananaskis, AB T0L 2H0. Tele: 403-591-7777; website: www.skinakiska.com