Alberta's Largest (non-mountain) Ski Resort

Canyon Ski Area, Red Deer, Alberta

By Kevin Hjertaas

Where the oil rigs and farm fields end, a gravel road descends the steep bank of the Red Deer River. As the road switches back on itself, a T-Bar slowly reels into view, and from out of nowhere pops Red Deer, Alberta’s Canyon Ski Area.

This little riverbank is where my parents first strapped skis to my six-year-old feet. It’s also where I got my first taste of freedom after I was finally allowed to ride the T-bar alone. Unfortunately, the lift stopped for 15 minutes and, not realizing you could get off if you wanted, I stood there crying and peeing my pants.

image: Kristina Cajipe

Once the T-bar trauma passed and I decided I enjoyed skiing, Canyon provided me with the same kind of freedom, friendship, and sense of belonging that it did for early patrons when the first rope tow opened on the 164-metre-high valley wall back in the ’50s.

These days, Canyon caters to a new breed of skiers. The vertical drop may not be huge, but with 11 runs (many of which lit up at night) accessed by five lifts and some interesting terrain features, there’s always something for the local kids to charge. Such as the Lemondrop; a notorious cat-road cutting across Canyon’s steepest pitch. The Lemondrop boosts skiers as big as they dare, but the hard landing can be quite the deterrent. Riders are better served hitting the terrain park—conveniently located at the bottom of the Lemondrop. 

Canyon hosted the 1988 Alberta Winter Games and, more recently, the 2019 Canada Winter Games. The accompanying funding led to several impressive structures, including remnants of a  luge track and nordic jumps and freestyle facilities that have fostered young talent like Olympic bronze medallist Deirdre Dionne.

As a young skier, skiing for me was as much a fantasy lifestyle as a sport. But the lifestyle only works if there’s decent, affordable skiing nearby. On this account, Canyon has always delivered. The resort continues to offer cheap lift tickets and rentals, local school deals, freestyle and racing programs, and learn-to-ski camps for the new Praire skier. 

Commuting to a prairie ski hill.

And it’s an actual Prairie setting, too. Because Canyon is built in a river valley, the resort sits  below the road, with two options for parking. Instead of driving downhill to park at the base lodge, you can park at the top surrounded by wheat fields. This setup allows skiers to start by gearing up at the care and skiing down to buy their lift tickets. Technically, you could shuttle friends with your car and ski for free all day, but you’d spend more on gas than the bargain ticket price.

Canyon’s claim to fame is that it’s Alberta’s largest  non-mountain ski resort. But with Banff, Alberta, only a three-hour drive southwest, Canyon’s real role is to turn ordinary kids into skiers and provide dedicated Red Deer skiers an outlet to feed the need until they have time to make that drive. 

Canyon might only be 164 metres high, but it’s still enough to make you pee.

Shredding near Red Deer.