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What is skiing Lake Louise All About?

A quick reflection on Skiing Louise and what makes it so special.


It’s a standard-issue powder day at Lake Louise. Ten centimetres of new snow has blown around the back bowls creating carve-able, racy conditions. As the saying goes, “No place wears 10cm’s like The Lake” (and it’s a good thing, cause that’s often all it gets). We ski all afternoon with a rotating cast of friends and strangers. Compared to other big resorts, Louise isn’t overrun with skiers competing for fresh tracks. That has led to a laid back atmosphere in the back bowls. The crack’o’noon club can still get fresh turns and other skiers you see on the slopes are more comrades than competition.

We ski hard, but at the top of Paradise chair we pause to chat and enjoy the view of Lake Louise itself across the valley and the surrounding glaciated peaks. The view is awe-inspiring and thanks to the protection of Canada’s original national park, it’s the same view that greeted skiers 100 years ago.

Drawn by the dramatic landscape and lakeside chateau, those first skiers loaded their wooden skis onto locomotives and chugged their way to Lake Louise. The area was already a hotbed for mountaineering when a group of adventurous Banff skiers built the West’s first ski lodge in the Skoki Valley in 1930. A day lodge on what is now Lake Louise Ski Resort was constructed six years later and the first mechanized lift erected in 1954. Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I started skiing The Lake.

Image: Rueben Krabbe/Ski Big3

For me and most of the freeskiing world, Louise emerged when RAP films (Reel Action Pictures, a Calgary-based ski/snowboard film company in the ’90s and early ’00s) started pointing cameras at Kirk Jensen and Andrew Sheppard. With glacial peaks shining under blue skies as a backdrop, the Louise locals displayed an approach that was both aggressive and playful, with an inherent fluidity and unflappable style.

Years later, their way of skiing is still THE way to ski The Lake. The vertical cornices are spots for airplane turns. Tight chutes are hammered with precision short radius turns while tighter ones still are straight-ran. Fat skis have changed the way most people devour the open bowls, but when it comes to playing with the mountain’s features, those guys were so ahead of their time, most skiers are still trying to catch up.

They also left a tradition of humility. The place seems to breed it. Perhaps it’s because no matter how great a skier you are, the mountains around Louise offer lines that are beyond you. It is a ever indomitable landscape. These peaks make you feel alive, but they can also make you feel weak, incapable and mortal.

Image: Rueben Krabbe/Ski Big3

For our final run, we grab our backcountry gear, check our transceivers, and slide under the boundary rope. There are a couple of side effects of running a ski area in a national park. One is the complications inherent in developing or expanding. Louise has way fewer lifts and amenities than most resorts it's size - which translates to lots of wild, open space to explore. Louise has gained approval for an expansion this year, however. Now open is a short quad-chair that replaces the Summit Platter of old and West Bowl (previously backcountry) is now part of the resort and will open as soon as conditions allow.

The other side effect of being in a national park, is the vast wilderness all around the resort and an open boundary policy that allows skiers to explore it from the lifts. We choose to climb a ridge away from the resort and drop into a short but fun and deep north-facing run. From there we need to decide if we should climb for another run or easily work our way back to the pistes. In mountains like these, there is always a new zone to check out just one ridge further, so we don skins and ascend to see what we can find.

A century after the first skiers explored these hills, the adventure continues.

Image: Rueben Krabbe/Ski Big3

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