Spec­tac­u­lar peaks in­spire a fam­ily to have a snowy spring break in Canada

Woonsocket Call - - TRAVEL - By RACHEL WALKER Spe­cial To The Wash­ing­ton Post

“Fol­low me.”

I’m try­ing. But with torched quads try­ing to stay on top of skis float­ing through fluffy pow­der, it’s harder than it sounds. In front of me, Jasper John­son, a Banff lo­cal, veers off the slope into a gladed stash at Lake Louise Ski Re­sort. We weave through the trees at high speeds, lay­ing the first tracks in last night’s snow­fall. When the pitch flat­tens out, my heart is rac­ing, my cheeks are cold and fall­ing snow has al­ready erased the tracks I just left.

It’s spring break in the Cana­dian Rock­ies. The kids are at ski school, and my hus­band and I chase Jasper around Lake Louise with punch-drunk gid­di­ness. Since our ar­rival seven days be­fore, we’ve been on the re­ceiv­ing end of both sun and storms.

As if that weren’t enough to ful­fill our ski­ing fan­tasies, there’s the des­ti­na­tion it­self, which trends to­ward fairy-tale land. Here in western Al­berta, tow­er­ing peaks with rugged glaciers ring the glo­ri­ous Bow River Val­ley. Nes­tled next to the lakes, rivers and hot springs are el­e­gant ho­tels, lega­cies of this re­gion’s turn-of-the-20th­cen­tury rail­road. With the stun­ning land­scape seared into our psy­ches, we feel like ex­plor­ers in Banff Na­tional Park, over­whelmed by its magic. As Jasper said on our first lift ride of the day, “Here you get the mil­lion-dol­lar views with­out the mil­lion-dol­lar homes crowd­ing ev­ery­one out.”

He’s right. Even though we have our pick of three ski re­sorts, de­vel­op­ment is strictly lim­ited in Banff Na­tional Park, which means the only ski-in, ski-out lodg­ing we’ll ex­pe­ri­ence is at Sunshine Moun­tain Lodge, a bou­tique moun­tain­top ho­tel ac­cessed by a gon­dola. For the rest of our trip, we will stay at the Banff Springs Ho­tel and Chateau Lake Louise, and be­ing a drive away from the slopes will en­cour­age us to ex­plore more than just the ski­ing.

In Banff, that trans­lates mostly into eat­ing. Balkan, a Greek restau­rant on the main drag, en­trances my chil­dren with its flam­ing cheese (saganaki), and hooks me with mar­i­nated, slow-cooked lamb. Un­for­tu­nately we aren’t there on a Tues­day Greek night and thus miss the plate smash­ing and belly danc­ing, but the food more than makes up for it.

An­other night, we ride the Banff Gon­dola up Sul­phur Moun­tain to 7,510 feet in el­e­va­tion for a memorable meal at Sky Bistro, a mod­ern spot with floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows. Be­fore din­ner, we brave stiff winds for the 15-minute walk along Banff Sky­walk, which of­fers un­par­al­leled views of the Bow Val­ley. Then the restau­rant’s ocean-to-sky seafood chow­der, a light yet ro­bust of­fer­ing of clams, salmon, prawns, to­biko (roe) and ba- con, warms us up. The bi­son steaks are ten­der and fla­vor­ful, and the dessert is edi­ble art. This sweet cre­ation re­sem­bling a Ja­panese gar­den (and, in fact, dubbed the Nanaimo Gar­den) is served in a glass globe and con­sists of crum­bled cookie and co­conut, a but­tery cus­tard and cho­co­late shards.

For­tu­nately we spend the bulk of our days out­side and mov­ing. At Banff Sunshine, a gon­dola from the park­ing lot whisks skiers and snow­board­ers to high alpine ter­rain. Of Banff Sunshine’s three moun­tains, my fam­ily and I stick to Stan­dish and Look­out for the mix of in­ter­me­di­ate and ad­vanced ter­rain that’s ideal for our kids. They adore the TeePee Town Lux­ury Ex­press Quad chair­lift, which has heated seats and an orange bub­ble we lower to pro­tect us from the cold. My hus­band and I trade off kid duty so we can each ex­plore the ex­hil­a­rat­ing steep bowls, at far skier’s left, of Look­out. (We save the most ex­treme ter­rain, Delir­ium Dive on Goat’s Eye Moun­tain, for next time be­cause the snow cov­er­age is thin and the cliff drops are re­port­edly huge.)

At Mount Norquay, we find a down-to-earth lo­cals’ hill that packs a punch. It’s steep. Its views are even bet­ter than those at the top of Sul­phur Moun­tain. The re­sort’s North Amer­i­can, a fixed-grip dou­ble chair­lift rem­i­nis­cent of the early days of the sport, slowly as­cends 1,300 ver­ti­cal feet. From the top, we bomb down a steep bump run be­fore head­ing to the other side of the moun­tain and test­ing our edges on Norquay’s pre­cip­i­tous groomed runs.

We meet up with the boys. To our de­light, they have nav­i­gated the same ter­rain we have with their ski school in­struc­tors. The four of us de­cide to spend the af­ter­noon on the tub­ing hill. This is not re­ally a break from Mount Norquay’s trade­mark chal­lenge. Just as the slopes here are ex­hil­a­rat­ing, so are the tub­ing lanes. Once the staff gets a feel for us, the men and women at the top of the tub­ing park gladly add a touch of whirling dervish to our de­scent, and we veer down in a blur. Per­son­ally, I pre­fer the ski­ing, but my kids in­sist that tub­ing reigns supreme.

At 4,200 acres, Lake Louise is the largest of the “Ski Big 3” re­sorts. The ski­ing here is phe­nom­e­nal, but that doesn’t stop me from taking a break one af­ter­noon and sign­ing up for a guided back­coun­try snow­shoe tour. My in­ter­est is twofold: to get a sense of the back­coun­try ter­rain and to ab­sorb this stun­ning land­scape at a slower pace. My guide, Ly­dia, de­liv­ers. She works for Parks Canada year-round as a nat­u­ral­ist, and her affin­ity for this land­scape is matched only by her well of knowl­edge about the ecosys­tem. She holds forth on griz­zly bears and wolves, larch trees and smaller plants, all while lead­ing our group of five away from the ski re­sort and onto a pris­tine ridge.

Each night we want to fall ex­hausted into our beds, but be­cause our ho­tels are so in­ter­est­ing, we don’t im­me­di­ately hit the sack. It would be im­pos­si­ble to pick a fa­vorite from the three ho­tels we stayed at. At the Banff Springs, we dis­cover myr­iad dark-wood-pan­eled nooks and in­ti­mate gather­ing spa­ces. My hus­band and I grav­i­tate to­ward the Ram­say Lounge for a pre-din­ner cock­tail where we can keep an eye on the boys play­ing in the ope­nair lounge be­low. We bowl at the ho­tel’s al­ley and play in the ex­pan­sive in­door-out­door pool every evening.

The thrill of Sunshine Moun­tain Lodge be­gins with the gon­dola ride up to the ho­tel (our lug­gage is de­liv­ered by snow­cat), but ex­tends to the in­ti­macy of be­ing among the few peo­ple at the re­sort long af­ter the lifts stop. This ho­tel boasts one of the most beau­ti­ful hot tub views I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced. It’s also next to Mad Trap­pers Smoke­house, a stand-alone restau­rant es­tab­lished in 1928. With rough-hewed logs and Coors Light on tap, Trap­per’s feels like a clas­sic ski town bar.

At Chateau Lake Louise, our room looks over the epony­mous lake and the glaciated moun­tains beyond. We watch ice skaters twirl and play hockey and horse-drawn car­riages cir­cle the lake, then we ex­plore the cas­tle of a ho­tel for hours. The two ma­jor high­lights are fon­due at the Wal­liser Stube and peo­ple-watch­ing from a plush couch while we sip co­coa and nib­ble on the con­tents of an an­tipasto board.

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