The Luxury Travel Bible loves the sweeping runs and deep snow to be found in Lake Louise, Banff, Fernie and Panorama.
The world has turned into a giant meringue, everywhere there are peaks and troughs of sugary white. Dollops of whipped-cream snow weigh down the branches of the pines as we ski a narrow path between Christmas-y trees. All around us is soft snow and silence. We are at the top of the 5km Falling Star run in Fernie, British Columbia and as a flurry of snowflakes dot my jacket I feel a cliché coming on - the words 'Winter Wonderland' just pop off my tongue and hang in the frozen air. I can't help myself, it is all so idyllic.
Deep snow? Wide runs? Steep slopes? Tick all three. Every ingredient you need for a world-class ski resort. But there is something missing. Oh yes, it's the crowds. There aren't any.
The Luxury Travel Bible rates Whistler Blackcomb, a slalom away from Vancouver, but even if you stay right at the foot of the mountain at our favourite Fairmont Chateau Whistler you can't avoid the masses in the morning, although the mountain is big enough for crowds to fan out once you hit top.
Over on the other side of Canada however there are pristine slopes where regular skiers simply don't know the meaning of the term "lift queue". And if you are not looking for a cast of thousands on the slopes, why encounter it at the end of the skiing day?
The Luxury Travel Bible's ideal accompaniment to less frenetic slopes is luxury boutique accommodation where you never have to jostle for space in the boot room and the hot tub is all yours.
First stop, Fernie. Five vast alpine bowls are scooped out of the Lizard Range in the Kootenay Rockies: Lizard, Timber Siberia, Cedar and (my personal favourite, namewise) Currie Bowl. Most days there is hardly anyone else around. I get so spoilt that when I do encounter a couple of people in front of me in the lift queue I feel affronted. Hey, don't they realise this is my private mountain?
Fernie has always been known as a skier's mountainand shades of its rugged frontier pass remain but these days there are enough slick condominiums and good restaurants to satisfy the luxe-traveller too. Take luxurious Lizard Creek Lodge for example,perched right on the edge of the snow at the bottom of Holo Hike run. After a hard day's skiing, my family and I can ski straight back to the lodge and in no time at all be warming our toes in front of the fire in our split-level loft.
Deep snow? Wide runs? Steep slopes? Tick all three. Every ingredient you need for a world-class ski resort.
We take a day off to go dogsledding through the spectacular Elk Valley wilderness. My son and I cosy down in the sleds while my husband learns to control the huskies; he masters the meaning of the word mush but not the concept of balance and we frequently lose him on the bends. "From the city are you?" asks our laconic guide Colin as we haul hubbie out of a snowdrift for the fifth time.
That evening he soothes his aching limbs and bruised ego in the lodge's outdoor hot spa. Above us there is a perfectly clear sky with so many stars I think at first they are snowflakes. All around the slopes are trick-or-treat ghosts, sheet-white.
Another day, another hot tub. This time at Panorama Mountain Village located along the aptly named Powder Highway. Rising above the purpose-built village, the uncrowded slopes offer long cruisers and back country-style skiing in the Taynton Bowl. Panorama Springs's hot pools are Canada's largest slopeside hot tubs and popular with weary-limbed skiers but our Intra-West condominium also has private jacuzzis so we opt to sit in our outdoor tub. Below us a small gondola links the upper and lower village and fairy lights twinkle in the trees.
At Sunshine, a 15-minute drive from our next stop, Banff, we finally meet a few crowds (well, it is a Saturday). Sunshine is treeless at the top with slopes ranged above us like albino camel humps. The wide open runs are great for intermediate skiers and the kids' ski school is popular. It's an action-packed and fun-filled day. The Scottish castle-style Banff Springs Hotel is where tourists and the tour buses gather but up the hill at the Rimrock Resort Hotel is where you'll find the true lovers of luxury. It's perched, as its name implies, on the rim of a rocky cliff, and the service here is as smooth as a well-groomed run but it's the baronial fire in the Larkspur Lounge that draws us in. We sit in winged leather chairs playing cards over a glass of cabernet; our fire-warmed faces glow as red as the wine.
The next morning we head to the smaller resort of Mt Norquay, five minutes' drive from Banff and we have the slopes to ourselves again. This resort feels like a club ski field with one main building for coffee and lunch and little else, but that is really all you need. We hit the slopes with one of the volunteer mountain guides who obviously loves the place. A day (two at best) is probably enough to see all the groomed runs but those days will be blissfully crowd-free.
Last stop is Lake Louise where The Post Hotel & Spa is definitely the boutique stay of choice. As we walk into this Relais & Chateaux hotel the warmth settles on us like a blanket. We're just in time for homemade cakes and tea and as the light begins to fade I look out of the wide windows across a frozen private lake. The Narnia-like lamp-posts around its perimeter wink on and a lone skater wobbles across the ice.
The Post Lake isn't big enough for sleigh rides so in the morning we head up to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for a horse-drawn ride around the larger and more famous puddle, its emerald depths hidden by a mirror of ice. Our breath rises in swirls like steam off hot chocolate and there are icicles on the driver's cowboy hat and moustache.
I fall in love with the skiing at Lake Louise, a passion aided by the fact the weather is clear and the sky is a bright ice-blue. But also because the high-speed gondola whips skiers up to such a wide variety of terrain that even beginners can make it to the top. Our days pass in a swirl of spectacular views, sweeping runs and lunch-time stops in secluded cabins.
On our last morning we're up early for the drive back to Calgary. There has been an overnight fall and the little hamlet of Lake Louise is doona-deep in white. "Don't say it," warns my husband as he catches the dreamy look on my face. But it's too late, the words are already out. "It's a winter wonderland," I sigh as I turn the car heater up and settle in for the ride.
The Luxury Travel Bible insider says ...
Calgary is the closest airport for Lake Louise and Banff. To get direct to Fernie, it is better to fly into Cranbrook, BC (either from Los Angeles via Salt Lake City or from Vancouver); the transfer to the slopes is less than an hour.
Hilary Doling 29/10/10