The search for pow’
by Vanessa Vegter
December has arrived, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and Ular the Snow God seems to finally have awoken from his slumber. Fear not my comrades; while here in Calgary, fall seems to have overstayed its welcome. Deep in the heart of the mountains a white giant is growing and the skiing and riding season is upon us.
While our fellow Calgarians are scurrying about trying to soak up the last of the sun’s rays, it’s time for us snow junkies to rally the troops, dust off the ol’ shred sticks, and set our sights upon the slopes.
Calgary’s closet mountain, Nakiska, is only 45 minutes from the city. With a relatively inexpensive season’s pass, Nakiska was once a haven for snowboarders and skiers alike. That is until Resorts of the Canadian Rockies decided to remove all ‘big air’ parks, which left Nakiska looking like an unappetizing half eaten snow cookie.
The mountain itself is pretty limited and is definitely not the place to go if you’re hunting some pow’. Instead you’ll get what Nakiska describes as, “wide-open, corduroy-groomed runs.” They did bust out some improvements this season, with a new chair and a 40 per cent increase in snow making capacity, but a mountain that receives very little seasonal snowfall (250cm), best be bustin’ out as many machines as possible. After all, we wouldn’t want to run out of corduroy.
Fernie Alpine Resort, despite being another RCR mountain, seems to have felt nothing but a slight sting from the partial purge of its terrain parks. With 2504 acres of skiable terrain (114 trails, 5 bowls, and tree runs galore) Fernie is not short on variability, and as a mountain being infamous for its snow — 29 feet of it seasonally — Fernie has already announced an early opening.
If you happen to catch one of these dumps later in the season don’t forget your snorkel, you will be swimming down this mountain. Combine all of this (as if it wasn’t enough) with respectfully less crowding than its neighbour mountains, and the four hour drive to Fernie is worth every minute. If you plan on hittin’ it up this season I suggest packing an overnight bag, when the conditions are right, you won’t want to leave, and if the snow is right, you literally won’t be able to.
Lake Louise (RCR) has a lot to offer as well, with 4200 skiable acres divided into three sections; the front, the bowl (backside), and the larch, the mountain has enough variability to suit any riding style. A huge mountain, with huge potential, and if you’re searching for pow’, the backside is certainly where it’s at. Even on a bad day, the mountain is so big, and can accumulate so much snow; you’re bound to find some freshies. The pow’ is definitely reminiscent of Fernie’s snorkeling experience, with half the driving distance. Keep in mind though, with Louise’s popularity the time you save in driving may be spent standing in line or trying to find a parking spot.
Sunshine Village, with most of its terrain towering above the tree line, is a resort with an exceptionally long season and an exceptional amount of snowfall. Sunshine is marked by 3300 acres of skiable terrain over three separate mountains (Look Out, Goat’s Eye, and Standish), each boasting 30 feet of snowfall annually. And when it’s not dumping, you can certainly spend some time in the terrain park, which still proudly sports big air alongside its rails and boxes. Without the line-ups of Louise, half the driving distance of Fernie, and the freshies to match (if not compete) Sunshine is an ideal location for Calgary’s rippers. The only thing to look out for if you board, are the flat spots, (unless you’re into cross country boarding, that is.)
Other relatively close mountains to check out this season are Jasper, Kimberly, and Panorama. There’s also secret Castle, but in an attempt to keep it under the radar, that one is going to require some research of your own. I trust you’ll keep my secret. Finally, if you’re looking for an adventure, head out to the west coast and pay a visit to Whistler/Blackcomb. Don’t forget to give me a shout, I don’t mind riding on the roof rack.
—Vanessa has been snowboarding for 6 years. She is so in tune with the ways of the mountain, she had a dream in which every problem became so insignificant it disappeared. It was then; she knew the season had arrived.