When most people think of expert skiing in the Banff & Lake Louise area, an image of the World Cup downhill runs at Lake Louise Ski Resort probably pop into their head. While certainly pucker-worthy, the downhill trails pale in comparison to the off-piste, technical steeps at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. Some terrain is as steep as 55 degrees!
To help the challenge seekers get to the goods, we tapped Mountain Travel Expert, Anthony Luczkow, who visited Banff Lake Louise last winter for an overview of the area’s extreme-skiing hot spots.
Mountain Travel Expert Since 2013
Sunshine Village is a playground for skiers and riders who love to cruise mellow groomers, but it’s also to home to the famed Delirium Dive. This hike-to zone, located off South Divide chairlift, first opened in 1998 and features 55-degree slopes and some of the most challenging lines in North America. You can’t even access this zone without proper safety equipment, as the chain-link gate remains locked until it senses your avalanche transceiver.
From the gate, you hike six to 10 minutes to the top of Bre-X, the 400-yard-wide, 2,000-vertical-foot bowl’s first entrance. Below, sit several no-fall lines that only the true heroes dare to conquer. Most mortals will want to opt for Delirium Proper, accessed via a metal staircase, where more forgiving 40-degree pitches await. Soft snow is almost always available in Delirium thanks to the bowl’s north-facing aspect and lack of skier traffic.
“It’s called Delirium Dive for a reason,” says Anthony, “It’s wide open and steep as hell—you don’t want to ski it in flat light, you could become very disoriented.”
Goat’s Eye Mountain
A 20-plus-minute hike from the top of Goat’s Eye Express on the iconic Goat’s Eye Mountain provides steeps aficionados with their choice of steep chutes and technical high-alpine lines, including plenty of cliffs. If the light is poor, Anthony recommends popping over to Hell’s Kitchen, located on the opposite side of the lift, which will please those up for a character-building gladed run.
For a long, sustained gladed route, Anthony suggests heading to the Wild West zone, located mid-way up the gondola. From here, you skate uphill a bit to access the sidecountry gate and then you’re in set up for primo tree skiing. Note: Proper avalanche equipment, knowledge, and a partner, also properly equipped and aware, are mandatory when heading into the sidecountry or backcountry. Wild West is full of goodies like pillow lines and cliffs, too. Before you go hucking your meat, Anthony recommends taking the time to do a recon run in Wild West. Scope out your lines, especially before you get air. The zone leads back to the base area and the complete trip takes about an hour.
“An important note about Wild West is that it is lower than the rest of the area,” says Anthony. “ In the spring or any time the weather is warmer you do want to be more careful.”
When snow-pack and visibility are good, the entire Whitehorn II area (six chutes and 1,000-plus vertical feet) is the place to be! To access Whitehorn II, skiers and riders head straight off the Summit Platter lift and down the fall-line. To access the tamer and shorter Whitehorn I chutes, traverse skier’s right off the lift. The further down the ridge you go, the more vertical you’ll lose.
Located in Lake Louise’s Larch zone, the Lookout Chutes are easy to get to right off the Larch Express and offer some all-time tree skiing and decent pitch. Here, you can find pillow lines and playful jumps. If visibility is good, make the hike to the top of the Elevator Shaft, suggests Anthony. This steep, double-black high-alpine face doesn’t receive a lot of sun and you can almost always find soft snow, even days after the last snowstorm.
Where to stay
For those on a shoestring…stay at the Lake Louise Inn, recommends Anthony. It’s really cheap, great for ski bums, and offers a couple close restaurants.
For the discerning ski traveler…opt for Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, says Anthony. It’s very elegant, has a ton of amenities, and is just a mile from downtown Banff.
For those who want a great bang for their buck…rest your head at the Banff Caribou Lodge and Spa in downtown Banff. It’s reasonably priced and offers that rustic mountain décor that everyone likes, says Anthony. Plus, the onsite spa and hot tub are great perks.
Tempted to test your mettle at Banff Lake Louise this ski season? Our 70 Mountain Travel Experts are standing by for your call 800-610-8911. They can book your complete ski vacation package and answer any questions. You can also get started by filling out a form for a free quote.