If there’s one feature of Lake Louise that never fails to deliver, it’s the view.
I’ve just off-loaded from the Top of the World Express and am gazing over the Bow Valley. Hanging glaciers cling to Mt. Victoria’s north face, and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise sits postcard-perfect next to the frozen shores of the namesake lake.
I’m skiing with Charlie Locke, a guy who goes together with Lake Louise like bees and honey. A 1960s mountain guide-turned-businessman, shareholder then sole owner of Lake Louise ski resort by 1981, the maverick entrepreneur grew the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies empire. At its pinnacle, it included Lake Louise, Kimberley, Fernie, Nakiska, Wintergreen and the now-defunct Fortress, as well as Quebec’s Stoneham and Mont-Sainte-Anne.
Before skiing, I meet Locke in his bunker-like office at the base lodge. The décor is more 1970s Soviet than free-enterprise Alberta, but that’s Locke. In fact, overlooking the slightly stooped posture and silvery hair, he appears much like he does in 40-year-old climbing photos—and just as eager to talk skiing.
Tell me something people don’t know about Lake Louise.
Because of its dependable snow and early season conditions, it has held more World Cups than any other ski area in the world.
Best time to ski here?
Sometimes it’s the last day of the season—the second Sunday in May. However, most of our customers prefer late March when the days are warm and the beer on the Kokanee Deck is cold.
What’s your top pick for first run of the day?
Meadowlark. It’s a fall line run down the front side from the top of the gondola, and has about 2,500 feet of vertical. Never crowded, it’s Louise’s best-kept secret.
What are your favourite runs?
On a sunny day, any of the back chutes off of Summit, particularly in the Whitehorn 1 area, are my favourites. On powder days, head for Paradise, Saddleback and Boomerang, and chutes like Peyto’s Pitch and Chimney.
How many days did you ski last year?
About 50 or 60.
Any weird rituals that locals perform?
At 4 p.m. on the last day of the season, staff and locals gather at the top of Summit Platter to bid farewell to winter, to listen to an end-of-season tribute by the snow safety manager and then everyone enjoys one final run down the mountain together.
When the weather is too terrible to ski, what can visitors do?
Drive the Banff-Jasper highway [the Icefields Parkway]. When it’s cold, the skies are impossibly clear and the scenery is unparalleled. Or retire to the spa in either the Chateau or the Post Hotel.
When you want to dine off-mountain, where do you go?
To Baker Creek where I order the daily special or the AAA Alberta rib-eye steak, served with Swiss chard, parsnip chips and red wine jus.