If this chair lift breaks… we all die.
So for those of you who did not already know this – I originally hail from an arid desert land filled with animals that wanted to kill me. I now live in an artic wasteland (for half the year, at least) where bigger animals want to kill me. Just kidding – I love it here. I give you this background information to explain to you that I am not a good skier. I have not had the opportunity to learn as a child, when fear and pain are unknown. Now, as an adult, I realize I have too large a student loan to ever ski with reckless abandon. This saddens me, yet probably keeps me safe. Fear cocoons me while my helmet cuddles my brain, keeping my only, horrendously expensive asset (damn you, student loans) safe.
I was not even, until very recently, a competent beginner skier. But we should rejoice! I can now, after much skiing and some lessons on the slopes of Southern Alberta, do most green runs (yay!) and occasionally an easy blue (double yay!). So, as always, I decided to take the knowledge I have gained on the lived experience of being rubbish at something, and distill it into (hopefully) usable information for you! I give you… The slopes of Southern Alberta for the beginner skier! (Part 1).
Oh Sunshine, You are so great. Sunshine has plenty of actual green runs, and by ‘actual’ green runs I mean runs that are not of a blue-level gradient just designated green presumably because the resort needed a few greens to look well rounded – which clearly undermines the integrity and usefulness of the whole grading system. ( I’m not pointing fingers here… coughlakelouisecough).
Sunshine is my absolute favourite beginner slope, no scary precipices to look over, no huge long runs that exhaust me by halfway point!
I have only one caveat; all beginners seem to feel as I do, and I am sadly not skilled enough to avoid the other beginner skiers and snowboarders. This can make some of the easier runs a bit fraught, especially the gentle slopes of the strawberry express, where snowboarders are falling in slow motion like bowling pins around and in front of me. I almost ran over/was run over by about a million people, some of whom were adorable children. However, getting away from this (and this is probably a weekend problem as well) is what inspired me to try out the blue runs on Sunshine, most of which I feel are about as easy as the hearder green runs of Lake Louise. This is the best place to try and jump from a green to a blue!
My rating: Absolute beginners, learn here, you won’t die!
Lake Louise from… somewhere up high I guess…
Lake Louise is a huge resort with a lot of terrain. Good skiers seem to like Lake Louise. However, I would caution that most of the green runs at Lake Louise are both long enough to fatigue you and steep enough in places to make an absolute beginner feel like death is imminent.
There are a few exceptions to the steep/long/likely death combination – a really chill run called Pika is one – however the front of the mountain, with it’s Wiwaxy and Deer runs, is steep enough that I would suggest that absolute beginners practice a couple of times at Sunshine first to get their courage up. That being said, once I got my skiing confidence in place, Lake Louise is a heap of fun, it’s wide runs make it fairly easy to avoid other beginners, and each run has a range of gradients, which is great for practice. There is possibly more variety than Sunshine? I at least got that impression. They also have really reasonably priced ultra early morning lessons, which I have utilized and benefited from immensely. Private lessons make a huge difference when you are learning, but usually they are like 250 bucks and I’m all like whoa I can’t afford that, however these ones are $99 for 90 minutes (!!) i.e. MORE THAN HALF PRICE, if you are willing to rise at the crack of dawn to get there by 8am! Which I am, because I’m a cheapskate! See here for details. I can’t believe I’m even revealing this secret to you.
My rating for Lake Louise: Not an absolute beginner mountain, but once you can get down a green and are feeling cocky? Go for it. It is possible, though exhausting, to pizza your way down.
Oooh eeee – this is a scary resort. This is the kind of resort I dream about cruising down like a pro skier, but then I actually set ski upon it and am horrified. Kicking Horse is more badass than I am, or probably (definitely) will ever be. The thing that scared me the most was the unfenced cliffs that seem to lurk off the side of every run, even the greens. My vertigo was giving me hell, and my anxiety levels were through the roof. My friends, all more competent skiers than I, were in absolute heaven. That being said, there are a few cat runs (? If that’s the right term? those long wide avenues that gently wind down the mountain) that are okay, but again, I was inexpertly dodging other beginners the whole way down, except unlike sunshine, there’s a freaking cliff on one side. I did 2 runs on this mountain and called it a day like the coward I am, and went and imbibed bulk amounts of the excellent Kicking Horse coffee in the comfortable lodge at the bottom of the mountain.
Fuck this – I’m going to drink coffee
My rating? Not a mountain with many options for beginners. It was way out of my league. I was both excited and terrified by this mountain. I will probably go back when I grow a pair and can do all the blues at Lake Louise… so probably in two seasons from now.
Canada Olympic Park – an honourable mention
C.O.P – the unloved stepchild best known for hosting some amusing Jamaicans that one time. (We all have stepchildren like that, right?) C.O.P seems to be somewhat of a laughing stock amongst Calgarians, so I am riding (writing) to the rescue on this one. I really like C.O.P and I am not ashamed of it.
I live in the city – where can I go on a Tuesday evening to ski when there’s been a nice mid-week dump of snow? C.O.P! Where has the most comprehensive range of what could be termed bunny slopes, allowing me to practice different gradients and terrain in a controlled environment (i.e. I can find out and exceed my limits while NOT being stranded halfway down a mountain)? C.O.P! Where has non-existent gondola lines and allows me to get 20 (short) runs in an hour? C.O.P! They also have pretty good lessons through the very pleasant individuals at Winsport, which are cheaper than the full priced lessons out in the mountains, so I can do a lesson on a weeknight and spend my weekends practicing what I’ve learnt. How good! In summary, I heart C.O.P.
Stay tuned for Part 2, featuring Fernie, Revelstoke, Mt Norquay and Nakiska. It will arrive when the snow arrives… so that could quite likely be Winter 2015/16!