I pulled into Canmore early in the day—the Worldmark on Three Sisters Parkway wasn’t busy (their season is the summer months) so they had a room for me and then accommodated my request for a room nearer the hot tub. I unloaded a valet cart FULL of ski gear, suitcase, overnight bag, writing backpack, day pack, ice chest, food and snack bin. I think they thought I was moving in for a month, not just a week. I got situated and headed into town to check out my new home.
Canmore is an old mining town in the spectacular Bow River Valley. The mountain peaks are—indescribable. I drove to the visitor center on the west end of town, and got a few maps, but the lady was only moderately helpful. She did direct me to a couple auto places, as I had a rear blinker that was deciding to burn out on me. My next stop was at the Canmore Museum off 8th street, the main drag through town.
What a delightful discovery! The Canmore Museum has an INCREDIBLE virtual reality exhibit that a local townsperson put together. I put on the goggle headset and the “coal mine tour” began. It was so cool! I was dodging beams, and going up and down passage ways, following a coal cart by turning my head or looking up or down. It felt so real I had to hang on to a table so I wouldn’t fall down! The museum is only $2 to enter, and the virtual reality show is worth it by itself. But the overview of the history of the town was engaging, and for me the underground coal mining, information on Japanese Canadians, and the Olympic Torch were highlights.
But people make the experience, right? Leslie and Jamaica John work at the museum, and their enthusiasm and love for the community was evident and appreciated. Having come from a small town myself, I can relate to how “place” can define us. Jamaica John set out in the 1970s to head to the west coast of Canada, hit Canmore and never left. Their warm welcome and wealth of information set the stage for my stay.
This season I opted for the Vail Epic Local Pass and the Ikon Base Pass. Both have blackout dates for Christmas break, Martin Luther King Day and President’s day. Blackouts haven’t been a problem before, but of course this trip MLK day landed on my first two full days in the Canmore/Banff area.
I was itching to get on the mountain, so I did a little research, and for $50 Canadian ($38 US) I could ski Mt. Norquay for half day, senior rate. Norquay is right off the Trans Canada in Banff, an easy and quick area to access. It is part of the Ikon pass, as is Sunshine and Lake Louise, but the lure of skiing for $38 US instead of sitting in my room during the blackout dates was too much.
It was the perfect warm-up mountain. It’s big to my midwestern standards, and yet not so big that I couldn’t get a good feeling for my skis, my general fitness, and the mountains. The mountain is serviced by six chair lifts, one is primarily for the inner tube area. I stayed on the Cascade, Spirit and Mystic lifts which covers all the green, blue and some black runs. The North American lift, which is the furthest left as you face the mountain, serves all black diamonds, which I decided to forego.
Mt. Norquay is a perfect family area—nice easy greens are close to the lodge. Sundance, Cascade and Spirit lifts service really interesting green runs. Unlike bigger mountains, where many of the green runs are merely logging or access roads that zigzag across the face of a mountain, these greens are real downhill runs, but gentle.
I skied the blues that peeled off of the Mystic lift on the far north end of the area. Conditions were generally good, but a block of the blue runs were closed for some reason. Towards the end of the day I opted to take Kapoof, a groomed black. My skis slid out from under me and I took a good fall. Undaunted, I kept going, and slowly made my way back to the lodge by taking the Spirit lift and then traversed to the Cascade lift runs, all green.
I had a snack at the main lodge—homemade kettle chips. They were good, but not as good as the Mainstreet Bar and Grill in Hopkins, MN. Those chips are my benchmark. But the table next to me had gotten a hot dog that looked two feet long. I would wager to say that for $12.95 Canadian, it could easily feed two people and is the best deal on the menu.
As I was leaving, I bumped into a couple hauling their gear and the man had a cool pair of lamb’s wool boots. They weren’t Ugg’s. They told me they were Manitobah Mukluks. I was intrigued.
On the road out of the resort I saw a full curl mountain sheep on the road. What a treat! I felt as though I were in a national park. Oh, wait, I am!!
All in all, a good, easy, warm up day at Mt. Norquay.