Too many folks store their skis in March. I consider spring skiing the reward for braving frigid temps and blustery winds.
Give me sunshine, sunscreen, and corn snow, and I’m in heaven.
These eight alpine resorts, offering some of the best spring skiing, are clustered in Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia. Ski one or two or plan an epic road trip.
Sunshine, Alberta, Canada: Escape civilization
Sunshine maintains a poker face at its base, but board the gondola and it reveals its winning hand. The terrain unfolds as you ascend. Sunshine’s 3,358 acres not only straddle two provinces, Alberta and British Columbia, but also the Continental Divide. All of it is within Banff National Park, and the views are stupendous.
Most of the terrain—a mix of trails, glades, and above-treeline bowls on three mountains—is above 7,000 feet, ensuring a ski season that usually lasts well into May. The gondola, one of 12 lifts, rises from the base to Sunshine Village, snugged in a high-alpine valley at 7,200 feet. Other lifts access the 9,000-foot summit, providing a 3,514-foot vertical drop. Slather on the sunscreen, ‘cause on a clear day, the rays are intense, especially above treeline. On a snowy or cloudy day, stick to the trees—either the glades or groomers.
Sure, you can ski Sunshine as a day trip from Banff or Lake Louise, but guests at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, in the village, score first and last tracks and experience the quietude of the area once the last day-trippers have departed. It’s the only overnight ski-in/out lodging within the park. If you opt to stay in Banff, an easy 15-20 minutes away, opt for the iconic, castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs.
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada: Queen of spring
My friend used to buy a season pass, but didn’t head out to Lake Louise until March, often staying until May. Lake Louise never let him down. It sprawls over 4,200 acres, delivering a 3,250-foot vertical drop, with options on four faces. You can ski long groomers down the front face, dive into the back bowls, shimmy through glades, or bebop through gargantuan bumps.
Because there is no development other than a base lodge, albeit a mammoth one, and three on-mountain restaurants, little competes with the views of Banff National Park, Lake Louise, and glacier-topped peaks.
One of the plusses here, especially in spring, is that you can stay high on the mountain enjoying the best conditions and not descend until your legs beg for mercy.
When those legs do scream uncle, retreat to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, an elegant grande dame with eye-candy views. Indulge in a spa treatment or afternoon tea in the lounge overlooking the lake. If you prefer something more intimate, stay instead at Post Hotel, a rustically elegant Relais & Chateau retreat.
Kicking Horse, British Columbia, Canada: Big mountain skiing, small mountain ‘tude
Kicking Horse proclaims itself the Champagne Powder Capital of Canada, and the title fits. Because it’s tucked out of the way, crowds are rare and powder stashes linger longer than they do at most resorts. Kicking Horse scores more points for its 2,824 acres of mostly above-treeline terrain on an impressive 4,133-foot vertical drop peppered with four bowls, 85 inbound chutes, grin-producing cruisers, and light glades.
Servicing all that terrain is one gondola and three chairs: two on the lower mountain and one, the aptly-named Stairway to Heaven quad, whisking skiers to the resort’s 8,033 summit. Another way Kicking Horse differentiates itself is with a 20-acre, on-mountain, grizzly bear refuge. Boo hibernates in winter, but you might spy him in the fenced area, if he’s waking up. This isn’t a party mountain, infrastructure is minimal and it gets mighty quiet when the lifts close, but the town of Golden, just down the road, offers dining and shopping.
Reserve one of the two Eagle’s Eye Suites atop the restaurant at the gondola summit, if you want to revel in solitude and quiet, and score first tracks. Perks include butler service, and dinner and breakfast are included. The ski-in/out Glacier Mountaineer Lodge, at the base, comprises upscale condo-style suites with well-equipped kitchens, fireplaces, and comfy furnishings.
Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada: Powder, baby!
Revie rocks! If you favor deep powder, bowls, trees, pillow drops, and knees-in-your-gut steeps, Revelstoke is your place. Its stats speak for themselves: North America’s biggest vertical, a whopping 5,620 feet; more than 3,200 acres; and a lift summit of 7,300 feet, plus another 377 feet if you’re willing to hike, ensuring reliable snow.
If that’s not enough, you can arrange for a day of helicopter or snowcat skiing right at the base. Prefer to waltz rather than breakdance? Nice, long groomers appeal to those not craving steep-and-deep thrills. Don’t expect a massive lift network: One two-stage gondola and two quad chairs do the job, since crowds are rare. Revelstoke’s small base village has the basics but lacks any glitz or glamour. The low-key, railway town of Revelstoke, 10 minutes down the road, offers a nice range of shopping, dining, and accommodations. A shuttle bus operates between town and mountain.
For ski-in/out ease, check into the condo-style Sutton Place Hotel, just steps from the gondola. Intown, opt for The Explorers Society, a new-in-2017 upscale boutique hotel with luxury touches including robes, Oneka organic toiletries, and minibar; a complimentary breakfast; in-house restaurant and rooftop lounge; and concierge services.
Panorama, British Columbia, Canada: Easy on the ego
Carefree and once there car-free, Panorama caters to just-happy-to-be-here skiers who love the blue-and-green corduroy cruisers ribboning the lower two-thirds of the mountain. Not that skilled skiers can’t have fun here, too: Experts can revel in 750-acre powder-rich Tayton Bowl’s single- and double-diamond color-me-black descents dropping of the 8,038-foot summit. Ten lifts service Panorama’s whopping 4,265-foot vertical, and if that’s not enough for you, there’s also a heli-skiing operation departing from the base. A free gondola links the lower village with the upper one.
Check into a condo at the ski-in/out Panorama Springs Lodge, which also has direct access to the resort’s Panorama Springs Pools, a nice après-ski perk.
Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada: Bring the family
Low key Kimberley has a well-deserved rep as a family favorite, but savvy powder fans know crowds simply don’t exist here. The terrain, which sprawls over 1,800 acres on two mountains and offers a 2,465-foot vertical, receives an average of 13 feet of snow each winter.
Sure there are looong, grin-producing cruisers and gentle beginner options, but Kimberly isn’t colored only green and blue, there’s plenty of challenge here, too.
Check out Black Forest, North America’s largest glades, and the fall-line Vimy Ridge bump runs.
The ski-in/out Mountain Spirit Resort condos at the base offer easy access. One mile down the road is the Bavarian-themed town of Kimberly, home to one of the world’s largest cuckoo clocks and The Old Bauernhaus restaurant, sited in a mid-17th-century German building that was reconstructed here in 1989.
Whitefish, Montana: Perfect town-mountain combo
Say Montana skiing, and most folks reply Big Sky. Enough so that Big Mountain changed its name to Whitefish Mountain Resort to help avoid any confusion. Let the crowds hit the sky. If you want a real town — there’s even a hardware store main street — paired with a great mountain, opt for Whitefish.
Let’s start with the stats: 3,000 acres, 2,353-foot vert, and an average 300 inches of snow annually. This year is an exception. Mom Nature is giving helping Whitefish celebrate its 70th season with what’s shaping up to be a record-breaker, with 350 inches as of March 8. The terrain? Pure fun, with long sustained groomers, plentiful glades, and dreamy views over Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.
The free S.N.O.W bus connects the mountain with the town, making it easy to enjoy an après-ski beer or two at the Bierstube, a classic ski bar, before heading to your lodging or downtown to shop the fun, independent stores. As for lodging: Splurge on the Snow Bear Chalets, luxury trailside treehouses lavishly kitted out with all the must-haves, including the option of a private chef.
On the edge of downtown, the Good Medicine Lodge is an especially comfy B&B with a shuttle stop out front. For hotel ease, check into The Firebrand, a new upscale hotel where you can enjoy breakfast or dinner in the rustic chic lobby lounge. Two other pluses for Whitefish: It’s 15 minutes from the Kalispell’s Glacier Park International Airport and Amtrak’s Empire Builder stops downtown.
Montana Snow Bowl, Missoula, Montana: Shhh, it’s a well-kept secret
If you can see it, you can ski it, and Montana Snow Bowl offers sweeping views and seemingly endless terrain. The tradeoff? It’s quite retro—think cozy old-style base lodge; two double chairlifts and two tows; a self-serve feed-the-woodstove warming/brownbag lunch on-mountain A-frame.
This is a serious skier’s mountain, with serious steeps, serious glades, and enough groomers to satisfy older knees.
It spreads out over two peaks on about 1,200 acres with a 2,600-foot vertical drop. While there are a few options for beginners and lower intermediates, Montana Snow Bowl is best for advanced skiers, especially those who love steep, deep, and trees. The base lodge isn’t fancy, but the lounge earns fame for its Bloody Marys and wood-fired pizzas.
Call it a night at The Resort at Paws Up, a luxury ranch resort on 37,000 acres. It’s 45 minutes away, but you can arrange for transportation and just about anything else.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Ski in the morning and go sightseeing, relax at a spa, or shop in the afternoon.
- Uncrowded resorts with comfy to posh accommodations
- Usually, the best spring skiing is in the morning.
- If planning a road trip connecting all these areas, be sure your rental car can cross the border and don’t forget a passport.
*All photo credits: Hilary Nangle
The author’s spring alpine ski visits were hosted by Travel Alberta, Banff Lake Louise Tourism, Ski Banff-Lake Louise-Sunshine, Destination British Columbia, Kootenay Rockies Tourism, Explore Whitefish, Glacier Country Tourism and Destination Missoula.