Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mount Norquay - Fun for the Whole Family in Banff

I've lived in Calgary for over ten years and have spent time at every mountain ski resort within a 5 hour drive of here - with Mount Norquay finally added to the list just this month!  Given that Norquay is located a short hour away from Calgary in the town of Banff, I'm not sure why we had never skied here before but I suspect it had something to do with the hill's reputation for being steep and great for expert skiers. One day at Norquay though, and I knew I had been wrong in thinking the hill wasn't suited to beginners or families.

Skiing Mount Norquay, Banff under the Cascade Chair

We arrived at Mount Norquay on probably the busiest day of the whole winter season while the Caribou Cup ski race was going on.  This is not a bad thing though because it allowed me to see just how vibrant the ski community at Norquay is for families, children, and youth. I'd estimate there were 50-80+ kids gathering in the ski school area as I walked my son to his lesson.  The day lodge was also packed all day long with youth participating in the race, parents hanging out with toddlers, and people of all ages grabbing a quick snack between runs.  It was definitely a happening place!  Add the busy action at the Tube Park and you definitely knew you were at the "IT" place in Banff that day.

Learning to Ski on The Beginner Hill at Mount Norquay

Mount Norquay's Snow School

We've had our son in lessons at a few different ski resorts now this winter, and I have to say that the instructors at Norquay stand out above the rest.  I hung around watching my son's lesson and have nothing but rave reviews for his teacher.  He taught Noah some clever techniques such as the "jet engine" where Noah had to pretend he was a jet racing down the hill with his skis straight, and then hold his arms out to turn his engine to the left or right.  It was cute but effective.  By the end of the lesson, his teacher had taken him up the chair lift (a first in any of Noah's lessons) and Noah was ecstatic that he was being allowed to go up!

Jet Engine Training

The teacher's attitude was what stood out the most for me.  He was relaxed, fun, and took all of Noah's nervous goofiness in stride.  Most importantly, he was willing to let Noah go up the chair lift even though he may not have been entirely "ready."  The rule at many hills is that kids be 100% free of any training devices before going up the chair lift in lessons.  That means no edgie wedgie, harness, etc.  And Noah still likes his edgie wedgie, aka "Mr. Noodle" on steeper terrain.  The teacher was completely relaxed though and said he'd take Noah up, see how he did, and worse-case scenario, help him down however he had to do it - even if it meant skiing with him between his legs.  Now, I know this is not standard protocol for helping your student down the hill, and I'm sure it wasn't necessary judging by our own experience skiing with Noah afterwards, but I admire the teacher's commitment to ensure Noah had a fantastic experience!

Noah making his way down the Cascade Chair

Mount Norquay for Beginners

As mentioned in the first paragraph, Norquay has a reputation as a more "difficult" hill.  Based on our first experience there however, I'd say it's also an excellent hill for beginners.  There is a great mid-week or weekend ski program that lasts most of the winter for families that want to make the commitment to coming out ever week (ski passes included,) and the beginner ski area has a decent grade allowing for kids to become competent at their turns before progressing to the chair lift.

Snow School at Mount Norquay

Once beginners are ready for the next step, the Cascade Chair is the place to be!  It's the closest chair lift to the beginner area and accesses nothing but green runs.  You can take your family up this chair and know you won't find yourself in the middle of expert terrain with no way down.  The next chair over, the Spirit Chair, is also a good place to spend some time with young skiers.

Dad and Son Making their way down the Cascade Chair (Tube Park in the distance)

After several runs down the Cascade Chair, we made our way over to Spirit for one run down with Noah.  The top was a bit steep for Noah but there is a mid-station exit point that accesses green runs lower down, skipping the tricky part at the top we had to navigate.  We'll be going back to Norquay in April and I know we'll have a lot of fun on both the Cascade and Spirit Chairs with our beginner Green-Runner.

The Easy Traverse off the top of the Spirit Chair

The Holy Grail of Tube Parks

When Noah tired of skiing, we made our way over to the resort's Tube Park.  The only tube park we've ever tried before is at Nakiska Mountain Resort in Kananaskis and while it was fun, Norquay's tube park blew it out of the water.  I screamed the whole way down my first run and was practically breathless from the speed and sheer thrill of it.  This is no tame toddler ride!  The Norquay Tube Park was designed for the whole family from young children to teenagers and their parents.  I actually thought it was so much fun, I'd go back to just play in the Tube Park any day.  It was AS much fun as skiing.  Truth.

Getting ready for our descent down the hill

There was a magic carpet lift to haul tubes and participants up to the top of the park, and there were multiple sliding lanes, ensuring minimal wait times.  The park was busy when we were there but we never had to wait before sliding down each time.  There were plenty of tubes for everybody and the tubes were also easy to maneuver.  I appreciated that each tube had a tow handle on it for the final climb to the top from the magic carpet.  (At Nakiska, you have to carry them.)

Looking down the sliding lanes with the busy magic carpet to the left

The final thing I loved about the Norquay Tube Park was that we got to go down together as a family.  All three of us rode down together in our tubes in the same lane, holding on to each other as we flew down backwards, sideways, and constantly turning.  According to the website, there's a children's play area and small sliding area as well which we'll have to investigate when we're back in April.  (Somebody remind me to bring my goggles next time!)

Happy Times at the Mount Norquay Tube Park

For more information about Mount Norquay, follow these links to the Mount Norquay Snow School Programs or the Mount Norquay Tube Park.

All other information on pricing, programs, and the amenities at the hill can be found on the Mount Norquay website.  (Bonus, this is the only ski resort in Banff that offers lift tickets by the hour if you are just out for half a day.)

Families with non-skiers may also be interested in knowing that Mount Norquay offers snowshoeing and sightseeing chair lift rides.  Snowshoes can be rented from the North American Lodge (the closest lodge to the Tube Park and North American chair lift.) 

AND, Don't forget the next Toonie Day on April 2nd where Alberta Residents can ski for just $2 per person. 

Noah pointing out the Beginner Area and Tube Park at Mount Norquay

Disclaimer:  I was not compensated for this story and as always all thoughts and opinions are my own.  Our ski lesson, lift tickets, and Tube Park passes were graciously provided though by  Mount Norquay in partnership with Banff Lake Louise Tourism.  Big Thank you to both for making this day possible for us.

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