Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Family Guide to the Lake Louise Ski Resort

We had planned a relaxing cross country ski weekend at Lake Louise at the end of January with accommodations set up for us at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre in the Village. Somehow in the weeks leading up to the trip though, plans evolved and we ended up spending most of our weekend at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. We went on a guided snowshoe tour, we went downhill skiing, and we even tried out the tube park. Add the cross country skiing we still wanted to do along with skating at Lake Louise, and it was a fairly busy weekend!

Lake Louise Ski Resort - Base for skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing

Below is an overview to the activities that we enjoyed over three days at Lake Louise this winter along with an introduction to the Lake Louise Alpine Centre, a great place for families to stay with affordable accommodations.

Ski Weekend at Lake Louise

Snowshoeing at the Lake Louise Ski Resort

My son and I headed out to the Lake Louise Ski Resort Friday morning for a guided scenic snowshoe tour. We chose the noon tour so that we'd have plenty of time for the drive and lucked out being the only people signed up for our tour. This gave us a private tour and plenty of time to play in the powder stashes we found on the ski hill.

Our guide pointing out the mountains in the distance to my son

We began our tour by riding the gondola up to the ridge top where skiers would begin their descent back down to the village or descend off to the back side of the resort. We then spent roughly an hour exploring the ridge, searching for powder to play in, and taking in the beautiful views around us. (They don't call it the scenic tour for nothing!)

Taking a rest break on the Scenic Snowshoe Tour

The tour was very interpretive and we learned a lot about the animal tracks we saw, the various kinds of trees on the ridge top, and the surrounding mountains. Our guide also gave us some history on the Lake Louise Resort and pointed out the route that skiers would take into Skoki Backcountry Lodge. Overall, the tour was extremely interesting and we walked at a gentle relaxed pace that would match all fitness levels.

Interpretive lessons on the Snowshoe Tour

We stopped for hot chocolate in the ski patrol cabin after about an hour of playing in the snow and walking about. The views from the cabin were gorgeous and this was a lovely spot to rest for 20 minutes or so.

Looking over to Lake Louise from the Ski Patrol Hut

I know that most people think of skiing or snowboarding when they plan a trip to Lake Louise but the scenic snowshoe tour is a great alternative for those who don't ski, but would like to enjoy the same views from the top of the gondola. It's also a great tour for family members joining you for the day who would prefer to hike while you go off skiing. Parents carrying babies or toddlers would enjoy this easy tour as well with little elevation gain or distances required to walk.

My son and I on our snowshoe tour looking over to some of the ski runs on the back side of the mountain

The scenic snowshoe tour we took would also be great for families spending several days in the Louise area and not wanting to ski every day. We enjoyed a variety of sports on our 3 day trip and I think we actually got a better appreciation for the Lake Louise Resort after trying multiple activities at the hill.

Snowshoes are provided as well making this a good activity for visitors to the area who may not have a lot of personal gear with them. (I know I appreciated not having to pack our snowshoes along with our skis, skates, and other outdoor equipment.)

Mount Temple in the background and an explorer who will one day climb it

The resort offers other snowshoe tours as well for adults wanting a longer tour. Ours was 2 hours including gondola rides both up and down. The full day tour takes you down to the back side of the mountain to Temple Lodge for lunch. Wildlife tours are another option along with night tours which the staff rave about. For full information on all tours, pricing, and times, please visit the Lake Louise Ski Resort website.

There were plenty of opportunities to play in the snow on our tour making it very family-friendly

Skiing at the Lake Louise Ski Resort

The moment I remember most vividly from our ski day at Louise was a run I did down Pika on the back side as I headed towards Temple Lodge where we planned to warm up and grab a coffee. I was flying down this perfectly groomed run making fun swoopy turns, the sun shining over me, and I though, "I'm really happy right now." As simple as that. Nothing spectacular but the moment stands out because it hit me that it had been a long 8+ years since we'd last skied at Lake Louise and I'd really missed it here.

Family Ski Day on top of the world at Lake Louise

Another moment that stands out was our lunch break on the patio of the lodge at the base of the hill. It was warm enough that we were sitting outside and it felt like spring. I sat there looking out at the resort and thought, "life is good." "Life is really, really good." Again, simple stuff, but it was a beautiful day and we stayed until close to 4:00 before finally packing it in for the day - the longest we've ever spent at a ski hill as a family.

Preparing to drop off the Paradise Chair down the back side at Lake Louise Ski Resort

Below are some tips for skiing at Lake Louise that I wrote up in my previous Gotta do THIS story for February.

Skiing down the easy groomers on the front side
  • Unload all skis and gear in the skier drop off area and then send an adult back to park the vehicle. Bags can be carried into the Whiskey Jack Day Lodge and placed on shelves there. Skis can be carried down to the base area.

  • If  bringing lunch, consider packing it into a backpack and hanging your pack at Temple Lodge on the backside. It's an easy ski down to the lodge from the top of the gondola on my son's new favourite run, Pika. (And Pika has tons of jumps/bumps along the edges for kids to play on.)

  • Make sure at some point, you seek out Jerry's Jungle (#30,) a green run accessed from the Top of the World Express Chair. It was the ultimate kids' run with fun open trees to ski around, a gully, and plenty of bumps or jumps - all on a groomed run. Other runs we enjoyed were Marmot (#143) off the Larch Chair, Juniper and Juniper Jungle (intermediate runs off the gondola or Glacier Express Chair,) and we had to try Saddleback (#109) one time off the Paradise Chair (even though it was completely flat light and kind of scary.)

Temple Lodge on the backside of the ski resort (the first lodge built at the resort)

I'd always thought of Lake Louise as a "harder" hill and more suitable to families with older children. This trip showed me how wrong I'd been though and we found something for each member of our family to enjoy. We were able to ski off every chair together as a family and there would always be a groomed green or blue run for my son and I to enjoy. My husband found many optional trails he could check out, always meeting us down at the next chair lift again. My son also enjoyed all the bumps and jumps along the sides of many runs and loved finding little paths through the trees next to the groomed runs.

Kids Terrain Park at Lake Louise

The only word of caution I would give families is that you really need to communicate well on this hill! Start down Pika for example from the top of the gondola, and there are three chair lifts you could end up at. It's important that each member of your family knows where you are meeting at the bottom of a run. I kept losing my boys when they'd duck into the trees and was once waiting at the wrong chairlift for them. Oops! There are also many junctions and intersections on the hills so make sure each family member knows the route you plan to take down your run so you don't accidentally split ways. (yes, that happened once or twice to us.)

For full information on skiing at Lake Louise, to see trail maps, and to find out about passes, visit the Lake Louise Ski Resort website.

Big mountain skiing at Lake Louise

Lake Louise Tube Park

The Sunny Tube Park was a fun "add on" after our snowshoeing adventure. It extended our time on the hill for an extra hour and would be a fun way for parents to wrap up the day with kids after skiing as well.

Sunny Tube Park at Lake Louise

I appreciated that helmets were included and available right at the tube park (ours way back in the vehicle and not necessary for snowshoeing) and I liked that the tube park is located right beside the beginner ski area. You could easily fill a day with young children tubing, practicing a few turns off the magic carpet, and even playing around in the kids' terrain park just above the tube park (accessible via magic carpet as well.)

Tickets are sold for the entire day so that you can mix and match your activities on the hill. Discounts are available if you ski or snowboard the same day that you want to visit the tube park and children ages 3 -5 are free. For more information, visit the Lake Louise Resort website.

Family Fun at Lake Louise

Staying at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre

With two days planned at the Lake Louise Ski Resort we definitely couldn't drive out and back from Calgary. We also wanted to try some of the cross country ski trails, go skating, and check out the ice sculptures from the recent Ice Magic festival.

Fortunately, accommodations can be found at Lake Louise without breaking the bank. No, you won't be staying at the Chateau on the lake itself, but you'll still enjoy ski in/out lodging on some great cross country trails and will be a short 5 minute walk away from the Village.

The Lake Louise Alpine Centre

The Lake Louise Alpine Centre is a joint venture between Hostelling International Canada and the Alpine Club of Canada. Members of either club get discounts to stay here. The Centre has two buildings and each one has its own kitchen and lounge area. We had a room in the main building where the check in desk and restaurant are located. This is also the building with the biggest lounge, a beautiful fireside room with pool table and plenty of room for kids to play in.

The kitchen in our building was very big and great for large groups. We shared it with a school group the first night and with a group of scouts the second night. Fortunately, there were plenty of tables, stoves, fridges, and even ovens in the industrial sized kitchen so that everybody could cook together at the same time.

Fireside room at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre

Rooms come in a few different configurations here. We had a private room that slept 3 people in a single over double bunk. It wasn't anything fancy but it did the trick for allowing us to stay at Lake Louise. We had a shared bathroom just outside our room which we shared with one other private room. Showers were further down the hall and each shower had its own private room.

Friends that went with us got a "family room" which had two bunk beds and a loft, sleeping a total of 6 people. It had its own private bathroom and was much bigger in size. Families can also rent the regular shared dorm rooms too which sleep between 4 - 6 people.

Small private room at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre

Tips for Staying at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre with Kids:

  •  Our bedroom in the main building was on the 3rd floor and the kitchen was in the basement. That's a LOT of stair climbing and there are no elevators. I'd suggest packing in a way that you can get your stuff to your room easily (large hockey bag with wheels that weighs 60 pounds maybe not a good idea.) You'll also be carrying your food down a flight of stairs so make sure you can easily do so.

  • If stairs and climbing are a problem for you, request a ground floor room and you'll be placed in the other building which has private rooms on the bottom floor. It's also closer to the parking lot. AND, if you request to be placed in this building, there's a good chance you'll have the kitchen and lounge to yourself because they fill the main building first before using this "overflow" building.

  • Expect to be sharing the Centre with groups. If you don't like crowded or noisy places, this might not be the quiet alpine retreat you were looking for. I was told though that the second building (not the main building) is quieter and that it helps if you don't plan your stay over a major festival at Lake Louise. (We were there over the Ice Magic festival so the hostel was packed.) Apparently the beginning of ski season is also busy.

  • Bring snowshoes or cross country skis if you want to enjoy the trails right outside the door from the hostel. I enjoyed skiing the Bow River Loop with my girlfriend later in the afternoon Saturday while the kids were resting. We also skied from the Lake down to the village earlier in the day and skied right up to the door of the Alpine Centre.

  • You'll have to drive up to the main Lake Louise area for skating and to access the trails around the Chateau. It's a short 5 minute drive though.

  • Finally, if you want to book a shared dorm room for your family rather than a private room, just tell the person you make your booking with that you'll have kids with you. They'll try to make sure you get your room to yourself.

To read about all room options here, follow this link to rooms and packages.

Follow this link for full information on the Lake Louise Alpine Centre.

Kitchen area at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre

Reasons we'll definitely return:

 - Affordable accommodations in a premier area of the Canadian Rockies

- Ability to cook our own meals in a shared kitchen rather than having to eat out the entire weekend (And there is a restaurant on site should you wish to eat out at times.)

- Ski in/out accommodations for cross country skiing (and the trails are great for biking in the summer)

- Cozy rooms that allowed us to sleep in privacy as a family rather than sharing a large dorm room with people we don't know (which you'd have to do at many other hostels)

- We loved the big fireside room for hanging out in together with our friends and their children. This is harder if you stay in hotel rooms where you have no common area to visit.

- Because it's Lake Louise and it's a 5 minute drive from the Lake Louise Ski Resort. It's also a short drive to scenic hiking trails that we enjoy year round and world class scenery around every corner.

Ski in/out Accommodations at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre


Other Winter Activities to Enjoy at Lake Louise 

The beauty of planning a weekend at Lake Louise is that the activities we did are just a sampling of what a family could enjoy over a few days in this magical place. Dog sledding would have been another fun option and we barely skimmed the surface of snowshoe and ski trails in the area that we wanted to explore. My son has also made it very clear that he wants to do a sleigh ride next time we visit Lake Louise to see the waterfall at the far end of the lake. (I told him we could just hike or ski across the lake to see the waterfall but that didn't quite cut it.)

Ice Magic Festival at Lake Louise

Below are just some of the many things you can do at Lake Louise with links if you're curious to check the activities out. (Note we have not done all of these activities and companies did not pay to have links placed in this story. I'm just seeking to be a good "source of information" here.

Skating on Lake Louise - cleared rinks for both recreational skating and hockey. Ice is cleared of snow by staff at the Chateau so you can skate here all winter long. There's an ice castle on the ice too by January and it will be there until it melts.

Skating at Lake Louise

Cross country skiing - We love the Tramline Trail which descends down from the lake to the Village with roughly 200 metres of elevation lost. It's a great trail for teaching kids to glide with gravity in their favour. This year we also tried the Upper Telemark Trail from the Village down to the Great Divide Parking Lot. Then we hopped across the road, climbed a short hill, and got onto the Tramline Trail to finish our descent to the Village. (Note that you'll need a vehicle shuttle for these options or an adult will have to ski back up at the end to fetch the vehicle from the Lake Louise parking area.)

Other great trails for kids are the Bow River Loop, the Fairview Loop and the Lake Louise Loop.

Skiing at Lake Louise

Snowshoeing - While we chose to snowshoe at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, there are many great trails around the Village. I've heard that the Louise Creek Trail is nice if you have a shuttle so that you can hike down from the lake to the village.

Ice castle at Lake Louise where many people start their snowshoe adventtures

Sleigh Rides - Brewster Adventures operates daily sleigh rides across Lake Louise to see the frozen ice falls at the back of the lake. As with most "tourist" activities, there is a high price that goes with this activity. It is a great trip though for those with limited mobility who can't walk or ski to reach the far end of the lake - but still want the experience and the views. It would also be one of those special "treat" activities that visitors to Louise would not forget anytime soon.

Dog Sledding - Another one of those "life experiences" and "bucket list' activities that comes with a price. Worth every penny though. I have never done the tour at Lake Louise but I've done another tour in Kananaskis and it was incredible! 

Sleigh Rides at Lake Louise (photo: Karen Ung, Play Outside Guide)

Disclaimer:  We received complimentary accommodations at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre from Hostelling International Canada. We also received complimentary snowshoeing, skiing, and tubing from the Lake Louise Ski Resort. As always, all words and opinions are my own and I wasn't paid to write this story.

Parting Shot: Cross country skiing at Lake Louise

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