Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Big Mountain Skiing, Small Hill Charm at Castle Mountain Resort

I'm always amazed when fellow Calgarians tell me that they've never skied Castle. Castle Mountain Resort is only 3 hours south of Calgary, easily reached Friday evening, and it's a local Alberta resort! 

Castle has accommodations on site with options for all budgets, and if you fancy winter camping, you can also bring your trailer down and camp in the parking lot (It's absolutely allowed here!)

Winter is here and Castle Mountain is calling!


The ski hill itself is out of this world with terrain that easily compares to what you'd find at bigger resorts in the Rockies. My boys spend their days lapping the double black chutes while I meander my way down the gorgeous traverses and groomed intermediate runs top to bottom.

Castle has a dedicated beginner chair as well along with an intermediate progression chair with gentle groomed runs perfect for building confidence. 

Add small hill charm, uncrowded runs, the friendliest people you will ever meet at a ski hill, and a family-friendly pub with unbelievable food. 

Have you started to plan your next ski getaway yet?

Lonestar is definitely calling your name if you like epic big mountain skiing!


Introduction to Castle Mountain Resort 


Castle Mountain Resort is located in Southwestern Alberta, approximately 30 minutes SW of the Town of Pincher Creek. Families living in the south part of Calgary can reach the resort in 2.5 hours, making the trip very doable for a 2-day weekend.

The resort is located just east of the Continental Divide on the Alberta/BC border, and thus gets a LOT of snow each winter (up to 9 metres per year on average.) 

We have a longer drive from the north of Calgary but we can easily reach Castle Friday night after work. We ski full days both Saturday and Sunday and then stop for dinner on the drive home Sunday night.

Bluebird day at Castle Mountain Resort

More Snow, Less Dough


One of the things I love best about Castle is that you can get the same experience that you'd find at a major ski resort in Banff, at a much more affordable price. Lodging is cheaper (see below,) lift tickets are more reasonable, and yet the snow is just as good as what you'd get at Sunshine or Louise. Add less people, an uncrowded resort, and a "simple" vibe, and what's not to love?!

If you think you'll visit the resort a few times this winter, I'd recommend checking out the resort's "Wonders of Winter" (WOW) card where you'll enjoy 50% off skiing every single day this winter.

The WOW Card starts saving you money after only your second day on the slopes. Once the card is in your pocket you’ll enjoy unlimited 50% off days, with no blackouts, at Castle Mountain Resort. 
Looking to maximize your time on the mountain? Upgrade your card to direct-to-lift, free of charge, so you never have to visit Guest Services again!  Whatever way you choose to WOW, it’s a no brainer if you’re planning to ski 2 or more days, this season!"

 

NEW FOR THE 22-23 season, The resort has expanded WOW Card eligibility to include ALL of their paid ticket categories – including children 6 – 12.  


Follow the link above for information on pricing and all details.



Affordable On-hill Accommodations


We've been spoiled by a few too many ski in-ski out trips and now it's a huge priority when we plan family ski weekends. I want to be able to have a leisurely morning without a long drive to the ski hill, and my son likes to be first in line for the lifts opening. This means that staying very close to the hill is almost imperative for us. 

At Castle Mountain Resort there is an affordable hostel and ski lodge located across the parking lot from the ski hill. It's not quite "ski out your door" lodging but I'm ok with having to carry my skis across a parking lot. It's also very handy on Sunday when you can pack up your car and go skiing without having to move the vehicle to a separate day-use parking lot. 

The ski lodge offers traditional dorm-style hostel rooms (with beds arranged in rooms of 6 or 8) or you can upgrade to a private hotel-style room with either 2 queen sized beds or a queen bed and a double / single bunk.

Simple but functional rooms at the Castle Mountain Ski Lodge 

There is a shared kitchen facility and common room in the basement of the Castle Mountain Ski Lodge or you can plan to buy your meals in the day lodge, or eat out at the T-Bar Pub. The pub accepts children and the food is amazing! The day lodge also serves a great breakfast - and we always eat there when we go to Castle.



A simple hotel room at the Castle Mountain Ski Lodge with two queen beds 


Tips for Staying at the Castle Mountain Ski Lodge


  • Bring small bags you can carry up a flight of stairs if you're staying in the hotel rooms at the ski lodge. They are upstairs and there is no elevator. 

  • Bring inside shoes/slippers if you want because all footwear must be left at the front door.

  • There is a shared kitchen in the basement of the lodge. Alternately, the day lodge opens at 8:30am and their breakfast sandwiches are delicious. Lunch can also be purchased at the day lodge or at the T-Bar Pub and Grub. (And you can choose to eat in, or to eat on the sunny patio outside.)

    For dinner, I highly recommend eating at the T-Bar Pub. The pizza is amazing, and the beef brisket is the best I've ever had! (We actually ate there for both lunch and dinner on Saturday, and again for lunch on Sunday on our last visit.)

  • If you want to bring your own food, there is a microwave, a coffee maker, and a kettle in the hallway of the hotel so you can make simple breakfasts and lunches for the family (and each room has its own mini-fridge.) There is also a communal barbecue outside the ski lodge if you'd like to cook up some hamburgers for dinner.

    Pizza can also ordered for takeout from the T-Bar Pub and brought back to your room.

    Note you'll want to bring your own dishes if planning to eat in your room.

  • There is free WiFi at the ski lodge which is good because there is no cell service anywhere at the resort.


Otherwise, for families wanting to take it up a notch in their accommodations, there are other options available on the hill including bed & breakfast suites, ski in, ski out rental houses, or chalets on the hill with suites available for rent. Visit the Castle Mountain website to view all options. 

And, if you're interested in camping, overnight camping in the parking lot of Castle Mountain Resort is permitted with a few restrictions. (Follow the link.) It's a pretty sweet set up though and there's even a heated bathroom building to use. 

First laps are easy to get when you stay on site at Castle Mountain

Big Mountain Skiing with Small Hill Charm


We often get our minds set on "heading west to the mountains" to go skiing from Calgary but the reality is that for families living in South Calgary, Castle Mountain Resort is not much further away than Lake Louise. Skiing at Castle is quite a bit cheaper and as already mentioned, there's affordable accommodations right at the hill.

I will always love the big mountain resorts in Banff, but Castle has a charm that you really have to experience. On our recent trip I was blown away by how friendly everybody was. I easily struck up conversations with other skiers in every lift line, I had people willing and eager to share a chair with me when I was riding solo (my boys off in the chutes somewhere,) and locals were eager to tell me about their hill, why they loved it, and why it was so special to them.

And you even get hugs in the lift lines if you want one. (Slightly more physically distanced hugs these days, but attempted hugs none the less.) Seriously, Castle has the friendliest staff you'll ever meet! 

My son was greeted by name each time we had our lift passes scanned at the base of the resort and our lift attendant was genuinely happy and excited to see us each time we arrived at the bottom again. I actually felt like we were locals by the end of the day.


Big views and big smiles at Castle Mountain


Big Mountain Skiing at a Resort for all Abilities 


This next section is copied (with edits) from my previous story on Castle after our first visit a couple of years ago. I've used photos from both trips.


Castle Mountain for Beginners


There is not a "lot" of beginner terrain at Castle Mountain but if you have mixed levels in your family, each person will be able to find something that works for their abilities at this resort.

True beginners can start off on the magic carpet until they are ready to advance to the "green chairlift." The Green Chair then accesses three short gentle runs at the bottom of the hill. This area is always full of families with young children and is very well used.

From the green chair, beginners have options off both the Huckleberry Chair or off the Sundance Triple Chair (the Blue Chair) where the North Run gently winds its way down the mountain.

I actually love the North Run off Sundance and spend a lot of time cruising my way down here when I visit Castle.

Unfortunately, beginners can't access the top of the mountain until they're able to handle steeper terrain so Sundance will be as high as it gets for many families.

Cruising down the North Run at Castle 


Castle Mountain for Intermediate Skiers and Snowboarders


A true "intermediate" skier will want to start off on the Huckleberry Chair, a fabulous learning environment where nearly every run is groomed, and you won't accidentally find yourself on a black run.

From the Huckleberry, progress to the North Run (mentioned above) or "Easy Street" both off the Sundance (blue) chair. Easy Street is basically a cat track that accesses other runs such as "Sundown" and "Twilight," a solid intermediate combination. 

Intermediate skiing off the Huckleberry Chair

Once you're comfortable on the Huckleberry and Sundance Chairs, make your way up the Tamarack Chair (the red chair) to the top of the mountain where the views (and hopefully not the winds) will blow you away on a clear day. If it's a windy day, stick to the terrain lower down.

From the top of the Tamarack Chair, you'll find yourself on the Skyline Traverse as you make your way towards "Harkers Highway," the easiest way down. And honestly, this is pretty much a green run aside from the steep pitch at the top. Make it down that pitch, and the rest is a winding road.

For more of a challenge, take the Skyline Traverse to "Bandito" or "High Noon." Each one has a short steep pitch but spits you back out on Harkers Highway lower down.

Cruising down the Skyline Traverse to great intermediate terrain 


Castle Mountain for Advanced Skiers and Snowboarders


Ready for more of a challenge and you've successfully tackled the intermediate terrain at Castle? Check out these tips below for progressions:

  • Try the Ambush Glades off Sidewinder (Huckleberry Chair)

  • Take Easy Street to Mouse Trap and Jelly Roll, a groomed black run (Sundance Chair)

  • Try some of the black runs off the North Run. They are all quite short and spit you back out on the road lower down. (Sundance Chair)

  • Drop down off the Skyline Traverse into the bowl under the Tamarack Chair (Deputy, Sheriff, or Outlaw) are all good choices here) - and you'll end up back at the bottom of the Tamarack Chair. (Tamarack Chair)

  • Try skiing in the Huckleberry Bowl (the opposite direction along the Skyline Traverse) - my boys really love this bowl with its gentle angle. Alternately, try the Tamarack Bowl located right beside the Huckleberry Bowl. (Tamarack Chair)

  • On a powder day, try Drifter, the first chute you'll come to just before you go through the gates into the double blacks. (Tamarack Chair)

Adventure awaits when you ski into the chutes at Castle!

Castle Mountain for "Extreme" Skiing and Snowboarding 


Once you're comfortable skiing black terrain at Castle, it's time to go play in the double black chutes off the top of the Tamarack Chair.

My husband and son have a favourite run here called "Lone Star" - with a 600 meter fall line, a consistent 37 degree angle, and the longest continuous fall line descent in Canada.

Note that falling on some of the steep black pitches (Drifter or Lone Star for example) isn’t an option when conditions are firm. A fall could land you in the ER. You must be able to stop any fall to control your slide or you’ll go a long ways!!! And there are canyons to fall into on both Lone Star and Drifter.

Skiing Lonestar is an unforgettable experience!


Castle Resort Planning Tips


Below are some miscellaneous notes to help you with planning a trip to Castle Mountain.

This has been updated for the 2022-23 ski season.

  • The resort offers half day skiing starting at 12:30pm if you leave Calgary in the morning but still want to get a few hours of skiing in that day. 

  • The resort offers individual pricing for the beginner/intermediate chairlifts! You can pay a discounted price for just the Green Chair or for just the Huckleberry Chair. 

  • Kids 5 and under are free (as they are at most resorts)

  • Get free or discounted skiing if you have a Lake Louise Plus discount card. You can claim one of your free days at Castle. 

  • Fill up with gas in Pincher Creek. The small gas station in Beaver Mines is not always open.

  • Even if you just visit for the day, make sure you visit the T-Bar Pub at least once. Note if you want to get into the pub for lunch, go early. It is usually full by 11:30am.

  • There are multi use trails on site for fat biking, snowshoeing, and XC skiing - with rentals available.  There are also designated groomed and track set cross-country ski trails.


The Sundance Chair looking up at the Centre Run and the lower mountain

Read More about our Adventures at Castle Mountain Resort

Read about our first trip to Castle Mountain two years ago (The visit when we almost contemplated moving to South Calgary to make Castle our home hill.)

Read: Epic Family Ski Weekend at Castle Mountain Resort


For more information, please visit the Castle Mountain Ski Resort website. 


Disclaimer: Our recent trip to Castle Mountain was hosted. As always, all words and opinions are my own. 




 

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