Friday, October 29, 2021

What to Expect at Ski Resorts across the Canadian Rockies 2021-22

By now we had all hoped pandemic living would be a thing of the past, but sadly, that's not quite the reality, and the upcoming ski season will still look different than it did pre-Covid. 

Fortunately downhill skiing or snowboarding is a low-risk recreation opportunity where you'll spend the majority of your day outside wearing protective gear including face masks and gloves, naturally distanced from other visitors as you spread out around the ski hill. 

Know before you go: What to expect at ski resorts this winter

Standard Resort Procedures for 2021-2022

There will be MANY differences between resorts, but there will be standard procedures that you should notice everywhere you visit this winter.

  • Face coverings will be required at all resorts, inside buildings and day lodges, required or highly recommended while standing in lift lines and generally required while riding on chairlifts or in gondolas when sharing with others outside your family or group. Once in a day lodge you will be allowed to remove your mask once you are sitting down at a table with your snack or lunch.

  • Most resorts will have policies in place to accommodate physical distancing around the property, in lift lines, and in buildings. Some resorts will also continue to have smaller tables in the day lodges as well (rather than the big cafeteria style tables we were used to pre-Covid.)

  • All resorts will have cleaning and disinfection policies in place to keep high touch areas sanitized regularly.

  • Most resorts will continue to encourage guests to purchase their lift tickets online in advance. Most season passes will require online activation, signing of waivers, and photo uploading. Passes will be mailed out and will not be available to pick up in person at many hills.

  • Communication will be key at resorts this winter and there will be signage at all resorts highlighting all continued Covid policies and rules. - And I can not stress enough the importance of researching your resort's policies ahead of time before visiting.

  • Employees will be trained in COVID-19 safety and cleaning protocols. They will also be screened daily for symptoms.

  • Guests will be expected to stay home if they are showing any Covid symptoms and asked to wait until they are feeling well before visiting the resort.

And NEW for the 2021-22 season, all resorts will require guests 12 and up to be fully vaccinated against Covid in order to access indoor facilities (including dining facilities, day lodges, customer service, and bathrooms.)

Sunshine Village, Mount Norquay, and all RCR resorts are even requiring proof of vaccination to use the gondola and chairlifts, so no vaccine, no visiting, period.

May  I suggest that if skiing is especially important to you that you consider getting vaccinated if you have not yet done so. 

Make sure you're feeling healthy before visiting a ski resort this winter

Vaccination Requirements at Ski Resorts across the Canadian Rockies

Some resorts are requiring vaccination in order to access indoor facilities while others are requiring it for skiing and riding as well. Make sure you know what to expect at the resort you plan to visit.

Vaccination Requirements for Lake Louise:

Lake Louise has posted their policy for the upcoming ski season and it reflects what I'm seeing at many resorts.

"The following locations and services will be accessible to all guests under age 12 and those age 12 and over who provide vaccination verification, a negative Covid test within 72 hours, or a valid medical exemption letter:
- All indoor spaces in lodges including: indoor dining in restaurants, quick service dining areas, indoor warming areas, washrooms, season pass pick-up counter at the resort, rentals, guest services, snow school (for those 12 and over,) and shuttle busses to the hill." - Lake Louise Ski Resort 

There will be bathrooms located outside for those not vaccinated, and you will find outdoor dining choices at many resorts including patio dining, outdoor BBQs, and outdoor pick-up and takeout options. 

Read more about Lake Louise here: Lake Louise Winter Safety Insurance

Vaccination Requirements for Sunshine Village:

Sunshine Village in Banff will be taking their vaccination requirements to the next level, requiring guests 12 and up to be fully vaccinated in order to get on the gondola or access any of the services at the resort.

"We are requiring proof of vaccination or proof of a privately paid negative rapid test taken within 72 hours of entry, to ride our lifts including our Sunshine Gondola. By requiring proof, in compliance with Alberta’s REP program, to ride our lifts we will be able to operate at a higher capacity which will help speed up our gondola line." - Sunshine Village

Read more about Sunshine Village's policies here.

You'll need to be fully vaccinated to visit Sunshine Village this winter 

Vaccination Requirements for Mount Norquay:

Mount Norquay in Banff will also be requiring vaccinations in order to ski or ride this season.

"We have decided to implement the Province of Alberta’s Restriction Exemption Program (REP) across all facilities at Mt Norquay. Currently, implementing the REP program best ensures the safety of our guests and staff and allows us to efficiently operate our lifts and indoor spaces at full capacity." - Mount NorquayAnd when it says "across ALL facilities," it means chairlifts. So no vaccination, no skiing or riding for those 12 and over.

Read more about Mount Norquay's policies here.

Vaccination Requirements for RCR Resorts:

RCR has decided to follow Sunshine and Mount Norquay, requiring full vaccinations for those 12 and older at all of their resorts, both inside and outside, enabling them to run their chairlifts to full capacity.

This applies to the Nakiska, Kimberley, Fernie, and Kicking Horse ski resorts.

Read more below in the next section (Winter operations at Calgary's closest mountain ski area.)

And for ALL Alberta resorts know that as of November 15th,  the Alberta vaccine record with QR code will be the only valid Alberta proof of vaccination accepted. Guests from outside AB will need to show their own provincial record. 

Planning to ski in BC this winter? Protocol may look a bit different since their provincial restrictions are slightly different than ours in Alberta. Vaccination requirements will generally be the same though.

Check out the operations update for Panorama Mountain Resort for a good idea of what to expect at BC resorts this winter.

All RCR resorts will require full vaccination for skiing and riding this winter

Winter Operations at Calgary's Closest Mountain Ski Area

Nakiska Ski Area has released their safety measures and protocols that they plan to follow for the upcoming ski season.

You can read about them here: 2021-22 Winter Operations for Nakiska Ski Area

They have decided to follow Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay to require vaccination for both indoor use and for skiing/riding.

"Following the advice provided by the Provincial Government Health Authorities, RCR has decided to require proof of COVID-19 Immunization Record to access all chair lifts and indoor facilities at our resorts this winter. This decision has been made with the goal of providing you, our guests, our staff, and our resort communities with the safest environment possible." - Nakiska 

Read about the operations at other RCR resorts here (where they will be following the same vaccination requirements as Nakiska:

Ski close at Nakiska, Calgary's closest mountain ski area

What to Expect in Lift lines, on Chairlifts, and on Gondolas

Things will operate in similar fashion to last season with regular cleaning and disinfecting on all lifts and gondolas. Natural ventilation occurs on chairlifts and windows will be kept open on gondolas to increase air flow.

Physical distancing will continue to be enforced in lift lines and mask use will be required when sharing a lift or gondola at most resorts.

Most resorts will try to get things moving with less wait times than last year and you will likely be asked to share a lift or gondola with others outside your family or group.

When in doubt, if you are not comfortable sharing a chairlift or gondola, don't hesitate to ask the lift attendant for your own chair or gondola cabin.

"We do expect lift capacity to increase and wait times to move faster than last year. That being said, we want to ensure everyone feels comfortable, and upon request households or cohorts can request their own chair." - Lake Louise Ski Resort

Know as well that lift lines will be considerably shorter at resorts requiring that all guests be fully vaccinated. They will be aiming to load lifts to full capacity.

Resorts will try to accommodate those not wanting to share chairlifts or gondolas

Other news to watch for:

Last year Lake Louise opened their lifts earlier at 8:30am on weekends and holidays to get guests up the mountain faster and to reduce the number of people hanging out in the base area in the morning. While it made for an early start from Calgary, it was great to be on the back side by 9am, skiing with no crowds.

I haven't heard yet if the resort plans to repeat this for the upcoming season.

Some resorts are considering opening lifts earlier to reduce crowds at the base

Practical suggestions and what to expect on chairlifts and gondolas this season:

  • Be prepared to handle your own gear when loading and unloading from gondolas if possible. Staff are placed at an increased risk if they're touching everybody's gear. 

  • Ride with a buddy whenever possible so that you don't have to take up an entire quad chair if you prefer not to share with those outside your group (or if others don't want to share with you.)

  • Wear the mask! If you're sharing a lift with others, it's only polite to keep your mask up the entire time. I can not tell you how many times I had people jump on chairlifts with me last year, only to pull down their mask the second we pulled away from the station. - If I let you ride with me, keep your mask on or ride by yourself!

  • Be polite at all times with resort staff! I know you might not want to share a chairlift in busy times or you might not appreciate the single skier squeezing their way into your gondola. Regardless of how you feel about the policies, employees are trying their best in challenging times and will appreciate a friendly wave. (Remember they're wearing masks too and can't see your smile, or smile back at you.)

Physical distancing will be expected in all lift lines this season 

Day Lodge Access at Resorts this Season

The biggest thing to note here is that ALL resorts in Alberta  and BC will be requiring guests 12 and up to be fully vaccinated in order to enter day lodges to warm up, use bathrooms, or purchase food. 

There may be outside food outlets available, outdoor bathrooms, and tents for warming up if you have not been vaccinated against Covid. 

Physical distancing and mask requirements will also be practiced at all resorts.

Use your vehicle as your ski locker:

Last winter most resorts were encouraging guests to leave their bags, shoes, and all personal items in their vehicles rather than in the day lodge,

While this has not been clarified yet for the upcoming season, I would expect most resorts will appreciate guests continuing this practice for the coming season.

If you usually bring a backpack with snacks and lunch items in it, plan to ski with your pack rather than leaving it in the day lodge.

We loaded up our pockets with snacks and important items last winter when we went skiing and splurged on buying lunch to get around not storing bags in the day lodge.

Plan to leave personal gear in your vehicle this season

Plan to buy lunch or eat outside:

There will be reduced seating in most day lodges and restaurants this winter with tables spread out to allow for physical distancing. 

Expect to see more grab and go food options at resorts, new temporary tent facilities with additional bathrooms, increased picnic areas, and fewer shared amenities (microwaves for example.)

Last winter many resorts also had priority access in day lodges for those purchasing food. Bag lunches had to be eaten outside or in warming tents.

Returning to one's vehicle was also encouraged last winter for lunch and snack breaks. It remains to be seen how things will be handled for the upcoming season.

Expect to spend more time outside this winter 

Reminder: no camping out in day lodges this winter!

Given capacity restrictions and requirements for physical distancing, it will continue to be important that those visiting ski resorts, be there to ski or ride, and not to hang out in the day lodge with a book all day.

Last winter most day lodges had time limits for eating your lunch or having a snack and I would expect this to continue for the upcoming season.

Spend more time skiing this winter and less time hanging out in the day lodge!

Recommendations and suggestions for day lodge use this ski season:

  • Don't expect microwaves or anything fancy inside day lodges, tents, or at picnic areas. Bring a backpack with your lunch and plan to spread out around the hill for your snack and lunch breaks. By packing your own lunch with you, you can pop into warming huts or tents whenever you ski by one and need to have a break.

  • Time your breaks for non-peak times (especially if you plan to buy lunch.) Don't try to get into the main day lodge at noon for example. Time your meals for before or after the lunch rush.

  • Make sure you bring a second mask with you for indoor use so you don't have to wear your wet ski mask when you go into a day lodge. We always have our regular "indoor masks" in our pockets to put on when we go inside a building.

For more tips, check out my previous story: Ten Tips to Escape the Crowds at Ski Resorts this Winter 

Carry a backpack with you loaded with snacks and lunch items for rest stops

Rental Procedures for the Upcoming Ski Season

Resorts will continue to rent out skis, boards, boots, poles, and helmets. All rental equipment will be disinfected between each guest. And as with all buildings at the resorts, masks will be required while renting equipment.

Check with the resort you plan to visit to find out what their rental policy will be. Last year, several resorts required reservations made ahead of time.

Also, know that some resorts will require Covid vaccinations for those 12+ in order to access the rental shop.

You can still rent gear at ski resorts this winter! Check resort procedures before you visit

What to Expect with Ski and Snowboard School this Season

Lessons will continue as normal but teachers will most likely be required to wear a face covering while teaching and to practice physical distancing with their students. Last year, instructors were not allowed to join students for lunch and there were no supervised lunches.

Check with the resort you plan to visit for their specific policies.

Also know that some resorts will require everybody 12+ to be vaccinated in order to participate in snow school.

"Snow School Programming will be available to all guests under age 12, and for guests age 12 and over, programming and lessons will likely be available to those guests that show vaccination verification, a negative Covid test within 72 hours, or a valid medical exemption letter." - Lake Louise Ski Resort 


Snow school will proceed as usual with a few small changes this season

Daycare at Ski Resorts this Winter 

Last year there was no daycare offered at any of the ski resorts around the Canadian Rockies. This winter's policies remain TBD so check with the resort you plan to visit directly.

Suggestion if you regularly rely on daycare at resorts:

  • Plan a ski getaway and stay slopeside if possible. Take turns as parents skiing with older children and staying in the condo with the baby or toddler.

  • Recruit a friend or grandparent to watch your youngest child/children back in the city for the day. If you have friends that are part of your close bubble, consider taking turns with childcare (one weekend one of you stays with the younger kids in the city and then switch places the next weekend.)

  • Take turns skiing/staying in the city with your spouse or partner (which I know sucks, but it allows one of you to ski with the older kids while the other stays home with the baby.)

  • Choose a ski resort close to home where there are other activities nearby or perhaps where there is a hotel nearby that would let you spend time there with a younger child. For Nakiska, we've spent many hours at the nearby Pomeroy Resort where there's always plenty of space for physical distancing in their large lobby area. You'll also find walking trails around Kananaskis Village where you could pull a young child around in a sled while the rest of the family skis.

  • Look for ski school programs that blend childcare and ski lessons for preschoolers that can't ski for a full day (some resorts will offer this service.)

Check with your chosen resort to find out about daycare options this winter

Slopeside Resorts will be Open

Plan for your own private day lodge experience!

Plan a ski getaway, book a slopeside condo, and experience the safest ski experience possible with your own private day lodge. Retreat to your own space for snack or lunch breaks, cook your own meals, and hang out in your condo when not skiing (great for families with babies or young children.)

As normal, masks will be required inside common areas, hallways, the lobby, etc. 

Practical suggestions if booking a ski vacation: 

  • Expect reduced capacity in hot tubs so you might want to leave the slopes a bit earlier rather than trying to squeeze in a soak right before dinner. Some pools and hot tubs might also have time restrictions. (Last winter at Panorama Mountain Resort for example, there was a one hour time limit for the hot pools.) 

  • If visiting the hot pools or hot tubs at your resort is important to you, make sure you check for individual restrictions. The Panorama Springs Pools (Panorama Mountain Resort) will only be accessible this winter to those who can provide proof of vaccination (or to those under age 12.)

  • Most resorts will have relaxed cancelation policies in place but check with your resort directly for their specific policies.

Book your ski vacation today and experience your own private day lodge this winter! 

What to Expect with Lift Tickets, Season Passes, and Discount Cards

Reservations will not be required to access the slopes at resorts throughout the Canadian Rockies. Last year Lake Louise had a reservation system in place but they are not expecting to repeat this for the upcoming ski season.

Most resorts will continue to encourage guests to purchase their lift tickets online in advance. Most season passes will require online activation, signing of waivers, and photo uploading. Passes will be mailed out and will not be available to pick up in person at many hills.

Castle Mountain Resort has specifically encouraged guests to pre-purchase lift tickets and has said that they will be limiting daily ticket sales:

"We strongly encourage our guests to pre-purchase their tickets online prior to arriving at the resort. Walk-up tickets are not guaranteed and based on availability. During high volume periods (weekends + holidays), we may sell out of all available tickets online, in advance. This would leave no walk-up ticket availability at our ticket windows." - Castle Mountain Resort

 Read more about Castle Mountains' Safety Protocols this winter.

Visit your resort's website for unique policies that they may be adopting this winter regarding lift ticket purchase. A few resorts last year were not selling lift tickets at the resort at all, and online purchase was the only way to get a ticket.

Direct to lift cards and passes will be your best friend this winter on the slopes!

Services, Events, and Programs you will not Find at Ski Resorts this Season

The services, events, and programs below were not offered during the 2020-2021 season. Information has not been released yet for the upcoming season so make sure to check in with the resort you plan to visit for more details as the ski season launches.

  • Large group events and apr├Ęs ski programming (DJs, live music, dance events, fireworks for holidays, music festivals)

  • Programmed kids' activities at resorts with on hill accommodations (example: evening activities for the children after they finish skiing.)

  • Buffet-style banquet dinners for holidays

  • Night Skiing at some resorts

  • Weekend youth ski races at some resorts. 

  • Lost and Found - Don't expect to find this service offered at Nakiska this winter. Make sure you bring everything home with you! (They will still attempt to find the owner of valuable items such as phones and wallets.)

This winter will get us back to the pure love of skiing and riding!

Refund Policies for the 2021-22 Ski Season

Every resort will have its own refund policy this winter so check with your resort specifically. 

Check directly with your resort for refund policies

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

7 Days of Big Mountain Skiing for $400! (2022-2023)

Save BIG this winter with a Lake Louise Plus Card where you'll receive three free days of skiing along with discounts on every other ski day at four major mountain resorts across Alberta and British Columbia.

Ski days at Lake Louise are pretty glorious!

The Details! What you get with a Lake Louise Plus Card

The Lake Louise Plus Card costs $129.00 + GST. Purchase a card for each adult or teenager (age 13+) in your family and you'll get the following benefits:

  • Free skiing on your first, fourth, and seventh day

  • 20% off full-day, full-priced lift tickets on paid visits to the four participating resorts

  • You can use your card at Lake Louise, Castle Mountain in Southern Alberta, Panorama Mountain Resort outside Invermere in BC, and RED Mountain in Rossland, BC. 

  • Spring Value Days - Save 30% OFF full-day lift tickets for you and up to two friends daily plus get up to two free child lift tickets on paid visits from April 17 to May 7, 2023.

  • Free direct-to-lift upgrades! Link the discount card to your credit card and go straight to the chairlifts at Lake Louise when you arrive at the hill. Your credit card will be charged the discounted rate on your paid days and you will not be charged on your free days. 

    The upgrade also includes two free Child Direct-To-Lift Cards (for kids under 13) which saves you 20% off your child’s full-price, full-day lift tickets. Children will get their own direct-to-lift card tied to your credit card. (Note kids do not get free days.)  - Children's lift tickets should cost ~ $32.00 + GST.

  • Lake Louise Plus cardholders are also entitled to benefits and savings on ski or snowboard lessons, rentals, dining, hotel accommodations, discounts on lift tickets at partner hills, tours, and retail purchases. Read more about additional benefits here.

Follow this link for complete information on the benefits associated with the Lake Louise Plus Card

Very happy child skiing at Lake Louise 

Doing the Math to get you 7 days of Skiing for $400! 

First of all: Ask for a Lake Louise Plus Card for an early Christmas present. This way you truly get a "free" first day. - and it's an easy gift for family members who don't like shopping or who have to mail gifts across Canada. 

Next, do the math and you'll end up with something similar to what I've got below:

Day 1. Louise Ski Day - FREE

Days 2 and 3. Castle Mountain Ski Weekend - roughly $88 per day with your 20% discount + GST

Day 4. Louise Ski Day - FREE

Days 5 and 6. Panorama Ski Weekend - roughly $107 per day with your 20% discount + GST

Day 7. Louise Ski Day - FREE

Crunch the numbers and you'll see that you're spending just over $400 per person once you add in GST for 7 days of skiing this winter at amazing resorts!!

Continue skiing through the winter and you'll still get the 20% discount on all subsequent days.

And while I focused on Louise, Panorama, and Castle, you'll find that it's a similar price for adding on RED Mountain as well.

Enjoy epic skiing at Castle Mountain Resort this winter

Where to buy a Lake Louise Plus Card

You can buy your card online (which is great news if you have family buying the cards as Christmas presents.) The cards will be mailed to you after purchase.

You can also buy them at many different places in person (skipping the need to have them mailed to you - which is good news if you plan to ski in November when the hill opens.)

Purchase cards here:

  • The Calgary Lake Louise Sales Office  (934 15 Ave SW)

  • Experience Lake Louise (101 Lake Louise Dr #2, Lake Louise Village)

  • SkiBig3 Adventure Hub (114 Banff Ave in the Town of Banff)

  • Calgary COOP stores

  • Sport Check stores in Calgary

  • Ski shops across Alberta (The link above for buying cards online lists individual stores too)

  • AMA offices across Alberta

Spring skiing at Lake Louise Resort

Activate your Card and Upgrade to Direct-to-Lift

Once you purchase your card, the first step is to activate it on the Lake Louise website! Do not forget this step or you won't be able to use it when you arrive at the resort this winter.

Once it's activated, you want to upgrade it to direct-to-lift with your credit card linked to it so that you can show up at the lifts without having to go to guest services first.

You can also link your card to the ski resort so that all food purchases scan with it (avoiding the need to have your credit card with you at the hill at all.) - And this would be extremely useful if you have teens using their own cards. Link your credit card to their ski cards so that they can stop in and grab a drink or snack when hungry at the hill if you get separated.

Where to upgrade your card

NEW FOR 2022, You can go direct-to-lift right from the start when you purchase your pass online.

Buy your Louise+ Card online with this free upgrade already included! Make sure to upload your photo in your online profile and complete your online waiver (emailed to you after purchase). Once everything is completed you can pick up your card at the the Resort, the Calgary Sales Office, or Experience Lake Louise in Samson Mall. It will also be automatically activated and you will be entered into the activation contest before January 31, 2023!

Alternately, purchase your card first and upgrade after. To do so, visit the Season Pass desk at the Lake Louise Resort on your first ski day, stop in at the Calgary Sales Office (934 15 Ave SW,) or stop by Experience Lake Louise in Samson Mall at Lake Louise to enable the upgrade. 

A photo, email address, and a credit card are required. You can either bring photos with you or have your photos taken on site.

You'll also need to fill out a waiver and list each person on it that will be using one of the cards. (So make sure you have everybody with you to sign their own waiver.)

Follow this link for the hours of operation for the Calgary office. (This is by far the easiest way to upgrade without having to do it at the hill on your first visit.)

Big Mountain Views at Lake Louise

How to Claim your Ski Days at Partner Resorts

Your upgrade for direct-to-lift only works at Lake Louise. If you visit other partner resorts you'll have to go in to guest services when you arrive with your Lake Louise Plus card. 

Show your Direct-To-Lift Lake Louise Plus Card to Guest Services at Castle, Panorama, and RED for free days or discounted lift tickets. 

Note that at Panorama, you'll have to pay a small $5 fee for a RFID enabled lift ticket. Save this card because you can bring it with you on all future visits and they'll reload it for you.

Top of the Summit Chair at Panorama

Skiing with Kids under 13 

Your free direct-to-lift upgrade includes two free Child Direct-To-Lift Cards (optional), which save you 20% off your child’s full-price, full-day lift tickets. 

You'll pay approximately $32 + GST per ski day per child 12 and under. Age is based on how old your child is at the end of December 2021. Even if your child turns 13 in January, they can still get a child's companion card (though they will pay youth pricing.)

Show your child's direct-to-lift card at partner resorts for a discounted lift ticket. At Lake Louise, just show up at the lifts and your credit card will be charged for the ski day. (Note kids do not get the free days.)

Once your children turn 13, they can get their own Lake Louise Plus Card.

Get the kids direct-to-lift cards for Lake Louise

Affordable Ski Getaways at Lake Louise, Panorama, and Castle Mountain 

These are the three resorts we plan to focus on as a family for our ski getaways because all three can be reached in a 3 hour drive (or less) from Calgary.

For affordable accommodations, I have the following suggestions for you:

Affordable Getaways to Lake Louise

This is the easiest one because you can make it a day trip from Calgary if you are willing to leave the city by 6:30am. To make this happen, pack the car the night before and leave a list out for the "last minute items" you want to throw in the following morning. 

Skip breakfast and stop at the Tim Hortons at the Casino at the junction of Highway 40 to grab a fast breakfast. You could also stop in Canmore for breakfast to break up the drive a bit. You can even have the kids change into their base layers for skiing while you stop for breakfast if you just want to start the drive out in pjs. 

If you'd like a more relaxed trip, I recommend spending a night or two at the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre where you'll receive discounts as either a member of the Alpine Club of Canada or Hosteling International. 

For a one-night ski weekend at Louise, drive out Saturday, ski, stay overnight at the Alpine Centre, ski Sunday, and drive home. It's rushed, but it allows you to ski for two days with only one night accommodations.

LLP cardholders also get discounts off several hotels in the Banff/Lake Louise area. More information can be found here on discounted stays.

Read more about ski getaways at Lake Louise here:

Plan affordable ski weekends from Calgary at Lake Louise this winter

Affordable Getaways to Castle Mountain

This resort is far enough from Calgary that you'll probably want to spend two nights here (unless you live in deep south Calgary and can make it out for a day.) 

For the most affordable accommodations close to the resort, stay at the Castle Ski Lodge located across the parking lot from the resort. You can either stay in hostel style rooms or in the hotel style rooms. 

The Castle Ski Lodge hostel style rooms have 6 or 8 beds per room (bunk beds) with a shared kitchen on site. The hotel style rooms come with either 2 queen sized beds (for 4 people) or a queen bed and a double / single bunk (for 4-5 people.) 

We've stayed at the Castle Ski Lodge a couple of times in the hotel style room and found them to be quite comfortable.

Alternately you can find affordable accommodations nearby in the Town of Pincher Creek. 

Read more about ski getaways at Castle Mountain here:

We love skiing Castle Mountain Resort for the gorgeous views and epic ski terrain!

Affordable Getaways to Panorama Mountain Resort

This is another resort that will require an actual 2-3 night getaway. Fortunately, you'll save money on lodging with your Lake Louise Plus Card.

For the best "value" on accommodations at Panorama, consider staying at the Pine Inn, a "no frills" motel style property. Luxury aside though, the Pine Inn is a great deal with ski in ski out accommodations right in the Upper Village, free outdoor parking, restaurants just a short stroll away, and access to the Panorama Springs Hot Pools.

Usually Louise Plus card holders get discounts at slopeside condos as well so check once this information is released. 

Read more about ski getaways at Panorama Mountain Resort here:

Escape to British Columbia's sunny valley for a ski weekend this winter at Panorama Mountain Resort 

Other Cost Saving Tips for Affordable Family Skiing 

Kids 5 and under ski for free!- Get them out when they're young! Just pick up a free lift ticket in the day lodge at your resort of choice.

Grade 2 Passes - Get a Lake Louise Grade 2 Pass for $20 (for an entire winter of skiing at Lake Louise!)

Snow Pass Cards - If you have a child in grade 4 or 5, you can purchase a Snow Pass card for $29.99  allowing the child to ski for two days at pretty much every resort across Alberta and BC. So that's two days at Louise, two days at Panorama, two days at Castle, etc. - Note, they only get two days per resort total spread over the two years, so if you use both days at Lake Louise in grade 4, you'll have to visit other resorts in grade 5. 

Save money on Discovery Zone Lift Tickets at Panorama - The Discovery Zone tickets give you access to the Discovery Quad, Silver Platter, Red Carpet, and Little Ripper Carpet for a discounted cost. 

Save money on beginner chairlifts at Castle Mountain Resort - Buy a lift ticket for the green beginner chair or for the beginner/intermediate Huckleberry Chair at a discounted cost. 

Mornings are glorious at Panorama Mountain Resort 

Monday, October 18, 2021

First Summits - Mount Burke to the Cameron Fire Lookout, Kananaskis

This has been the summer of visiting fire lookouts for us (three so far by September.) Mount Burke gave us the opportunity to visit the historic Cameron Fire Lookout in Southern Kananaskis, decommissioned in 1953 when the Raspberry Ridge lookout was built instead.

Reaching the summit of Mount Burke and the Cameron Fire Lookout

Stats for the Hike 

Distance:  11 km return

Height gain
: 900 metres 

Time it took us to complete the return hike: 
It took us 5.5 hours (just over 4 hours moving) with two youth ages 10 and 12.

Best time to do this hike: This trail is accessible between May 15th - September 1st each year when the gate is open past the Cataract Creek Day Use Area. After that it is still possible to hike to the summit in later fall (or early spring,) but you'll have to walk an extra 1.7 km return from the gate. (Bring a bike and a lock.)

: This is an intermediate hike. While the trail is steep at times, there's always a well defined trail and you'll never have to use your hands to scramble up anything. There is no exposure. Note that this is still an "unofficial trail" meaning there are no signs along the way to guide you.

Best Guide Book
Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 5, Gillean Daffern - Amazon affiliate link 

All Trails Link 
- Mount Burke on All Trails. I recommend using the All Trails app so you know where to park at the Cataract Creek Campground in South Kananaskis. Once you get on the trail though it is relatively easy to follow it all the way to the summit.

Note to download the map, you'll need to have a premium paid subscription. I find it to be worthwhile, even just so I can see how far I am from the summit every time somebody asks "how much further?" 

The Cameron Fire Lookout on Mount Burke in Southern Kananaskis

Parking at the Cataract Creek Campground

The trailhead for Mount Burke is at the entrance of the Cataract Creek Campground (Google Maps link.) The campground is south of Highwood Junction at the intersection of Highway 40 and Highway 541 west of Longview.

You can either access the area from Longview or from Highway 40, driving all the way south past Kananaskis Village and over Highwood Pass. At Highwood Junction you turn south on the Highway 940.

Note if you are choosing  to access the trail via Highway 40 from the north, there is a gate past the junction for the Kananaskis Lakes and it's closed between December 1st and June 15th each year. You likely won't be hiking up Mt. Burke in winter, but if you're doing an early spring hike, make sure you drive down south towards Longview.

And as mentioned earlier, there is a gate just off the Highway 940 at the Cataract Creek Day Use Area until May 15th when the campground opens. It closes again on September 2nd when the campground again closes for winter. When the gate is closed you have to walk down a short road to the trailhead (1.7 km return.)

Once you get inside the Cataract Creek Campground there is a small parking lot on the right hand side of the access road that has a sign for Mount Burke.

Mount Burke as seen from the parking lot at Cataract Creek

Step One: Parking Lot to Ridge Line

This was the most painful part of the hike for me, and honestly why we probably won't repeat this hike very often. Once you reach the ridge, the hike is gorgeous! Getting to the ridge however is a loooong boring slog through the trees.

I still recommend doing this hike at least once though because it is very beautiful once you get up to the ridge, the fire lookout is very cool to see, and as with all things, the best achievements have to be worked for. It's also a great spring hike when you're ok with a long hike through the trees because it feels so good to just be hiking again.

Hiking towards Mount Burke out of the parking lot

The hike starts with a flat walk across a meadow out of the parking lot. You then climb up through the forest where the trail has a couple of short steep hills (in both directions.)

You can see the trail as it follows along the edge of the trees above

Then, comes the part that honestly sucks. I don't think I'll get any opposing opinions here. Bring candy because you're going to be heading up an old cut line (in a complete straight line) which goes up with no switchbacks, no turns, no views... just straight up for a full kilometre! And it's steep at times!

There's also one hill that you'll have to climb back up on the return. (Save some candy!)

Head down, straight up for a kilometre here

Finally, however, you get to the switchbacks and then the grade eases up a bit. Apparently there are ~ 30 switchbacks, but it felt like 100. Thankfully they weren't that steep and it was actually a great way to make progress climbing the mountain.

The switchbacks were annoying on the way down though because they were too gradual and we wanted a more "direct" route. If that's you too, you will find short cuts through the trees which bypass the switchbacks. (I'm not sure if it's recommended to take them or not, but I'll leave that to you.)

I didn't actually take a single photo of the switchbacks because trees, more trees, and just more trees. Thankfully my girlfriend took the photos above because I actually didn't take a single photo until we reached the ridge. (I guess I wasn't inspired until then.)

Hiking distance from parking lot to the ridge: 4 km. So allow for 90 minutes to reach the ridge at a good pace. This does however mean that you'll have 4 km of "boring" hiking before you reach the 1 km of good hiking. Thankfully that one kilometre is spectacular so keep reading. 

We finally reached the ridge and it quickly becomes much rockier

Step Two: Climbing the Ridge to the Summit of Mount Burke

The final kilometre becomes more scrambly but you'll never have to use your hands. There's always a good trail through the rock, and the ridge is never overly exposed. Best of all, there's no nasty scree. This is always a hike.

Starting up the ridge where the views finally appear

Following a good rock trail up the ridge

You'll know you're almost there (maybe 100 metres vertical to go) when you get your first good glimpse of the final push to the summit and the lookout.

Chances are you'll stop here, and at least one person in your group will loudly scream "I have to climb up there?!!" 

Rest assured it's not as bad as it looks in the photo below and there's always a good trail through the rock and scree.

Our first glimpse at the final approach to the summit

The final trail up to the summit of Mt. Burke

Reaching the historic Cameron Fire Lookout on Mt. Burke

Mount Burke Summit 

Everybody loves fire lookouts (they do tend to have good views after all, typically being perched on top of mountains.) The Cameron Lookout is no exception and it really makes you wonder how somebody could live in this tiny little shack for at least 4 months out of the year, all alone! There are no trees so the house would have been completely exposed and at the mercy of every storm that blew through. (No thank you!)

The lookout looks a little worse for wear since being decommissioned in 1953

Careful where you walk inside the lookout

The Cameron Fire Lookout perched on top of Mt. Burke

We truly lucked out upon reaching the summit after hiking up the trail in thick smoke from forest fires. The smoke lifted and the sun came out as we approached the top allowing us to enjoy our summit experience and the gorgeous views.

This is why you hiked all the way up here!

Fire lookouts are amazing destinations for a family hike!

The Return Hike Down from Mt. Burke

Maybe it's just me, but I tend to take a LOT more photos on the hike down because I can finally breathe, relax a bit, keep up to my son, and actually feel motivated to stop without the pressure of reaching the summit.

Enjoying the interesting ridge walk on our way along the Mt. Burke trail

Hiking down along the ridge (You go up and over the hump in the background)

On this particular hike the sun had finally cleared away the smoke too so suddenly we had amazing views for the return trip down the mountain. (We probably took more time on descent than we did on the way up because we stopped so often to take photos!)

The hike goes up and over the bump in this photo as you hike along the ridge

Hiking along the ridge of Mt. Burke with all the misty mountains in the background

On this particular day, the surrounding mountains had an ethereal look to them, all misty and layered with dozens of unique shades of blue! I had no idea blue had so many different hues.

Looking back up at the summit, the fire lookout, and the final approach

A brief narrow section on the ridge was my fav. part of the entire hike

There was one short section along the ridge where it gets narrower and this was my favourite part of the entire hike. It wasn't exposed, but you actually felt like you were on a ridge! And there were dozens of fantastic photo opportunities in this section (as in the photo above.)

One final look back at the summit of Mt. Burke

Back down to the grassy slopes at the bottom of the ridge (and about to head into the trees)

The photo above is the last one I got before we hit the trees again because motivation to reach the parking lot was renewed once we left the views behind. It took us about an hour to bomb down the trail from this point.

Want to discover more first summits to tackle in the Canadian Rockies?