A great day on the slopes can mean several different things. Not everyone shares the same expertise when it comes to sliding down a frozen mountain on waxed slices of fiberglass. Hopefully this quick guide to skiing will help you get on your way. Use the following links to skip down to the section that most interests you. |
1. Taking lessons 2. Choosing the right clothing 3. The best equipment for you 4. Where to skiv 5. For the extreme skier
If it's your first time on skis, there are several ways you can learn the proper style and technique. You can teach yourself, learn from a friend or take lessons from a professional ski instructor. Teaching yourself might not be the recommended option. There are more risks of injury and you can learn some bad habits. This could result in missing out on some (or most) of the fun, getting discouraged and not enjoying the sport.
If you decide to take lessons from a friend, you will definitely save yourself some money but you might not get all the important information and tips you would get from a seasoned pro. What if your friend taught himself and learned some bad habits?
The most practical option is to take lessons from a professional ski instructor. This will help you stay safe and learn important techniques. You can also choose to have the lessons tailored to your skiing needs. Luckily, all five ski resorts around Canmore offer lessons.
What to wear
When it comes to staying warm on top of a snow covered mountain, you will need to find the appropriate clothing from head to toe. The good news is you don't have to worry about the boots; they come with the skis. However, they don't offer much insulation and extra socks might be a good idea. You will appreciate having two pairs of socks. The outside pair should preferably be wool.
For your legs, layers are recommended. A good pair of flexible pants (i.e. not jeans) covered with water tight ski pants will usually be adequate. Depending on the forecast, long johns might also be necessary. You might be thankful of spending a little extra for some ski pants with reinforced knees - this is usually the first place to wear-out with frequent falls.
Your upper body should also be covered in layers; a minimum of three. The bottom layer can be a comfortable long-sleeve T-shirt. However, the next layer should be water resistant but breathable. This will keep water away from you body, keep you dry and help keep you warm (there's nothing worse than cold water to steal all your body warmth). The outside layer should break the wind - most ski jackets do the trick. They also have several zippered pockets to stash all things necessary (lip-balm is indispensable).
Let's not forget your noggin'. A good percentage of body heat is lost through the head. This makes it very important to cover it up. Start with a good neck warmer or scarf for you neck and chin (if you opt for a balaclava ski mask, this might not be necessary). You will also need eyewear. While sunglasses usually do the trick, winds can pick up unexpectedly on the mountain tops so goggles are recommended. If you buy goggles, make sure they offer UV protection; the sun glare off the snow can be hard on your eyes. Finally, cover up your head with a warm toque.
Note: the amount and warmth of the clothing you decide to wear all depends on the forecast and the season. Obviously, spring skiing asks for cooler ski wear. Use your best judgement and always remember - too warm is better than too cold!
The right equipment for you
When it comes to choosing the best equipment, a beginner can more than manage with some inexpensive rental skis and poles. All of the ski resorts near Canmore offer rentals. Plus, you might find out that skiing is not for you so you might not want to spend too much money getting all geared up before hitting the slopes a few times.
Once you get the hang of it, enjoy it and start skiing more frequently, it's time to look at the option of purchasing your own equipment. Luckily, several online outlet stores (like Backcountry.com) let you browse various items before deciding on what brand, type and style of skis, poles, bindings and boots you want to invest in. Some online stores even offer used equipment if you want your own gear with a less expensive approach.
Where to ski
With five major ski resorts within an hour's drive, your stay in Canmore gives you access to a wide variety of skiing options.
Choose Nakiska, just 35 minutes away, for its smaller, uncrowded atmosphere. Visit Fortress Mountain for its two mountains and sweet snow conditions. You can try Mount Norquay if you like night skiing. Maybe you prefer Sunshine Village, which offers fast lifts, the most snow and great powder. There's also the ski resort in Lake Louise, the largest ski area in North America.
No matter which resort you choose, there is enough skiing around Canmore to keep you coming back season after season.
For the extreme skier
If you're an experienced skier, you know that powder snow is the ultimate experience. However, you also are aware of the fact that it's rare and hard to find. Even though most ski mountains get frequent snowfall, the dryness and depth of the snow is marginal. Add the early morning traffic to all this and the deep, smooth, untracked powder is soon groomed and packed, making that "perfect powdered run" hard to come by.
The good news is that there are alternatives to being a conventional "powder chaser". There is ski touring, heli ski and Cat Skiing.
Ski touring is arduous and time consuming. For those who aren't familiar with it, you basically trek through the backcountry on remote alpine peaks, far from crowded resorts. You can then enjoy the powder as well as the peaceful nature of the uncrowded slopes.
Those who are willing to spend a bit of money to get the ultimate skiing experience can choose Heli Skiing. This type of skiing has been around for several years. It consists of hitching a ride aboard a helicopter to the top of the mountain where there is powder as far as the eyes can see. This however will run you around $1000 a day and is only available to proficient skiers. Also available are multiple day guided tours on huge, isolated slopes upon mountain tops.
This type of adventure does not come without its downsides. There are days when the helicopter cannot fly due to inclement weather conditions and there is always the inherent risk of avalanches. However, all reputable heli-operators provide qualified guides who know the safest routes down the slopes. When weather is unforgiving, guides will restrict skiing to the wooded areas; "skiing the trees".
Tree skiing is usually associated with another type of mechanized skiing - cat skiing. This type of extreme skiing is fairly new. Basically, a snowcat (a large mechanized snow caterpillar) takes you up the mountain. This takes more time than by helicopter but some prefer its more cozy, relaxed and tranquil environment. Snowcats boast comfortable cabins than can accommodate up to 12 people, a guide and a driver. While you scale the mountain in this comfy coach, you can nibble on some snacks, warm up and even sit out the next run. Yes, even if snowcat skiing or snowcats are slower, most people get their money's worth and wear themselves out.
Cat skiing is more affordable than its big brother, heli-skiing. It will run you approximately $600 a day, including transportation, lodging, meals and guiding. Plus, snowcats still run in inclement weather. This cuts down on "down days" you would get with a helicopter. This way, especially if your ski vacation is limited for time, you get the most amount of skiing possible.
Of course, like its big brother, cat skiing has its limitations. The snowcats can't go everywhere a helicopter can so cat skiing is more limited geographically. However, cat-operators become very familiar with their "limited geography" and this limits unpredicted events.
For more resources about heli ski or about cat skiing or even about snowcat skiing, please review these links.
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