Lake Louise, Alberta

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Published March 2000. This article does not reflect any lift upgrades or terrain expansions since then.

Terrain Ability






Lake Louise






Lake Louise is one of North America's largest ski mountains at 4,200 acres. It is much quieter than other large ski areas as it is located in a scenic national park where resort development is restricted. The layout bears a superficial resemblance to Vail, with a tall frontside trail system and huge alpine bowls on the backside. However, Louise tends to be more challenging with steeper and rockier terrain and more variable snow conditions. The most noteworthy flaws are the low snowfall and occasional arctic weather, both of which can be minimized with careful planning.

Lift Serviced














High Mths

Low Mths


Direction of Exposure





GE 90 in.

LT 30 in.

Base Depth





Lake Louise, Alberta 6,700












The snow is measured near Temple Lodge at the base of Larch. Snowfall on the upper mountain averages 200 inches, which is still low for expert terrain. Therefore it is essential that skiers try to visit when coverage is highest. Fortunately, the snow preserves well with cold temperatures and high altitude and latitude. We make the following recommendations to optimize conditions.


  1. Go in mid-to-late season, February to April, when coverage is at a maximum. The colder weather is then an advantage, preserving the snow better than at areas farther south. Sun intensity at Louise in early April is similar to Colorado in mid-February.
  2. If you're not going until February at the earliest, why not wait until after Christmas to make reservations? This way you can avoid the worst years, when Lake Louise will be very rocky. Look for a reported mid-mountain base depth of at least 5 feet to ensure adequate coverage of the expert terrain.
  3. For those who still want to reserve early, consider that the Banff region averages 120% of normal snow in La Nina years (most recent 2000, 1999 and 1997). Conversely, El Nino snowfall averages only 85% of normal (1998 and 1993 were particularly poor).


Terrain Type:

Cruising: Larch is the prime area. It faces northwest and has numerous tree-lined runs of 1000+ vertical with good visibility. The runs on the front side are longer, but are snowmaking dependent and may have some hard spots. In spring afternoons the front side softens to a pleasant but not slushy surface for excellent cruising.


Moguls: The most popular mogul area is under the Paradise lift on the backside. The most challenging bumps are on the steep runs near the Ptarmigan chair. Ptarmigan faces southeast and usually has more difficult snow than Paradise.


Steeps: Lake Louise's back bowls have an abundance of steep terrain when coverage is adequate. Traverse to skier's right from Paradise for numerous steep drops into the bowl. For sustained steeps the entire Whitehorn area (5-7 chutes of 1000+ vertical) off the back of the Summit platter is outstanding. While there was hardly a rock in sight in Whitehorn in April 1999, we were told that this area rarely opens in average or below snow years.


Wide Open Spaces: The expanse in the back bowls is comparable to Vail's. There is more of a wilderness ambience because there is much less lift access and thus very low skier density in the areas reachable only by the Summit platter. Since the bowls face north, the snow preserves very well. The downside is that visibility is difficult on cloudy or snowy days. On sunny days, don't forget your camera for the scenery voted best in North America in some ski magazine polls.


Trees: On Larch, most of the area to skier's left is naturally gladed. When the snow is right, Ptarmigan has the steep tree skiing. Sometimes overlooked are the trees near the Eagle chair on the front side.


Powder: You need to be lucky to get powder with the snow averages shown above. If you do get fresh snow, you'll have more time to enjoy it at Louise than at most large ski areas due to low skier density. In poor weather stick to the tree areas mentioned above. If visibility is OK, use the Summit platter and there should be limitless powder runs in all directions.


Hiking and Backcountry: From the Summit platter, West Bowl lies outside the boundary and requires a long traverse back to Louise's base area. From Larch some skiers hike up the ridgeline to ski 40+ degree Elevator Shaft. Continue hiking past Lipallan Mt. to reach Purple Bowl, where powder can preserve for weeks. Finally, serious backcountry skiers can stay at Skoki Lodge, an 11 km. trek from Temple Lodge at the base of Larch.


Crowds: Louise has less lift capacity but also fewer skiers than the other North American ski areas of comparable size. The 3 high-speed quads are in the right places (2 to ascend from the base plus one in the popular Larch area) to handle crowds. One would suspect a choke point at the low capacity Summit platter, which is the only access to so much outstanding terrain. However, with excellent weather and conditions last spring, the lift line was only about 5 minutes. Skier density on most of the mountain is very low, as Louise gets only about one third as many skiers per season as Vail.


Intermediates: Lake Louise is no Vail for intermediate skiers. The front side is much narrower, and the expansive backside has just a handful of groomed blue routes. Larch, the best intermediate area, is a close analogy to Vail's Game Creek Bowl. Intermediates visiting Banff will likely split their ski time between Louise and Sunshine Village, while experts will want to spend the majority of the time at Louise.


Novices: There are a few easy runs on the lower half of the front side. You need to be able to handle blue runs to get over the top to reach Larch. Beginners will be happier with both terrain and snow conditions at Sunshine.


Children: While Lake Louise gets a lot of Canadian family business, there is no on-site lodging. It also helps if all family members are fairly strong skiers.


While development in the Banff / Lake Louise area has been restricted to preserve its scenic environment, summer is the peak tourist season and it is not that difficult for skiers to find lodging. However, most of the lodging is in Banff, which is a 45-minute drive (or bus ride) from the Lake Louise ski area. Advanced skiers should make the effort to stay in Lake Louise, 5-10 minutes from the ski area. Particularly recommended are two luxury accommodations, Chateau Lake Louise and the Post Hotel. Thanks to the exchange rate, you can enjoy these for the price of ordinary lodging in most U.S. ski resorts.