21 lifts, 3 resorts, 1 day 0
The plan was simple. Ski every chairlift within the Bow Valley. in one single day.
See, there are three premier ski resorts in Banff National Park and choosing which one to ski can actually be a complex decision. Does one follow the weather for the best conditions or re-attempt the runs from last time? It was this very situation and discussion that brought about the idea of "why not all three?" With Lake Louise Ski Resort, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay all some 60 kilometres from one another and a ski pass that actually says to "ski the big three" it seemed to at least warrant an attempt to conquer the Valley's ski hills.
Our goal was to be on the North American Chair at Norquay by last lift up. From Lake Louise through Sunshine, the second oldest functioning chairlift in North America, with its bird's eye view of Banff, seemed to be a fitting place to end this epic day. With the only rules being; no speeding on the highway, and bonus points earned by not using a single chairlift more then once, we began planning our routes.
Knowing we were to spend more time on chairlifts and driving then we would actually be skiing the thought of completing this feat compelled us.
Looking over the trail guides for each mountain, preparing for it was half the fun. "What about the Platter at Louise? It's not a chairlift" says one. "But it's the summit!" counters another. After each of us added their two cents we came up with what we thought was the most efficient way of tackling each resort. The Palma at Louise is in, t-bars and carpets are out (why bring the beginners in to this mayhem).
To gain time we chose to start at Ski Louise and then head back east.
Not only were we able to drive when the lifts haven't even started but that way we could also take advantage of Norquay's night skiing if needed, hence the Friday date.
We departed from Banff just before 7 a.m. with the vision of catching the first ride up and dropping into the backside. Hustling to the Grizzly Gondola we found a short line-up that started to rattle our confidence a bit (after all we may need to count on every minute).
However the delay shortened when the line started moving at 8:50 a.m., giving us the feeling of an early start. Fired up and motivated we sped down the first runs. Paradise and Larch fell so quickly and before you knew it we were going up Ptarmigan heading back to the front!
Always looking at my watch I would immediately forget the time when we got off the lift.
We raced down like men on a mission carving through the fresh corduroy.
Although I prayed for a non powder day (first time ever!) the light snow was welcoming as we flew from the top to the bottom over and over again.
Down the frontside to the base we nestled in to Glacier Express for the two lift combo to the Top of the World exit. After traversing west and dropping down under Whitehorn's peak to ride the Summit Platter, it was frontside down ending with the ski/boarder-cross course. Unclipped and scurrying back to car for lunch-on-the-go we knew the crux was coming next. Sunshine.
Blasting through Lake Louise in just less than two hours we headed to what we felt would be the resort that could take the longest amount of time.
On the drive we reviewed the plan and still could not be sure if we would be successful in our goal. With the excitement to start skiing again mixing with the motivation to succeed I struggled to not bend the one and only rule (god bless cruise control).
Pulling in we grabbed the first parking spot available and huffed it to the entrance, me in my running shoes. I changed into my boots on the Gondola, stuffing my shoes into my backpack and minutes later we were on already our second lift, Angel Chair.
Up down, up down, up down, Tee Pee Town and the Strawberry-Divide combo got taken care of. Barring the poor visibility, Standish and Wawa came next.
On normal ski days the allure of dipping into the trees, seeking out those hidden first-tracks are all par for the course, however, this day was about speed.
Groomers and blues were on today's menu and shortly later Jack Rabbit and Wolverine were behind us leaving all but Goat's Eye and the ski out.
Two down and one to go!
"It going to happen" I yelled skiing thought the cars to the back of the parking lot.
On the road with the cruise control set we ate again as my passengers looked at Norquay's map.
With time finally on our side we felt confident enough to scrap the night skiing option and go for broke.
We were going to skip Cascade and walk to the first break, strap in and begin on the far side at Mystic Express, traverse over to Spirit and take Cascade to the finish line. The North American Chair.
It was about 3:30 p.m. and we each took our own lift up. I looked through my photos and it seemed like a couple of day's worth of skiing as all the lift pics blended into one another.
Twenty-one lifts, three mountains, one valley and now at the top of the last lift I took the most memorable of all the pictures.
The three of looking down from the teahouse, giggling about how tired we are and how much we did not want to ski down, strapped back in and prepared to end this day of days when the unmentionable happened . broken binding! Yup sure enough on the last mountain, at the top of the last lift and on the last run my friends' binding buggered up and it was heel side only through the mogul filled gully for him.
A fitting end? A lucky break? Who cares, it was the last run of the day.
Building a repertoire of so-called "everyman adventures," the next one is what Zanetti refers to as a "seasonal trifecta." He says the plan is to ski every available lift at Sunshine, then canoe from the highway exit to the Bow River bridge here in Banff, in order to make an afternoon tee time on the Tunnel Nine. weather permitting.
Mark Zanetti works for Discover Banff Tours as a guide. Both Ryan Neilson and James Plumridge work at the Fairmont Banff Spring with the Grounds Department. This adventure was completed on March 2, 2012.