Canada Ski Holidays
Canada

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Talk to many hardened skiers and boarders about Canada, and the first thing they’ll mention is the massive snowfall there. Canada has built an entire industry on the huge snow dumps that come in off the Pacific, with resorts like Whistler averaging around 400 inches of snow a year. That’s just over 33 feet, or about the height of house! Unlike Europe, you can rely on very regular snowfall in Canada so if powder is your thing then you stand a far better chance of finding fresh tracks here than pretty much anywhere else in the world! There is also an incredibly well developed heliskiing and snowcat skiing industry in Canada, offering trips to steep and deep powder fields at great prices. A trip on a snowcat (the North American name for a piste basher) costs just £20 a time and opens up much of the same area as a helicopter drop!

That said, Canada is not just for powder hounds. Families and skiers of all ages and abilities are extremely well catered for, with ‘on piste police’ to stop skiers racing too fast through the beginners’ area as well as a very fast, modern lift system and the infamous ‘double black diamond’ runs, which rival even the most serious Swiss itineraries! With the snow does come some fairly changeable weather systems, so if you’re looking for two hour lunches on beautiful sun terraces with amazing cuisine then it is probably best to stick to Switzerland in March.

On-mountain lunches in Canada are a different affair entirely to what people find in Europe, and vast self service canteens are commonplace. Table service is hard to come across but is starting to make more of an appearance as more Canadians have started to head out to Europe and see what they are missing! For example, ‘Steeps Grill’ in Whistler offers crab cakes followed by duck leg confit, a far cry from the usual fare of fast food, macaroni & cheese and chicken wings! Another really popular reason to head out to Canada is the chance of a longer holiday, combining skiing with a city break in the beautiful city of Vancouver.

With a lengthy flight time of around 10 hours this can be a really enjoyable way of spending a few extra days on holiday and not feeling like you’ve spent half of your time on a plane!

Geography

The Canadian resorts are split into two distinct areas, east and west, and each has its own pros and cons. The best skiing in the west is in British Columbia and Alberta, whereas you will generally be heading to French speaking Quebec if you’re staying in the east. Although you can ski in pretty much every single Canadian province during the winter, the British tour operators tend to stick with the aforementioned areas. British Colombia, or BC, boasts around 30 winter resorts with the most popular being Whistler, just a couple of hours away from Vancouver. The remaining most popular Canadian resorts are found in Alberta, mainly based in the huge Banff National Park; Lake Louse, Mt Norquay and Sunshine Village. Quebec doesn’t have the same reputation for huge powder dumps as other parts of Canada, with the weather being a little bit more European in its nature. Geographically speaking Tremblant and the other Eastern resorts are much closer to Europe than BC and Alberta are, so you get to spend more time enjoying the slopes and less time travelling. The majority of the resorts are close to Montreal, Quebec and Toronto, with the most popular being Mont Tremblant and Le Massif which are about an hour away from Quebec.

Families

Families are extremely well catered for in Canada, and it’s a wonderful place to take the kids skiing. The levels of service and care are in a different league compared to the brisk treatment people sometimes experienced in France, with lift attendants who actually care if you get on and off safely, piste patrols to stop people skiing dangerously and restaurant staff who will smile at you and ask if you’re having a nice day! The lift system in Canada is really well set up for families and you’ll never get people pushing in. The ski schools tend to be staffed by complete professionals who would never dream of turning up to work with a hangover, and if anyone gets cold in ski school then it’s straight into the nearest hut for a warming hot chocolate rather than endless snakes down the hill until the end of the lesson. Many Canadian resorts provide week long ‘kids’ camps’ that look after your children throughout the week and allow them to make friends independently whilst you head out on the mountain. Bigger kids and teens can hang out in the family friendly snow parks or take their first steps off-piste if they are able. Although the thought of flying the family almost half way around the world for a Canadian ski holiday might sound a little pricey, whilst it is undoubtedly more expensive than a trip to the European slopes, it does offer a whole lot more!

Snowboarders

Boarders are spoilt for choice in Canada with many of the resorts offering truly world class facilities for freeriding, freestyle and just regular piste boarding. The recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver gave the whole of western Canada a funding boost as teams from all around the world trained in the build up to the Games, so facilities are excellent. All of the snow parks in Canada are beautifully groomed, mainly because there’s so much fresh snow fall, and are constantly adapting the lines and the jumps based on emerging trends. Those in search of amazing powder will not be disappointed. Canada’s extremely extensive snow cat skiing network gives you access to much of the same powder as heli-dops, but at a fraction of the price. For those who would rather stick to the pistes, drag lifts and t-bars are at a real minimum so access across the resorts is wonderfully easy by chairlift and gondola.

Skiers

Intermediate skiers are spoilt for choice in Canada with a huge range of very wide runs, first rate signposting, minimal queues and first class piste grooming. You’ll notice that almost everyone wears a helmet on the mountain in Canada, and you’ll often need one to go into a snow park so do pick one up. They are available at much cheaper prices than in many European resorts so there really isn’t much of an excuse. Off piste in Canada is what a lot of people go for and the mountain safety record is second to none, with superb avalanche control measures in place. The attitude towards off-piste is quite different to Europe and you don’t need to worry about resort staff washing their hands of you because you’ve strayed off the piste. As long as you are within the boundary of the resort then you’re going to be within a patrolled area with someone to pick you up if you’ve had a tumble – just remember to take your mobile phone with you!

For Foodies

Dining in Canada is not quite the experience that it can be in resorts like Zermatt and La Tania with their Michelin starred restaurants, but that’s not to say that you can’t find excellent food in Canadian resorts. Your best bet for top notch dining is always going to be in the resort towns rather than on the mountain, you can find excellent steak houses as well as more European style restaurants in all of the major resorts, just be sure to pack your appetite! On-mountain you will generally find that food is a ‘mass catering’ affair offering hearty self service food at reasonable prices but there are a few stand out locations that deserve a mention. The Crystal Hut in Whistler serves delicious fresh waffles which are a perfect mid morning snack if you’ve been on the hill since first lifts. The Eagle’s Eye restaurant in Kicking Horse is perched right on top of the mountain and offers local, seasonal produce, excellent wine and what must be one of the best views in Canada for you to enjoy.
For Groups

Taking a group of friends out to Canada can be both expensive and time consuming, but if you’re willing to make a bit of effort it can be an amazing holiday. The catered chalet market isn’t nearly as well developed in North America as it is in Europe, with the vast majority of accommodation being in hotels or in self catering condominiums (condos). Hotels don’t really work particularly well for a large group but a large condo can be fantastic fun if you don’t mind cooking for yourselves or eating out. That said, there are a few catered chalets around and the concept is beginning to catch on.
Apres-Ski

The apres-ski scene in Canada really is great fun! It’s definitely one of the elements of a European ski holiday that has totally caught on... Live music is easy to find across Canadian ski resorts and there is a bit more of a culinary twist to Canadian après ski, with cheap offers on nachos, tacos and chicken wings to help soak up the beer.

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