Thursday, January 18, 2018

Luxury, levity and lounging at the Lake Louise Inn

Lake Louise Inn
One of the best ways to ski Lake Louise is to stay right by the hill in order to get first dibs at overnight snow and really take advantage of all the après ski in the iconic village of Lake Louise. It’s not huge, more a hamlet, but it has everything you need from a selection of shops (including an old-fashioned candy store and Wilson Mountain Sports, which incidentally stocks Kari Traa, one of my fave brands), cafés (notably Laggans for cakes), an affordable hostel, and several ritzy restaurants (especially at The Post Hotel & Spa and Deer Lodge). 

Pool and hot tub area at Lake Louise Inn
At the eating epicenter of Lake Louise is the Lake Louise Inn which actually houses three of the village’s restaurants – an Italian, Timberwolf Pizza and Pasta (my pick), Legends Restaurant for breakfast buffets and posh dining and, the locals’ favourite, Explorers' Lounge, which features late-night Karaoke on Wednesdays and a Country Music event on Saturdays along with a Canadian-themed affordable menu including bison, wild boar and elk. Add to this a huge indoor swimming pool, three hot tubs, and beautifully-appointed apartments of all sizes, and the Lake Louise Inn is a great choice for couples, families or groups of friends.
Epoch Times sharing space with
The Rocky Mountain Outlook at
Lake Louise Inn
Set in a woodland grove, festively fairy-lit at night, the Lake Louise Inn appeals to locals on a weekend staycation, international tourists (including an increasing number of Chinese visitors as indicated by the stand of Mandarin newspapers in the foyer), and keen skiers and snowboarders from all over Canada drawn by Lake Louise’s reputation for great early snow, a five month-plus winter season and back bowl bonanza. Gathering in the heavenly hot tubs after skiing, you get to chat with all these touring types, sharing stories and secrets about Lake Louise’s 4200-acre terrain and 145 runs.

Whether a couple on a romantic retreat or an extended family with grandparents in tow, the Inn has an apartment configuration that works. For us, it was a one bedroom top-floor condo that was big enough to stay for the whole season (unfortunately we only had two nights). Drip trays for wet boots, lots of storage closets and handy hooks to hang damp ski gear - all signs of thoughtful accommodation for skiers’ specific needs (even though high season and highest occupation at Lake Louise are actually in the summer). Other favourite features were the cosy fireplace, Ski Canada magazines on the coffee table, balcony, comfy king bed, big TVs in both bedroom and living room, and really luxurious modern bathroom with heated floors, a jetted tub and a spacious walk-in shower. Along with a well-planned open-concept mini kitchen, the décor is good enough for the ‘after’ on an HGTV reno show. Luggage carts – just like at airports but without payment slots – line the reception area but most apartments have ample parking right in front. 

Christmas cheer at Lake Louise Inn
Another thing I liked this December was the holiday uniform worn by reception staff – ‘ugly Christmas sweaters’. Actually they were all very cute and colourful and added to the fun and festive vibe. And of course the regular free shuttles to the hill are priceless when avoiding parking lineups (there are shuttles to Lake Louise from Banff too).

Bonus for SkiBig3 day ticket and passholders: 15% off food and drinks with dinner at all three of the Lake Louise Inn restaurants. Don't forget to use your pass perks - so many just get left unclaimed!
Christian Falardeau at the top of the six-pack Top of the World Express chair at Lake Louise
This December Lake Louise was honoured by a visit from Justin Trudeau - a former ski and snowboard instructor at Whistler - who stayed at remote Skoki Lodge and also skied the resort. He joins a long list of premier patrons seeking an secluded ski getaway, including Will and Kate in 2011. Another celeb skier was my powder pal, Christian Falardeau, ace sport photographer and columnist for Zone, who skied there over Christmas with his wife, Vanessa. “Larch and Ptarmigan are my favourite slopes. The quality of snow on these back mountain sides is always better than the front,” says Christian. “Less people go there - tourists tend to stick to the front side, closer to the main lodge. And you also get the best view of the Rockies on the back side.”

Torchlight Descent from Whitehorn Lodge - courtesy of Christian Falardeau
Instead of Mexico this year, they decided on a skiing Christmas, with Vanessa taking a group lesson at Lake Louise on Dec 24. That evening, the couple joined in one of Lake Louise’s foremost après ski events, the Xmas Eve Torchlight Descent and dinner which I also enjoyed a few years ago with my family. “We took the 3:30pm last gondola to the summit for a freshly groomed descent to the Whitehorn Bistro, located mid-mountain for two hours of après-ski,” Christian describes. “At 6:30pm we turned on our frontal lamps and headed down to the base of the mountain. The conditions were extremely cold but the night was awesome.” A huge Christmas banquet with dancing followed, with shuttle buses back to all the Lake Louise and Banff accommodation later on. This iconic event is held at signature intervals throughout the season (upcoming Jan 26 and Feb 14) and is bucket list fun!

Action pic from December at Lake Louise - by Christian Falardeau
Christian has skied Lake Louise five times since discovering it in 2013. “I started to ski in 1998 in the Ottawa region. Back then, the mountain vertical was about 500 feet. Then I moved in Montréal in 2006 where I discovered Mt-Tremblant. At that point, I really thought this was big mountain skiing... until I came to ski Lake Louise.” He’s now hooked on the Rockies and also fits in a few trips to the Alps each season.

Me in Rossignol JC de Castelbajac garb and trusty Temptation 84 skis at Lake Louise
My own two ski days at Lake Louise were postcard perfect – blue skies with occasional mist, warmish temps for December, and soft snow left over from a decent dump that week. Fave run (as always) was Lynx, fave bowl area Brownshirt, fave (short) hike Mineshaft, and, on the front, Meadowlark was magical. As it was mid December, Christmas shopping and office parties had depleted numbers, leaving the snow less trammeled for lucky me. The snow there has continued to be consistently good with cold temps over the holidays keeping it light and enabling mega-snowmaking for the higher traffic areas - 381cm snowfall at the back, 146 cm snowdepth so far. As I have been shouting out on social media since mid December, the snow is abundant in Western Canada this winter!!🏂🏔⛄❆⛷🎿
Lake Louise back bowls off the Summit Platter - by Christian Falardeau