You won't get the full effect of Alberta's Lake Louise from social media or reviews that fit on a postcard. Instead, take the platter lift to the 8,765-foot summit of Mount Whitehorn, where it's clear to the naked eye: This place is huge. It's way bigger than what shows in the Universal Sports broadcast of the World Cup speed races here every fall. Think more than 4,200 skiable acres and a bounty of backcountry options.
You might need local guide Sandy Best, if not for his guiding services, then certainly for his entertaining chairlift banter. He spends half the year in the Canadian Rockies and the other half running a diving lodge in South Pacific island nation of Tonga, so he has stories to tell. Early this month, Best and I spent the day scratching Lake Louise's surface, tipping into the back bowl chutes and darting through the larch trees. Our lines are steep enough to get the heart pumping and long enough to merit a hot chocolate break at Temple Lodge. Here, ersatz palm trees and Lou Vega's "Mambo No. 5" are harbingers of the long spring days ahead, when skiers suntan on the wooden deck.
But for now, it's still mid-winter, and grizzlies are hibernating. Best and I bounce through the moguls of the Rock Garden, then peer back up at a jumble of boulders—strictly off-limits at most resorts, but not at wild Lake Louise. Best points out little gaps in the snow where, he says, you sometimes see the breath of sleeping bears. I wasn't going to wait for the feed. —Sarah Tuff
For more information, visit skilouise.com.