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Snow Patrol

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20 April 2010

Sat within Banff National Park, the Rocky Mountain resorts of Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are universally regarded as North America's most scenic ski area.

"The expansive skies and wide open valleys give an immediate feeling of space and serenity," explains Mark Taylor, Wexas ski specialist, who recently returned from a promotional trip to Banff, courtesy of leading ski tour operator, Inghams. "It's totally different from arriving in a European Alpine resort. Instead of twisting mountain passes, the route into the park takes a broad straight road, either side of which stand snow-laden forests of pine, spruce and larch, home to elk, caribou and black and grizzly bears - a bonus for camera-toting wildlife enthusiasts."

"If it weren't for the crisp cold air and occasional ski shop," continues Nicola Michael, who accompanied Mark on the trip, "you might not realise that Banff was a ski town. It has just the same attractions as any town in North America - bars, clubs, restaurants and shopping malls - so theres as much to do off the slopes as there is on them."

its true that Banff is far from your typical ski resort, particularly if you compare it to those in Europe. For a start, there are no ski lifts in town. The locals' favourite ski spot, Mount Norquay, has a small collection of tree-lined runs up the hill from town, but the nearest major ski area is at Sunshine Village, a 20-minute transfer away; the other main area being Lake Louise, a 45-minute drive away.

"But dont be put off," insists Mark. "Transfers to all resorts run regularly throughout the day and are included in the price of your ski pass. The jaw-dropping drive through the national park is a pleasure, not a chore, and together, these mountains offer some of the best skiing in the world. Sunshine Village, for example, has an average snowfall of 10 m each winter, so powder days are the norm, not the exception."

"There are other advantages too," continues Nicola. "There are rarely any queues for the lifts and the slopes are so wide that crowding is never an issue. Europe, by contrast, begins to feel like a bun fight. Sunshine Village is especially good for beginners and intermediates. Unlike most European resorts, where the easier slopes tend to be at the base of the mountain, beginners here can ski right from the top and get down without a problem, taking in the views as they go."

"Advanced skiers are well catered for too," adds Mark. "Sunshine Village has a famous freeride area, 'Delirium Dive', where a 40- degree pitch is considered gentle. Lake Louise has the largest single collection of slopes in the Rockies, spread over high open flanks, tree-lined trails and the renowned back bowls. The great thing about Canada is you can ski where you want within the boundaries of the park, though you're advised to carry avalanche packs if you plan on straying far.

" Both Sunshine Village and Lake Louise also offer complimentary guiding at designated times of day. All you need do is arrive with your skis at the allotted time and place - a great way to get your bearings.

Nicola and Mark stayed at Caribou Lodge on the main Banff Avenue. The attractive and homely 4-star lodge features 195 wellappointed rooms, a steakhouse restaurant and bar, heated underground parking, exercise room and spa complete with hot pool and steam room.

At the other end of town, The Fairmont Banff Springs stands in princely splendour, styled like a Scottish baronial castle and offering stunning vistas, a championship golf course, exceptional regional cuisine, a renowned spa and indulgent service.

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