Nordic Escapes to Banff, Stowe and Beaver Creek
BANFF, ALBERTA, CANADA
If skiing and riding the best resorts in North America is a bucket-list goal, then the Canadian Rockies must be on your list. Known as “the Last of the Wild Places,” Banff National Park was established in 1885 after railway workers stumbled onto a thermal hot spring. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site features the SkiBig3 (skibig3.com) resorts of Mt. Norquay, Banff Sunshine, and Lake Louise Ski Resort. With a total of 7,748 acres of skiable terrain, the three mountains and two alpine towns of Banff and Lake Louise offer a multitude of reasons to visit this 2023/24 season and beyond.
Lake Louise Ski Resort
As one of last season’s World Cup Alpine Skiing hosts, it’s no surprise Lake Louise is the reigning champion of Canada’s Best Ski Resort in 2022, and again in the spotlight as it secures its 11th consecutive nomination to the 2023 World Ski Resorts awards. It was also nominated for World’s Best Freestyle Resort. Its Summit Chairlift offers breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains and drops off riders at the top with three ways to get back down: navigating the front side of the mountain, delving into West Bowl’s 420 acres of freeride terrain, or exploring the Back Bowls of this 4,200-acre wilderness. But pro skiers and snowboarders aren’t the only ones who can enjoy the snow here. The quad Juniper Express Chairlift whisks beginners and low-intermediates to five dedicated blue trails in six minutes, with a second-phase upper extension coming in 2024/25. Two more new chairlifts are expected in 2025/26, one for a new Learning Area and one that will expand even more the intermediate and advanced trails. The resort is also home to the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (fairmont.com), located on the edge of the emerald lake and surrounded by soaring mountain peaks and Victoria Glacier. The hotel dates back to 1911 and is a gem among the other jewels in Fairmont’s collection of properties in Canada’s Western Mountain Region.
Banff is about a two-hour drive west from Calgary International Airport with the region’s oldest ski resort and hometown hill, Norquay, a first stop. If you’re seeking a challenge, Mt. Norquay offers some of the steepest terrain available at SkiBig3, with a vertical drop of 1,650 feet. The resort also recently enhanced its glading across the mountain for more tree skiing and powder stashes. But its biggest news is The Norquay 100 Vision plan in honor of its 100th anniversary in 2026. The plan promises significant upgrades for a more accessible and environmentally sustainable resort, such as replacing its chairlift built in 1946 with a two-station gondola and creating a wheelchair accessible series of summertime Via Ferrata routes, among other enhancements. The initiative hopes to restore sensitive wildlife habitats and decrease Norquay’s built footprint. The mountain is already powered by 100-percent renewable energy, running its chairlifts and day lodges on a mix of wind and low-impact hydropower since April 2021.
If you want to say you skied the Continental Divide between Alberta and British Columbia, get to Banff Sunshine. The views from the top are as magnificent as skiing and riding the 100-percent organic snow that falls annually up to 30 feet. The resort farms the snow drifts with more than 18.5 miles of fencing to reduce water usage and the farmed snow is then wind-blown around the mountain to create a base. Sunshine also boasts five terrain parks that progress from beginner to expert and a seven-month ski season from November to May, one of the longest in North America. Spring skiing here means warmer weather, powder days, extended lift hours, and the possibility of skiing in the morning and golfing in the afternoon, if you consider yourself a multisport athlete. For nighttime fun, the Banff Gondola offers a one-of-a-kind, immersive experience through digital effects, lights, projections, and original soundscapes high above the town. Called Nightrise, the multimedia show transforms Sulphur Mountain into a mesmerizing storytelling of the Indigenous peoples of the Stoney Nakoda Nation. It’s an inspiring perspective not to be missed.
The town of Stowe is busier than ever now that Epic Pass is accepted at the mountain, and many who come for Alpine skiing and snowboarding are finding other ways to avoid the congestion. “People are discovering us by taking the turn up Edson Hill Road to check out our Nordic Center, and they get hooked,” says Allison Casey, event sales and marketing manager for Edson Hill, a 22-room boutique hotel about a 12-minute drive from Stowe Mountain’s base. “Initially, our guests may come to go downhill, but once on-site, we’re finding a lot are trying cross-country skiing for the first time, and increasingly fat-tire biking throughout the winter.”
Edson Hill’s Nordic Center is housed in a historic barn next to the property’s horse stables. It’s quintessential Vermont with a cozy lounge and outdoor firepit for apres ski sessions. Snowshoes and cross-country skis are available to rent, along with Nordic ski lessons and guided snowshoe tours. The 38-acre property sits on the Catamount Trail network, which is a 300-mile backcountry ski trail that spans the length of Vermont, from Massachusetts to Quebec, with difficulty levels ranging from easy to strenuous on groomed and ungroomed trails.
A winding road travels up the hill from the Nordic Center, around a fishing pond, and toward the Manor House. Built as a private residence in 1940, Edson Hill was established as an inn 10 years later. In its heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, the owner’s Bogner ski model daughter created an upper-crust, celebrity party scene with her model friends that made Edson Hill the exclusive spot to be and be seen. “The tavern was always busy and the Nordic Center was really popular,” says Casey. “That fell off after her family sold the place, and for a few decades, it was just the typical, tired bed & breakfast.”
Its current owners are three Boston-based families who purchased the property in 2014 after spotting it on one of their annual family ski trips. They brought it back from its worn 1980s aesthetic with a total redesign. In an effort to preserve the iconic history, co-owner Susan Stacy, of Boston-based interior design firm Gauthier-Stacy, established a modern residential feel with a mix of contemporary and antique pieces, some found on the property and others she curated.
The Manor House features seven guestrooms, the Dining Room restaurant, and the Tavern bar. “We have a casual approach to hospitality,” says Casey. “No formal front desk, no lobby. The living room welcomes visitors. We’re inviting people into our home rather than into our hotel.” Four hillside cottages built in the ’80s add 15 more suites, and throughout the property every single guestroom is decorated differently. “They’re not necessarily themed but they’re individually designed,” Casey says. “This was all Susan Stacy’s vision and style, and it really sets Edson Hill apart.”
Edson Hill may not have all the amenities one might expect at a mountain resort, like hot tubs and a spa, but it does offers relaxation, serenity, and charm. When it relaunched in 2016, it was Stowe’s best-kept secret for a hot minute. Now, the patio off the living room requires reservations way in advance, as it’s the only restaurant in town with outdoor covered dining.
And the menu is simple, showing off the local ingredients organic to Vermont. “It’s not fussy,” says Casey, “and it’s going to be the best meal in town.” edsonhill.com
BEAVER CREEK, COLORADO
Top Mountain Dining
As home to the most dedicated learning terrain in Colorado, Beaver Creek Mountain’s Signature Parks Collection for beginner and intermediate skiers offers ideal trails and open spaces for working on skills, even advanced and expert skiers and riders can be found here experimenting with new moves. Accompanying the 200-acre Red Buffalo Park, located at the mountain’s highest elevation, and Haymeadow Park with its beginner gondola and magic-carpet lifts is the expansion of McCoy Park introduced last season. Its 250 acres mimic advanced groomed and gladed trails in an accessible bowl setting. McCoy even has a snowshoe and cross-country area along with a new warming hut, Eaton Haus, offering never-before-seen views of the Colorado Rockies.
Dining at the mountain has also been elevated with the resort’s three cabin experiences taking on new culinary concepts. For resort members only during the day, Beano’s, Zach’s and Allie’s open to the public at night with a snow cat-pulled, open-air sleigh ride from the base of Beaver Creek Village to each venue. Nestled in a mountain meadow that was once a lettuce patch and home to the pioneer farmer and restaurant namesake Frank “Beano” Bienkowski, Beano’s Cabin serves perfectly grilled Colorado game paired with an extensive wine list. Antler chandeliers light up the vaulted ceilings while a stone hearth and blazing fire offer a warm welcome upon arrival. An open kitchen design spotlights the mouthwatering dishes. Zach’s Cabin, perched on the mountainside above Bachelor Gulch, is all about sharing Alsatian favorites, such as fondues and oysters. Allie’s Cabin has a rustic elegance with a cozy bar and floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. It serves classic Northern Italian fare in a relaxed atmosphere; guests like to linger after a meal to enjoy the ambience with an aperitif before catching the next late-night sleigh back down to the village.
If a meal in the village is your preferred option, it’s worth getting a reservation at Citrea, located alongside the ice rink. Combining Colorado ingredients with modern interpretations of Mediterranean dishes, it’s the perfect place to unwind for après. Just try not to fill up on the warm home-baked breads or delicious array of appetizers before the meal arrives. For lunch, Slopeside Lounge is a great option, as its location at the base of Beaver Creek Mountain streamlines access back to the lifts after you’ve reenergized with a good meal. And, of course, there’s what Beaver Creek Village has become famous for, Cookie Time, when heaping trays of warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies are served complimentary at 3 p.m. in the Centennial and Haymeadow Base areas, marking a sweet end to an ideal day crushing it on the slopes.