Castle Mountain by Kate Barker
It’s a bit of a drive to Castle Mountain Resort from Canmore. But I’ve never shied away from “a bit of a drive”. Usually the journey is punctuated with some of the most stunning views of the Rocky Mountains as you drive through rolling foothills and small ranching towns. I’ve made this drive many times just for the scenery. At 5 o’clock in the morning in January, however, there’s not much to see beyond the headlights.
We arrived at Castle Mountain with lots of time to pick up our rental gear and meet our contacts for the day. We came for a media event, and it was our first time at this particular ski hill. It was also my first time on skis in over 10 years. Do I remember how to do this? Do I still bounce when I fall? I’m sure I’ll be fine. How bad can it be! Right?
After the introductions at the day lodge, we joined groups based on our skill level. Our guide, John, was ready to show us around the ski area. He started with introductions and a bit about the resort. Then it was time to hit the slopes! I remembered how to secure the boots and click into my skis. We skated to the first lift, and fortunately I remembered how to do that as well. So far so good. I rode the chairlift with John who filled me in on some details about the resort. Castle Mountain is one of his favourites because it has a variety of terrain for all levels and it doesn’t get too busy. It has great snow. Because of its location, it’s often warm, making it ideal for spending the day skiing and snowboarding. This day it was a balmy 4 degrees and sunny. Perfect!
Our first run was a combined green and blue run that exposed us to different terrain and gave John an idea of how well we could ski. Apparently my muscles remembered what to do and I relaxed into the rhythm. We weren’t about speed in the morning, so John had time to stop and tell us about the mountain and its features.
Satisfied that everyone in our group could keep up, we went to the next lift. John chose a run that took us the long way around the mountain. It was the perfect opportunity to see more of the resort. Our final run of the morning was a blue run with some steep terrain towards the bottom of the hill. It was a bit icy and I took my first fall mid mountain avoiding a snowboarder in our group who fell right where I was planning to stop. Apparently, I do still bounce! For now anyway…
Then we were released for the afternoon! Thanks to our tour from John, and the maps they handed out at the beginning of the day, we explored the different runs with ease and confidence. It made for a fun afternoon of skiing that made me realize how much I miss this sport.
Our afternoon was complete with a snowcat tour of Haig Ridge. This area is often used by catskiers and we had to schedule our tour around their expeditions for the day. We met at the top of the chairlift to adventure even further up the mountain. We could see the chutes - steep "off-piste" areas of powdery snow and narrow passages between the thick trees. These Chutes provide world class skiing that draws people to Castle Mountain from all over North America. We followed the route taken by some catskiers and saw the runs they were tackling for the day. Powder is the draw for these skiers, and this day would have been fantastic!
Once we reached the end of the snowcat run, our guide, Hamish, took us to the top of the ridge. We could see EVERYTHING! The resort, the prairies, British Columbia, Montana and all of the peaks that make up the southern Rockies. What a view! Hamish discussed various aspects of the mountain lodge and told us about the full snowcat tour, which is something fairly new to Castle Mountain. It opens up the resort to more than just downhill enthusiasts.
We took our final run down the mountain with mixed feelings: it was fun to be back on the slopes, but we were sad the experience was almost over. We stopped at the T Bar for an après-ski drink and snack before the drive home. Much like all of the staff at Castle Mountain, everyone at the bar was friendly, relaxed and very helpful. The staff made the experience unforgettable.
Overall, Castle Mountain combines amazing skiing so indicative of the Rockies with the laid-back, small-town atmosphere of southern Alberta. It was a wonderful day to be on the slopes and it was the perfect re-introduction to downhill skiing after a 10-year hiatus.
For anyone looking to ski in Alberta, make sure to check out Castle Mountain. It’s well worth the drive.