Driving west on the Trans Canada highway from Calgary on a sunny spring weekend, you’re just as likely to see vehicles carrying mountain bikes as you are to spot skis and snowboards strapped to their roofs.
It may be full-on T-shirt season in and around the city by the time April and May roll around, but several Rocky Mountain ski resorts are revelling in winter’s final throes.
“If the weather’s beautiful in Calgary, people are starting to think about summer and cleaning their garages out and going golfing,” said Leigha Stankewich, with Lake Louise Ski Resort.
“Out here, we still have snow and it’s going to stick around right till May.”
Lake Louise, about two hours west of Calgary in Banff National Park, closes May 5.
Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort, about 140 kilometres west of Calgary and also in Banff, stays open until Victoria Day, which falls on May 20 this year. However, the resort’s Goat’s Eye Mountain area, which is at a lower elevation, tends to close earlier.
“We’re really just getting our second wind come March 21 on the first official day of spring and we have two more months of great skiing after that,” Sunshine’s Kendra Scurfield says.
Many resorts close out their seasons with big bashes featuring DJs, bands and barbecues in their base areas. Visitors enjoying apres-ski beers in the sun can watch skiers and snowboarders zoom down the hill and attempt to leap over ice-cold pools of water.
“The best part about it is you cheer if somebody makes it across and you go insane because it hardly happens. And then you also cheer if someone has a big wipeout,” Scurfield says of Sunshine’s end-of-season festivities known as Slush Cup.
Lake Louise has its annual Shake the Lake season-ender party slated for April 27.
Across the boundary in the B.C. Rockies, resorts have their final blowouts by mid-April.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C., has a beach party April 6 and Sunsplash Funkfest the following weekend. Kimberley Alpine Resort has Spring Splash on April 6. And Fernie Alpine Resort has a retro weekend March 30 followed by its two-day Fernival festival on April 13-14.
Matt Mosteller – a.k.a. “Powder Matt” – is a spokesman for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, whose properties include Kicking Horse, Kimberley and Fernie. He’s a big fan of Fernie’s retro weekend, when he has an excuse to bust out his best, tackiest ‘80s outfits.
“Dressing up with big hair and big boots and a colourful, really bright outfit and playing air guitar in the plaza at Fernie is a pretty special time,” he says.
Zany costumes in general are a regular feature of spring skiing in the Canadian Rockies, where fuzzy animal onesies and superhero getups are a common sight on the hill.
B.C. and Alberta locals are big on spring skiing, but Mosteller said an increasing number of people are booking trips from further afield during April and May.
“Even though spring can sometimes be variable, predominantly you’re having fresh snow and bright sunshine as a mix during your week,” he says.
Stankewich says the back bowls of Lake Louise tend to have great snow right until the end of the season, but some other areas get slushier and messier.
“Some seasons we manage to keep most things open, and then others you start to see some more rocks and grass come through,” she says.
“Our base is still pretty good this year. So, I think things should stay open pretty late.”
Sun protection is key, as the lingering white snow intensifies rays that are already stronger at high altitudes. UV-blocking goggles or glasses are a must, as well as loads of sunscreen.
“A lot of people don’t think about that, but you’re starting to see all of the goggle tans out there,” Stankewich says.