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Food & Wine

Skiing in the Canadian Rockies offers mountains of scenic fun

For many years, we traveled to Austria for two weeks to ski. The snowfall in Europe was so unpredictable, however, that we ultimately settled on Canada. Whistler, in British Columbia, is a popular resort, but my favorite area is the province of Alberta.

Alberta is breathtaking, with awe-inspiring peaks, rushing rivers and lots of sunshine and snow. It's an ideal place for a winter ski holiday - the prices are considerably less than in other parts of the world, and Canadian winter is wonderful to experience.

I've been skiing Canada for more than 40 years, and in recent years I haven't even taken my skis - surprising, considering I have five pair. You can rent the latest equipment for a reasonable price. My skis have gotten shorter over the years - and it saves carrying them.

I've traveled to Alberta via train from Vancouver and driven several times, but the best way to get there is to fly into Calgary and take a bus to Banff, 90 minutes away. Skiers usually vote Whistler as their favorite destination, but I would rather ski the Big 3 - Lake Louise, Mount Norquay and Banff. The scenery is spectacular, there are great accommodations, prices are reasonable and the food is outstanding. All three resorts are located in Banff National Park, which straddles the Canadian Rockies.

Skiers can move easily among the three resorts. Lake Louise boasts 100 runs over 11 square miles of terrain, and what better place to stay than the Chateau Lake Louise, which offers a beautiful view of the Victoria Glacier? The Chateau is a great option for skiers who want the peace and quiet that the wilderness of a national park offers.

Banff's Sunshine Village gets more than 30 feet of snow each year, and the resort sports the longest ski season in the Rockies. It is home to the world's fastest high-speed quads, making the three mountain faces available to skiers of all skill levels. This is a wonderful place to visit - elk walk the snow-covered streets as casually as skiers and snowboarders. It used to be a sleepy little town, but Banff is now recognized as an international destination in summer and winter.

A mere l3 minutes from downtown Banff, Mount Norquay is probably the best-kept secret in the Rockies. The pioneering ski resort - its first chair lift opened in 1948 - has continued to change with the times. Night skiing is available on Fridays, and the new Timberline Lodge allows you to ski in and out your door.

Kicking Horse is another, less-crowded resort, and its location on the Continental Divide guarantees good snow. It is a popular destination for Canadian families.

Skiers can purchase a pass that allows them to ski all three areas, and the resorts offer a shuttle. Prices vary according to accommodation, and the most expensive packages come with your own ski instructor. I never ski a new mountain without a guide.

An option for expert adventure seekers is heli-skiing in the Cariboos. A small, remote lodge is accessible by helicopter, and each day the tour operator spirits you to the top of a mountain. You ski down with guides who are usually European champion skiers. I've also done this in the summer, and heli-hiking is something different and worth every penny.

Maureen Jones is president of Los Altos-based All Horizons Travel. For more information, call 941-5810.

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