Posted by Kevin on Wednesday, Oct 25 2017

Written by: Timothy Johnson

Mount Norquay - North American

Wandering along Banff Avenue, one could be excused for momentarily forgetting that they are in Canada’s first national park. The abundance of restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and gear shops and the buzz of activity along Banff’s main drag lend a classic ski town vibe. It’s only a skyward glance at the lofty, craggy peaks that frame the townsite that will remind you that the town of Banff occupies a small fragment of the 6641 square kilometre footprint of Banff National Park. 

When you take yourself out of town, up and away into the mountains, you’re afforded that change in perspective that simultaneously awes and disquiets as you ponder your place amidst the endless expanse of the Rockies. One of the best places to take it all in is a ride up the North American chair at Mount Norquay. The oldest of Banff’s three resorts, Norquay rises above the town of Banff and since 1926 has served up amazing views and epic turns on some of the steepest terrain you’ll find anywhere. 

On days when the town wakes up to some fresh snowfall, knowing locals will beeline to Norquay and charge hard laps on the “Big Chair”, as the North American chairlift is known to locals, and still be back in town for lunch. My fave route down - North American, number 1 on the Norquay trail map - is a tried-and-true classic...wide and steep and pretty much unchanged all these years, offering up around 1300 vertical feet of grin (or grimace, depending on the girth of your quads) -inducing steeps.  

The steep ride up the old double chair affords ample time to rest the legs between runs and cheer/jeer the one or two folks you might see getting worked over on Liftline. As you crest the lip to disembark, head skier’s right and take in a timeless view. The Town of Banff far, far below, the castle turrets of the Banff Springs Hotel, the grey snaking path of the Trans Canada Highway - all are dwarfed by the Rockies, their vastness and reach much more pronounced from your lofty perch. Then you realize that you’re still only seeing a sliver of the wilderness that makes up the National Park, and then the wheels start turning about spending a season or two out here...

With the townsite far below, the perspective lends the mind to thinking that a fall may just end up with you sliding to a stop outside the Rose & Crown on Banff Ave. Push off and start cranking the turns...if it hasn’t snowed in awhile, you’ll likely find a few bumps of “generous” proportion to spice it up a bit. With a few centimetres of fresh snow to soften things up, North American is wide enough and steep enough to keep things from getting tracked out too quickly. On a big powder day, if you’re up there on a first chair, your run down will be the stuff of legend, recollected and retold without embellishment over apres beers for years to come. Keep on punching out the turns, eventually working your way left to get back to the chair. Smile...catch the breath...and take a second to think about those folks charging down on long, stiff hickory planks back in the day. It’s a classic line that’s stood the test of time.