HITTING THE SLOPES: Mike (from left), Scott, Lee, C.T. and Adam won't hesitate to return to Banff.
Never a more jarring sight had I seen than that of a 250-pound football player blazing down a mountain like an out-of-control freight train, carving out the crag as he did, faster and deeper than 10 million years of meandering glacial meltwater. That is until I saw three other large guys following the former University of Missouri linebacker down the mountain in equally graceless head-over-board-over-bottom somersaults. Everyone was OK, mind you — pride excluded. Other than some light mountain rash and dinged-up helmets, their injuries were nothing a few Molsons couldn’t cure.

The brogue of a cackling Australian-Scotsman atop the aptly named double-black-diamond Adrenaline run on Lake Louise’s Whitehorn 2 bowl could be heard by the beat-up boys down below. “Oh, that was pretty,” he laughed into the thin mountain air. “See what happens when you let the mountain intimidate you? You guys look ridiculous. Especially you, Scott. You look like you’re about to cry.”

Sandy Best is a legend in these parts. Truthfully, he’s more of a folk hero ­— combination zen master skier and cartoon character. Seemingly everybody knows him. He is the unofficial mayor of Lake Louise, a mountain hamlet that is every bit the draw to this part of Alberta, Canada, as its sibling to the southeast (but Lake Louise often gets lost in the Banff conversation). “Come on now, Yanks. Time to get back up. Time to take some more medicine. OK, back up we go.” This is only our first day skiing, and we are already spent. That’s because Sandy Best knows this mountain better than most people know their cousins, and he is committed to taking us visiting Americans down all 145 runs, down the innumerable back bowls and along all 4,200 skiable acres of the Lake Louise Ski Resort just outside of Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Mike (left) and Oliver.
Some background on us Yanks: Our meeting place was the Calgary International Airport, and even though all five of us are well traveled, none of us had ever been there. All of us had been skiing together for more than a decade, and we came from all over: Mike Carlson, C.T. Dolan and Lee Wyman from St. Louis, Scott Wintrow from New York City, and me from Dallas. Our crew was a lot bigger a decade ago, when 30 of us descended on a Colorado town and rented a house designed to sleep about eight. Maybe that’s why the group shrank over the years: the older you get, the less appealing sleeping in a bathtub becomes. Well, to Lee, anyway. He’s, like, super mature these days.

And so it was that Mike, Scott, Lee, C.T. and I decided to step it up a notch and take this guys ski trip to an international destination for the first time. We may have grown up, but our inflated opinions of our skiing and snowboarding abilities sure haven’t atrophied, even though our muscles have.

We chose Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village, her neighbor 50 minutes to the south, for two reasons: 1) This area of Alberta, just a stone’s throw from the Calgary International Airport, has a reputation as one of the most beautiful places in North America, and 2) There’s something to be said about traveling to places regarded in skiing circles as some of the toughest terrain and best powder in the world. And yet ski season in these parts is actually offseason.

We piled into a rented Suburban and pointed its nose north-northwest toward Lake Louise. The gradual transition from the rolling prairies of ­Calgary to the soaring peaks of Banff is a sight you’d expect to find in the Swiss Alps. But we’re not too far from Montana, and folks around here are speaking perfect English (even though the police officer who pulled me over for going 120 kph in a 100-kph zone was pretty tough to understand). Two hours later, we approached The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise the way a child approaches a castle on a cloud in her daydream. Except for Lee: He’s way too mature for fairy tales.

The interior was handsome and befitting a mountain hamlet. And empty. Virtually empty. We had the entire mountain to ourselves, and Sandy Best made sure the following day that we touched every corner of it.

Sandy was living and skiing in Europe when he received an invitation to ski Lake Louise in 1989. He has been there ever since. “Lake Louise has its own soul,” he says between ribbings of us wannabe expert skiers. “It has terrain to challenge and equal anybody’s ability. That’s why I call it ‘The Equalizer.’ ”

And how did we Yanks do at Lake Louise before heading over to Sunshine Village the following day? “You did great because you guys didn’t overstate your abilities nor let the mountain intimidate you,” Sandy says. “Well, a couple of you didn’t, anyway.”

As for my buddies? Here’s what the boys had to say about their time in Western Canada:

Scott: “Best boarding ever, even though Sandy tried to kill me.”

Mike: “The skiing was spectacular and the views unparalleled, but I’d literally come back just to listen to Sandy tell stories.”

Lee: “Best riding I’ve ever experienced. Phenomenal mountain and wonderful people.” (Very mature comment, btw, Lee.)

C.T.: “Can’t imagine better vistas while riding. Sunshine Village’s accommodations were amazing. And I miss Oliver.”

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Ah, yes. Oliver. The following day’s skiing at Sunshine Village was as epic as at Lake Louise and an experience unparalleled by anything we’d skied before. Handsome Dan Brideau, our guide, was the consummate pro who also showed us every spec of skiable terrain on that mountain — and even a few unskiable ones that we skied anyway. That night, we soothed our injuries with some Molsons at the Mad Trapper’s Saloon in the Old Sunshine Lodge. Turns out that five big ol’ Yanks yakking it up in Banff is too social for a fun-loving Australian waiter to pass up. Oliver was our sixth man that night. But that’s the essence of a guys retreat to this part of North America.

No bathtubs were slept in on this trip.

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Adam Pitluk
Editor