135 Years of Skiing in Banff National Park
Original Content Produced By Tera Swanson, Crowfoot Media
From its first introduction to the Banff area by Scandinavian Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) workers and Swiss mountaineering guides, skiing has grown to be the very heartbeat and pulse of Canadian Rockies culture. Skiers may have traded in their pea coats and wooden skis for Gore Tex shells and the perfect camber, but the spirit of the sport remains in Canada’s first national park.
Scandinavian axemen employed by the CPR on constructions crews near Silver City (once a mining town at the base of Castle Mountain) reportedly use handmade skis for hunting and to aid in their work.
Banff resident George Paris receives skis from an American friend, who after visiting Banff and seeing Paris travelling on snowshoes, told him about skis used back in North Dakota by Norwegian immigrants. Paris quickly gives up on the skis, but not without inspiring a few locals to fashion their own handmade replicas.
Philip Stanley Abbot falls to his death from Mount Lefroy near Lake Louise, sparking pressure to improve safety in mountaineering. A few years later, the CPR imports professional Swiss mountain guides to work at the railway’s resort hotels, including the Chateau Lake Louise. Guides who stay through the winter introduce their winter activity from back home: skiing. Although considered an ‘outlandish behaviour’ by established Rockies residents, youth are immediately attracted and amused by this strange new sport.
One of the first “twenty-somethings” from overseas seeking adventure in Banff (and certainly not the last!), Austrian mountaineer Conrad Kain comes to Canada with a pair of skis in hand. Kain would go on to become one of the most famous mountain guides in Rockies history.
Kain builds a ski jump down Tunnel Mountain onto Caribou Street, near the present-day Banff Centre and Old Banff Cemetery. In March of that year, Kain organizes a winter sports festival with the help of friends.
Inspired by Kain’s passion for skiing, several local children – including Cyril Paris, son of George Paris, and brothers Cliff White and Peter Whyte (changed name) – form the Banff Ski 2Club. Club gear consists of skis built from hardwood and round wooden cheese boxes, broom handles for poles, and moccasins or other footwear strapped to the skis with leather scraps.
Local businessmen Norman Luxton and B.W. Collinson carry on Kain’s spirit of the first winter sports festival by brainstorming a way to promote Banff as a winter destination. The result? The Banff Winter Carnival. The event becomes a prominent winter attraction in Banff, and occurs annually until the 1960s.
Gus Johnson, Cyril Paris and Cliff White begin to explore the high country around Banff and discover that forest fires and logging had formed ready-made slopes on Mt. Norquay. They cut the first ski run on what would become the Canadian Rockies’ first ski resort.
Cliff White and Cyril Paris seek permission from parks authorities to build a cabin at the base of the cleared run on Mt. Norquay, turning Banff into a ski destination.
Ski pioneers Erling Strom and the Marquis degli Albizzi, both instructors from Lake Placid, establish a ski camp at Mount Assiniboine using a CPR cabin built for summer trail rides. That summer, Strom builds Mount Assiniboine Lodge (in partnership with the CPR) and welcomes the first ski guests in 1929. This marks the birth of backcountry skiing in the Rockies.
Cliff White and Cyril Paris create a plan to use the CPR cabin near present-day Sunshine as an overnight point in their ski trek over the Great Divide. Unfortunately they could not find the cabin that night and were forced to sleep in a dug-out in the snow. These two men were the first to ski what is now known as Sunshine Village.
In the Spring of 1928, following Cliff White and Cyril Paris’ first foray into the Sunshine, skiers play in the runoff, beginning a long-standing tradition that occurs annually at winter’s end. Today, Slush Cup attracts locals and visitors alike, who dress up and ski or snowboard across an icy pool of water in the warm weather of the May long weekend.
The Mount Norquay Ski Camp (cabin) is officially opened on February 3, becoming a community ski and social hub for outdoor activity and gatherings.
Cyril Paris and Cliff White explore the Ptarmigan Valley near Lake Louise after being told of amazing skiing in the area by Swiss Guides and the Lake Louise Ski Club. They are inspired to build Skoki Lodge in the region, which sees its first guests in 1931.
Banff entrepreneur Jim Brewster and his friends ski to Sunshine Meadows to investigate skiing possibilities close to a CPR cabin. Jim and his brother, Pat, lease the cabin for ski trips, hosting their first paying guests in 1934. In 1936, Brewster Transport buys the cabin outright for $300. It is now Mad Trapper’s Saloon.
Depression work crews build a road up to Mt. Norquay, making the ski area accessible by vehicle.
Wealthy British industrialist, Sir Norman Watson, builds Temple Lodge on the east side of Whitehorn Mountain – the beginnings of the Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Mount Norquay Ski Camp burns to the ground. A new lodge is built in 1939 by the Canadian Rockies Winter Sports Association Inc. and opens in 1940.
Earning your turns requires a lot less effort as the first mechanical ski lift in the Rockies appears on Mount Norquay, built by Jim Morrison. These first primitive ski lifts involve rope tows powered by automobile engines.
As a road is developed, and allows easier access to the area, Sunshine evolves from a backcountry lodge, similar to Mount Assiniboine and Skoki, to the beginnings of one of the biggest ski resorts in the Rockies. .
The first permanent lift powered by a Mercury V8 engine is installed at Sunshine by Jim Brewster, who agrees to pay 5% of his earnings to Parks Canada for allowing the construction on park land. The dent? One dollar per day.
The first chairlift in the area is opened on Mount Norquay. Initially intended as a summer tourist attraction, its benefit to skiers came as an afterthought – but it made a huge difference. A boom in downhill skiing begins.
The gondola at Lake Louise opens. The next year, the Eagle Flight Pomalift is installed on Whitehorn Mountain.
Cliff White and his wife Bev purchase Sunshine Village Ski Resort. For 17 years, White leads the operation and takes it from a small resort, with one “platter pull” lift, to a major resort with many ski lifts, a hotel and a day lodge. They sell to Warnock Hersey International in 1969 and White remains to watch over the growing reputation of the resort.
Sunshine installs its second lift, the Wawa T-bar, increasing capacity of the ski area to 1,200 people per hour. Skiers are brought up to ski area from the Bourgeau Parking Lot via a wild and winding Brewster bus ride up the Sunshine Road.
The first experimental heli-ski excursion, led by Hans Gmoser, takes place in the front ranges of the Rockies not far from Canmore.
Based in Banff, Canadian Mountain Holidays builds the Bugaboo Lodge in 1967, the first of a dozen heli-skiing operations.
The Great Divide Traverse is successfully skied by a young foursome from Calgary – Don Gardner, Charlie Locke, Neil Liske and Chic Scott. This initiates a boom in backcountry ski touring (using Nordic ski equipment) in the Rocky Mountains.
The sport of extreme skiing in the Canadian Rockies is born when Rene Boisselle and Arno Birkitt ski the south face of Banff’s Cascade Mountain.
Doug Ward and Greg Hann ski the 3/4 Couloir at Moraine Lake. The next year Ward and Kevin Hann ski the Aemmer Couloir on Mount Temple. Ward goes on to be the leading force in the sport of extreme skiing for two decades.
Construction begins on the gondola from the Bourgeau Parking Lot to Sunshine Village.
Neil Daffern and Ken Achenbach, both from Calgary, pioneer the use of snowboards. Over the next two decades, snowboarding becomes very popular with young folk and revitalizes Alberta ski resorts.
The Winterstart World Cup is hosted in Lake Louise for the first time, the first outside of Europe ever to be named to the prestigious Club 5. The organization brings together 13 of the most famous and historic World Cup alpine race courses in the world.
Sunshine Village is purchased by Ralph T. Scurfield and the resort remains owned by the Scurfield family to this day. The same year, Charlie Locke buys the Lake Louise Ski Resort and soon begins to develop and expand operations.
Backcountry skiing booms and steep skiing takes off as an activity for the young. Doug Ward continues to ski steep lines throughout the 1990s, including the North Face of Mount Fay, the North Face of Mount Quadra and The Dolphin Couloir on Mount Temple.
The Lodge of the Ten Peaks at the Lake Louise Ski Resort opens.
After being closed to skiers in 1981 due to avalanche hazard, Delirium Dive at Sunshine is reopened after the ski area agreed to take responsibility to control and patrol the area, and provide rescue if necessary.
A new 8-passenger, high-speed gondola opens at Sunshine Village.
The Mountain Smoker, a ski event originating in 1976, returns to Mt. Norquay for the first time in 23 years. Skiers compete to see how many laps of the Lone Pine run they can complete in three hours. Seventeen-year-old, Phil Hudec, completes 20 runs (the record in 1976 was 18 runs), while long-time Banff local, Eddie Hunter, completes 16 runs at the remarkable age of 81.
Banff Lake Louise Tourism reignites the Winter Carnival with new winter festivals, including Winterstart and Snow Days. As was done in 1917, the events heighten the allure of Banff as a winter destination.
Sherpas Cinema releases Sculpted in Time, a four-part film series celebrating the ski culture of Banff National Park.
The first heated chairlift in Canada, the Teepee Town LX quad opened at Sunshine Village, while Mt. Norquay celebrated its 90th birthday with special events throughout the season.