If you're really passionate about skiing or snowboarding and want to take the excitement level up a notch this winter, consider a ski holiday in one of Canada's well-established resorts.
With ski areas spread across vast national parks, Canada is a perfect destination for complete novices through to black diamond run experts, with everything from gentle nursery slopes to exhilarating off-piste high altitude and glacier skiing. We take a closer look at five of Canada's best-loved winter sports resorts...
British Columbia: Whistler Blackcomb
With more than 8,100 acres of snowy slopes, including three glaciers, five terrain parks, 12 alpine bowls and a 450 foot super pipe, it's no surprise that the twin mountain winter sports resort of Whistler Blackcomb has consistently been ranked no.1 in North America. Although every type of skier is catered for here -- with kids lessons available from the age of three, 2 and 5-day camps for teens and small group or one-on-one sessions for adult beginners -- Whistler is undeniably thrilling for the more experienced skier.
Blackcomb's highest level is for expert skiers and riders only and comes with impressive specs - 1,720 feet long and a vertical 485 foot drop, and the most technical table tops, spines, rails and jibs. If that's not enough then a backcountry heli-skiing tour into pristine mountain wilderness with untracked powder and no lift queues should do the trick.
Two hours north of Vancouver, pedestrian-only Whistler village and it surrounds are also home to four championship golf courses, an established arts and cultural scene, plenty of hotels and nearly 300 shops, restaurants and bars which make for lively après-ski.
The town of Banff sits entirely within Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and its high altitude and reliably heavy snowfall make it one of the best places in the world for powder skiing. Your Banff ski pass covers all three of the nearby resorts - Mt Norquay (4 miles from the centre of Banff), Sunshine Village (10 miles) and Lake Louise (35 miles and covered separately below), all with their own character and highlights and connected by free, regular shuttles.
Established in 1926 and just minutes from Banff, Mt Norquay is a small, good value family-friendly resort with excellent beginner terrain which offers the only night-skiing in the area. Plenty of tree-lined glades, wide open bowls and expanded beginner slopes will help all levels of skiers and snowboarders improve their skills, and non-skiers can still get a snowy thrill by gliding down the slopes on an inflated tube in Banff's only snow tube park.
Canada's highest elevated resort, Sunshine Village, offers the country's most extreme off-piste ski experiences, including 'Delirium Dive' where expert skiers who are comfortable on double black diamond runs have the opportunity to experience freeride zones in steep avalanche terrain.
Banff itself is a year-round tourist resort, with a wide range of accommodation and activities for non-skiers to enjoy. The scenery itself is enough to satisfy most people for weeks; glacier hiking and wildlife-watching opportunities are easily accessible. Nearer to town are many spas and wellness resorts, and the popular Upper Hot Springs is an ideal spot to soothe aching limbs.
Alberta: Lake Louise
Still part of the Banff ski area, Lake Louise offers an exceptionally well thought-out layout which allows families and groups of different abilities to ski together, with expert, intermediate and beginner runs from every chair. Outside of Whistler, Lake Louise is one of the largest ski areas in North America with vast open bowls (some of which are the size of entire European resorts), endless chutes, glades and gullies.
Two hours from Calgary and about a 40 minute drive from Banff, the village of Lake Louise itself is relatively quiet and laid back, with a world-renowned five star resort, great shopping, and a relaxed après-ski scene. The frozen lake surface glitters under the massive Victoria Glacier, and there are plenty of options for cross-country skiing around its shores. For an unforgettable experience, hire some ice skates for some floodlit night skating on the lake's frozen surface, or even indulge in a sleigh ride along the snow-frosted pine tree-lined lakeside trail.
Bigger than Rocky Mountain national parks Banff, Yoho and Kootenay combined, Jasper National Park -- home to the town of Jasper and its Marmot Basin ski resort -- is one of North America's least crowded ski resorts and feels wilder, more remote and less traversed. The terrain is a good balance of novice, intermediate and expert, with steep alpine bowls and chutes all groomed to within an inch of their lives. But where Jasper really comes into its own is in the quality and range of its cross-country skiing, especially in the areas around Maligne Lake, Athabasca Falls and the challenging Evelyn Creek -- more than 300km of trails make it one of the largest cross-country ski areas in Canada.
Jasper has a small-town feel, centred around just a couple of streets lined with cosy shops and restaurants, and hotels a little further up the mountainside. If you don't have access to a car there are plenty of shuttle services to some of the surrounding area's other attractions for non-skiing days. The steaming, mineral-rich waters of Miette Hot Springs are hugely popular, as is a trip on the Jasper Tramway, the longest and highest in Canada.
With the advantage of being closer for European visitors, not to mention the added flavour of Québécois culture, Tremblant is located in the imposing Laurentian Mountains of French-speaking Québec and is Eastern Canada's largest ski resort. With more than 600 acres of snow-packed mountainside, including 19 novice runs, 30 intermediate, and miles of exhilarating expert terrain, it's fair to say that skiing purists will be right at home. What's more, there's never a need to wait in long lift lines, as Tremblant's advanced lift system handles 27,230 skiers per hour!
Off-slope fun is equally exciting - kids will love trying their hand at dogsledding and snowmobiling, and intrepid adventure-seekers can take an ice-climbing initiation course right in the resort. No prior climbing experience is necessary and you'll get to climb a frozen cliff face right on the slopes of Mont Tremblant.
Tremblant village itself is a traditional yet fairly sophisticated affair, and while the French influence plays out in the many patisseries and cafes which line its cobbled squares and pedestrianised streets, there's a wide range and variety of après-ski and dining options available, as well as places to stay.
Visit Virgin Holidays for the best Canada ski holidays and let them take care of all the arrangements, from pre-bookable lift passes to meal plans and off-slope activities, as well as free nights and room upgrade offers. And if you're going all the way to North America, then it's easy to extend your trip with a quick city break or even a beach holiday or begged-for trip to Disneyland.
Photos: header shot of Whistler © Ben Goode | Dreamstime.com, Whistler gondola © Robert Cocquyt | Dreamstime.com, Banff Springs © Randall Shirley | Dreamstime.com, Lake Louise © Abstractx | Dreamstime.com, Jasper © Akadiusz Iwanicki | Dreamstime.com, Tremblant © Vladikpod | Dreamstime.com
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.