The day started out very familiar. The scenic drive west from Calgary. The bustling parking lot. The aroma of bacon wafting from the lodge. The hum of spinning chairlifts. But that’s where the similarities ended. The powdery white snow had melted giving way to leafy green foliage and colourful wildflowers. Shorts and t-shirts supplanted parkas, toques, and boots. And skis and snowboards were replaced by cameras and binoculars. Yes Lake Louise Mountain Resort has long been a staple for my winter adventures, yet standing there at the base of Mount Whitehorn on a warm summer morning everything felt brand new.
You’re probably quite familiar with the Lake’s legendary winter rep, but have you experienced all that the warmest months have to offer? Although I feel like a veteran of the winter scene I am truly a novice when it comes to summer. I’ve done several hikes in the vicinity of Lake Louise and have paddled on its famous turquoise water, but had yet to visit the resort during the summer. Thankfully that all changed with a recent trip to the mountains.
Ski and snowboard resorts are constantly trying to create new ways to stay relevant outside of their primary season. Think Norquay’s Via Ferrata, alpine hiking at Sunshine Meadows, Revelstoke’s Pipe Mountain Coaster, the Grizzly Bear Refuge at Kicking Horse, or Fernie’s Bike Park. Lake Louise is no different, although they might be more restricted than others due to their location within a national park. Lucky for them they’re able to offer some of the best wildlife viewing in the entire park using their existing infrastructure.
The bulk of the resort faces south, meaning it absorbs more sunlight than north-facing slopes. This abundance of solar radiation is bad for the snowpack, but extends the growing season, which is already very short in alpine environments. The resort’s treeless runs are perfect for early season shrubs and wildflowers. The snow-free slopes ultimately attract mega-fauna like bears and deer (among others) for an easy meal and the wide-open spaces allow for superb viewing of some of the park’s elusive residents. Combine those facts with an elevated position, such as a chairlift, and you have a recipe for spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities. Since guests are enclosed in a gondola or are high above the ground on a chairlift, the safety of both human and animal are ensured.
After arriving I started my day with a leisurely breakfast buffet in the Whiskey Jack Lodge. Freshly prepared bacon and eggs combined with a piping hot cup of coffee are sure to provide the fuel needed for the day’s adventures. After breakfast I made my way down to the Grizzly Chair, known as the Glacier Express the other half of the year. Winter vets will notice the lift has been modified to incorporate both gondola cabins and quad-chairs. This gives guests the option of either an open or closed experience while traveling up the mountainside. You’ll also note the lift is spinning slower than in the winter. In fact it takes twice as long (about 15 minutes) to complete the journey, allowing for ample time to search for wildlife.
The lift drops guests mid-mountain where there’s plenty to keep you busy. I opted for the short walk down to the Viewing Platform and was rewarded with uninterrupted views of Lake Louise and its surrounding snow-capped peaks. From there I headed over to Whitehorn Bistro where you can dine on alpine-inspired items or just enjoy the sweeping mountain panorama from 2,042 metres (6,700 feet). Below the bistro is the Wildlife Interpretive Centre where you’ll discover why life in the Canadian Rockies is equally unique and spectacular. The centre also hosts interactive programs for all ages and guided walks/hikes are available with professional interpreters. For those with more energetic ambitions there are hiking trails available above the gondola. The trails range in length and difficulty and anyone entering the area needs to be prepared for changing alpine conditions and the possibility of encountering wildlife. Just because you’re hiking at a resort doesn’t mean assistance is readily available; it is still an untamed mountain environment. Just remember the area below the chairlift is an active wildlife corridor and is closed to the public.
The ride back to the base gave me another opportunity to spot more wildlife and provided incredible views of Lake Louise, the famous Chateau, towering Mount Temple, ancient glaciers, and more. From there I wrapped-up my day with the summer version of après-ski on the Bear’s Den Smokehouse’s sprawling patio (that’s the Kokanee Kabin for all you skiers and boarders) while soaking in the last vestiges of the fading sunshine. With the sun sitting low in the sky casting long shadows I began my journey back to Calgary fulfilled with the day’s adventure and already looking forward to the next one.
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*featured image (top) is looking down from the top of the chairlift. Photo Credit: Tyler Dixon