Couched in the soaring peaks of the Coast and Rocky Mountains, Canada’s ski resorts cover the gamut from the enormous expanses of Whistler Blackcomb to the quaint resort towns of Silver Star Mountain Resort and Fernie Alpine Resort.
Western Canada is the Mecca for most snow sports addicts. Whistler Blackcomb – the largest ski resort in North America – is just two hours from the major international destination of Vancouver and attracts the lion’s share of visitors. People who have lived here for years still say they haven’t skied everything these mountains have to offer.
For those who haven't been before, the combination of value for money, great snow, great resorts and freindly, laid back people is hard to beat.
- 1 Climate
- 2 Getting There
- 3 Cultural Info
- 4 Shopping for Gear
- 5 Health and Safety
- 6 Resources
In winter, cold and snowy. The inland rarely climbs above zero in winter unless a warm wind called a chinook hits. Resorts tend to have maxima in the range 0 on the coast to -5 or -10 inland, but temperatures can get much colder. Alberta tends to be colder than interior British Colunmbia, which, in turn, is colder than coastal resorts like Whistler Blackcomb.
Getting to Vancouver or Calgary is easy. They are large, international airports and many airlines fly into them. Connections to airports beyond there such as Kamloops, Kelowna or Cranbrook may involve a wait. They are regional airports and have limited flights. There are frequent shuttles from Calgary airport up to Banff. There are also shuttles from regional airports to the nearby resorts. Central Reservations of the resort is a good starting point to hook up with these. Some Interior BC resorts can be accessed by shuttle from eithe Kamloops or Kelowna. Kelowna is a bigger, better equipped, airport than Kamloops so flights in and out of Kelowna are less likely to be cancelled because of fog or other bad weather.
There are limited shuttles between resorts. Again, Central Reservations are a good place to start to find these. There is a bus from Whistler to Sun Peaks. There is a shuttle between Big White and Sun Peaks. Another shuttle runs from Banff via Lake Louise (if they remember to collect you) past Panorama and down to Fernie. However, getting from the Rockies to resorts further west is a challenge.
There are Greyhound buses that go to major centres, although not necessarily to resorts and not always at the most convenient times of day. Last time I looked at the timetables buses arrived in Fernie, for example, at about 3-00 am. Do not count on the buses running to timetable in winter. Like all other traffic buses are subject to the vagaries of weather and road conditions. Greyhound take the quite reasonable attitude that getting anywhere in one piece is more important than getting there on time. Check Greyhound Canada
Greyhound Leave Vancouver from the Central Railway Station, which is a fair way from the airport ($35 cab fare 2009). Whistler they operate from the Bus Loop in the center of Whistler village. The Vancouver Shuttle runs many times per day and takes about 2:30. Kamloops is on the main intercity run to Edmonton it has fewer services than Whistler and takes about 5 hours. There is not much near the Kamloops Greyhound Station, but it has a taxi rank.
Driving in Canada is possible. If conditions are good driving is a breeze on good roads. If conditions are bad driving can be very worrying indeed. There is often a layer of slush on the road, obscuring road markings and, in extreme cases, hiding the road. Canadian roads do not have catseyes with lane markings, nor do they have roadside reflectors because the snow ploughs would wipe them out. In fog and blowing snow it can be a challenge finding the road.
The Coquihalla Highway, from the coast to Kamloops and Kelowna in the interior, can be a scary combination of fog, snow, treacherous surface and trucks going sideways. Highway 1, via Hope and Cache Creek to Kamloops or Highway 3 to Penticton and Kelowna is longer but lower. Highway 3 will take you through to Fernie as well. When things are really bad it is an option worth considering. When things are good the Coquihalla is a modern, fast 4 lane motorway.
The main drag through the Rockies, beyond Salmon Arm to Calgary, is sometimes closed because of avalanche danger. The road can be closed for up to 24 hours, although a closure this long is rare. Occasionally the road is closed for days if a big slide blocks the road.
The unfortunate news is that the better the season the worse the road conditions.
When planning a trip, remember that in winter it gets light late and gets dark early. There are about 8 daylight hours each day in January.
Satnav is a great help in dealing with navigation, particularly in the cities. Having a friendly machine telling you where to go gets rid of one layer of potential stress.
Another potential problem with a road trip in Canada is that most of the population goes into a state very similar to hibernation in winter. This means that a lot of the tourist attractions are closed during winter.
Visas and Documentation
Australia citizens on holidays do not require a visa to visit Canada for a period of up to six months. If you intend to work you need a work permit. There are working holiday visas available for students and young folk. Contact your local Canadian consulate for details. Canadian Visa Information Working Holiday Information
If you are a parent travelling with a child under 14 but not the other parent, Canadian Immigration requires a letter of permission from the absent parent. It is possible to talk yourself through, but it is much easier to have the letter. There are no particular formalities for the letter (or there were not in January 2007) - a short note specifying the child's name as it appears on the passport and the approximate dates of travel, and signed by the absent parent appears to work. This appears to depend on the whim of individual officers. In January 2008 I was asked for a "notarised" letter (like a statutory declaration). As my child was 13 they did not fuss too much as she could speak for herself, but a younger child may have had difficulty with that particular officer. Sample Letter of permission.
From the Canadian Government Website: link Canadian Government Website
Vancouver rarely (once or twice per season) gets significant snow. As a result when it does Chaos rules. If you are flying in from LA or San Francisco (or a similar short hop) as most Australians do it pays to be prepared to be sitting in an airport all day. This includes little things like knowing the phone number of your accommodation, to arrange after hours access.
Kamloops airport is often weather affected. The locals are trying to improve things but it also requires better aircraft. As of 2008/09 Air Canada were flying Dash 8 planes which were very likely to be turned around in bad weather (Fog, Low Cloud or Snow). I don't know how the 737's cope, Anybody know? Kelowna is less likely to be closed for bad weather. It could be worth using that airport if connections are critical. Kelowna has been upgraded. It now takes flights direct to and from Los Angeles, and has (or will soon have) facilities to clear US customs and immigration on the ground in Kelowna. If all else fails Greyhound run regular buses to Vancouver. The bus takes about 6 hours but punctuality depends very much on weather and road conditions.
Serving the east, most travellers will transit by Toronto, or Montreal airports. There are smaller airports in other major cities, like Québec city.
Customs and Quarantine
Inbound, customs and quarantine are pretty efficient. If you are a parent travelling with a child but not the other parent, Canadian Immigration requires a letter of permission from the absent parent. It is possible to talk yourself through, but it is much easier to have the letter. See the Visa and Documentation section, above.
If you are flying from the USA or Australia into Vancouver you are on an international flight, and will have to clear customs and immigration in Vancouver. This means that, even if you are connecting with an internal flight, you will have to collect your luggage. Air Canada have a desk on the other side of customs and immigration where you can recheck your luggage (if your internal flight is Air Canada). It is a bit of a hike to the domestic terminal. Sometimes, depending on the whim of the particular agent, you cannot check your skis or board at this desk, and you have to take it with you to the oversize check in in the domestic terminal. This is a hike of a few hundred metres. Wheels on your ski or board bag are a godsend here.
There are some direct flights from USA to Kamloops and Kelowna. If you are on one of these you clear customs and immigration when you land.
If you are travelling home through the USA via Vancouver airport you will clear US customs and immigration on the ground in Vancouver, before boarding. This is reasonably efficient if you are transitting from another airport - much better that the circus in Los Angeles. It seems to be less efficient if you are boarding in Vancouver. On most airlines it means that, if you are not stopping over in the USA on the way home, you can check your bags all the way to Australia from Canada without having to collect them and re-check them in Los Angeles or Honolulu. You do have to check yourself in. If your flight commences in a regional airport such as Kelowna or Kamloops and transits through Vancouver you must collect your luggage in Vancouver in order to clear US customs and security there. The set up in Vancouver airport is convenient for this.
Mounties. Moose. Pine trees.
- Canada Day, July 1. Anniversary of the union of the Canadian provinces under one government, which took place in 1867 under the British North America Act. Previously known as Dominion Day.
- Remembrance Day, November 11. See Veteran's Day.
- Labour Day, first Monday in September (Sep 6, 2004).
- Thanksgiving Day. Usually in early October, and determined by annual proclamation.
- Victoria Day, second to last Monday in May (May 24, 2004). Commemorates Queen Victoria's birth on May 24, 1819. It was made a statutory holiday in Canada in 1908.
- Alberta Family Day, third Monday in February (Feb 16, 2004). Celebrates the family values of the pioneers who built Alberta. Some employees may have the day off.
- British Columbia Day, first Monday in August (Aug 2, 2004). PLEASE EDIT
- Québec's National Holiday, June 24. Also known as St-Jean Baptiste Day, Québec's National Holiday is a big cultural event. The biggest celebration is the night before, in Québec city (the provincial capital of Québec), where nearly 300 000 peoples join on a plain for a night of music, danse, and party.
Canada's road system is excellent, with lot's of really nice highways, kept clean even during winter. Many roads are snow covered in winter. Roads can be closed because of bad surface conditions or avalanche danger. Perception of ease or difficulty of driving depends on whether the reporter was attempting to drive during a season of high or low snowfall.
There are random shuttles between various resorts, depending on the whim of local entrepreneurs. The trickiest jump is getting from the Okanagan resorts across to Alberta and the eastern British Columbia resorts by shuttle. You can get from Whistler to Sun Peaks, and north and south along the Okanagan and Rockies, but not east - west.
Unlike the USA, Canada uses the metric system, so the speed limits are in km/h.
There are passenger trains from Vancouver to Jasper and Edmonton that travel through the Coast Range and Rockies and have spectacular scenery.
Food and Drink
The national dish is poutine - hot chips, cheese curds and gravy. A dish to gladden the wallet of any cardiologist. Otherwise, it is typical North American fare, although a bit more restrained than the southern barbarians.
Wine made in the Okanagan is excellent. Ice wine is amazing - it makes botrytis affected wine taste dry. Do not, under any circumstances, order wine made in Ontario. Unfortunately, in many places, the success of the Australian wine industry means that sometimes there is more (and cheaper) Australian wine than Canadian wine available. You will also find Chilean, Argentinian, South African and Californian wine, and probably a few others.
There are many fine Canadian beers - Canadian is however not one of them. As with many things in North America, the amount of advertising for a beer is often inversely proportional to the quality. Check out some of the local and microbrew options at the pubs and bars. Oh, and despite any ads you may have seen on YouTube, Bud Light is not a beer. It's just not.
Technology and Networks
Canada is a civilised and modern place. Many hotels and apartments in ski resorts have wireless broadband or cable broadband connections in each room. There are internet cafes all over the place.
North America operates mobile phones on a separate band to the rest of the universe, so global roaming only works if you have a tri-band or 3G phone.
The international access code in Canada is 011. Pre-paid phone cards are available all over the place, and make international landline calls very cheap.
There are two taxes added to most purchases in shops and to restaurant meals and accommodation charges. Most shop prices are pre-tax, so everything costs a little more than the displayed price.
- GST (Goods and Services Tax)
This is a federal tax of 6%. Overseas visitors can obtain a rebate on GST paid on accommodation and goods brought home subject to certain requirements, although it seems that this rebate will be eliminated soon.
- PST (Provincial Sales Tax)
Most provinces levy a sales tax on most purchases including meals and accommodation. They range from 0 to 12%. depending on the province. No rebate available.
In British Columbia there is no Provincial Sales Tax payable on clothing or footwear for children under 15 years of age. If the retailer does not bring this to your attention, just ask them about it. All you need to do is fill in a log book and sign it.
Major credit cards such as Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club are accepted in Canada.
Most ATMs spit out money with an Australian card, provided the card and the machine are affiliated to the same network. Some resorts, such as Big White, only have machines that will handle cards on one network. It would be wise to check with your financial institution and the resort before relying on ATMs for cash. It is a long way into town from most resorts to access an ATM.
Some credit card providers do a double currency conversion, first converting to $US and then to $AU or other currencies. You can be hit for a fee on each conversion, so it may be worth checking whether your card provider pulls this little money making stunt.
Tips or service charges are not usually included in the bill. As a rule, a tip of 15 -20%% of the total amount should be given. This also applies to hairdressers and taxi drivers. Bellhops, doormen and porters etc generally expect C$1.00 per item of luggage.
It is a religion.
Do not call it ice hockey. It is hockey. Hockey played with a round thing is field hockey.
It has 3 periods. If you are sitting around waiting for the 4th quarter you will have a long wait.
You may not be able to get tickets for NHL games but the next level down is young blokes trying to crack the big time, so is good dirty fun.
For your first couple of games you will have no idea what is going on. The game is fast.
Shopping for Gear
Interior British Columbia
All resorts have shops, but some recommendations for shopping in town. See Vancouver for suggestions in Vancouver.
- Fresh Air Experience 18-2070 Harvey Ave Kelowna, British Columbia
- Sport Chek/SportMart, 00 - 2271 Harvey Ave,Kelowna, British Columbia for budget shopping.
- Far West Factory Outlet. 2463 N. Highway 97. Good outdoor wear at good prices.
- Valhalla Pure at 5204 - 24th Street, Vernon Mainly nordic/backcountry gear but a really good range of jackets, pants, thermals etc.
- Attridge ski shop at 2706 48 Ave (opposite the Village Green mall). Big range of skis/boards/clothes.
- Olympia Cycle & Ski at 2211 48 Ave - another good ski/board/clothing store.
- Far West Factory Outlet 2900 48th Ave. Good outdoor wear at good prices.
- Stussi Sport 4823 Silver Star Rd. 2 doors up the hill from Butcher Boys. The best Nordic retailer in the region. Discount mid week resort tickets also available in store.
- The Sports Room 65 3RD AVE W. Drumheller, AB
Health and Safety
Australian Consulate Vancouver 1225 888 Dunsmuir St, Vancouver. Tel +1 604 684 1177
Avalanches occur frequently wherever there are mountains. At times avalanche danger can close major roads, including Highway 1 - the main road across the country.
It hardly counts as a disaster, but in heavy snow and fog driving can be unnecessarily interesting, particularly after dark. The roads do not have catseyes or roadside reflectors and it is sometimes difficult to know where the road goes next.
Michael Moore was right. Canada is a lot safer than the USA.
Crime does happen, but there do not seem to be many "no go" areas in Canadian cities. Be careful with your stuff, as you would travelling anywhere.
When you cross a road be very careful. The traffic will be coming from the wrong direction if you are Australian or British, and it is very easy to forget. Look both ways. And again.
If you are driving, T intersections with no cars to follow are a real trap, and (at least for this contributor) are the place that driving on the right hand side of the road requires most thought. Telling yourself "Driver to the centre" can help.
When temperatures get below -20 degrees or so, as can happen in interior BC and Alberta, there is a real danger of frostbite. Wind chill makes things dangerous at higher temperatures. When things get this cold you should ensure that there is no bare skin exposed to the outside air. If you are skiing or boarding in a group you should keep an eye on each other. In many resorts the lifties will also be checking, but you should not rely on this. Look for whitish patches on the skin. If you detect frostbite, or anything you vaguely suspect might be frostbite, check with ski patrol or the medical centre.
This category has the following 10 subcategories, out of 10 total.
Pages in category "Canada"
The following 28 pages are in this category, out of 28 total.