This is a question often asked, but there is no simple answer.
After skiing both areas, you will see immediate differences. The first being that most of the resorts in North America are actually situated away from the nearby towns you would stay in. Banff, for example, is situated near three main ski areas; Banff Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise at about 15, 25 and 40 minutes respectively. Sunshine Village does have a hotel at the top of the gondola, the Sunshine Inn, which is great for getting those first tracks. This is the only ski-in, ski-out accommodation out of the 3 resorts just mentioned.
The most well known of the ski hills in Canada is of course, Whistler (Whistler and Blackcomb). This resort has huge expanses of terrain for you to explore across two mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb. The two mountains do not link up. To get to one from to the other you need to ski to the base then catch the gondola up. Whistler Blackcomb has the greatest ski vertical in North America. However, due to its great vertical, often you will get soaked at the base with the rain before you catch the chair or gondola up the mountain, through the clouds to the powder at the top. One thing to note too is that Whistler is NOT in the Canadian Rockies, which is assumed by many. It is actually located in the Coastal Mountains in the west and so receives wetter snow compared to the resorts located further inland.
Kicking Horse, the newest resort in Canada, has the greatest vertical in the Canadian Rockies at 4,133 feet. These runs are steep and if you are lucky, you can experience one of their famed “champagne powder” days. The cold dry air of the Canadian Rockies means that the snow is light and fluffy. This light, dry snow means you will find it hard to make snowballs out of it. You can be in up to your waste in powder and still move easily.
In the Alps, the snow can be a little wetter and heavier on powder days. The resorts too, with some exceptions, are usually lower and milder. The higher resorts in the Canadian Rockies resorts tend to get quite cold particularly in January and February (temperatures sometimes down to the low minus twenties) although this winter 2005/06 in the Canadian Rockies, has disproved this yearly average with Mother Nature being gentle on us with way above average temperatures.
In the resorts in the Canadian Rockies, you do not get the Alpine Charm and history you get in the Alps. The best way to describe Canadian Rocky resorts are that they are designed to be easy. They’re built so that you can always get back to one central point, the base, so it is hard to get lost. In the Alps, there is more opportunity to go exploring, visiting other countries, but your timing is everything, you miss the last lift up and you are looking at taxis or buses to get back to your starting point over in the other valley.
Resorts in the Canadian Rockies have wide valleys and plenty of steep and deep, terrain to challenge most. We have green, blue, black diamond and black double diamond runs. In the Alps, they have the additional red rated runs, which are between our blue and black runs. This means a blue run in the Canadian Rockies can be the equivalent of an easy blue or challenging red in the Alps. Resorts in the Canadian Rockies are a lot more open with wide open pistes.
The weather in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and parts of British Columbia is mainly sunshine. Based on weather records this has been proved, due to us being located on the east side of the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide acts as a barrier for the weather. Whistler receives a lot of warm moist air from the Pacific, whereas east of the continental divide, the clouds have much less moisture creating the dry “champagne powder” we mentioned earlier.
So, to conclude, there is no better place to ski, the Alps give you the chance to explore and visit other countries in a day, and experience a wide variety of terrain. The resorts in the Canadian Rockies offer blue skies, dry air, fluffy snow and a less likely chance to get lost.
Why not see the differences for yourself? Visit www.white-peak.com for information on ski holidays in the Portes-du-Soleil in the French Alps or www.rocky-peak.com for ski holidays in the Canadian Rockies.