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Skiing Holiday

It is perhaps no surprise that a country the size of Canada – which in terms of landmass, is the second largest country in the world – has some of the largest and most famous skiing resorts in the world. Soon, all eyes will be on British Columbia especially, as Vancouver hosts the 2010 Olympic Games, with the lion’s share of the alpine events hosted by the world famous resort of Whistler Blackcomb.

Whistler Blackcomb
The mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb, part of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, provide a massive area for skiing and snowboarding in the famous Whistler Blackcomb resort. Boasting three high speed gondolas, and numerous chair and surface lifts, the resort accesses some 7000 acres of slopes. At the end of a long day on the numerous runs, it is possible to ski straight into Whistler Village. Here, one can unwind in the many restaurants, bars and spas that have lent Whistler a well deserved reputation for excellent après-ski. All facilities are within walking distance in this people-centred town – no vehicles are allowed within the village – and a range of accommodation from luxury to basic chalet is available. In addition to Whistler Village, the Village North, Upper Village and Nicklaus North areas offer accommodation with easy access to the resort.

Extreme Skiing
In addition to the standard, well defined slopes of the managed resort, there are a number of more extreme options for skiing off-piste. Heli-skiing, and Snowcat skiing operations run out of the Whistler area, and these forms of transport make it possible to access remote areas of untouched powder snow well away from the resort. Helicopters are used to transport small skiing parties to high, and otherwise inaccessible, untouched slopes. The Snowcat, a tracked vehicle usually used to create and groom runs, can be used to transport a skiing party on a tour of the unspoilt backcountry, with each day finishing with a stay in a back country lodge. Many of these lodges are equipped with luxury spas and provide high quality gourmet catering; making relaxation easy after a taxing day of cross country skiing.

Cities of Canada

Ontario
Containing the nation’s capital, Ottawa, Ontario province is a culturally rich mixture of some of the oldest cities in Canada and some of the most striking national landmarks. Competing with the natural grandeur of the Niagra Falls is the tallest (land based) building in the world, the CN Tower in Toronto. From the historical to the new, the urban to the rural, there are interesting vacational options aplenty in the province of Ontario.

Ottawa
The national capital Ottawa is steeped in the historical heritage of Canada, being as it is an officially bi-lingual city of English and French speakers. Ottawa is a quick trip away from the Quebec city of Gatineu, the officially French speaking sister city located across the Ottawa River. A trip to the bustling Byward Market is an easy way to immerse oneself in the rich cultural diversity of the city – and perhaps pick up some bargains too! – and a good place to eat or enjoy a drink as the area is well served with quality restaurants and bars. As with many capital cities, one of the main tourist draws are the Federal Parliament Buildings on Capital Hill. The Capital Hill area is home to many fine national museums such as the Museum of Civilisation and the National Gallery, and is well worth a visit.

Toronto
A far more modern looking City than Ottawa, Toronto is a city with a significant financial district, boasting some impressive sky scrapers – none more so than the massive CN Tower which dominates the skyline at a massive 533m high. The view from the viewing gallery is a must see, and allows the visitor to walk the circumference of the tower for a panoramic view of the city and the shores of Lake Ontario. Canada’s largest City is also an important hub for the arts, with the popular Harbourfront area containing many entertainment venues as well as the start of a walking trail that winds around the side of Lake Ontario. Retail therapy is also in plentiful supply with a profusion of shops and retail outlets.

Niagra Falls

Perhaps the world’s most famous waterfall, Niagra falls is a horse shoe shaped waterfall 323m long over which around 600,000 litres of water drops a full 57m every second, creating a truly breathtaking and thunderous roar. Situated on the Canadian/ US border, this natural marvel is a must see. For the brave, tunnels afford access behind the wall of water comprising the falls. Boat trips are also available for those who wish to get really close!

Holidays

Banff – Gateway to the Wilderness
Located in the heart of Banff National Park, Banff is a world renowned resort settlement set amongst the grandeur of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, in the province of Alberta. In the winter, resorts like Norquay and the Sunshine Village Ski Resort host some of the world’s largest snowsport events. In the summer, the Banff National Park offers great opportunities for hiking and camping, through which it is possible to get up close and personal with true wilderness and all of the natural wildlife which inhabits it.

Where to Stay
If you prefer a little more comfort than is afforded by the option of camping, there are numerous accommodation opportunities in the town of Banff itself, a small settlement little over 4km squared in size. From here, easy access is afforded to the surrounding mountain areas of Kananaskis, Lake Louise and Canmore, whilst the Banff National Park itself boasts numerous hot springs and lush, unspoilt evergreen wilderness. The popularity of this resort means that early booking is usually essential in the high season – although I did manage to find some last minute deals on winter http://holidays.monarch.co.uk holidays through Monarch. Make sure that you purchase a pass if driving into Banff; this is necessary to travel within a national park in Canada.

What to Do
This area has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to possible activities to participate in, all year round. In the summer, scores of trails lead from Banff to elevated viewpoints from which to take in the breathtaking wilderness; with options for those of all hiking abilities and fitness levels. For those who want to experience fantastic views of the entire region whilst expending a little less effort, a cable car can be taken to the pinnacle of Sulphur Mountain, known as Sanson Peak.

In the winter, Banff is hugely popular for it’s proximity to a plethora of ski resorts, with slopes such as Sunshine and Norquay practically on the doorstep. Within an hours drive are the resorts of Nakiska, Fortress and Lake Louise, meaning that the determined snow sports enthusiast need never ski the same slope twice for the duration of their vacation.

As mentioned, the popularity of the resort of Banff means that early bookings are often a must; if you haven’t planned ahead and are after late holidays, it’s worth looking at On The Beach.

Travel Insurance

Off the beaten track – An introduction to Heli-skiing in the Canadian Rockies

A penchant for powder
There is nothing more appealing to the experienced skier or snowboarder than the prospect of access to pristine powder snow. Even if you are lucky enough to visit a resort that benefits from regular fresh snowfall overnight during your stay, the nature of busy modern resorts means that fresh powder will be well carved up by lunchtime should you stay en-piste. In many modern, well planned resorts it is not possible to reach safe, off-piste areas via the cable cars and lifts provided, as most of the viable runs have been made into well defined pistes.

Heli-skiing
The facilities for heli-skiing in the Canadian Rockies are at the forefront of world heli-skiing. Heli-skiing is the only guaranteed way to reach fresh powder snow daily on your skiing holiday, and involves hitching a lift by helicopter high up on to untouched slopes beyond the reach of resorts, from heli pads in locations such as Canmore and Golden. With this kind of endeavour it is essential to have the experience of seasoned heli ski operators, for obvious safety reasons. The guides will be experts, and have the in depth experience of the local mountains to be able to identify safe conditions on the slopes, thus greatly reducing the risk of avalanche.

Safety Essentials
Good reliable operators will guide groups of a maximum of 4, and be well equipped to deal with emergency situations. Check on the credentials of your operator by ensuring that they are registered and licensed by organisations like the Association of British Columbia Heliski, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, or Snowcat Operators. On a personal level, good travel insurance, such as provided by AA, is a must so that you are covered for all eventualities. With an experienced guide, accidents are rare, but it is essential to have adequate medical cover when embarking on this kind of adventure.

Heli-skiing is certainly not the cheapest option for skiing, but can without doubt provide one of the most breathtaking experiences to be had on snow. Just remember that far away from the crowds, safety preparation is a must, so check the provisions of your travel insurance, taking out a thorough policy from the likes of Go.

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