Al Raine from Sun Peaks Resort and
Paula Worthington from Canadian Rockies Resorts
We look forward to welcoming you to Canada! Get ready to experience some of the best terrain, impeccable scenery, world-class hospitality, and snow conditions that will make you want to stay forever! This article is to help you prepare for skiing in Canada, as conditions in Canada are much different from New Zealand. Whereas snowstorms may close resorts in New Zealand, it is almost unheard of for a Canadian resort to close due to weather!
Canada’s winter season is the opposite of New Zealand, with winter conditions from mid-November to mid-April. Average temperatures can range from –5 to –15 degrees Celsius, with some days in January go to –20 to –30 degree C.
It is recommended to bring warm clothes to Canada, and dress with lots of layers, and you will be able to comfortably enjoy the outdoors. The Canadian winter wind can be cold, with wind chill sometimes making the temperature feel even colder. It is a must to have a warm windproof down-feather jacket, padded ski pants, a scarf, padded mitts, a wool beanie (we call them toques here!), a couple of pairs of warm socks, thermal underwear, and a few warm sweaters, (fleece, flannel, wool – bring them all!) and ski goggles. Don’t forget your sunglasses for those perfect sunny days. Almost all resorts and ski towns have a ski shop on site to purchase clothing and other equipment, in case you’re not sure what to bring. In general, wear what you would for cold days on NZ mountains, plus thermals.
BC Ski areas
An understanding of western Canadian geography (Alberta and BC) is critical to make the right resort selection for the time of the year you are coming. There are four
major mountain ranges in BC that influence BC's alpine areas. Similar to NZ,
the predominant westerly air flow cools as it rises over the mountains
causing moisture release in the form of snow or rain. The eastern side of
each mountain range is much drier than the western slopes. Each time the air mass crosses over a new mountain range (and there are 4 mountain ranges in BC, each about the size of NZ’s Southern Alps) it is generally slightly cooler and drier.
Two prevailing weather patterns influence weather and temperatures. An
Aleutian low pressure zone feeds warm, moist air off the Pacific Ocean. An arctic high pressure area over Northern Canada feeds very cold air south to where the Rocky Mountains in Alberta provide a physical barrier that keeps most of this cold air over the Canadian prairies provinces. While the westerly flow wins most of the battles, in December, January and early February, there is a greater risk that the arctic air can invade BC occasionally moving as far west as Whistler. This cold weather should not
normally last more than 4 or 5 days.
You may be wondering about the resorts in between the Rockies and Whistler;
Sun Peaks, Silver Star, Big White and Apex. For the reasons outlined above,
these resorts experience fewer mild days like along the Coast, and rain is rare. Temperatures are generally are 8 to 10 C warmer than the Rockies (Banff area) in December and January. By March, the risk of extreme cold arctic air has diminished significantly everywhere and by April spring conditions are the norm except in the high Rocky resorts (Banff area) where winter still prevails. Canadian spring snow conditions are more like NZ July and August conditions and are not usually soft and slushy. December and January are usually the snowiest months although regular snowfall is common throughout the winter season.
Canadian Rockies Ski Areas
Dry conditions prevail in the Canadian Rockies in winter. You may have heard of the famous “champagne powder” that the Canadian Rockies are famous for. This light, fluffy snow is great for making turns, and comes thanks to the drier air in this part of the world.
Lifts tend to close around 4:00pm, and the winter sun in Canada sets shortly thereafter! That leaves plenty of time for some great après-ski activities at nearby lodges and pubs, where you can relish about your day’s adventures, and get ready for another breathtaking day in beautiful Canada.