On the slopes I overhear two instructors talking about plans for next winter and their hopes to be hired again at the Lake Louise Ski and Snowboard Resort. One of the pair sums up emphatically: “I know you can make more money in other countries, but (makes a sweeping gesture indicating the mountain) I mean COME ON!”
And that is pretty much the Lake Louise experience in a nutshell. It is a compromise between budget considerations and a breath-taking adventure in the Canadian Rockies.
So is there any way for a family to spend time in Lake Louise without breaking the bank? While I’m not sure there is any way to turn the resort town into a budget destination, there are a few ways you can pinch some pennies in the world class vacation spot.
Where to Stay:
Having had a few wild and/or sketchy hostelling experiences in my younger wild and/or sketchy days, I wasn’t exactly sure how it would be staying with my two young sons at the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre Hostel. It is owned jointly by Hostelling International and Alpine Clubs of Canada, and the pleasant truth is that aside from some exuberant German girls (who graciously did quiet down eventually) it was a perfect set up for families. You can book a private room that sleeps 4 starting at $130 (low season.) With hotel rooms in the area starting at around $200 a night and going well up from there, the simple accommodations were perfectly suited to us. With the majestic surroundings of the Rockies, we didn’t spend long hours indoors anyway. We stayed in a loft style family room that sleeps up to six, with a double bed in the loft, two bunk beds and a private half bath (sink and toilet) with a shared shower next door. Towels and bed linens were provided, plus we met some lovely people who treated our boys like rock stars, and that’s tough to beat.
What to do:
I asked a friend who used to work in Lake Louise what there is to do in the village. She scrunched up her nose. “Ummm, go to Banff?” The proximity to the Banff townsite means there are people who make the drive regularly to the more happening neighbouring town, but don’t be too quick to discount staying and playing in Lake Louise. Obviously the main draw is skiing. The Lake Louise Ski and Snowboard Resort is a draw for skiers from all over the world. There are a few ways to save if you are headed for the hill:
lift tickets: buying your lift tickets ahead of time can save some serious money. If you will be visiting the Lake Louise resort more than a few times in the season, a season’s pass can be a great deal. Look at the promos they are offering online on their website, or on the Ski Big 3 website, which includes two Banff resorts (Norquay and Sunshine) as well as Lake Louise Ski Resort. Earlier in the season you could also find lift tickets at Costco. If you are planning ahead for the 2017-18 winter, keep your eyes out at your local Costco starting in the fall. Alternatively, you can purchase discounted lift tickets from the front desk at the hostel–another great way they help you save!
equipment rentals: the rentals on the hill are high quality, and the convenience of dropping off your wet gear is hard to beat. But renting equipment in Calgary and transporting it yourself can save you significantly. Check out Where to Rent Sporting & Outdoor Equipment in Calgary for ideas.
Snow Shoe tours: To get a look at things from the top of the world try a guided snow shoe excursion at the top of the mountain. A ride up the gondola starts the roughly two hour activity. It’s an amazing chance to go off-piste and learn a bit more about the geography and history of the area, and it is appropriate for all ability levels. As a person who is terrified of heights, the scariest part was the way up, but my 4 year old managed just fine. If you have a lift ticket or are a pass holder, you save on the price of the tour. There is also currently a coupon on the website you can download. Another option to explore is the free mountain tours led by the volunteer Friends of the Mountain which is a cool way to learn a bit more about Lake Louise.
Aside from the ski resort, no visit to Lake Louise would be complete with out a visit to glacial Lake Louise and the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel. They aren’t too keen on tourists traipsing around the hotel unless you are a guest or dining at one of the restaurants, but the trails around the lake are free to wander and well worth the visit.
Where to Eat:
You will quickly find that “budget-priced” is a relative term in Lake Louise, food costs included. The best way to keep how much you spend on food from adding up too quickly is to bring your own. The HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre is equipped with a lovely commercial grade kitchen that has everything you need to make your own meals in the shared space. The price of food on the hill isn’t very outrageous, but it is far from a bargain, and bringing your own snacks and lunch is the cheapest way to feed your brood. The lockers in the change rooms allow in/out privileges, so you can access your stuff without having to pay the locker charge over.
If cooking on vacation sounds like too high a price to pay (yes, that’s me) there are a few restaurants that aren’t too astronomically priced.
Bill Peyto’s Café Located right in the hostel, this restaurant has wholesome, stick to your ribs kind of food. Unfortunately we were only able to dine there once (at breakfast) because they were closed for an indeterminate amount of time for a private function on the weekend we visited. The $6 kids menu was particularly attractive and the best price we encountered, so we will have to go back to try!
Lake Louise Inn A short, pretty walk from the hostel to the Lake Louise Inn across the street gives you a few food options. Upstairs is pizza and mostly Italian food at Timberwolf Pizza and Pasta Café. Children’s entrees are $10. Splitting a few of the around $20 pizzas seems to be the best value. Downstairs is pub food in Explorers Lounge (children are welcome until 8 pm) with entrées again in the $16-$18 range. If you happen to be visiting on a Saturday night, you may want to check out the Aprés Ski Party in the gazebo.. From 4 pm-7 pm they feature hot dogs and hamburgers for $6 with a side of chips for $2. There are also $6 drink specials for you party hounds.
Mountain Restaurant Don’t turn up your nose too quickly at the family restaurant beside the Husky station. Yummy burgers and pasta ring in around $16, and there are some interesting Korean mains to try as well. Again, you can share a pizza to defray costs, or stop by the adjacent Javalanche Café for some bakery delights.
Lake Louise is not known as a budget vacation spot, and that expensive reputation is pretty well deserved. But with a bit of planning and creativity, you can make it work for you!
Many thanks to Hosteling International and the Lake Louise Ski Resort for hosting our family. As ever the opinions are my own.