A gentler slope at Marmot Basin (photo: Brent Beach/Alamy)

Super Slopes for Beginner Skiers (and Boarders) in Alberta

By Iain MacMillan

Whether or not you’re near the Rockies, skiing and snowboarding are among the absolute pleasures of winter. But they’re not sports you can simply pick up. Fortunately, many downhill-education opportunities exist—for never-ever skiers, novices looking to upgrade their skills, and those who want to introduce friends or family members to the slopes.

THE PLACE TO BEGIN
Everyone has to learn somewhere! And for many Edmonton-area skiers and snowboarders, it can feel like everyone did learn at Rabbit Hill Snow Resort. The classic city hill has hosted thousands of lessons every winter for the past 60 years, and continues to welcome enthusiast downhillers even as similar modest-scale learn-to-ski areas close down across the country.

Evenings and weekends are full of activity at Rabbit Hill, as first-timers and novices of all ages and backgrounds learn the basics and gain composure on their equipment. For many, the ski day starts with a ride on a dedicated Rabbit Hill bus—a return trip from points across Edmonton costs only $15 (or $99 for the whole season). From there, the hill’s Discover program introduces skiing and snowboarding with an all-inclusive weekend package of lift pass, equipment rental and 1.5 hours of instruction, for $69 per day. For those who’ve officially caught the skiing bug, three-week lesson programs offer further improvements in technique and on-piste comfort, while also nurturing the sport’s infectious camaraderie.

They don’t call it a breeder hill for nothing. Honing your skills here will help you head to larger resorts like Marmot Basin or Sunshine Village with confidence.

beginner skiing alberta
photo: Andrey Bandurenko/Alamy

FAMILY FAVOURITE
Given its semi-remote, small-town location, Jasper’s Marmot Basin tends to fly a bit under the radar. But that’s exactly why avid snowboarder Norm Lourenco calls it as his favourite winter destination. Lourenco remembers fondly his family’s most recent visit last March, because his two beginner-skier children, age 13 and 16, “jumped several levels” over the course of a week on the slopes.

“I’ve snowboarded at Marmot many times,” Lourenco says, before waxing poetic about the combination of challenging runs and stellar scenery. “But on last winter’s trip I spent a lot of time on top-to-bottom green runs and couldn’t believe how quickly our kids progressed.”

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A highlight for skiers and boarders is a 5.6-kilometre stretch of multiple, connected intermediate (blue) and novice (green) runs—a significant amount of downhill that can be reached by riding two chairlifts. In fact, although Marmot has an excellent reputation among experts, about one-third of its trails are actually novice runs, while another third are blue-square intermediates, so there’s plenty to comfortably explore whether you’re with an instructor or after class.

Those classes are notably varied. First-timers of all ages can learn the basics of balancing on their skis or board, stopping and changing direction by purchasing a Discover package, which includes a two-hour group lesson on beginner terrain, plus equipment rental and lift ticket. Apprentice and intermediate kids can sign up for hour-long, half- and full-day group classes, and instruction is similarly available for adults looking to enhance their skills.

It also helps that the whole of Jasper, with its rugged surroundings and communal atmosphere, seems geared toward making ski culture appealing and accessible. “It feels like a ski town should, which is definitely a big draw for us,” Lourenco says.

beginner skiing snowboarding alberta sunshine village
Plentiful powder at Sunshine Village

A PERFECT SKI STAYCATION
The best way to experience Sunshine Village is to spend the night. The last gondola of the day departs at 5 p.m., ending the slope-side fun for day skiers. But overnighters at the posh mid-mountain lodge can continue the winter revelry. There’s a noticeable intimacy among those who remain—a bond that comes from being “snowed in” together and knowing that you’ll be the first to slash through the powder in the morning. No matter if you’re planning to tackle the famously steep Delirium Dive or looking forward to your first day of ski school, the conversation flows, friends are made and a unique alpine holiday sets up.

Kendra Scurfield was practically born and raised at Sunshine Village. Her family has owned the resort since 1981, and as Sunshine’s communications manager she’s always encouraging new skiers to try out her home hill.

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“Lifts like Strawberry Express, Wolverine Express and Jackrabbit are perfect for beginners,” she says. “The shorter runs off of these chairs, mixed with quiet, gentle blue and green runs gives skiers and snowboarders who are new to the sport lots of space to learn.”

And learn you shall. Immersive full-day, small-group lessons are offered for freshmen and novices age six and older. So confident are Sunshine’s pro instructors in their ability to get you comfortable on the hill, that if you’re not satisfied with your progress, they’ll arrange another lesson free of charge.

Speaking of comfort, Scurfield points out that Sunshine is typically blanketed by 100-percent natural snow, which is softer and lighter than the machine-made variety, and more forgiving if you fall. It’s also worth noting that beginner and expert ski bums alike consider the Teepee Town LX to be among the country’s most luxurious chairlifts. It’s definitely the only one in Canada that electrically warms up just before you sit down.

beginner skiing sunshine village alberta banff
The rental lodge at Sunshine Village (photo: Julian Eales/Alamy)

WHY RENT?
It’s easy
: Most hills offer affordable, well-maintained gear for rent, including helmets. Some even rent outerwear.

Book ahead: Renting is an increasingly seamless process. At Marmot Basin, you can reserve gear in advance online or by phone to reduce your wait time at the lodge.

Try it out: Some larger ski areas have demo centres for testing the latest high-performance skis and boards from different manufacturers.

Less lugging: Renting means you don’t have to worry about hauling heavy equipment to and from the mountain.

HOW TO SAVE
Marmot Basin: Save 10% on rentals and lessons. Plus, buy a four-day lift ticket for the price of three days

Rabbit Hill: Save 15% on full-day lift tickets, full-day rentals and three-day lesson packages (includes lift tickets and lessons)

Sunshine Village: Save 15% on full-day rental packages, full-day adult Ski and Ride workshops, and Kids Kampus programs

Lift Tickets: Members save up to $28 on direct-to-lift tickets bought at AMA centres—for resorts including Sunshine Village, Marmot Basin, Lake Louise, Fernie, Kimberley, Nakiska and Castle Mountain