The Kananaskis Valley served as a key component during the 1988 Winter Olympics.// © 2011 Chris Hoopmann
The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler were not Western Canada's first Winter Games. Calgary, Alberta, was the host city 23 years ago. The 1988 Games' opening and closing ceremonies as well as the hockey and figure skating events took place in Calgary, but other venues were developed west of the city. Canada Olympic Park, on the outskirts, hosted the ski jumping, bobsled, luge and speedskating events; the sleepy former mining town of Canmore was selected as the site of the cross-country ski races; and nearby Mount Allan was developed to Olympic-level ski-racing standards and renamed Nakiska. All of these sites have been well maintained, upgraded and are still in use by locals and visitors for seasonal and year-round recreation.
Canmore, now a robust community with a population of about 13,000 people, is a recreational paradise, a straight shot west of Calgary via the Trans-Canada Highway, one hour from the city and 1Ω hours from its international airport. In winter, the splendid cross-country trails developed for the Games remain the major draw. Officially called the Olympic Nordic Center and renovated in 2005, it boasts more than 60 miles of trails with tracks for classical skiing and also skating lanes. Rental gear and lessons are available.
The venue still hosts Canadian and international ski races, including the Haywood Ski Nationals (March 11-19) in which top North Americans will compete. In summer, the site morphs into an 18-hole disc golf course, four orienteering courses, more than 60-plus miles of single- and double-track mountain bike and hiking trails, nearly four miles of paved roller-ski trails and a mountain bike skills park.
Canmore abounds with special events and festivals. The renowned Ice Fest and Winter Carnival is a winter highlight, and summers feature such warm-weather events as the mountain bike endurance race called the 24 Hours of Adrenalin, the Canmore Highlands Festival and the Canmore Folk Festival.
A variety of accommodations are available as well. Bellstar Resorts, which operates distinctive resort properties in Western Canada, has an impressive Canmore portfolio. Rundle Cliffs Luxury Mountain Lodge is a mouthful of a name for this village-style complex in the heart of downtown Canmore between two mountain streams. Shopping, dining and entertainment are all nearby. The nearby Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino is a First Nations-owned hotel, entertainment and casino complex. The hotel component has 111 rooms in three categories and 20 suites. The property also operates a complimentary shuttle between Canmore and the casino on Fridays and Saturdays.
Nakiska and the Kananaskis Valley
Stretching southward from Canmore is the beautiful Kananaskis Valley, which hosts an abundance of outdoor opportunities. Your clients can share the Olympic slopes of Nakiska with locals, for this is truly Calgary's hometown hill. Generations have learned to ski in the separate and safe beginner area before progressing to the well-groomed runs that are great for cruising. Nakiska now has a high-speed chairlift that rockets riders up 2,412 vertical feet and a new 18-feature terrain park for snowboarders. Such ski area amenities were barely on the radar screen when the Olympics came to town in the '80s.
Nakiska really shines as a family-friendly mountain, and Kananaskis Village -- small, compact and easy to navigate -- is the perfect complement. The most upscale property is the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, whose post-Olympic claim to fame was hosting the G8 Summit leaders in 2002. The hotel is known for excellent service, a fine spa and a brilliant location in the heart of the Kananaskis Valley. It makes a perfect family getaway with one-night and longer packages that include a shuttle to Nakiska.
For clients headed to the Alberta Rockies who want to try snowmobiling, dogsled rides and flightseeing, the Kananaskis Valley is the place to go for winter opportunities that are prohibited or restricted within the boundaries of nearby Banff National Park. In summer, fly-fishing, white-water rafting, scenic float trips on flat water, hiking and mountain biking lead off the abundant outdoor adventures.
En route to or from Canmore and Kananaskis, urge your clients to stop at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary's western outskirts. This is the site of the Olympic bobsled/luge run, ski jump and 400-meter speedskating oval that are still heavily used today for training, competitions and as a visitor attraction. This small ski area features a large terrain park called The Source Terrain Park with more than 30 jib skiing features plus Western Canada's only superpipe, an exact replica of the 2010 Olympic pipe used at Cypress Mountain near Vancouver. The captivating Olympic Museum is a must-see attraction for anyone who has watched winter sports competitions as well.