If the idea of spending hours of your hard-won rec time wading through swarms of people sounds like your own private version of hell, I get it. My inability to deal with crowds is the main reason I’ve sought out (and found) some of the best smaller ski resorts in Canada. These sweet spots offer all the enjoyment of the big resorts, but with a fraction of the people – and often, at a fraction of the cost.
Where: Clarenville, Newfoundland and Labrador
The unpredictable Newfoundland weather can make it a bit of a trial to visit this ski resort, but when it’s open, it’s pure, powdery bliss. Sure, it’s no BC mountain, but if you’re looking to hit the slopes on the east coast, White Hills’ 40km of groomed trails are a welcome retreat.
Where: Central Hainesville, New Brunswick
Dozens of alpine and Nordic trails (bring your XC gear) make Crabbe Mountain one of the east coast’s premier ski resorts – and the 260-m vertical drop (the largest in the Maritimes) doesn’t hurt either. Once you’re done for the day, the Thirsty Boot Lounge is on-site for you to rest, replenish and take in the evening’s entertainment.
Where: Calabogie, Ontario (100km west of Ottawa)
At Calabogie Peaks, you can experience the highest vertical drop among all the public ski hills in Ontario. This boutique resort is big on charm, natural beauty and quality trails, with over two dozen runs for different skill levels. I highly recommend staying the night. Their mountain lodge hotel overlooks Calabogie Lake and Little Sand Bay, and you can pop into Black Donald’s pub to enjoy the mountain view while you have a drink.
Where: Uxbridge, Ontario
This is a personal favourite of mine, and the first place I ever went skiing. Lakeridge is situated in the scenic sprawl of the Oak Ridge Moraine, and offers a wide variety of trails to choose from. The 407 extends right to Lakeridge Road, so it’s an ideal day trip from Toronto. If you want the full Lakeridge experience, head to the cafeteria and dig into a heaping serving of their famous poutine.
Where: La Rivière, Manitoba
Holiday Mountain makes the list for a bevy of reasons: it’s the only ski resort in Manitoba with on-site accommodations, they offer all-season ziplines and of course, they have amazing skiing and snowboarding. Here you’ll find 11 slopes that cater to skiers of all levels. This place has been open for over 50 years, and the owners know their stuff.
Where: Westcastle Valley, Alberta
With a vertical drop of 863m, Castle Mountain allows you to enjoy the Banff mountains – without the crowds. The old-school appeal of this gem makes it endearing, but of course, the 79+ trails help. Soak in the resort’s history at the T-Bar Pub & Grill, which serves a full spread of delicious pub fare. I recommend renting one of their ski-in, ski-out condos for the most optimal experience.
Where: Red Deer, Alberta
Even though Canyon is Alberta’s biggest non-mountain ski resort, it still makes the cut as a small resort since its hill status renders it less busy than many of the mountain destinations. You can explore over 283,000 square metres of terrain spread out on 18 immaculate runs.
Where: Terrace, British Columbia
Looking to take on some serious snow? Ready to explore the backcountry? Then Shames Mountain is just the ticket for you. The mountain itself is nearly 490 vertical metres, and according to Powder Magazine, Shames has “one of the deepest, most consistent snow packs in North America.” In fact, guests have had to stay overnight in the resort’s day lodge due to the massive snowfall. But don’t worry, you’ll be in good hands. Something else that’s cool about Shames? It’s run by Canada’s first non-profit community service ski co-operative.
If you’re looking to spend more time on the hills and less time in line, then you’ll want to check out these ski resorts. You’ll find all the natural beauty and many of the technique-building opportunities of the bigger resorts, but you won’t have to cattle-prod your way to a lift to get it.
Photo credits: Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com, Lukas Gojda / Shutterstock.com, oneinchpunch / Shutterstock.com