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Brits in Banff


First of all, the Brits are prolific skiers, with nearly a million of them pouring into mountain resorts worldwide each winter to ski and snowboard. The Brits are responsible for putting the sport into skiing back in the early 1900s, when they borrowed the “wooden stick” means of transport from the Scandinavians and turned it into a fun pursuit to while away winters in Switzerland. In 1903 Brit skier, Sir Henry Lunn established the first packaged ski holidays under the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club. He then raised the sport to a competitive level with a downhill ski race in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. After founding the Kandahar Ski Club in Mürren in 1924, Lunn went on to organize both downhill and slalom events at the 1928 Arlberg-Kandahar open international alpine skiing competition, the precursor to international racing.

Lake Louise windvanePerfect Package Holidays:

Since those early alpine days, skiing has expanded worldwide, particularly in North America where it dates back to 1905 when the National Ski Association was founded in Michigan. Even though ski hills in Colorado, Utah and Canada are long-haul for the Brits, they still cross the Atlantic on charter flights from Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester to get their Aspen, Alta or Banff fix. According to Ski Club of Great Britain statistics, Canada garners three percent of the British ski market and that figure has stayed consistent over the past five or six years.

Since Sir Henry Lunn’s days, British tourists have favoured packaged holidays to take the hassles out of holidays. The packages usually include flights, transfers to and from resorts, hotels, meals, ski passes and even rentals and lessons. Ellie Greenwood has worked for Inghams for ten years and is now assistant to the operating office manager in Banff. “People can book to come from the UK today for three days time. They make one payment and it’s all done,” she says. “I think it’s the ease that attracts them to packages and also knowing what they’re going to get wherever they go.”

Overlooking Banff from Mt Norquay

Overlooking Banff from Mt Norquay

Having a local representative to contact in case of problems is one advantage for package tourists. Moreover, packaging has reduced costs for holidaymakers, with operators commanding wholesale prices on flights, accommodation and lift passes. “It’s the best value and it’s also hassle-free,” comments Greenwood who said that packages are more flexible nowadays, with options for customizing. Having worked for Inghams in Norway and Switzerland, too, Greenwood is impressed enough with Banff’s skiing and community to want to stay on in Canada. “It’s mostly because of the outdoors lifestyle; it’s more relaxed with a good quality of life. Opportunities are easier in Canada firstly because there is no language barrier. Also, it’s a new country …and a country of immigrants so it’s very multicultural.” She thinks British tourists are attracted by the record of excellent customer service and the diverse mix of restaurants and hotels in Banff to fit every preference and pocket. “Plus there’s the choice of ski areas, not just the Big 3, but also away-days to Nakiska and Kicking Horse,” she adds.

Traditionally British skiers booked well in advance for ski holidays, with 80 percent of tour operators’ product sold by October. Lake Louise’s owner, Charlie Locke dates this back to the 90s: “The Brits started in earnest when wholesalers, such as Airtours and Crystal Holidays started bringing them, followed by Inghams and Neilson in more recent years. Last year we had six charter planes every week from Gatwick and Manchester. This year it has dropped off due to the Canadian dollar and the economy,” he says.

Post Recession Trends:

Since the pound plummeted in the UK during the recession, purchasing patterns have changed with most British skiers waiting to see weather conditions and looking online for last minute bargains. Locke puts this down to a cyclical trend, saying the Brits have come in waves over the years, with an average monetary worth of around $80million per year to the area.

In the Crystal Ski Industry Report 2010, managing director, Mathew Prior predicts that skiers will be more price-sensitive this season. “The ski industry has coped well with the challenges posed by the reduction in numbers during winter 09/10, with most organizations correctly anticipating the fall and scaling down capacity,” he says. “However, conditions will remain tough and only those able to keep inspiring customers with new offers, create good value and compelling holidays, will see the benefit.”

Weather Worries:

Immortalized by Noel Coward’s refrain “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”, the Brits are similarly gung-ho about cold weather. Not dismayed by minus 30 temps, they flock to Canadian resorts all season long, dotting the slopes when many locals prefer to huddle indoors. British accents resonate around the resorts during the traditionally quieter days of the season such as Christmas Day, New Year’s morning and many frigid January weekdays. Sunshine’s associate director, communications, Doug Firby has been working with British tour operators for the past three years. Coming from Ontario himself, the hardiness of the British skier amazes him: “It’s hard to believe our UK visitors come from a moderate climate. They’re out in the mountains on our coldest, snowiest days, charging down the slopes. And they’re rock stars. They’re so much fun to be around. You can tell they’re just having the time of their lives.”

Sandy Best in green...

Après -ski Antics:

While no-one knows for sure who invented après ski, the Brits certainly know how to party on and off the slopes. European ski hills have responded to their preference for licensed onhill ski huts by day, supplementing these with ‘ice bars’ – hacked out of the snow and decorated with umbrellas, deckchairs, music and barbecues – and proliferating ski resorts with traditional British pubs. Then there are the après ski parties. These are usually ‘happy hours’ which extend into dinner time, with many party animals still in their ski boots on the dance floor hours later.

With a background in managing European ski chalets, Lake Louise’s Events Director, Sandy Best knows what makes a signature British après ski party. His Friday night torchlit descent event at Lake Louise is more often than not dominated by Anglos who like to party as hard as they ski. On Christmas Eve around 90 percent of the 120-strong “party on the piste” were British. The weekly event combines appetizers and drinks with singing, dancing and limbo contests, high on the hill at Whitehorn Lodge. When dark descends, the revelers skim down the freshly groomed green runs, illuminated by torch-bearing instructors, to the main lodge for a bountiful buffet with line dancing and entertainments. “It’s a hammerhead feeding frenzy of gastronomic proportions,” explains Best, who is also a Brit himself. Knowing his countrymen well, he has honed the party into a drama-filled drinking fest with tactical transport provided back to Lake Louise and Banff hotels.

The Wisdom of Working in Banff:

Many of the ski instructors at Lake Louise, Sunshine and Mt Norquay are Brits, tempted originally by a season’s ski bumming and then cajoled into staying by their love of wintersports, scintillating scenery and the laid-back lifestyle. James Wyld, now 30, has been working at Lake Louise for four years. Leaving behind a career in banking, he has no regrets: “Since coming to North America, I have had no summers, just followed the winter, going to Australia in the summer months.” Now in the process of applying for residency in Canada, he questions “how could anyone ever leave this place?”

Chris Burnham

Sunshine instructor, Chris Burnham came for a season seven years ago and is now a permanent resident, married to a former tour operator rep, and running his own rafting business during Banff’s summers. “The first year I was the perfect ski bum, living in a house in Canmore with six other people,” Burnham explains. “I took the winter off from rafting and had just enough money to last for the whole season.” Out of the original seven housemates, four now live in Canada and two others plan to return.

Although many of the jobs in Banff are strictly seasonal, some Brits find unexpected career opportunities there. Lori-Jane Coates came from Scotland to work first as park crew and snowmaker at Mt Norquay. Now in her second season, she has been promoted to marketing sales events assistant. “Last year my plan was just seasonal like most of the Brits here but I got this job, using my degree in festival events and tourism management, and it’s helping my career. I’m going to stay as long as I can,” she says. While president of the Napier University Ski Club back in Scotland, she travelled to many Alpine destinations, including Kitzbuhel, Avoriaz, Morzine and Meribel. “The terrain is a bit better in Europe as the resorts are so extensive and the blacks in Europe are harder than the double blacks here. But the snow is better here,” she says. Although she sometimes misses the atmosphere in Europe where merry music pervades ski slopes dotted with random bars, she prefers the more serious ski scene in Banff to the blatant party scene. A devotee of Norquay’s niche, she recommends it as a place to escape the crowds on a powder day: “There’ll only be 500 people here when there are 5000 elsewhere and you can get fresh tracks all day.”

Louise Hudson at Lake Louise

Coates originally travelled to Banff with Gap Year Canada, a work-abroad company run out of Banff by Canadian, Nancy Myles Martin and her British husband, Noel Martin – The couple coordinates seasonal work for pre- and post-university Brits, helping with visas, insurance, flights, jobs, accommodation, paying rent, organizing social events and acting as a contact for anxious parents back home. “We find the majority of our clients each season are from the UK in that they plan their season further in advance, and are super keen to experience the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and one of the longest season on snow they can get,” says Martin. Many of their clients come back for a second season, she says, to “live the dream”.

Happy Holidaymakers:

British tourists similarly fall in love with Canada, revisiting as often as coffers permit. Jason Funnell came to ski in Banff this winter with his wife Gemma, after previous holidays in Toronto and Vancouver. “I thought we were missing out on the real Canadian experience which was what Banff symbolized to me,” Gemma explains. “Banff is more of what I expect from Canada and since we were coming here we thought we might as well do some skiing.” The full day of travelling was not off-putting to the couple who had booked a 10-day stay. “The flight was eight and half hours which wasn’t too bad, we had a bit of a delay but at the end of the day we had a nice hotel at Banff Park Lodge to come to. The Inghams’ reps were there at the airport, the coaches all warmed up and it was a 45-minute or so’s ride and then we were in the hotel bar having drinks,” says Jason. Anxious to experience a rounded wintersports’ vacation, the couple combined ski lessons with snowmobiling, dogsledding, sleigh rides and a therapeutic spa day. They booked in the Club Ski tuition program in order to experience the diversity of Lake Louise, Sunshine and Mt Norquay while learning the basics. For après they epitomized British appetites, enthusiastically embracing the “meet and greet” gathering with their Inghams’ rep and fellow travellers at Banff Avenue Brewing, favouring the Rose and Crown pub, and dubbing Melissa’s “the best breakfast place in Banff” .

Louise Hudson is a ski and travel writer for a variety of print and online publications including the Calgary Sun and Canoe Group, Calgary Herald and group, Globe and Mail, Dreamscapes Magazine, Dallas Morning News, More Magazine (Canada), The State Media (South Carolina), Alberta Hospitality, Verge Magazine, Opulence Magazine, Sheen Magazine, Silver Travel Advisor, Calgary’s Child, AlbertaParent and TravelMag. She is the co-author of the book “Golf Tourism” published by Goodfellows UK and is currently writing another book on customer service. Her website is and email contact is [email protected]

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