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The Finest Hotels in the Canadian Rockies

The knolls and basins on Baldy's summit plateau, which is 12 miles long and three miles wide, provide local relief. The slopes, with verticals of 500 to 600 feet, are ideal for teaching that graceful genuflection called the telemark turn. Under the tutelage of staffers, you can graduate from writing figure 11's in the snow (parallel skis going straight down a hillside) to carving elegant S's, the calligraphy of a telemarker.

There are no formal groomed trails, just a dozen or so unmarked ski-touring routes. Of the skiable peaks in the area the favorite is 8,700-foot Mount Copperstain for its bowls of pristine powder. The countryside around Purcell is so wild that you won't cross another set of tracks all day long.

Bald Mountain, British Columbia; 250/344-2639, fax 250/344-5520; from $90 per person, all-inclusive; helicopter transportation from Golden, B.C., $130 round-trip per person. No guests under 14.

Jasper Park Lodge
Jasper, Alberta

The most remote of Canadian Pacific's grand mountain hotels seems even farther off the beaten path if you come via the Icefields Parkway, which heads north from the Trans-Canada Highway at Lake Louise. In winter, you'll share 143 miles with a few dozen motorists braving mountain passes and wilderness valleys to see some of the most formidable alpine scenery on the continent.

The parkway's terminus is a quiet railroad town three streets wide in the broad valley of the Athabasca River. Jasper's relative inaccessibility shuts the town out of the international-destination market. You'll search in vain for a Gucci boutique, but you can still shop at the same drugstore that was in business when I was a boy.

What began in 1915 as the modest "Tent City" three miles east of town on the shores of Lake Beauvert is now practically its own village, with 442 guest rooms and suites in the main lodge, log cabins, and cedar cottagesãmore than 100 buildings in all. Herds of elk roam the wooded property, an infusion of the wild in a resort with suburban density along its "streets."

My large room, one of four in a lakeside chalet, was more country inn than mega-resort. Sliding louvered wooden panels separated a living room furnished with solid pine pieces from a bedroom with a king-size brass bed, an armoire, and a bentwood armchair. The bathroom was small, though, with a truncated tub; a stencil of pinecones and branches circled the walls.

The suites and the fancier chalet rooms come with sitting rooms and fireplaces; some have whirlpool baths. Lakefront cabins range from four-bedroom, four-bath retreats to eight-bedroom Milligan Manor, what they call the "Grand Canadian Lodge Experience," at $1,130 a night.

The main lodge, a huge Eisenhower-era structure with a cathedral ceiling, overlooks Lake Beauvert. The vast interior is broken up by cedar columns and potted trees strung with tiny lights. Tapestry sofas and spoke-back willow rockers with striped cotton pillows cluster around granite-topped coffee tables. On natural-bark end tables are prints of archival photos in tiny twig frames.

The small, clubby Edith Cavell Dining Room is leagues ahead of anything at the Banff Springs or Chateau Lake Louise. Like other ambitious restaurants in the Canadian Rockies, Edith Cavell (its name is that of an English nurse shot by the Germans during the First World Warãbon appétit!) emphasizes regional ingredients and does it very well. A perennial favorite is wild Alberta mushroom chowder sweetened with fireweed honey and thickened with enough navy and kidney beans to bog down a charging elk. Charbroiled beef tenderloin, an Alberta staple, gains new interest with zingy chive oil and ratatouille. When it comes to after-dinner entertainment, there's no mistaking Jasper Park Lodge for Vegas. So come morning, guests are eager to cross-country ski, snowshoe, or go for a sleigh ride. Downhillers head 12 miles southwest to Marmot Basin, where anything over a two-minute wait for the quad chair is considered interminable.

The lodge's health club, although no fluffy-towel threat to the Solace spa at the Banff Springs, is busy all day with kids playing pool, Ping-Pong, and shuffleboard. An indoor plunge pool leads to an outdoor pool where you can poach from the neck down, while your wet hair freezes into intriguing designs.

One evening I skated the half-mile oval on tiny Lake Mildred past kids playing a game of pickup hockey. The shouts, the slap of sticks on the puck, and the creaking of my blades took me back to my pond-hockey days on the Canadian prairies. Darkness soon sent the boys home, but I skated on, circling the lake alone while the evening star winked at a gibbous moon.

Jasper, Jasper National Park, Alberta; 800/441-1414 or 403/852-3301, fax 403/852-5107; doubles from $85.


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