Explore. There are a multitude of resorts in BC and Alberta, and a road trip is the perfect way to visit a few of them whilst taking in some magnificent Rocky Mountain scenery.
Don’t go to Whistler just because it’s the place you’ve heard of. There are plenty of other top-class Canadian resorts that are worth looking into as well.
Wrap up warmly. It gets blisteringly cold here in winter, particularly on the east of the Rockies.
Don’t mistake Canadians for Americans – this is likely to be met with a frosty response.
Talk to people. Canadians are friendly people and they love chatting to foreigners, particularly the Scots and the Irish.
There are two main points of entry for the featured Canadian resorts – Calgary and Vancouver. Carriers include Air Canada (aircanada.com), Zoom (flyzoom.com), British Airways (ba.com) and American Airlines (aa.com). For resorts such as Fernie and Kimberley flying into Cranbrook is a great option, if you can afford it. Internal flights from Vancouver are available from Air Canada.
In the case of the US, New Zealand, Australia and the vast majority of European countries, a valid passport is all that's required for entry to Canada. Other nationalities may require a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) – visit canadainternational.gc.ca for more information.
As with the US, fully comprehensive health insurance is absolutely essential for any trip to Canada. The standard of healthcare is very high, but it's also very expensive. Make sure you specify this when taking out your insurance as most companies charge extra for cover in North America.
Canadians have a very broad ethnological background, and aside from obvious dishes like poutine (chips served with cheese curds and gravy) it's quite difficult to define what Canadian food actually is. There's a very strong Asian influence, and most towns will have at least one Chinese restaurant, if not a Thai and a Japanese one too. On the whole, breakfasts tend to be very similar to those in the US, with eggs, bacon, toast, cereal, coffee, orange juice and pancakes making a regular appearance at the table. Waffles and maple syrup, that most quintessentially Canadian of things, are also very popular. Like in the US, meat is a primary ingredient in Canadian meals, and the portions tend to be very large compared with what most Europeans are used to. On the whole, the Canadian tooth is sweeter than the European one, and it's quite difficult to avoid sugar being added right the way across the culinary board. However, like the US, it's a country of extremes, and whilst there's a huge array of fast food joints serving the least healthy food imaginable, these seem to coexist happily with small independent establishments selling good, wholesome food. Milk allergies are also very well catered for, and it's a rare coffee shop indeed that doesn't have soya milk. European visitors, particularly those from the UK and France, may be puzzled to find that sandwiches in petrol stations are often quite good. Rather than the pre-packed variety, they're often fresh and locally made, with interesting filling ingredients and unusual kinds of bread. Of course, you'll also find those typically North American items such as beef jerky and huge bags of jalapeno and cheese flavoured crisps, along with chocolate bars hell bent on containing peanut butter. What this all means for the visiting skierr is that it's pretty easy to get by in Canada, even if you have particular dietary requirements. It's a service culture and most people in restaurants will be happy to help out. Food on the mountain tends to be of a high standard, and good coffee is very easy to come by. It's not unusual to find Starbucks franchises in resort cafés, which will no doubt horrify and delight people in equal measure.
crime & safety
The rate of violent crime in Canada is vastly less than that of its more bellicose neighbour to the south. There are restrictions on handguns, and permits are required. The use of firearms for hunting is very common, yet gun related crime remains very low, even in the major cities. As with most other countries petty crime such as handbag theft does occur in populated centres, but on a much lower level than in most other countries. The threat of international terrorism in Canada is low.
English and French are the two official languages, with around 61% of the population counting English as their mother tongue. English is the main language in every province except Quebec, where French is dominant.
The huge distances involved mean that travel between major cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary is best done by plane. Check Air Canada (aircanada.com), WestJet (westjet.com) and CanJet (canjet.com) for domestic flights. Otherwise, car is a good way to get about. Resorts are much more spread out than they are in the Alps, so if you're planning a road trip then be prepared for some long (though typically stunning) drives. Though Canada is the world's second largest country after Russia, it's very sparsely populated so happily the roads are relatively empty. Speed limits are nonetheless quite strictly enforced. Beware of the phenomena of 'freezing rain' that you often find in the Rockies, which can turn the roads to sheet ice – heed any local weather warnings. Note that right turns at red lights are allowed in all provinces except Quebec.
Canada recognizes all valid foreign driving licences, so an international driving permit is not necessary. The minimum age for renting a car is 21, and drivers of 21-24 years are normally subject to an additional 'young driver fee'. You'll find all the major car hire companies (hertz.com, avis.com) at major airports and in city centres.
Canada's rail service is quite expensive and doesn't score highly on convenience, but if nothing else it's a great way to take in the scenery. There are often cheaper fares to be had for those who book in advance – check viarail.ca for more info. Those on a tight budget could try Greyhound (greyhound.ca). It's cheap but the typically huge distances to be covered in Canada can make for a gruelling journey.
Most shops are open Monday to Saturday 0900-1730, though in larger cities malls and supermarkets may open a bit earlier and stay open as late as 2100. Some stay open round the clock. Shops are generally closed on Sundays, though this won't apply in more touristy areas. Note that prices quoted in shops are usually without tax (one exception being fuel), and GST (Goods and Services Tax) of 7% will be added to most purchases. Most provinces charge an additional PST (Provincial Sales Tax), which varies from region to region: in British Columbia it's 7%, whereas in Alberta there's no PST. The legal drinking age varies from province to province, standing at 18 in Alberta and 19 in BC.