When it comes to the skiing industry, Eric Hjorleifson is at the top of the mountain. Already known as one of the world’s best big mountain freeskiers, “Hoji” is the star of numerous award-winning ski videos and develops gear for a variety of brands including 4FRNT and Dynafit. He’s also the subject of Sherpa Cinemas Sculpted In Time: The Character short film. Eric’s journey to the summit of the sport began on the slopes of Mt. Norquay and we had time this week to catch up with one of our favourite homegrown talents:
Your first run: what year was it and how old were you? What do you remember about it?
Hjorleifson: I don’t actually remember it. My parents took me up Norquay there just before my second birthday. So I don’t actually remember my first skiing experiences because I was so young. But I definitely remember as a few years went on, I have some pretty early childhood memories of skiing on Norquay. Specifically, that is where I learned.
Mount Norquay. Photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Do you have a single best run that you like to do in Banff or Lake Louise?
Hjorleifson: I have quite a few. I lived in Lake Louise for a couple winters. That’s a great area. The backside, the back bowls, are just really good spots for kinda steep terrain with a good fall line. When I skied at Sunshine Village, the Delirium Dive area, that was a bit of a restricted zone but 15 years ago they opened it and that’s an excellent area to ski for steep technical skiing. They’ve done a really good job. It’s one of the most progressive inbounds openings of expert terrain probably in North America. You can get into some serious lines there. A couple of my friends work on the snow safety side of Sunshine. They do an excellent job.
What’s the best time to hit the slopes?
Hjorleifson: In that area specifically, the best conditions are actually quite later than what people expect. A lot of the time, the best time to ski in the Rockies is in April… The spring is really nice there. They [the resorts] are high elevation and they tend to get these nice spring storms. It will be raining everywhere else and the Rockies will get some more snow and nice blue bird days. I would recommend going there March, April and even into May if you’re really keen.
Lake Louise Ski Resort. Photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
How does the Banff Lake Louise area compare to where you’ve skied around the world? What are the main differences?
Hjorleifson: The main difference with the Banff area compared to a lot of places is the fact that it is such a pristine environment. It is a national park and there’s complete wilderness. It’s this access point that’s been grandfathered in with the ski resorts and the towns and they can’t develop it anymore. Europe is amazing, I’ve been fortunate enough to ski there several times. The access and network of resorts and roads going through the mountains is incredible but it’s pretty hard to access remote and pristine wilderness. With Banff, that’s the main difference… with Banff there is really good access but it’s directly into untouched nature. I think that’s one of the coolest things about it.
What do you feel the culture of Banff is like off of the slopes?
Hjorleifson: Banff is really a local community. You can’t just move there. You have to get a job to move there. It’s a tight little community. Everyone is there for the outdoors and the recreation and just the enjoyment of the parks. I think, it’s a pretty nice little mountain community.
When you lived in the area did you have a favourite place for a meal or somewhere to warm up?
Hjorleifson: There’s a place called the Elk and Oarsman. It’s like a brew-pub style with a nice bar. The other one, Eddie Burger. It’s a good fancy burger and they’re open pretty late. Then Bruno’s Café has your typical hearty big breakfast on a lazy morning.
What would surprise a visitor about Banff and Lake Louise?
Hjorleifson: The landscape and the ruggedness of it. Even if you’re not a skier and you go up to Lake Louise, not the ski area, but the actual lake, you can hike around pretty mellow hiking trails right to the back of the lake. You’re underneath these massive cliff walls and hanging glaciers… it’s hard to beat that visual grandeur.
Lake Louise. Photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography