Winter has arrived and ski season is here.
Banff National Park is a world-class destination for hiking and climbing in the warmer months and skiing in the winter. Strap on your skis, because we’re hitting the slopes.
When visiting Banff in the winter it’s easy to think that you’ve just been transported into an enchanted snow globe or picture-perfect Norman Rockwell painting. The views are astounding—whether you are walking, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, or simply gazing out of the window as you sip a hot chocolate with double whip cream.
There’s always something to see, from elk wandering the streets to the ever-changing light on the mountains and trees. Plus, there’s a nearly transcendental quiet during the big-snow months (November through early May). The park has far fewer tourists in the winter; everything is quieter, from the spectacular viewpoints to the local brewpubs. Hotels, hostels, and even restaurants are usually less expensive than in peak summer months. Plus, you’ll want to take advantage of the strong U.S. dollar.
The park has far fewer tourists in the winter; everything is quieter, from the spectacular viewpoints to the local brewpubs.
In the winter, when snow blankets the steep peaks and big valleys, the Canadian Rockies in and around Banff National Park are arguably one of the world’s most amazing sites. There’s plenty to do in the Kananaskis, Canmore, Banff, and Jasper regions—lots of snowshoe, cross-country ski trails, and rustic but oh-so-comfortable backcountry lodges. There are more than a handful of ski resorts in these beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains, with Nakiska and KPOW! Fortress Mountain Cat Skiing. KPOW in Kananaskis Country, to Marmot Basin in Jasper. But if you are headed to the Canmore/Banff/Lake Louise heart of the park, here are three that you can hit in as many days.
Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt Norquay
All three resorts are all a stone’s throw from Banff. The resorts have a cool program, Ski Big 3, to help people explore all three mountains in a short period of time. The three-day program takes you to all three world-class areas, with a guide/instructor who can help you get the most out of the more than 8,000 acres of terrain.
The resorts have a cool program, Ski Big 3, to help people explore all three mountains in a short period of time.
Guides are assigned according to goals and ability; it is a great way to get the most out of your ski vacation and up your skill level while having fun. You can sign up for one or two days, if you’re pinched for time, but you’ll kick yourself for not devoting a full three days to exploring these pristine, snow-packed slopes. The package three days of guided skiing with a CSIA pro, personalized navigation tips, priority in the lift line, a legit après experience at Mt. Norquay, and a pass to the Whyte Museum. Oh, and a limited-edition beanie.
Sunshine generally receives a bit more snow due to their high altitude – the base is at 5450-feet, and the summit just shy of 9,000-feet. And, locals would argue, it has the most dependable powder. With more than 3,000 skiable acres, this area has one of Canada’s longest ski seasons. Plus it is impossible to get a bad view from anywhere on the slopes. There are nine chairlifts, including a high-speed eight-person gondola, plus a high-speed quad with heated seats and protective bubbles.
Locals would argue, it has the most dependable powder.
The terrain here is great, with plenty of steeps for the dedicated. Delirium Dive is a well-known freeride zone coveted by many experienced riders. The alpine valley is formed by three mountains—everything funnels down to the main area, so it’s hard to get lost. For families (and those who value the indoor experience as much as the slopes), there’s a lodge at the end of every run. Little Rippers can explore on their own and always have a home base.
Just minutes from Banff, Mt. Norquay is a very family-friendly resort with great youth programs. The historic area, which opened in 1929, has a low-key, welcoming vibe. The slopes have excellent views of the town of Banff and an endless array of dramatic peaks, and offers night skiing access on the weekends; there’s also a fun tubing park.
The mountain has a rich history of alpine racing; you could spend hours checking out YouTube footage of early races and ski jump competitions. Early season skiing is good here, with 85 percent of the mountain covered by snowmaking machines; later in the season you can expect good powder. For a snack, the iconic Cliffhouse Bistro is not to be missed.
Lake Louise Ski Resort
This iconic ski resort is the second largest in Canada and unsurpassed with postcard-perfect beauty. The powder bowls are legendary, and the steep, fast groomers are world class. The resort sprawls across four mountain faces and sits opposite the famous Lake Louise. The view across the valley to the Victoria Glacier is awe-inspiring. Better still, a green or a blue run can be accessed from every chair, so guests of different abilities can enjoy the view together. The snow-tubing park makes for a fun day for those who prefer life closer to the ground.
Stay at Chateau Lake Louise, a castle-like lodge with spectacular views of mountains, glaciers, lakes and forests—even if you don’t stay there, plan on having a drink in the Wein Stubbe. Or you can take a sleigh ride across the frozen lake to a quaint Tea House, passing the frozen Louise Falls that sparkles like a frozen chandelier.