Banff National Park is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s incomprehensibly big—2,564 square miles—packed with a plethora of lakes, peaks, wildlife and, most importantly, three kickass ski resorts. With Lake Louise Ski Resort, Sunshine Village Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay all within 40 minutes of eachother, the area ranks among the most incredible skiing destinations, period. Combined, the resorts offer a mind-blowing 8,000 acres of skiing terrain, and the average annual snowfall in the area is about 30 feet—equating to many, many powder days. It’s also a season that starts in early November and finishes in late May. That’s seven whole months of skiing.
Being located within one of the planet’s most stunning national parks—the first national park in Canada, by the way—means every single run you take is wildly picturesque. From the chutes to trees to bowls to groomers of Lake Louise, Sunshine and Norquay, you can see for miles and miles without another human in sight. No highways, no distractions, just absurdly fun skiing in the Canadian wilderness.
Off the mountain, Banff and Lake Louise offer loads of fun with a classic Canadian mountain feel. The downtown areas have ample food, drink and lodging to satisfy the classiest of vacationers and the most hardcore ski bums alike. In the surrounding areas, you’ll also find historic castles, chateaus and hamlets so fascinating you’ll want to extend your stay to see them all. One of the most notable is what’s now known as the Fairmont Banff Springs—find more, below, on why it’s the nicest place to stay in town.
Tons of rockin’ events come through the area every winter, as well. The Ice Magic Festival in January, for example, brings in ice carvers from all over the world for 10 days to create glorious ice sculptures on Lake Louise. On the lengthier side of things is the SnowDays Festival, which runs from mid-January into the first week of February, between Banff and Lake Louise. The festival features a plethora of events—from food and booze tastings to live music to in-town ski and snowboard competitions. And getting there is easier than you think. The closest airport is the Calgary International Airport (YYC), an easy 90-minute drive to this bustling area.
Between the wilderness, skiing, culture and entertainment of the Banff and Lake Louise area, you’re sure to enjoy yourself and experience something totally new, no matter how high your expectations may be.
Do Lake Louise right:
Head up The Lake Louise Gondola and over to the Ptarmigan chair and start the day off with fresh tracks through the Ptarmigan Glades. Drop into these trees and shred the untouched powder that surrounds you.
Ready for a little hike? Head up Larch Express and start your ascent up to the infamous Elevator Shaft triple black. Put on a show for people on the chair with fresh turns down the front side of Larch. Then, enter into a powder-filled valley known as Rock Garden, scattered with boulders making for unique bumps, jumps and turns.
Take a pit stop at Temple Lodge for a tasty espresso. You’ll need it for the mogul field off the backside, known as Paradise Bowl. This pimple faced slope is a challenge for the most physically fit advanced skiers. When loaded with snow, it’s a skiers dream.
Feeling hungry after some mogul laps on Paradise Chair? Head down the front side on Meadowlark. This fast track black diamond is empty and allows a quick descent down some perfect groomers. Go to Kuma Yama for some warm Ramen and tasty cocktails in the impressive Ten Peaks lodge.
Head to the top of the Summit Platter for a one-of-a-kind alpine experience. Take in the views while skirting around towards Brown Shirt and Boundary Bowl. Pick your line and drop into the epic, powder-filled steeps that’ll surely get you hootin’ and hollerin’.
Itching to lap the Summit Platter again? Go top to bottom on the front side of Outer Limits. Hover the boundary line all the way down the front side back to base. This run offers a variety of terrain choices and is a perfect way to end the day. Cap it off with a beer on the deck of Kokanee Kabin. You’ve earned it.
Do Sunshine Village right:
Take the gondola from the parking lot to the alpine setting of Sunshine Village and arrive at a scene filled with immaculate views and diverse terrain. Start the day off by ascending up the Angel Express to the Great Divide Express to the top of the continental divide for a panoramic view across two provinces and endless Canadian Rockies vistas.
Now that you’re warmed up, head over to Wawa Chair for a local’s favorite—Side Door. Traverse over to the top of the run and lookout over a snow-filled playground that has multiple natural features to hit.
Take the Goat’s Eye Express Chair and drop into the South Chutes. Breathtaking scenery and awesome terrain will surround you as you rip through a powdery bowl, finishing off with a cruisy groomer.
Warm up on the Teepee Town Luxury Express Quad chairlift—Canada’s only hot chair—and get ready to take on some steep, cliff-filled terrain. Little Angels run provides an exhilarating rush and you end up at the historical Mad Trappers for a quick pint and great pub food.
Ready to take on Sunshine’s alpine giant? Grab your avy gear and a smart partner, and take a ride up the great Great Divide Express. Prepare yourself for this infamous in-bounds freeride zone. Drop into the north-facing bowl filled with untouched fresh lines and spray up the champagne powder that the Canadian Rockies are renowned for.
End the day on Mount Standish. Cruise down the Borderline to play around on the diverse terrain and natural features unique to the area.
Do Mt. Norquay right:
Start the day off with hEaD Hunter off Spirit Chair. This cruisy corduroy will allow you to warm up your legs for the epic day ahead.
Ready to crush out some trees? The Norquay 90 Glades are new to the resort and offer terrain that even the locals haven’t yet explored. This run has perfectly spaced out trees and some natural features just begging for memorable moments.
Ride over to the North American chair (or “Big Chair” as the locals call it) and prepare yourself for the run that Mt. Norquay is best known for, Lone Pine. It offers steep mogul terrain with a perfect fall line that will have your legs burning and heart pounding.
On a powder day, go up the North American and shred down Memorial Bowl. This zone has serious powder stashes and, if you’re lucky, you can occasionally ride past some resident big horn sheep who call this slope home.
Tackle the untouched chutes off the top of Mystic Express via a short hike. Then, head to the Lone Pine lodge for some overwhelmingly large and cheesy nachos and locally brewed pints.
Feeling like a night shred? Stay around for some park laps or mellow groomer runs off Cascade Chairlift. This half-park, half-groomer run is not to be missed.
Eat, sleep, ski and repeat in Banff:
The Bison is where it’s at for top-tier dining, where beautiful views abound and tons of hearty dishes are on the menu. From its braised bison short ribs to venison strip loin, this place doesn’t mess around. The Bison also has a hell of a brunch that’s well-worth checking out.
For a more affordable route, check out Banff Ave. Brewing Co. These folks make some of the best casual food in the area—like classic poutine and BBQ pork ribs. They also brew stellar beers that’ll keep you going back for more throughout your whole stay.
Is there any better way to après than bowling and drinking beer? Probably not. High Rollers has it all—highlighted by specials every night like 50-cent wings on Tuesdays and $10 pizzas on Fridays. Eat, bowl, drink, repeat.
Later in the evening, get down at Dancing Sasquatch. This is the place to be for Banff nightlife, with a massive dance floor, Canadian cabin-themed bar, live music and wild events going on all the time.
The Fairmont Banff Springs, with its incredible castle look and world-class service, has been in Banff for north of 125 years and is the best place to stay, for sure. Between the spa, pool, hot tubs, bowling area and in-house dining, the hype is very real.
Banff Aspen Lodge, on the other hand, is a great spot to crash for a little less dough. Enjoy free breakfast (included with your stay) via a massive buffet setup every morning, and close the days off with the lodge’s hot tubs, sauna and steam room.
The nearby Banff Hot Springs are absolutely mandatory to visit—perfect for soothing the legs after big ski days. Visitors can also wander through the entirety of Banff National Park for free this season, part of the service’s 150th birthday celebration.