When it comes to stunning natural landscapes, there are few locales on earth that rival the beauty of Banff National Park, located in Alberta, Canada. The country’s first national park stretches across 2,564 square miles of wilderness that includes over 1,000 glaciers, countless peaks in excess of 11,000 feet of elevation and seven national historic sites. Banff National Park is also a skiing mecca, home to the trifecta of ski areas known as SkiBig3, luring lovers of gravity-fed snow sliding from all corners of the world.
Austrian and Swiss mountain guides first introduced skiing to the area in 1909, and the national park’s first ski area, Norquay was established in 1924 with its first mechanical lift opening in 1941. Banff’s other two ski resorts, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise, opened for winter business in 1945 and 1959, respectively. Each winter, upwards of 300 inches of cold-smoke snow blankets the gargantuan uprooted blocks of sedimentary rock, providing a beloved playground for skiers. However, the only thing better than the skiing in Banff-Lake Louise, are the people.
The mountain folk that call Banff home are as rugged and wild as the mountains in their backyard, but their welcoming nature and warm dispositions provide a contrast to the overwhelming scenery of the national park. In this seven-part series, we’ve profiled a handful of local SkiBig3 skiers. Each of them looks at their home in a different way, and were gracious enough to provide insight into why Banff National Park should be at the top of your list when planning your ski vacation this season.
INTERVIEW • CONNOR W. DAVIS | PHOTOS • DAN EVANS
As a producer for Sherpas Cinema, the Canadian production house behind some of skiing’s most impressive films and commercial work, Malcolm Sangster is constantly traveling to awe-inspiring destinations all over the globe. So, when it comes to choosing just one place to call home, his standards are justifiably high. It comes as no surprise that the Calgary native lives in the Bow Valley, where he can access incredible outdoor recreation among the Canadian Rockies year-round and an international airport almost as easily. Be warned: He may persuade you to relocate immediately.
You’ve visited a lot of incredible places through your work with Sherpas Cinema. Why did you choose to call Banff home?
For starters, from a historical perspective, there’s a really fascinating story behind Banff. This is where Swiss and Austrian mountaineers came to settle. They utilized the Canadian railway to make Banff home, and they developed the iconic Banff Springs Hotel and accomplished many other impressive things along the way. It all makes sense, too. Topographically, the Canadian Rockies are probably the closest thing we have in North America to the Alps in terms of the look and feel. Being able to step out of your car and be in the alpine quite readily—in some pretty big, wild places—is amazing
If these mountains are still inspiring to locals all these years later, the visitors must be totally mesmerized.
Absolutely. People that come to Louise, Sunshine and Norquay are always blown away. The area doesn’t really have the hype or pro buzz that other places in Canada like Whistler and Revelstoke have had, so when visitors get to see what this place is really about, they’re just like, “Holy smokes!”
We’ve done a ton of aerial work and other filming here in the Rockies, and even us locals are still blown away just because the mountains are so rocky and steep. It’s a really exciting place, and it really teaches you how to respect your natural surroundings.
What’s a go-to activity in the Banff area outside of the awesome resort skiing?
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you can go hire a guide to go ice climbing or backcountry skiing, but if you just want to go for a scenic cruise, hop on Highway 1-A. It’s a beautiful road and provides easy access to the Rockies, with all sorts of amazing lookouts and scenic lakes you can check out. There are tons of smaller roads that go high up into the mountains, well worth checking out, too.
The Bow Valley really seems to pump out uniquely talented batches of top-notch skiers. Why do you think this is?
This community totally revolves around the mountains and respect for them. A lot of the young kids that are real good skiers are really humble. They’re not really cocky or anything like that. I think that comes from that sort of Canadian Rockies hearty skiing that we do a lot of. I also think that in recent decades, some awesome guys like Chris Rubens and Eric Hjorleifson have helped foster that humble reputation by example. All of this is so different from most other mountain towns where the up and comers are sometimes overly confident in themselves and not fully aware of the mountains’ inherent dangers.
For visitors, what makes visiting Banff different from other mountain towns?
Mainly, being in a national park makes Banff a much different mountain town, especially as a vacation spot. While the skiing is insanely good, it’s not an adrenaline-based tourist attraction like other towns with ridiculous activities being advertised all over the place. Banff is just all about the mountains. There are animals everywhere—elk and deer are always roaming around—so it’s stuff like that which makes it a more pure experience. Due to the nitty-gritty rules in the park, you can’t build insane billion dollar homes or do any major developing, which makes the place very humble. And that won’t change.