Banff national park is home to three outstanding ski resorts, all within easy drive of the Banff townsite. Driving to the hill is not strictly required, as most hotels offer a ski bus to take you from the hotel to the mountain of your choice and back again.
- Lake Louise Mountain Resort. Likely the most well known, and hosts Men's and Women's world cup ski events every winter. As such, it is also the busiest and most touristy. It is located close to the Lake Louise townsite. The scenery is fantastic as is the terrain when there is fresh snow. Excellent all you can eat buffet breakfast served in the Whiskey Jack Lodge (CAD$10). If you're on the Club Snowboard/Ski program get the early bus!
- Sunshine Village. Located a few kilometers west of the Banff townsite. In recent years, this hill has improved greatly, with more expert terrain and better lifts. It also receives more snow than the other two resorts and benefits from a higher elevation and a generally longer ski season. Also fantastic scenery. It is the only resort of the three to have on-hill accommodation. Again buffet breakfast served in the lodge at the bottom of the gondola - not much else until lunchtime once you get to the top. New Standish quad opens up some good terrain.
- Ski Norquay. The closest mountain to the Banff townsite, and it is much used by the locals. The ski season is a little shorter at Norquay, because it is at a lower altitude than Sunshine and Lake Louise, and snowfall is less consistent. The trails here lean more towards steep and difficult, although there is still plenty of easy terrain. The Lodge is not much good for breakfast - lunch and beer on the deck can't be beat however! Worth noting that Excaliber is North America's steepest groomed piste.
All the ski hills are busier on the weekends. Lake Louise tends to get icy if it hasn't snowed in a while, but with fresh snow is hard to beat. Sunshine Village has been giving them some competition with their new terrain and improvements however. Especially in the early season, pay attention to how many runs are open and how much recent snow has been received in the snow reports - they are better indications of the conditions than the generic conditions ratings given by the hills (the conditions are always at least 'good' according to their ratings). If you only have a few hours and want to ski where the locals ski check out Ski Norquay, it has nice long open runs with great views of the town.
If you arrive before December 31 and you intend to ski at least 3 days at Sunshine Village, or a combination of three days at Sunshine and at Marmot Basin in Jasper, consider buying a Sunshine-Marmot card. The card costs about the same price as one lift ticket. The first, fourth and seventh times you use the card you get a free lift ticket, all other times you get $10 off (you are ahead quite a bit by the third day). These cards can be purchased on the hill (either Sunshine or Marmot Basin), or also at Safeway stores in Edmonton and Calgary, and are valid at Sunshine Village in Banff and Marmot Basin ski resort in Jasper. Or you can purchase a Tri-Area Pass www.skibig3.com for Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Mountain Resort and Norquay. This ticket includes the bus transportation and can be used at any of the three hills at any time.
Things to do:
- Evening Icewalk & Campfire. A chance to go for an evening moonlit walk around the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka, warm up afterwards with hot chocolate round the roaring campfire.
- Snowshoeing. Strap on snowshoes and walk through pristine snow like the trappers did in days gone by, a true winter experience.
- Icewalks. Get out to see the stunning winter wonderland of frozen waterfalls and rivers, make sure you wrap up warm it can be chilly.
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