In the heart of Banff National Park you’ll find three superb ski resorts, known collectively as the Big 3 and consisting of Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay.
With nearly 8,000 acres of ski-able terrain and a ticket that covers all three mountains, there are pistes, bowls, chutes and steeps here to satisfy any level of skier. In fact, the ski area is so special it has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Skiing is king in Banff, for obvious reasons. But being located in a World Heritage Site of outstanding natural beauty means there are plenty of other options too. You can explore more of the park in traditional Canadian style, being pulled by a team of huskies. Mush your own pack out into the wilderness from Banff for a truly unique dog sledding experience. Or go for the slightly more elegant option of a horse drawn sleigh ride through the snow.
The more modern explorers might prefer to hop on a snowmobile, with full day and shorter guided tour options available. Visit the abandoned Silver Mining town located on top of a mountain, or explore fresh powder bowls.
If you’d rather travel under your own steam, then an ice walk through the narrow Johnston Canyon is exciting, especially if you strap on a head torch and go at night. Other activities include snow tubing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and a dramatic helicopter flight over the Rockies.
There are eating options for all tastes and budgets in Banff. Try the Magpie and Stump for hearty Mexican food or go Greek at Barpa Bill’s Souvlaki. For more upmarket food that doesn’t break the bank check out Melissa’s Missteak, although it can get very busy, so you might want to get there early.
At the top end of the budget are the Maple Leaf Grille and Saltlik Steakhouse, where you’ll find award winning food and a great selection of fine wines. There are also lots of places to eat on the mountain, including the Creekside Bar and Grill, the Sunshine Burger Company and Chimney Corner.
With some of the longest runs in North America and a season that lasts from mid-November until May, Banff offers exceptional skiing. Of the three resorts, Mount Norquay is considered the local hang out. Located just ten minutes outside of town it’s also the oldest of the three, dating back to the 1920s.
It might be the smallest of the Big 3 but there is an excellent mix of runs with its most challenging (and most famous) piste being the Lone Pine. Other challenging slopes include Memorial Bowl and Temptation, both of which are accessed via the Mystic Express lift. There is also night skiing available here and a tubing park.
Lake Louise is the biggest of the mountains, with almost 150 designated runs, and can even claim to be Alberta’s single biggest ski area. And it’s also where you’ll find some of the best views in the park over beautiful Lake Louise. From the Top of the World Express you can also take in the whole of the Bow Valley and peaks including Mount Allen, Mount Fay and Mount Babel. This is also the best of the three for beginners, with slopes for learners available from almost every lift. And the longest run here is an impressive five miles in length.
Sunshine is the least accessible from Banff, requiring a 20-minute bus ride and then 20 minute gondola trip to get there. But this remote resort is worth the effort, boasting some of the highest trails in Canada. It’s also a self-contained village with its own accommodation so you can base yourself here during your holiday.
People have also been skiing here since the late 1920s, and with a superb snow record it’s easy to see why it’s popular. Head to the tree-covered Goat’s Eye mountain for slopes including Billy Goat’s Gruff, Goat’s Head and Scapegoat. Goat’s Eye is also where you’ll find tree-lined cruisers that are a lot of fun.
If conditions are good, then pack your safety gear and head to Delirium Dive at Sunshine. You can access it via the Mount Standish Express, although it’s always best to go with a guide as the terrain is pretty wild. Wild West is another top ‘off the back’ area to check out at Sunshine.
At Lake Louise you can find good off piste from the Top of the World lift between the main pistes. And while there are no isolated off piste areas like at Sunshine, the backside bowls and chutes present fun challenges. And on powder days you’ll find huge amounts of untouched stuff.
At Mount Norquay, head over to the Lone Pine run where you can find some pretty nice powder between the pistes but there aren’t any serious backside areas to explore.