Here & There is a weekly newsletter on a variety of outdoor and travel topics, and part of Mountain Gazette.
I headed to Banff National Park for a few days of skiing across all three "SkiBig3" resorts. There are three resorts in Banff: Mt Norquay, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise. These three resorts all boast fluffy powder and the mind-boggling views that Banff is known for.
Getting to Banff National Park
Flights to Calgary are pretty reasonable priced throughout the winter, and short enough from most of the West to make this an easy long weekend trip. It's a short drive from Calgary to downtown Banff, just beeline down the highway and you'll be there in about an hour and twenty minutes.
Day 1: Mt Norquay
Start your first day at Mt. Norquay, Banff's local resort just minutes from downtown. Norquay might be on the smaller side, but it's big on charm, friendliness and views. There are incredible views of the town of Banff and Mt. Rundle from most runs on the mountain. Rip some groomers or head over to the North American chair for some steep runs. It's a great spot to shake off the travel aches and warm up your legs for the other two resorts.
Aprés: Take a walk around downtown Banff, and maybe swing through the Whyte Museum, which has fantastic exhibits about the culture of the Canadian Rockies and the development of skiing and mountaineering in Canada. Bow Falls is a nice spot to check out on the river.
Day 2 : Sunshine Village
Head over to Sunshine Village, the resort with the longest season in North America. We were here in late April, and it felt like the middle of winter. There's something for everyone here, from mellow runs to the spectacular cliffs of Delirium Dive. Deep powder in the trees and steep lines...but not the lift kind. We had no problem finding untracked terrain all day long. Our favorite haunts ended up being Goats Eye, and skiers right of Tee Pee Town. Be sure to grab a mid-day beverage at Trappers Saloon. The resort straddles the border between Alberta and BC, and on a clear day, you take in views of Mount Assiniboine, one of the most spectacular peaks in Canada.
Favorite runs: The Goats Eye zone (Farside, Wildside), Bushwackers/The Shoulder, Paris Basin
Aprés: Try Park Distillery for dinner and drinks. They're known for their gin and vodka, but the entire menu of cocktails and food are excellent. Don't miss the Fairmont Hot Springs just up the road from downtown for a good post-ski soak.
Day 3 : Lake Louise
Didn't think the views could get better? Think again. Lake Louise Ski Resort pulls out all the stops with magnificent scenery and epic terrain. Feeling adventurous? Take the (steeeeeeeep) Glacier Chair poma lift to 'Top of the World' and take your pick from a range of double black chutes, cliffs, and gullies down to the back bowls. Or, cruise front-side groomers with a sweeping view of Lake Louise, Mount Fairview, Mount Lefroy, Mount Victoria, and more. It is truly an unbelievable place to ski, and a worthy contender for the most beautiful ski resort in the world.
Somewhere around the 5th or 6th lift we took without waiting in a line, I turned to our guide Brad and asked: "Where are all the people?" After a terrible snow year in Colorado, I was shocked both by the quality of snow in late April, and the lack of crowds across all the resorts in Banff. He assured me that besides around Christmas/New Years...it was pretty much always like this.
Favorite Runs: Really, anything in the back bowls off the Paradise /Top of the World/Summit lifts
Aprés: Head over to the Chateau Lake Louise to enjoy a cocktail and views of the frozen lake. After heading back to Banff, you're probably pretty exhausted from three days of incredible skiing. Hit up Magpie & Stump for some good vibes and classic Mexican food.
What's the best ski resort in Banff?
It's a toss up between Sunshine and Lake Louise, but Lake Louise takes the cake. With a wide variety of expert terrain, incredible back bowls and a front-side full of groomers (and views), this is the place I'd choose if I could only ski one resort in Banff.
What is the best time to ski in Banff?
The full ski season in Banff can run from November to late May, but February to April are generally considered the "peak" of ski season. Spring brings longer days and slightly warmer temps -- March/April can be an excellent time to ski. Receiving up to 30 ft of snow in a season, Sunshine’s has the longest season of all the Banff resorts, stretches from early November until late May.