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Insider Tips: Banff National Park Ski Resorts

Enhance Your Experience

Dec. 23, 2015
By Where Writers

Our Canadian Rockies paradise has beckoned those who crave incredible skiing for nearly a century. We boast an enviable combination of deep dry snow, tree-lined and open bowl terrain, high-speed lifts and on-hill amenities. Peaks outnumber people, and the ski season is the longest in the country.

Canada’s Mountain Parks (UNESCO World Heritage sites Banff and Jasper national parks, plus Kananaskis Country) are home to five Alberta ski areas. Read on for our insider insights.

Banff National Park
Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are Banff’s ‘Big 3’. Tri-area multi-day lift passes with ski bus and optional lessons can be purchased at the Banff Ski Hub.

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Sunshine Village is hot — literally.
Canada’s highest ski resort, only 8 km/5 mi west of the Banff townsite via Hwy 1, is now home to Canada’s first chairlift with heated seats. The new TeePee Town LX high-speed quad’s orange bubbles cover riders to provide respite from inclement weather and wind chill.

Built by Austrian manufacturer Doppelmayr, TeePee Town LX is twice as fast as the chair it replaced. “We’re thrilled to have the hottest chairlift in Canada,” says Sunshine’s Dave Riley.

The new, cozy lift isn’t the only reason we love Sunshine. This resort boasts the Rockies’ longest ski season, this year to May 23. Encompassing three mountains and a 1,070-m/3,514-ft vertical rise, many of Sunshine’s 115 runs are above tree line. Stellar views extend to 80 km/50 mi. Tip: look south to Mount Assiniboine, Canada’s Matterhorn!

From the base, the world’s fastest eight-passenger gondola rises to the village, seven high-speed quads and four other lifts. Beginners ski Strawberry and Wolverine, while cruisers on Boundary Bowl ski in both Alberta and BC. Free riders tackle “Canada’s most extreme off-piste” on Delirium Dive and Wild West; an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel (rentals at Snowtips), and partner are required.

Locals’ Tips

  • Prime Parking: Avoid a ski boot walk. Arrive at 8:30 am to snag a good parking spot.
  • Best Light: Ski Goat’s Eye in the morning when traffic is low and Standish in the afternoon.
  • Delirium Dive: Stay right at the bottom of the bowl for great Hays Hills glades. If you want a guide and need the prerequisite avalanche gear, book Sunshine’s Full Day in the Dive.
  • Ski School Guarantee: Sunshine’s expert instructors and innovative programs develop better skiers and riders. Participants get a second lesson free if they disagree.
  • Test Centre: Sample Salomon skis and boards to see how they enhance your skiing or riding.
  • Day Spa: Ride the gondola to a Verde Day Spa massage, hot stones or facial.
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Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography

Mount Norquay celebrates 90 years.
The Canadian Rockies’ original ski area (est. 1926) is just 10 minutes north of downtown Banff via Norquay Rd over Hwy 1—locals often go for a few-hour break from work. The resort is owned by Alberta ski enthusiasts who cherish its family-friendly character. Budding local ski racers train here, World Cup gold medalist Ken Read is involved in operations and Giver Grandi run honours Banff Olympian Thomas Grandi.

Norquay has a vertical rise of 503 m/1,650 ft and six lifts. This year the terrain has expanded by 10 acres. The new trail map identifies 60 runs, including some that were previously unnamed.

Adult lift tickets are $65; with tubing and sightseeing they’re $75. Quality Time family passes for two adults and two youth are $149 online.

Locals’ Tips:

  • Fresh Corduroy: Arrive before opening (9 am) to get first dibs at groomed Giver Grandi, Banshee and Night Flight cruisers.
  • Best Route from Cascade to Spirit Chair: Go left two thirds of the way down Valley of Ten onto a trail through the trees to Rob’s Run.
  • Steep Lines: Tackle Canada’s first double black runs off the old school North American chair after the sun has softened the bumps.
  • Ski for 90¢: 90 Cent Days for Alberta residents are Jan 13, Feb 10, Mar 9, Apr 6.
  • Night Skiing: The region’s only lit runs and terrain park (with new boxes and rails) operates Fridays and Saturdays, January through March.

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Lake Louise Ski Resort is the Canadian Rockies’ largest.
The 2014 World Ski Awards ‘Best Ski Resort in Canada’ is north of the Trans-Canada Hwy near Lake Louise Village, 40 minutes west of the Banff townsite.

The Lake (as locals call the ski area) features a 991-m/3,250-ft vertical rise and four mountain faces. Plan your runs to ski sun-lit slopes at all times of day. Ride the Grizzly Express Gondola from the base to an upper ridge. From mid-mountain, the region’s only six-person high-speed chairlift (the 6-Pack) rises to the Saddle.

The resort boasts 10 lifts, 145 marked runs and bowls, terrain and jib parks, and some of the best fall line skiing anywhere. Novice to advanced routes from every chair make the entire resort accessible to all.

Locals’ Tips:

  • Powder Stashes: Backside Whitehorn slopes, Eagle Ridge 1 to 7 runs and Ptarmigan Glades are especially sweet.
  • Freshies: First Tracks private lessons let you access the lifts a half hour before the public.
  • Kids’ Favourite: They love the animal cutouts at the Wilderness Adventure Park.
  • Daycare for Newborns: All our ski areas offer childcare, but only Lake Louise hosts infants from 18 days old!
  • Lake Louise Ski Resort App: Download it to track your runs, elevation gain, speed and proximity to day lodges.
  • Snowcross: Challenge friends on cambered turns, gap jumps, berms and drops.
Snowshoeing at Sunshine Village

Snowshoeing at Sunshine Village

More On & Off-Hill Tips:

  • Sightseeing Lifts for Non-Skiers: At Norquay, ride historic North American chairlift to Cliffhouse
    Bistro (Marilyn Monroe ate here) and incredible Banff and Mt Rundle views ($20, yth/sr $15, ch $10).
    Ski Big 3 Tri-Area Sightseeing Ticket ($42, yth/sr $38, ch $32) covers shuttles and $12 off food.
  • High Alpine Snowshoeing: You don’t have to ski or snowboard to explore our resorts. Sunshine
    Village Top of the World Tours ($75) with Banff shuttle and gondola/ chairlift rides are run by White
    Mountain Adventures. Sunshine’s Historical Snowshoe & Fondue Tour ($120, min seven people)
    traces a First Nations route and includes a Swiss cheese fondue. Lake Louise offers four new guided
    interpretive tours with gondola ride (90 min to full day, from $39). At Norquay, explore three
    snowshoe trails (rentals $15, ch $10).
  • Tube Park Family Fun: Enjoy the thrill of speeding down slopes on an inflatable tube; groomed
    lanes ensure safety. Norquay’s Tube Town ($30, $25 yth/sr, ch $20) with six chutes, two lifts and
    play zone is the Canadian Rockies’ biggest and longest established tube park. It is night-lit on
    weekends. Lake Louise has Sunny Tube Park ($25, yth $20, ch $15).
  • Only On-Mountain Lodge: At 2,200 metres (7,200 feet), Sunshine Mountain Lodge is both the
    highest and the only ski-in/ski-out accommodation in Canada’s Mountain Parks. Ask for a
    mountain-themed room in the new west wing with in-floor heating, jetted tubs and large HDTVs.
    The lodge offers pub-style and fine dining, a huge hot tub and family activities. Get first tracks each
    morning, and terrific stargazing at night.
  • Ski Bus to the Resorts: You can ditch the car; all our resorts offer ski bus service. From the Banff
    townsite, return shuttles are $15 (ch $10) to Norquay, Sunshine and Lake Louise; it’s free with a Big 3
    lift pass.
  • Best Bets for a Decent Lunch:
    • Sunshine: Mad Trapper’s Saloon serves smokehouse fare in the resort’s original 1928 log cabin.
      At Chimney Corner Lounge, sit by the fireplace or glass view wall. Friday Taste of Sunshine
      dinners at Eagle’s Nest include gondola access to 10 pm (plus oysters and caviar).
    • Norquay: For fresh fare and a superb view, ride the lift to historic Cliffhouse Bistro; toast
      Norquay’s 90th with Norquay 90 Kolsch from Banff Ave. Brewing Co. Full moon Fireside
      Moonlight Dining events are Jan 22, Feb 19 and Mar 25.
    • Lake Louise: Mid-mountain, Whitehorn Lodge Bistro serves bison short ribs, seafood risotto and
      Victoria Glacier cocktails with a view. At the base, try Powder Keg Lounge for flatbread or new
      Kuma Yama for sushi. In the loft of backside Temple Lodge, Sawyer’s Nook trademarks include
      gourmet sandwiches and shot ski shooters.

Get more insider tips on Nakiska Ski Area and Marmot Basin in our Canadian Rockies Ski Resorts article.

>> For more Canadian Rockies activities, shops, restaurants and entertainment, read our digital magazine.

>> Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram at whererockies and tag your Canadian Rockies posts and photos with #whererockies

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