Ski vacations come big in Banff. Its three ski resorts yield 274 runs sprawled across almost 8,000 acres. The vertical pumps up big with so many runs while the Canadian Rocky Mountain views come supersized.
Choices can overwhelm the novice Banff trip planner. But one-stop shopping with Ski Big 3 pulls together lift tickets, rentals, lessons, local transportation and lodging for three ski resorts. Tri-area lift tickets are valid at Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, and Mt. Norquay, and one lesson package lines up the same instructor for three days at the three different ski areas. To minimize travel hassle, Banff busses connect with the three ski resorts.
For accommodations, Banff offers everything from a budget hostel to the high-end historic luxury of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The town also houses more than 100 places to dine, grab breakfast or start the evening with après.
Ease into the Banff ski vacation with a light day at Mt. Norquay, located closest to town. The smallest and oldest of Banff’s three ski areas, Norquay serves as a touchstone for Banff ski history where you can hone the ski muscles back into shape after long travel hours.
Via Cascade Chair, access the Spirit Chair to warm up on playful groomers, such as the ever-changing pitches on Abracadabra. When ready, shift north to the Mystic Express. Buffed wall-to-wall, its perfect fall-line groomers dive down steeper undulating slopes.
After a Lone Pine Pub lunch, go for the big views of Banff. Ride North American—the second oldest chairlift in North America—to Cliff House for a vacation photo op with a background of the Banff Townsite tucked into the uplifted peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Then, tackle the relentless 1,300 vertical of The Lone Pine’s monster moguls.
Finish the day in laughter with lazy sliding on Norquay’s lift-served tubing hill. For après in town, sample the local beers at Banff Avenue Brewing Company.
Catch the bus to Sunshine Village for a day of skiing three mountains on the Continental Divide. To reach the lifts requires an 18-minute gondola ride, which amps up the anticipation. After debarking at Sunshine Village, cross to the Great Divide Express ascending Lookout Mountain. Under blue skies, the Matterhorn-like Mt. Assiniboine juts up to the east. Expansive above-treeline open bowls drape the slopes yielding more routes than marked on the map.
When sated with the open bowls, cut south to Mt. Standish. Hop-scotch through runs, mixing up short drops into chutes and aprons with recoveries on groomers. When the stomach begins to rumble, head to the Standish lift base for lunch in the Chimney Corner of Sunshine Mountain Lodge. Cozy up to the fireplace to indulge in an Alberta bison burger and classic Canadian poutine—fries with cheese curds and gravy.
After lunch, drop to the Wawa Quad to snatch powder stashes in the trees siding the runs. This is only a precursor to moving to Goat’s Eye Mountain, which is reached via Jackrabbit Quad followed by the Goat’s Eye Express. Goat’s Eye runs offer a smorgasbord of broad groomers, powder shots and moguls, but the best fun tucks in the glades at the bottom of Ewe First, Mother-in-Law, and Goat’s Head Soup. These harbor powder stashes even days after a storm.
Save enough leg umph for the day’s finale. Only wimps ride the gondola down: the hearty ricochet down the long five kilometers of Banff Avenue.
Back in Banff, forego après in favor of soaking in hot springs. Head to the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel or Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Save Lake Louise, the biggest Banff ski area, for last. For a warm-up run, hop the Grizzly Gondola to get the legs going. But don’t dilly-dally too long: On a powder day, you’ll want to catch the Glacier Express, Top of the World and Summit Platter to hit the Back Bowls for some deep freshies. From Mt. Whitehorn, pick your line and revel in floating through the sea of white. Grab the Paradise Triple for more off Eagle Ridge and yo-yo back to the Summit Platter to repeat.
From Paradise, glide down to Temple Lodge for lunch of a grilled Panini in Sawyer’s Nook or springtime outdoor barbecue. Then, hop the Larch Lift to play in the Rock Garden, a large boulder field that makes a natural terrain park. Take a second lap on Larch to ski Look Out. The green run fetches stunning views across the valley to Lake Louise and Mt. Victoria.
To return to the front side, catch the Ptarmigan Quad. Spend the afternoon on the Grizzly Gondola and Top of the World exploring the glades comprised of small snow-shrouded sub-alpine firs.
There’s only one true way to finish the day at Lake Louise: Hit the Men’s World Cup Downhill Course for the thigh-burning 841-meter descent that ends at the Kokanee Kabin deck. Kick off the skis, enjoy live music, and settle into a pint of beer in the sun.