Canada offers a true plethora of skiing and riding regions, from the big ski resorts of British Columbia and Alberta to the smaller, fun ski hills of Ontario in Central Canada (kind of like Canada’s version of the Midwest) and Quebec in Eastern Canada. No matter which region you select for your winter joy rides, you won’t go wrong. There’s a reason for that: Canada is home to a number of world-class ski resorts, rivaling the best of those to its south and across the big pond.
Canada simply put is a dream destination for skiers and snowboarders. It’s no wonder that Canada has hosted the Winter Olympics in recent decades. However, for those planning their first, or even second, third or fourth Canada ski trip, it can be hard to narrow down your Canada ski getaway to just one destination or region. But we’re here to help with that. Read on for our guide to a Canada ski trip.
Canada Ski Trip Travel Guide
British Columbia has the most ski resorts (36) in Canada, including Whistler Blackcomb, the largest ski area in North America and one of the top ski resorts in the world. Its ski areas are spread throughout the six main mountain regions of the province: Cariboo, Chilcotin, Kootenay, Vancouver Coast and Mountains, Northern BC, Thompson Okanagan and Vancouver Island.
Whistler is easily accessible as it lies under two hours from Vancouver, a delightful city worth a few days of your time before or after your ski trip. Whistler and Blackcomb are two mountains side-by-side, offering more than 200 marked runs, 8,171 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls and 3 glaciers combined, receiving an average of 465 inches of snow annually. You can ride on 36 lifts and the Peak-to-Peak Gondola to make your way around. The season is among the longest running anywhere thanks in part to Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb which can be open for skiing into the summer months.
Whistler Village is the area located at the base of the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The bustling ski village features a large selection of shops, restaurants, bars and hotels, and plenty of other things to see and do. Whistler is pedestrian-friendly, with a multitude of paved trails and the pedestrian-only Village Stroll.
Are you looking for a great resort for beginners in your family or group to learn to ski? Then, head to Big White, just under an hour’s shuttle from Kelowna International Airport. However, we’re not suggesting Big White is a “beginners resort,” since its terrain includes 7,355 acres divided into 18 percent for beginners, a whopping 54 percent for intermediates, 22 percent for experts and 6 percent most of us can’t handle.
Even still, Big White has scored significant kudos from the likes of Conde Nast Traveler and Times of London for having the best beginner learning terrain in Canada. Ski School Tech Director Alain Brunelle says, “Big White has built the best learning area on the planet.” Happy Valley is a gentle slope with moving Magic Carpets, while mom and dad can watch from the sidelines sipping hot chocolate near a roaring fire. Parents can take advantage of Tot Town Daycare, which was called “the best place to be abandoned by your parents” by Ski Canada Magazine.
British Columbia, of course, isn’t the only home of world-class skiing in Western Canada. Enter Alberta, and Banff’s trio of ski resorts. Ski Big 3, as they are called, are all within a snowball’s throw from the exciting resort town of Banff. They include Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay. Your Big 3 pass allows you ski or ride all three areas on one ticket during a Banff ski trip.
Banff Sunshine is high on the Continental Divide in the heart of Banff National Park, 15 minutes from town. Sunshine’s 3 sprawling mountains spreading over 3,300 acres of skiable terrain provide amazing views during what’s often a 7-month season with an average of 30 feet of light, dry snow. Sunshine has it all, from gentle slopes to extreme big mountain runs. Delirium Dive is among the top off-piste destinations in the world.
Mount Norquay is the smallest of the Ski Big 3 resorts, but remains a local gem. Don’t be fooled by the size of the ski area, for the scenic beauty is that of a postcard. As one of the best-kept secrets in Canada, it is a perfect introductory mountain to Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise. Mount Norquay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the birthplace of skiing within the Canadian Rockies.
Lake Louise is renowned for its awesome scenery and versatile terrain. Play on more than 4,200 acres spread across four mountain faces on one of the largest ski resorts in North America. It’s no wonder the World Ski Federation often opens both its men’s and women’s World Cup season at Lake Louise with downhill and gate races, always garnering worldwide television coverage. Discover the reason for yourself.
Finally, take a day or two before, after or during your Banff vacation to head out a couple of hours to Jasper National Park and Marmot Basin. The mountain has the highest base elevation of the Canadian Rockies and offers a 3,000-foot vertical drop and 1,675 acres of accessible terrain. 86 runs include groomers, trees, bumps, alpine bowls and chutes serviced by 7 lifts including 3 high-speed quads. There are numerous lodging properties in the town of Jasper.
While the hills may not be as gigantic as you head east from Canada’s Rocky Mountain West, there’s still plenty of satisfying skiing and riding at 36 resorts in Central Canada with 852 miles of terrain served by 452 lifts. Below are a few Central Canada ski resort highlights.
Blue Mountain, the biggest ski resort in Central Canada, is located in Collingwood, in southwest Ontario on the shores of South Georgian Bay. This is an excellent family mountain with 364 acres of skiable terrain and 42 trails served by 11 lifts. Blue Mountain, Collingwood, Thornbury and the surrounding region are home to a wide assortment of restaurants, bakeries, eateries, cafes, nightclubs, bars and accommodations of all kinds.
Mount St. Louis Moonstone is a popular resort with Toronto residents. It’s family-owned with 36 trails for all levels, but ideal for beginners and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. Also nearby, Horseshoe Resort, 10 minutes away, is a smaller mountain but has more advanced terrain.
Many of Canada’s 81 eastern ski resorts in Quebec are on a par with those in New England, and now that travel across the northern U.S. border is beckoning again, skiers should consider taking ski getaways in both directions. Here are some of our Eastern Canada ski resort recommendations.
Mt. Tremblant, one of the most popular Canada ski resorts, is a 4-season holiday destination and ski resort in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec about 81 miles northwest of Montreal. Mt. Tremblant has newly updated mountain facilities and a European-style cobblestone-paved pedestrian village with lodging aplenty (1,900 units) and amenities, restaurants (go for A Mano Trattoria), boutiques and things to do. It features 4 slopes, and 102 trails spread over 754 acres.
Another excellent choice is Le Massif de Charlevoix in Capitale-National alongside the Saint Lawrence River. Le Massif has the highest altitude difference east of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Skiing and snowboarding trails lead through long forest glades down to the river. The view of the third-largest river in the North America is, in a word, breathtaking. Beginners will enjoy the practice area at the Chelet du Sommet, while experts can race down to the valley on the difficult slopes. Cross-country trails and a toboggan run are also among the offerings.
This is the winter to head north once again. Don’t forget to download the OnTheSnow app, and upload your first-hand reports as you ski these mountains.
Tips for planning your first ski trip to Canada
- Take advantage of a strong U.S. dollar. It’s a great time to travel to Canada for Americans thanks to a strong U.S. dollar. Your dollar will go further here, which comes in handy when you’re thinking about whether you want to splurge on that four-star hotel.
- Pay attention to the metric system. Canada uses the metric system, like much of the world. So, rather than seeing terrain in things like acres, feet, and inches, you’ll see hectares, meters, and centimeters.
- Know the drinking age. The drinking age varies by province in Canada. It’s 19 in most of Canada, but 18 in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec.
- Get Global Entry or Nexus if you plan to return to Canada or like to travel internationally. We all know how long it can take to get through Customs, and that much longer during a major holiday. So particularly if you like to travel internationally, consider getting Global Entry. If you plan to primarily travel between U.S. and Canada, then consider Nexus, which is a joint program between the U.S. and Canada.
- Be prepared to tip. Tipping is customary in Canada like the U.S. Similarly, 15%-20% is standard for tipping.