A ski guide to Banff and Lake Louise

Renown for its natural beauty, Banff National Park in Alberta is one incredible place to visit during Winter. A UNESCO heritage site since 1984, it's one of the most photographed places in the world. A truly mesmerising landscape with plenty of wildlife to spot along the way.

But when you think of this area of the Rocky mountains covered in snow, it's the skiing that takes your imagination away. White blankets covering the landscape, beautiful cruising pistes winding down from mountain peaks to the wooded slopes below. Huge open powder fields and iconic views. Here is our guide on what to expect from a ski holiday to Banff or Lake Louise. What skiing here is actually like and how to make the most of the ski area.

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Skiing in Alberta - Banff and Lake Louise

Overview

The towns of Banff and Lake Louise are a 45 minute drive apart in the bottom of the valley. There are three ski resorts serving the two towns, each with its own distinct character and well worth exploring. 

Mt. Norquay is the closest ski resort to Banff town, a 10 minute drive. Banff Sunshine Village is 20 minutes outside of Banff and Lake Louise Ski Resort is 45 minutes away just outside the town of Lake Louise. The three ski areas and two towns are seamlessly linked by buses included on the lift pass. They run like clockwork, you get a seat on them and the views are worth it in themselves. It's an easy way to get out to the ski areas each day - nothing like the crammed buses in Europe.

The season is incredibly long, stretching from November through May giving you ample time to visit. And, due to winter being the low season in Banff National Park, you can get here for a lot less than you might think. Our favourite way to experience these three fantastic ski resorts is with a multi-centre ski holiday split between Banff and Lake Louise.

Chairlift on Mount Norquay in Banff, Canada

Mt. Norquay

Highlights:

  • Great beginner terrain from chairlifts at the base of the mountain
  • Challenging and cruisy runs up top
  • Only mountain in the national park with night skiing
  • Tubing on offer
  • Terrain parks for the shredders
  • Tune shops, restaurants, ski school and rentals on site

The original ski resort, call it the birthplace of skiing in Banff National Park. Opening in 1926 it was the first in the area and where the sport grew from here. Super popular with the locals, the Cliffhouse Bistro opened in the 1950s and is still the social hub of the mountain with a cool vintage feel.

A great mix of terrain and arguably the best place to learn or get your ski legs back with tonnes of mellow skiing from the lower lifts with much more challenging slopes up high. 

Resort guide:

  • Base - 1,680m
  • Peak - 2,450m
  • Vertical drop - 503m
  • Longest run - 1,167m
  • Skiable terrain - 60 runs over 190 acres: Beginner - 20% Intermediate - 36% Advanced - 28% Expert - 16%
  • Interactive piste map
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Banff Sunshine Village

Highlights:

  • Three mountains of vast skiable terrain
  • Great mix of slopes from beginners to the ridiculous
  • Wide choice of on-mountain eateries
  • Everything you might need from ski school to ski patrol and rentals
  • Up to 9 metres of annual snowfall (snowiest in Canada)

Three mountains all seamlessly linked by pistes and ski lifts, this is where you'll probably spend most of your time when staying in Banff.

A great selection of 8 mountain bars and restaurants to choose from including the main hub of the village area at the top of the gondola. You can even stay up here at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge - well worth a night or two.

Goat's Eye Mountain is full of steep and deep long runs and family friendly terrain around the Wolverine lift. There's a second mountain hub here in the Goat's Eye Gardens.
Lookout Mountain is more like the alpine skiing we're used to in Europe, a good mix of terrain and you can cross the state divide from Alberta to British Columbia.
Mount Standish is the final mountain with playful cruising terrain perfect for intermediates.

Resort guide:

  • Base - 1,658m
  • Peak - 2,730m
  • Vertical drop - 1,070m
  • Longest run - 8km
  • Skiable terrain - 137 runs over 3,358 acres: Beginner - 20% Intermediate - 55% Advanced - 25%
  • Piste map
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise View

Lake Louise Ski Resort

Highlights:

  • Spectacular views of mountains, glaciers, lakes and forests
  • A vast variety of terrain and easy accessibility to the whole resort
  • Largest ski resort in Banff National Park
  • World class freeride skiing in the back bowls

A 10 minute drive from Lake Louise itself, it's a great destination for families and groups of varied abilities with beautiful scenery it's known as the 'friendly giant'.

The backside wide open bowls and steeps are for the more advanced skiers but there's still a green run from the top of every chairlift - so the whole mountain is accessible to all. 

It's the largest of the three ski areas in the national park, one of the top freestyle resorts in the world and the views are the cherry on the cake.

Resort guide:

  • Base - 1,646m
  • Peak - 2,637m
  • Vertical drop - 991m
  • Longest run - 8km
  • Skiable terrain - 145 pistes + back bowls over 4,200 acres: Beginner - 25% Intermediate - 45% Advanced - 30%
  • Piste map
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Getting there

  • The closest international airport is Calgary
  • Banff is 1 hour 45 minutes from Calgary and Lake Louise 45 minute further on
  • There are private transfers, shared transfers and car hire options available
  • Here's a map to show the three ski resorts locations: Click here
  • Complimentary shuttle service you can use between all mountains and towns to use once in resort
  • There are also car parks at each of the three ski resorts with a daily charge

Some travel tips from Travel Alberta

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Cross-country skiing

Cross country skiing lets you explore much more of the national park. Find some wilderness all for yourself, cross the Great Divide or pack a pleasant picnic - there are plenty of trails to try out.

  • Cascade Valley - 15.4km
  • Castle Junction area - 9.5km of trails
  • Great Divide or Old 1A - 20km 60m vertical loss
  • Moraine Lake road - 15.6km 250m vertical gain
  • Spray River West Trail - 5.7km

For more information click here

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Heli-skiing/snowboarding

Heli-skiing is a bucket list experience, being dropped off in un-touched, un-interrupted powder with the whole mountain to yourself. Your face will be aching from the broad smiles plastered all over it all day long.

  • Whilst helicopters are not allowed to land in Banff National Park, heli-skiing trips are readily available just outside the park.
  • Each package is run by certified guides including avalanche safety equipment
  • Day trips are available depending on how many runs you want
  • Multi-day excursions are also available based out of a backcountry ski lodge for the ultimate off-grid experience

A couple of pictures from Heli-skiing in April

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Ski guides

Guided skiing is a great way to get to know and explore the vast ski area on offer from Banff and Lake Louise. There are numerous options available from a few hours to multiple days of exploration.

  • Free ski guiding is available from locals at both Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise starting from the ski school meeting points twice a day - contact the ski school for more information. It's fairly informal so you can drop out at any time, just tell your guide
  • There are women-only tours available as well
  • You can book private ski guides just for your group
  • Or book onto guided groups for various durations and group sizes - Ski Big 3 offer some great guided excursions
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