Arguably the most famous of Canada’s numerous resorts, Banff, situated in the spectacular Canadian Rockies, owes its success to a combination of beautiful location, terrific terrain and vibrant nightlife.
The town was named after its Scottish counterpart in 1884, and the surrounding national park was established a year later. Skiing followed in 1909 with the arrival of Swiss and Austrian mountain guides. Finally this was joined by the accompanying infrastructure, now an impressive plethora of shops, bars and restaurants that help Banff pull in visitors throughout the year.
Banff has two ski areas nearby: Mt Norquay, which lies just beyond the town, and Sunshine Village, 20 minutes’ drive away. Most visitors ski at Lake Louise too, which is included in a tri-area lift ticket, 45 minutes away.
One of Banff’s few downsides is that access to ski areas is either by car or ski shuttle – unless you stay at the sole ski-in/ski-out hotel at Sunshine, Sunshine Mountain Lodge. Temperatures can plummet here too, so be prepared, and watch out for elk, which are often spotted strolling along the streets.
Banff is located in the western Canadian province of Alberta, 120km (75 miles) west of Calgary. The resort itself is 16km (10 miles) inside Banff National Park, in the Rocky Mountains.
On the slopes
Banff has two main ski areas, Mt Norquay and Sunshine Village.
Mt Norquay is the smallest but also closest to downtown Banff. There are runs for all levels here and the more advanced skiers can test their mettle on several steep and challenging mogul runs: Upper Lone Pine and Gun Run are two of the best. Night skiing is also popular here at weekends.
Sunshine’s excellent snow record makes it a good bet for early or late season skiing. A modern gondola transports skiers from the car park up to the day lodge, where numerous high-speed lifts fan out to three mountains: Goat’s Eye (intermediates and up only), Lookout and Standish.
Beginners will enjoy cruising along Banff Avenue: a wide, easy green run with several fun offshoots. Intermediates should head for the Continental Divide chair on Lookout Mountain, offering the added thrill of crossing into British Columbia on the way up and skiing into Alberta on the way down. Expert skiers can drop into the super steep Delirium Dive or the recently opened Silver City (but only if equipped with transceiver, probe, shovel and ski buddy).
For freestylers, both resorts have popular terrain parks. Sunshine’s is the largest, with more than 20 rails, boxes and tabletops.
The ski and snowboard schools in the two main resorts run lessons for all levels. Equipment hire is available at many outlets in town or at the bases. The Tri-area lift ticket also allows skiing at Lake Louise.
Norquay’s ski season runs from mid-November until April. Sunshine’s runs open from mid-November until late May.