At an elevation of 1400m the town of Banff is the highest in Canada, this authentic mountain town is situated in a national park along the Bow River and is easily accessible from the Trans-Canada Highway 1, making it a popular choice for snow-seekers as it is only a 2-hour drive from Calgary. The town itself offers a wide choice of accommodation and restaurants with a busy night life scene and many non-ski activities to keep everyone entertained off the slopes. The natural hot springs on sulphur mountain will allow you to relax after a day skiing while taking in the spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies. There are two ski areas nearby, Norquay and Sunshine Village, both of which are serviced by a ski shuttle and offer a good choice of slopes for all abilities.
Approximate Transfer Time
Calgary - 2hrs
Skiing in Banff
Banff is located in close proximity to two ski areas, Norquay and Sunshine Village, that together with Lake Louise make up the Ski Big Three (skibig3) area. There are shuttles busses that run from the town to each of the resorts, these are included in the price of the lift passes and stop along Banff Avenue servicing most hotels.
Norquay is a small ski area about a 10 minute drive from Banff and offers a small choice of beginner runs as well as some steep challenging black runs. Offering 190 acres of terrain with 85% of the 74 runs covered by snow cannon, Norquay is popular with Beginners and those looking to get away from the crowded slopes. There is a bistro/café at the top of the mountain that overlooks the Banff townsite giving riders a great place to stop for lunch and take in the fantastic views of the area.
Sunshine Village lies on the border of Alberta and British Colombia which also marks the continental divide separating the Atlantic and Pacific drainage basins, the Great Divide chairlift will take you to the to the highest point in the resort where you can ski into British Colombia and back again. To access Sunshine Village, the shuttle takes 20 minutes to drive to the base of the mountain where a gondola ride will take you to the main village area, here you will find the nursery slopes, ski school meeting point, restaurants, Mad Trappers bar, as well as lift access to the main ski area. The gondola also stops at the mid station which provides access to Goats Eye Mountain, a second ski area that has long winding slopes that are great for intermediate skiers, from here you can also follow the ski out which is a gentle run that skiers of all levels can use to return to the carpark at the base. If you are a thrill seeker, Sunshine is home to three different snow parks as well as the freeride area ‘Delirium Dive’ which is home to some of the most challenging skiing in the area but to enter you must have an avalanche beacon or be with a guide/instructor.
The ski big three area comprises Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise, all covered under one lift pass, giving you access to a huge amount of varied ski terrain.
Norquay is the smallest of the three resorts, with a good selection of easy runs and some more challenging runs, it is a great resort for beginners or those looking to escape the crowds. Sunshine is only 20 minutes from Banff and offers a good variety of terrain but is slightly smaller than Lake Louise. There are some flat areas which snowboarders may find difficult, but these can be avoided. If you enjoy freeride, Delerium Dive offers some of the most challenging and steepest runs with amazing snow, however you must have either an avalanche beacon or a guide/instructor with you to enter.
Lake Louise is a 50 Minute bus ride from Banff and is the biggest of the three (over 4200 acres of skiable terrain), offering great snow cannon coverage, a variety of different runs, a fantastic snow park, and some steep challenging terrain accessible on the backside. Lake Louise is often the most popular ski area amongst locals and holiday makers when the snow conditions are good, however you must leave Banff early to ensure first tracks in the fresh snow.
Lake Louise has 4,200 acres of skiable terrain that span 3 main areas, the frontside, the backside and larch mountain. The frontside of Lake Louise has very alpine feel with wide open runs and tree skiing lower down, this area is more suited towards beginners and intermediates with a snow park that snakes from the top of the Grizzly chairlift to the bottom of the resort. The backside of Lake Louise has a high concentration of black diamond and double black diamond runs, these are the steepest and most challenging runs offering some incredible expert skiing and challenging mogul runs. There are also green and blue alternatives, so beginners can ski the backside too where you will find temple lodge, a bar/restaurant that offers cosy dining in the heart of the mountains.
The larch chairlift is accessed from the backside of Lake Louise and will take you to the Larch area which is the smallest area but has a good variety of skiing and tends to be quieter than the other areas. From the larch chairlift a ski-out run will return you to the main lodge carpark but is a gentle run and can be flat in areas making it tiresome for snowboarders.
Banff Resort Overview
Banff is a Canadian town inside the Banff National Park and is easily accessible from Calgary by the Trans Canada Highway. Purpose built as a summer tourist destination 1885 during the building of the Pacific Railway line, Banff quickly grew in size and became popular during winter months with the building of the first chairlifts at my Norquay in 1948. Now Banff provides access to the Ski Big Three area, comprising Norquay, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise, all of which can be accessed by a shuttle bus which runs regularly from the townsite servicing most hotels.
Sitting at 1400m and offering access to the Big Three ski area, Banff is a popular choice amongst Canadians and holiday makers from the UK too. The vast choice of skiing means that there is something for everyone whether you are a complete beginner or expert.
If you are looking for a lively town with great bars and restaurants then Banff has something to offer however if you are looking to get away from the main townsite and enjoy the tranquillity of the national park there are also options to do so. The appeal of Banff is the diversity and choice allowing you to enjoy the holiday that you want. The compact layout of the main town also means getting around is simple with a lot of shopping and restaurants located in a central area. There are also public buses to explore areas outside of the town, including the frozen lake Minnewanka, the natural hot springs, the Banff site seeing gondola, and the spectacular Fairmont Banff Springs, a chateau style luxury hotel.
Restaurants and Bars
There are a good variety of different eateries in Banff, with different cuisines from all over the world including Japanese, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese and traditional North American food. Depending on whether you are looking for fine dining or simple bar style food the price will vary but with so much choice it is not hard to find a restaurant you like at a price that suits you. Some notable restaurants include The Grizzly House, offering a selection of meat and cheese fondu using locally sourced as well as exotic meat, Park Distillery, a distillery that offer campfire style Canadian food as well as a selection of home brewed spirits, Bear Street Tavern, a great pizza restaurant that is also well suited to families with children, and The Magpie and Stump, a Mexican style restaurant that offers tasty food in a cosy environment.
Banff has a vibrant nightlife with events regularly occurring through out the week, there are lots of bars to choose from and some late-night clubs also. There is only one après bar on the mountain, Mad Trappers, home to the annual slush cup and popular amongst holiday goers and locals alike this is a place to stop after a days skiing. Some other notable bars include Wild Bills Saloon, hosting live music and a mechanical bull to test your cowboy skills, Rose and Crown, this pub style bar hosts live folk and country music and has pool tables and darts to keep you entertained. There are 3 late night clubs in Banff, The Dancing Sasquatch, The Devils Gap and Hoodoos each with their own style of music and atmosphere.
Norquay has a wonderful restaurant at the top of the mountain called the Cliff House Bistro, offering a fusion of retro-cosy après with a modern-day eatery in a cosy setting with stunning views of the Banff Townsite. There is also the North American Lodge and the Cascade Lodge that both offer a delicious range of satisfying snacks and grab and go food as well as sit in dining and cafeteria options.
Sunshine Village is home to Mad Trappers Smokehouse that is situated in the heart of the village and offers guests a warm, cosy environment where you can enjoy a few drinks and some tasty food. The Lookout Kitchen and Bar offers sit in dinning during lunch hours on the third floor of the Sunshine Lodge allowing you to take a break and enjoy some fantastic cuisine. The Eagles Nest Bistro sits at the top of Sunshine Lodge and offers upscale dining with amazing views of the mountain but if you want some cheap yet tasty food, try the Alpine Grill on the second floor.
Banff has a great variety of activities for people of all ages, there is a bowling alley called High Rollers which also has the largest selection of beer in town and has pool tables and arcade machines for other entertainment. The LUX cinema shows a selection of new films at a reasonable price and is central in the town. Crock A Doodle offers guests the chance to decorate and fire clay plates and mugs for a souvenir of your holiday. If you are looking for something a little different, there is also an escape room where you can solve problems and riddles to escape before the time runs out.
There are a great selection of Museums worth visiting about the history of Banff, the local wild life, and the First Nations people, there is a site seeing Gondola in the townsite that has amazing views as well as an interactive museum aimed at children. For relaxation there are many spas in hotels around Banff including the Red Earth Spa in the Caribou Lodge, the Meadow Spa in the Moose hotel, as well as the natural hot springs on Sulpher Mountain where you can soak in natural minerals and enjoy the fantastic views. Being in a national park means there are a fantastic frozen lakes and waterfall to see either by driving to a view point or hiking with crampons, Lake Vermillion can also be skated with rental ice skates available in the town. For more adventurous activities there is Ice climbing, Snowmobiling, dog sledging as well as Heliskiing.
Who is Banff Suitable For?
A long season and good snow coverage in Sunshine Village means there is always a large amount of runs open and often the powder will stay good in Sunshine for a long time after each snowfall. Norquay also has great snow cannon coverage ensuring you will not be disappointed. If you have the Ski Big Three pass, Lake Louise also has great snow cannon coverage on the front side of the mountain.
Banff offers a great choice of bars to suit all tastes, with live music at the Rose and Crown as well as line dancing and a mechanical bull at the cowboy themed Wild Bill’s Saloon. There are multiple clubs in Banff too where the local population and holiday makers alike can enjoy the night.
Being in a national park, Banff has some amazing scenery including frozen lakes and waterfall as well as breath-taking views from the top of the site-seeing only Banff Gondola. There are a variety of spas, including a natural hot spring, to help you relax after a days skiing as well as many different shopping arcades for those who don’t ski. During the evening there is plenty to do including ice skating, a cinema, bowling, as well as an escape room.
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