Ski on the Wild Side: A Guide to Three of Canada’s Best Western Resorts
Here’s how to make the most of your trip to SkiBig3, from powder stashes to pizza slices
Skiing in Alberta is a unique experience. The province is home to Banff National Park, which sprawls over 6,500 square kilometres of towering mountains, thick forests and turquoise, glacier-fed lakes. Established in 1885, Banff is Canada’s oldest national park—but don’t let its historic status fool you. It’s also where you’ll find some of the country’s most elite, fine-engineered and thrilling outdoor adventures.
The triple-threat of Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay—better known as SkiBig3—make up three ski resorts just outside the town of Banff, inviting visitors to explore nearly 8,000 acres of glorious Canadian wilderness. In the summer, these mountains are bustling with high-season hikers, but in the winter, their slopes turn into a skier’s paradise—even for those who’ve never tackled big mountain runs before. The town of Banff and the hamlet of Lake Louise are the cherries on top: warm, inviting hubs of exquisite dining, rich cultural experiences and an enthralling nightlife make them the perfect gateway to explore the bounties of SkiBig3.
While SkiBig3’s offerings could fill a book, we’ve compiled some key tips for making the trip out West this winter. Here are some of the unbeatable experiences to try on your next adventure.
Snag an insider’s tips on a guided adventure
Whether your skiing experience consists of 20 years on the slopes or a day trip to Blue Mountain in eighth grade, you’ll find a breadth of runs at Banff Sunshine, Mt. Norquay and Lake Louise that match your comfort level. Just as there are loads of secret runs that criss-cross eastern hills like Mt. Tremblant, there are hidden chutes throughout SkiBig3 that only experienced locals know how to access.
If you want to uncover these gems, book a guided adventure to dive right into the untamed fun of these three resorts. These tours are led by certified skiers and can take you on either a relaxed scenic tour or a thrill ride, depending on your preference.
Connect with your wild side
To make the most out of your trip, you must get into the nitty-gritty of Canada’s rugged Rockies—and that means getting outside as much as you can. While skiing and snowboarding are big draws for many travellers, the region is teeming with expeditions for people with all kinds of interests.
The winter is especially unique, given that the chill changes elements of Banff National Park into seasonal wonders. For example, Johnston Canyon’s river and thundering waterfalls transform into ice sculptures, which you can view on a guided ice walk (hot tip: hot chocolate and cookies are included in the tour).
For those looking to amp up the adrenaline, these winter temperatures provide another opportunity: ice climbing. It’s a one-of-a-kind winter sport, and where better to try it than amid the snowy peaks of the Canadian Rockies? Remember to book ahead of time to ensure you enjoy every experience imaginable.
Experience a slice of city life in a mountain town
Banff is your headquarters for all SkiBig3 adventures, and although you’ll likely be busy taking in the area’s natural beauty, don’t forget that the town itself is a destination. The downtown core is packed with world-class food, drink and fun, and it’s the perfect place to unwind after a day on the hill. The network of shuttle buses connecting the area means you can get where you need to go—without TTC wait times.
There’s a broad range of cozy accommodations, so you can tailor your trip according to your budget. The Banff Ptarmigan Inn is affordable and well located in the heart of downtown Banff, while a night at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise means staying on the edge of one of the country’s most beautiful bodies of water. If you book your trip with an Ikon Pass, you can snag lodgings in the area paired with your outdoor adventures, usually at a reduced cost. It also acts as a season pass for 36 resorts, including Blue Mountain and Mont-Tremblant, so if you’re already planning for ski season back home, it could be worth your while to pick one up.
When it comes to dining, you can’t miss High Rollers: a hybrid bowling alley, pizza joint and craft beer haunt that has some of the town’s best brews on tap. This unique spot is a perfect example of what makes Banff so special—it’s rustic yet sleek, and a whole lot of fun. Consider this one a strike.
Banff Sushi House is your local sushi fix, but it’s not quite like the thousands of spots dotting the GTA—you’ll be grabbing your dishes off a miniature Canadian Pacific Train that chugs around the bar. This conveyor-belt method of food delivery is nothing new, but the on-brand tweak of having an iconic Canadian locomotive deliver it to you is charming and memorable.
Bear in mind: this is the SparkNotes version of a guidebook to Banff National Park. Booking your trip through SkiBig3 directly is the best way to ensure your bases are covered: accommodations, activities, the whole nine yards. Of course, once you’re out there, the region will continue to unveil its magic and mystery with each step you take. Whether you’re coming out for a weekend excursion or a week-long sojourn, consider Banff and Lake Louise a springboard to your winter adventure in the Rockies.