With stunning scenery, a great town, incredible snow and not only one, but three fantastic ski areas, Banff really does have it all. Located on the other side of the Rockies from Whistler and a one and a half hour drive from Calgary, Banff is a very different resort to its compatriot.
For starters, Banff has history. It was first settled in the 1880s when workers building the transcontinental railway discovered hot springs in the surrounding mountains and started promoting it as a tourist destination. Its beautiful location and the development of the surrounding mountains as recreational playgrounds has ensured that the town has remained extremely popular with tourists, but part of its charm lies in the fact that it’s a proper working town without that Disneyland feel that you get in so many other North American ski resorts.
Accommodation in Banff is great value and even the high-end properties offer much lower rates than many other resorts. This is largely due to the fact that winter is actually low season in Banff, and as hard as it is to believe for snow aficionados, most of their visitors come in the summer for the hot springs and beautiful scenery. Many of Banff’s hotels and condominiums are located on Banff’s main street, Banff Avenue, which is perfect for catching buses to the ski areas and heading out in the evenings. The higher end hotels in Banff, such as the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel are located just outside the town.
None of Banff’s skiing is accessible directly from the town and you’ll either have to use the resort buses or hire a car to get to the ski areas. This is the only disadvantage of having a resort that has grown around an already existing town rather than the other way round, and it’s really not much of an inconvenience as the bus service is excellent and included in the price of your lift pass. The advantage is that you have three different ski areas to choose between!
Only 6km from downtown Banff, Mount Norquay is the local’s mountain. It’s the smallest of the ski areas but has some great, varied terrain. It also has a decent park, which is floodlit several nights a week, and you can buy tickets by the hour if you just want to session it for a couple of hours.
Sunshine Village is where you’re likely to spend most of your time if you’re staying in Banff and it has fantastic terrain to suit all abilities. Beginners and intermediates will love the abundance of wide open green and blue runs around the base area while more advanced riders should head for Goat’s Eye Mountain where there’s a wealth of expert terrain including the precipitous ‘Delirium Dive’, ‘Wild West’ and ‘Silver City’ runs. Sunshine is 16km from Banff and takes approx 20 minutes on the bus.
Lake Louise is 55km from Banff and a separate resort in its own right. However, it‘s included on the Tri-Area lift pass (as is the bus to get there) and is well worth a visit. It’s the largest of the three areas and, again, has loads of terrain to suit all levels of skier and boarder, including the biggest and best park. It also offers incredible views of its namesake and the majestic Victoria glacier.
Off the slopes, most of the action takes place back in Banff town and there’s a wide range of bars and restaurants to keep you fed, watered and entertained until you’re ready to hit the hay. Most places are located on or around Banff Avenue so they’re within easy stumbling distance of most of Banff’s hotels and condominiums. Those staying in the luxury hotels on the outskirts of town will find plenty of wining and dining options on location, but the hotels do run shuttles into town for those who want to sample a bit more of the action. Popular haunts include The Rose and Crown, Wild Bill’s, Hoodoo Lounge and late night hang out, Aurora.Snowboarding in Banff,