What can be a bit confusing for first-time visitors to Banff, which is located in the province of Alberta in Canada, is that there are no slopes in Banff itself.
The name refers both to the lively town where most people stay and to Banff National Park, which is home to three separate ski areas – Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mount Norquay – with almost 8,000 hectares of slopes. Hence Banff’s marketing slogan: “SkiBig3”, since they are all covered by the SkiBig3 ski pass.
Mount Norquay is 5 miles from the town of Banff and the nearest ski area. Banff Sunshine is just over 10 miles away and Lake Louise Ski Resort, the largest ski area, is just under 40 miles from town. They all have varied terrain to suit all levels, from beginner to expert.
Keep up to date with the key facts about the resort below and scroll down for our insider’s guide to a day on the slopes, expert reviews and advice. For more Banff inspiration, check out our guides to the resort’s best accommodations, restaurants, and après-ski.
In this guide:
Within the resort
The town of Banff has a year-round population of approximately 9,600, expanding in summer and winter with visitors who come for the spectacular scenery of the Canadian Rockies and National Park, the hot springs and of course the slopes.
Banff is a cheerful place with lots of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Although the prices locally are not super cheap, a holiday here does not have to cost a lot of money, because tour operators offer affordable packages. That’s because there are plenty of accommodation options to meet peak summer demand – the city is at the end of a scenic drive through mountainous national parks.
Most people stay in Banff itself, for its cultural side which includes galleries and museums, but there is also accommodation at Lake Louise and Sunshine – although the après-ski and nightlife won’t be as lively.
As for ski areas, it may be tempting to bypass Mount Norquay and even the much larger – and higher – Banff Sunshine in the desire to reach the greater Lake Louise area as quickly as possible, but it’s a shame to miss them out .
Each has its own special qualities, and visiting all three is certainly a bonus, even if you spend most of your time in Lake Louise. All three different ski areas are easily accessible by shuttle bus, which is included in the SkiBig3 lift ticket.
On the slopes
Of Banff’s three ski resorts, Mount Norquay is the closest, just under 8km/10 minutes from Banff town, and the next closest is Banff Sunshine, just over 16km away. Some people ignore these and prefer to head to the largest of the three, Lake Louise, just under 40 miles from the city, but it is well worth visiting them all during a stay here and they are all covered by the SkiBig3 ski pass and free shuttle buses.
Mount Norquay, Banff’s local resort, is perhaps Canada’s oldest ski area, dating back to 1926. At 190 hectares it doesn’t have the expansive terrain of Lake Louise or Banff Sunshine, but it has a seriously good mix of slopes, from beginners to tot runs through much of intermediate and advanced terrain to some memorable expert-level mogul fields, the most famous of which is a brutal brute called Lone Pine. These and Norquay’s other challenging routes, including Memorial Bowl, can be accessed from the North American Chair. Norquay also has Banff’s only night slopes, and a tubing park that is also included with the SkiBig3 lift pass.
Although Banff Sunshine is only 20 minutes away from Banff by road, it takes another 14 minutes to get to the village by gondola. Although most of the slopes are intermediate and advanced, this somewhat remote resort, with some of the highest slopes in Canada, has an excellent snow record and a good reputation for powder. Part of the 3,358 hectares extends from the province of Alberta to British Columbia.
Sunshine began in 1927/28 when Canadian Pacific Railways built a cabin on the site of the current Old Sunshine Lodge. Beginning in 1929, Banff residents explored Sunshine Meadows, but it wasn’t until 1934, when the cabin was leased to the Brewster Transport Company, that Sunshine received its first paying winter guests. Within 10 years, the first permanent tow rope had been added and continued improvements followed.
In the mid-1990s, the mostly tree-covered Goat’s Eye mountain near Sunshine was made accessible by lift, and runs such as Billy Goat’s Gruff, Scapegoat and Goat’s Head Soup added sheltered runs and increased Sunshine’s popularity. The area is a mix of tree descents and cruising routes, and the goat theme continues with trails such as Goatchicken Glade and Goatsucker Glade. In 2015, the Teepee Town LX chairlift was replaced by Canada’s only heated chairlift.
And finally, the icing on Banff’s cake is Lake Louise Ski Resort, the largest and best-known ski area in the Banff SkiBig3 lineup. With 164 varied trails spread over 4,200 hectares of terrain, and great expert runs in the back bowls, Lake Louise is the only major Canadian ski area that really gives Whistler value for money.
Lake Louise’s Showtime terrain park is also one of the largest in Western Canada. The Top of the World Express seat offers stunning views over the Bow Valley, home to a huge range of towering peaks such as Mounts Allen, Fay, Bowlen and Babel, plus several hanging glaciers, all of which used to be on the back of the mountain stood. The Canadian $20 banknote. No one has to miss the scenery, whether they’re an expert or a novice: there’s virtually no major lift in Lake Louise that a novice can’t ride, and every seat has the ability to take a easy route to take down. In 2021/22, Lake Louise Ski Resort opened the Juniper Express chairlift with connections to five dedicated blue runs, taking beginners from the magic carpet to the top of the mountain.
For the 2020/21 season, a total of 1,000 acres of skiable terrain in the West Bowl, as well as the existing front and back trails, were made accessible in four minutes from Whitehorn Mountain by the Summit Chair. This replaced the older Summit Platter, which departed from the Top of the World chairlift. West Bowl offers challenging, wilderness-like terrain zones (rather than designated pistes) and a ski patrol service, but no grooming.
For a quick route to the best parts of the ski areas, SkiBig3 runs Private – Guided Adventures for intermediate levels and above, guiding visitors to the best slopes and snow conditions at each of the three resorts over three days. There is also a First Tracks program at Lake Louise, with exclusive lift access half an hour before the resort opens to the public, including professional instruction. Ambitious skiers and snowboarders are encouraged to take on the SkiBig3 Trifecta Challenge and cover all the ski areas in one day.
Off the slopes, Nightrise is an after-dark spectacle at the Banff Gondola that transforms Sulfur Mountain into an immersive experience of video projections and multimedia effects.
Who should go
The terrain in all three ski areas is best suited to advanced skiers and experts, but there is also no shortage of beginners. There are over 100 bars in the city, making it a popular choice for anyone who likes to burn the candle at both ends. Leading up to Christmas and throughout the period, Banff and Lake Louise offer a range of events and activities, including a beer festival, street market and family trails.
Know before you go
British Consulate General in Calgary: 001 403 538 2181
Ambulance, fire brigade and police: 911
TOURIST OFFICE: See banfflakelouise.com, the website of the Banff Lake Louise Tourist Board, for weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic information and lists of local events. Pick up maps, brochures and other information at numerous pop-up service center kiosks on Banff and Lake Louise streets. Keep an eye out for a purple tent or ask local experts wearing purple shirts.
Currency: Canadian dollars
Phone code: from abroad, dial 00 1 and omit the zero at the beginning of the 10-digit number.
Time difference: -7 hours