Banff is a magical town nestled amongst a stunning backdrop of snow-covered hilltops in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This area promises amazing snowboarding, skiing, and some of the most breathtaking scenery. From this stunning ski town, the big three ski resorts of Mount Norquay, Lake Louise ski resort, and Sunshine Village are easily accessible by shuttle transfer or car hire. These ski resorts boast 3000 acres of shredding between them, an average of 9 meters of snowfall yearly. Each resort has something for everyone, whether you are a beginner, immediate or advanced.
My snow trip to Banff was a memorable one for so many reasons. It was my second big snow trip away with my son, who was getting advanced in his skiing and my first snow trip away with two of my best mates from high school. The way we organized it was spontaneous and spare of the moment like – I hooked up a three-way chat (expecting nothing) and asked the guys, ‘Who’s in for a ski trip to Banff in late January? They were like yeah, sure… just book it in, and that was it! It was an adrenaline-packed moment of excitement that I’ll never forget.
This is how stuff should be organized because life is too short for anything else! Don’t think do is my motto (stolen from the late great John Kennedy from Hawthorn Football Club)! It took a total of 30 minutes to lock in this Banff trip as I had a good flight deal from the travel agent and booked accommodation was so. We booked 6 nights in Banff and had a fantastic time! I still dream about my trip to Banff.
1. Lock in your flights early
As mentioned in my previous snow posts, it is important to look for deals and lock in your snow trip as early as possible, and Banff is no different. Check out flight deals online, get the best deal, and use a reputable travel agent to book your flights. Due to the global pandemic and the unpredictable nature of overseas travel moving forward, it is more important to use reputable travel agents than ever before.
Pro-tip for those of you flying in from Australia – fly Air Canada on their 787 Dreamliner jet! It’s more spacious, and comfortable, and will be less jet-lagged when you arrive in Banff after the 18-hour journey.
2. Use SkiBig3 to book accommodation
Don’t waste your time looking at hotel booking sites or dealing with snow travel agents for this trip. They either fall short or bump up the prices for the accommodation. The best place to book accommodation for a Banff snow expedition is via the SkiBig3 website. It’s easy to use, offers excellent discounts, bundles up ski hire, airport transfers from Calgary airport, and lift passes along with your accommodation.
We booked rooms at the Moose Hotel and Suites located in the heart of Banff town center, within easy reach of all the amenities and restaurants. Our room was luxurious, a perfect size for the two of us, and the kitchenette allowed us to make breakfast and snacks. The other room was bigger and a separate living area, bedroom, and kitchen were ideal for my three mates.
Moose Hotel and Suites also has a rooftop spa, gym, laundry, and the best part is close how it was to the ski resort bus transfer, which brings me to my next tip.
3. Book accommodation close to the ski resort bus transfer
If you’re planning to use a bus transfer to the snow resorts in the morning, I highly recommend booking a place as close as possible to where the bus stops. It just makes it easy in the morning to lug all your snow gear to the bus and stumble back to your room after a day of riding. You don’t want to walk too far! Check out the ski timetable bus here to mark out suitable accommodation spots. Moose Hotel and Suites was conveniently located next to the Ptarmigan Inn stop.
4. Get to your ski bus on time
Sadly it’s not a ski-in ski-out type of place like Big White Ski Resort, where you can wake up late and hit the slopes at your own leisure. If it was then, it’ll attract a lot more people to this area, and the mountains will be packed. Banff requires some organization the night before, like being slightly sober so you can focus on getting stuff organized for the next day and waking up in time to make your bus. Waking up an hour before the bus did the trick. Yes, it’s a lesson we learned on the first day because we were jet-lagged, hungover, and missed our last morning transfer to Mount Norquay ski resort.
5. Warm-up at Mount Norquay
If you are a family and beginner rider arriving in Banff, I recommend buying a half-a-day pass to get your legs in at Mount Norquay Ski Resort. This mountain offers a chilled-out family-friendly vibe that is truly Canadian. It has wide slopes, special beginner run areas, and a great ski school I’ve heard. Mount Norquay is the closest resort to Banff, so you can be lazy and sleep in before you catch your transfer up to this mountain. Don’t get too attached to Mount Norquay if you’re a complete newbie because there are so many powder-filled runs to explore at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise.
6. Do two days at Sunshine Village
I recommend two days at Sunshine Village Ski Resort based on a 6-day visit to Banff. This Ski Resort offers a diverse terrain suitable for beginners through experts featuring a gondola, fast lifts, and short lines. It’s especially great for immediate riders with forgiving runs which are not too steep and an ideal place to start learning advanced riding. There are so many cafes to choose from for your morning caffeine hit, but the best, in my opinion, is Java Lift Coffee Bar is located in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge. Java Coffee Lift also does amazing made-to-order crepes, which will have you coming back for lunch too.
In my opinion, here are top 3 runs at Sunshine Village Ski Resort as an intermediate snowboarder:
- Bunkers #120, Little Bunkers #54, and Prune Pickers Pass #95 (mix of intermediate and beginner) – This run has a bit of everything from steep, wide-open spaces and a long windy bit to the bottom, which is perfect for confident beginners willing to push it to the next level.
- Tin Can Alley #60 (intermediate only) – This run offers a long trail with a gradual pitch, low traffic, and no flat spots. The best thing about this run is that it’s gladded with trees so you can dip in and out of the forest.
- If you’re feeling adventurous, jump on the Tee Pee Town Express heated chairlift (https://www.skibanff.com/explore/teepee-town-lx) (apparently a first in Canada), come down the World Cup Downhill #27 via Ecstasy #24 (advanced) and link up with Barners Ecstasy #21 (intermediate) down to the chairlift again. We did this on repeat one morning as it had a great mix of intermediate and advanced feel, great views, a tree-lined run, and the heated chairlift was awesome. This run helped improve my confidence in riding black but note this is my sense of adventure… not powder bowls, which is whole another level.
Check out the Sunshine Village Ski Resort map here.
7. Do three days at Lake Louise
Lake Louise Ski Resort is the largest ski resort of the Big 3 resorts and worth spending 3 out of 6 days here. I love this mountain, and it is a close competitor to my favorite Big White Ski Resort! It’s a shame it costs a lot to stay at the Lake Louise Hotel, and it takes almost an hour to get from Banff to Lake Louise. This mountain is big, with not many queues, there are lots to explore with a nice mix of open areas and powder gushes between trees.
Three days was enough to check out most of this mountain, and I was happy with all of the runs except for one – avoid taking Ski-Out #155 (on the right side of the mountain), whatever you do if you are a snowboarder. It’s bloody hard work to make it down this run with so many flat spots, and it took about an hour to get to the bottom. If you’re a skier, though, it may be heaven because it’s surrounded by trees and empty. So if you slide down Lookout #150 don’t be tempted – catch the Ptarmigan chairlift and make your way down from there. Click here to check out the ski map.
I highly recommend the Slopeside cafe for a decent caffeine hit and the Kuma Yama Ramen + Sushi Bar. It was seriously the best ramen I’ve had outside of Japan, and my son says the sushi was out outstanding, and he knows his sushi!
8. Check out Lake Louise Hotel
You haven’t come to Lake Louise if you haven’t checked out famous Lake Louise Hotel or better spend a few nights there. We didn’t have the time or energy to get there, but the locals highly recommend it for its stunning lake views and mountain backdrop.
9. Dining options in downtown Banff
The Bison Restaurant – Everyone raves about this place, and we found out why. It’s a true Canadian fine dining experience with the Bison infused menu, stunning cocktails, warm hospitality, and a relaxed vibe. I recommend making a reservation here as it’s popular and gets booked out early. Check out the reviews here, and you’ll see why.
Tooloulous – This ‘hard to pronounce’ restaurant specializes in seafood and burgers menu with a southern touch, and we found it to be an excellent casual but bold dining experience. The serving sizes were large, the cocktails were awesome, and the staff was very friendly. We found this place by accident, and I’m glad we did. They have a cabinet filled with the most extensive collection of chilly sauces I’ve ever seen, rated from mild to extreme. I dare you to try out the one right on the top with the skull on it.
Pad Thai – If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful Asian hit with full flavor, I recommend stumbling onto the Pad Thai. The place is small, so get it early to find a seat, and you can’t go wrong with anything with basil in it, fried rice, or a hot Laksa to shake off the cold.
If you’re traveling on a budget or with fussy kids who can’t decide and are allergy conscious, there’s always McDonald’s or Subway.
Oh and don’t forget to tip the staff at least 10% to 15% meal price otherwise it’s considered rude.
10. Stay a night or two in Calgary
This was definitely an afterthought… should have, could have but didn’t! We were too excited about our snow trip and forgot the things in between. It’s worth timing your trip with an NHL ice hockey game to watch the Calgary Flames play. Check out the top 10 things to do in Calgary here.
Interested in trying skiing or snowboarding? Check our simple tips here to do it the easy way.