Ski resort insider guide: Banff, Lake Louise, Kananaskis & Jasper
For nearly a century, skiers and boarders have flocked to the alpine paradise of the Canadian Rockies’ ski resorts. No wonder. Ours is a land where peaks outnumber people and the ski season is longer than any other in the country.
The impressive wilderness of Canada’s Mountain Parks (Banff and Jasper national parks, and Kananaskis Provincial Park) boasts an enviable combination of tree lined and open bowl terrain, high-speed lifts and on-hill amenities that summon skiers and boarders from around the world.
The region is home to five Alberta ski areas (the two BC resorts that offer Banff shuttles are noted on p 20). Below, local ski enthusiasts dish out insider details to make your visit memorable.
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Set in a UNESCO World Heritage site, Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are Banff’s Big 3. Tri-area multi-day lift passes with ski bus and optional lessons can be purchased at Banff Ski Hub (119 Banff Ave, 403-762-4754).
LAKE LOUISE SKI RESORT, crowned ‘Best Ski Resort in Canada’ at the 2013 World Travel Awards, is the Canadian Rockies’ largest. It lies north of the Trans-Canada Hwy 1 across from Lake Louise Village, 40 minutes west of the Banff townsite (Map 2, 22E; 1-877-956-8473).
The Lake features a 991-m/3,250-ft vertical rise, four mountain faces and so many slopes that skiers can find some sun-lit at all times of day. Ride the Grizzly Express Gondola from the base to an upper ridge. From mid mountain, the region’s only six-person high-speed chairlift (the 6-Pack) rises to the Saddle. All our ski areas offer childcare, but only Lake Louise hosts infants from 18 days old. The Learning & Adventure Centre has three beginner magic carpets.
The Lake boasts 10 lifts, 145 marked runs and bowls and some of the best fall line skiing anywhere. Novice to advanced routes from every chair make the entire resort accessible to all. Powder hounds find backside Whitehorn slopes, Eagle Ridge 1 to 7 runs and Ptarmigan Glades especially sweet. Access lifts a half hour before opening with a First Tracks Private Lesson ($99 for 90 minutes). Terrain and jib parks include a Big Air Bag where experts test stunts.
Download the Lake Louise Ski Resort App to track runs, elevation gain, speed and proximity to lodges. Adult tickets are $89.
SUNSHINE VILLAGE is Canada’s highest ski resort, only 8 km/5 mi west of the Banff townsite via Hwy 1 (Map 1, 10A; 1-877-542-2633). It boasts the Rockies’ longest ski season, this year to May 18. From the base, the world’s
fastest eight-passenger gondola, six high-speed quads and five other lifts rise to the village. A new lift (with heated seats!) debuts next year. Built on three mountains with a 1,070-m/3,514ft vertical rise, many of Sunshine’s 107 runs are above tree line with views to 80 km/50 mi; look south to Mt Assiniboine, Canada’s Matterhorn. Beginners ski Strawberry while cruisers on Boundary Bowl ski in both Alberta and BC. Free riders tackle “Canada’s most extreme off-piste” on Delirium Dive and Wild West; an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel are required (rentals at Snowtips, p 68). Adult tickets are $89. MOUNT NORQUAY is the Canadian Rockies’ original ski area (est. 1926), just 10 minutes north of downtown Banff via Norquay Rd over Hwy 1 (Map 3, 10B; 403-762-4421). Norquay has a vertical rise of 503 m/1,650 ft, 28 runs, six lifts (the beginner Spirit chair has a new loading conveyor) and Canada’s original double black slope. Locals go for a half-day break from work. Norquay is owned by ski enthusiasts who cherish the resort’s family-friendly character. World Cup gold medalist Ken Read is involved, and Giver Grandi run honours Banff Olympian Thomas Grandi. This is the only place in Alberta’s Rockies to offer night skiing and terrain park use (Fri-Sat, Jan-Mar). Adult tickets are $65. Alberta residents can ski for just $2 on Toonie Days (Jan 14, Feb 11, Mar 11, Apr 8). All-inclusive tickets (skiing, tubing, sightseeing) are $75.
KANANASKIS PROVINCIAL PARK
NAKISKA SKI AREA between Banff and Calgary, south of Hwy 1 via Hwy 40, was built to host the 1988 Olympics (Map 1, 8I; 403-5917777). Beautiful Kananaskis Valley views abound and Kananaskis Village is only minutes away. Nakiska has a 779-m/2,556-ft vertical rise and extensive snowmaking. Long runs and nightly grooming make it a carving favourite. Beginner zones are self-contained; the new Homesteader Bypass offers easy access to the base area. Monster Glades offer the best powder stashes; ride the Silver quad to see terrain park tricksters. This season there’s an expanded ticket area and an additional parking lot. Adult tickets are $75.
JASPER NATIONAL PARK
MARMOT BASIN is 20 minutes south of the Jasper townsite (Map 1, 4M; 1-866-952-3816). From Lake Louise, take the 237-km/147-mi Icefields Parkway along the Continental Divide with 100 glaciers and abundant wildlife (call 511 for road conditions). Mountain Connector (1-888786-3641) offers a bus to Jasper from Calgary, Banff and Edmonton; Marmot’s ski bus departs Jasper townsite locations three times daily. Marmot is home to mogul Olympic medalist and World Cup Champion Jennifer Heil. The mountain is uncrowded; lift lines are virtually non-existent. In the past five years, three new chairs have brought the total to seven lifts,
including the Canadian Rockies Express, the region’s longest high-speed quad. Marmot boasts 1,675 acres, a 914-m/3,000-ft vertical rise and 86 runs, glades and high alpine bowls framed by impressive pinnacles and ridges. Snowmaking, terrain park and learning areas are lower mountain features. On the upper mountain, ride the Knob chair to find powder. Cross gates to Eagle East glades, hike 10 minutes to Cornice Run or take Keefer’s Dream to the ‘hidden’ gate on skier’s left. Marmot’s Snow Host program is a sure way to find powder stashes. Get a free My Marmot card with direct-to-lift tickets at 10% off at skimarmot.com. Passes, lessons and rentals in advance are at Marmot Sales Centre (p 115). Adult tickets are $85.50.
Mount Norquay (est. 1926) is the Canadian Rockies’ original ski area. Lake Louise is the 2013 World Travel Awards ‘Best Ski Resort in Canada.’ Sunshine Village is Canada’s highest ski resort.
Marmot Basin is uncrowded and has room to explore.