This post is in partnership with Ski Canada and Travel Mindset.
Why you should visit Banff and Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies during the winter
When you think of winter in Canada, what images come to mind?
Do you see giant snow-capped peaks and big fluffy snowflakes falling on a frozen mountain lake? Do you see yourself sitting beside a crackling fire inside a cozy ski lodge?
While some people choose to escape winter’s chill and head south, we look forward to the snow. We embrace winter and try to get on the slopes as much as possible. Fortunately, we live in western Canada and have an endless supply of ski resorts to choose from.
One of our recommended places to visit in 2020 is the Canadian Rockies in Alberta. Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. If it’s not on your travel wish list, it should be.
While the park is busiest during the summer months, winter in Banff is truly magical. The rocky mountain landscapes are incredible under a blanket of fresh snow.
Shops and restaurants are quieter and locals have more time to engage with visitors, plus accommodations are less expensive, so look for a great deal in the winter months when you visit.
If you like playing outside in the snow, there really is no better place to be.
Banff National Park is home to three ski resorts, known as SkiBig3: Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay.
Visitors can purchase one lift ticket, the SkiBig3 Lift Ticket, and it’s valid at all three ski resorts.
Lake Louise Ski Resort
The mountain landscapes at Lake Louise Ski Resort are some of the most spectacular we’ve witnessed while on a ski mountain. Every turn reveals yet another masterpiece.
With over 4200 skiable acres of terrain and 145+ runs, Lake Louise Ski Resort is one of the largest ski resorts in North America. When it comes to slope length, Lake Louise is the 3rd longest in Canada at 139 km. It was also recognized as the #1 Ski Resort in Canada at the 2019 World Ski Awards.
We love the snow quality in the Canadian Rockies.
It’s very different from the heavy wet snow we get in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia (we live in Vancouver – so the Coast Mountains in southwest BC are our home turf). Because it’s typically colder in the Rockies, the snow tends to be more powdery and light, which is perfect for skiing and snowboarding.
We loved our time snowboarding at Lake Louise. It has such a relaxing and refreshing vibe in the winter. After a full day of snowboarding both sides of the mountain, we kicked off our boots and enjoyed a memorable apres ski session at the Powder Keg Lounge.
Above – on top of the world at Lake Louise Ski Resort in the Canadian Rockies.
In the above photo, if you look at the base of the mountains, directly above my phone, you’ll see a circular patch of white snow. That’s a frozen Lake Louise under about two feet of snow.
Front and Back of Lake Louise Ski Resort
Lake Louise Ski Resort spreads across both the front and backside of the mountain, which creates a variety of snow conditions and terrain.
We spent a full day exploring the mountain and rarely duplicated a run. The longest run on Lake Louise Ski Resort is an impressive 8 kilometers (5 miles). Our legs were burning by the time we reached the lodge!
Download Lake Louise Ski Resort trail maps here.
Learn more about Lake Louise Ski Resort here.
Free Lake Louise Tours Ski Friends
We love that Lake Louise Ski Resort offers its guests a complimentary ski host service, aptly named Ski Friends. The Ski Friends program is such a great service, especially for first time visitors who want to discover as much mountain terrain as their legs can handle.
It’s also a fun option for single skiers who don’t have someone to explore the mountain with.
During our visit to Lake Louise Ski Resort, we spent the morning with John, a retiree from Ontario who spends his winters living in Canmore. He skis Lake Louise at least 3 times a week and enjoys spending a few hours as a Ski Friend.
John said that most people who use the Ski Friend service are not from Banff or Lake Louise, so he gets to play tour guide while enjoying a few turns on the slopes. Not a bad way to spend your retirement!
If you want to dig deep and get to know the resorts, consider a SkiBig3 Guided Adventure. Guides spend the full day with you exploring the full breadth of terrain available. Visitors can also stay with the same guide for 3 days and explore all three resorts consecutively.
Above – our Ski Friend, John, showing us around Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Above – snowboarding down the front side of Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Banff Sunshine Village
Banff Sunshine Village, famous for having Canada’s best snow, is located in the heart of Banff National Park. It’s all the real stuff, too, no snow making here.
It’s about a 15 minute drive from the town of Banff to Sunshine Village.
Sunshine offers more than 3,300 acres of skiable terrain, and it’s said to be the highest ski resort in Canada at 8,954 feet (2,730 meters). It also boasts the longest non-glacial ski season in Canada, beginning in early November and running until late May culminating with a huge Slush Cup celebration the 3rd week of May.
Although we’ve not visited Banff Sunshine in the winter, yet, it ranks high on our list of ski resorts to visit, and it should be on your list, too.
We would love to spend a few nights at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, Banff’s only mountain top hotel, and watch the sunrise from the top of the world.
Banff Sunshine Village is perched on the continental divide and, because the ski resort is accessed via gondola, the resort offers completely uninterrupted views of the Canadian Rockies – no roads, no industry, no town – just pure wilderness views.
Similar to Lake Louise Ski Resort, Banff Sunshine offers complimentary tours with local Snow Hosts.
Fun fact – Banff Sunshine is the first ski resort in Canada to offer a heated chairlift. The TeePee Town LX chair lift has orange-coloured bubble covers that keep skiers warm and protected from the elements. How cool is that?
Photo credits – Banff Sunshine and Mt Norquay photos provided by Ski Canada and Travel Mindset
Mt. Norquay Ski Resort
Located minutes from the town of Banff, Mt. Norquay is a great ski resort for families, which is exactly what we look for these days.
As much as we love big mountain snowboarding, it’s not ideal for our young boys, aged 8 and 6 years old. Mt. Norquay is the smallest of the big three, yet it still offers 60 runs and 190 acres of skiable terrain, so it really is perfect for the whole family.
If you’re short on time, Mt. Norquay is a great option because it’s close to Banff town.
We like that Mt. Norquay offers night skiing. It’s actually the only Banff ski resort that offers night skiing. Our boys love night skiing because there are less people on the lifts and slopes, which gives them more confidence to explore at their own pace. I’m pretty sure they also like night skiing because it means they get to stay up later.
If you plan to visit all three Banff ski resorts, Norquay is a good mountain to start with before heading to Sunshine or Lake Louise. You could also ski the bigger mountains during the day, return to your hotel in Banff, and head back up to Mt Norquay for a few evening runs.
All three ski resorts can be accessed with a SkiBig3 Lift Ticket, including night skiing and tubing at Mt Norquay. It also offers flex days to enjoy other activities and experiences available in Banff and Lake Louise.
The SkiBig3 Lift Ticket
If you plan to spend a few days in the Canadian Rockies and you can’t decide which mountain you should visit, check out the SkiBig3 lift ticket and visit them all!
The SkiBig3 lift ticket gives you unlimited skiing at Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mt Norquay and free shuttle to the mountains from Banff and Lake Louise hotels.
Another perk is that the SkiBig3 lift ticket will be delivered to your hotel 24 hours before your first day of skiing (provided you order the ticket at least 3 days in advance). We love that you can skip the lines and catch first runs with this feature.
Purchase your SkiBig3 lift tickets here.
Banff and Lake Louise Ski Shuttle
Most ski shuttles in Banff and Lake Louise are free, with multiple pick up locations.
Check the Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay ski shuttle schedules and hotel pickup locations here.
Things to do in Banff and Lake Louise in the winter
Dog-sledding to the Great Divide
Take a full day of adventure on a 16-km dog sled tour through the beautiful Kicking Horse Pass at the Continental Divide, the point where Banff National Park in Alberta meets Yoho National Park in British Columbia. Book tours with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours. Read about our dog sledding experience here.
Snowshoeing in Banff National Park
Another fun winter activity is a guided snowshoe hike with Great Divide Nature Interpretation
Our guide, Joel, navigated us through thick forest and windy trails to a remote frozen lake just in time to watch the sunset over the Valley of the Ten Peaks (the mountain range that surrounds Moraine Lake, one of the most photographed lakes in the world).
Snow tubing at Mt. Norquay
The tubing park at Mt. Norquay is the largest in Alberta, with eight wide lanes to choose from. The tube park also has a small sliding area and kids play area so it’s ideal of young families.
Ice skating on Lake Louise
Marvel at the massive Victoria Glacier and surrounding Rocky Mountains as you glide on the iconic frozen lake. You can rent skates and hockey sticks at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
While there, check out the incredible ice castles, ice bars, and ice carvings.
Johnston Canyon Icewalk at Night
With only a headlamp and the night stars lighting your way, a guided ice walk tour to the lower ice falls at Johnston Canyon is a truly unique experience in the Canadian Rockies.
Ride the gondola to Sulphur Mountain
The highest point in the town of Banff offers spectacular views of snow-capped peaks. In the winter, you can take the gondola down the mountain for free.
Go for a soak at Banff Upper Hot Springs
When you purchase a 3+ multi-day lift ticket, you receive complimentary passes to Banff Hot Springs (online advance-purchase only).
Surprise Corner Viewpoint
For amazing views of Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and Sulphur Mountain, walk from the Banff Pedestrian Bridge along the Bow River to the Surprise Corner Viewpoint.
Get your $45 credit for AirBnB accommodations here.
How to get to Banff and Lake Louise?
The easiest way to get to Banff is to fly to Calgary International Airport (YYC) and drive to Banff. You can pick up and drop off your car rental at the airport, so it’s an easy process.
We recommend that you get an SUV with winter tires because road conditions can be unpredictable in the winter. If available, ask for a vehicle with a roof rack for your skis and/or snowboards. This frees up a lot of space inside your vehicle (unless you plan to rent equipment at the ski resorts).
The drive from Calgary to Banff takes about 1.5 hours (approximately 145 km).
It’s an easy drive on a divided two lane highway. The Trans-Canada Highway is well maintained and equipped to handle heavy snowfall. Canadian’s know how to handle the snow!
Watch out for wildlife.
Even in the winter, you will see wild animals wandering near the highway. Banff National Park is their home. Keep your distance and be careful – these animals are wild.
Bus from Calgary to Banff
You can take the bus from Calgary to Banff, and vice versa.
The most affordable way to get to Banff is the On-It Transit service. It’s only $10 each way. Buses depart from Downtown Calgary.
The Brewster Express offers direct shuttle service from Calgary International Airport to Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise and Kananaskis. One way adult fares start at $71.00.
The Banff Airporter is another bus option. It offers the most extensive schedule and fares start at $67.00. Learn more here.
Where to stay in the town of Banff?
We spent a couple nights at Hidden Ridge Resort, a quiet and secluded property located on Tunnel Mountain, about a 10 minute drive from downtown Banff.
We stayed in a spacious 2 bedroom, 2 level townhouse with an in-suite Jacuzzi, full kitchen and wood burning fireplace (pictured above). This is an ideal property for families.
The most iconic hotel in Banff is the luxurious Fairmont Banff Springs, known as the Castle in the Rockies. It’s a landmark hotel with exceptional facilities and amenities, including the Willow Stream Spa.
We’ve also stayed at the centrally located Banff Park Lodge and would recommend it as a budget-friendly option for families. If you’d rather stay directly on the ski mountain, consider Sunshine Mountain Lodge, Banff’s only ski-in, ski-out hotel.
The Juniper Hotel is the closest hotel to Mt. Norquay. It’s conveniently located just off the Trans-Canada highway, so it’s easy access to the attractions in Banff National Park.
Where to stay in Lake Louise?
We stayed at Baker Creek Mountain Resort, an intimate mountain lodge located on the Bow Valley Parkway, about 20 minutes south of Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Of course, the high-end Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, picture above, is always a good idea. Located on the shores of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, the Chateau is a destination all on its own.
Regardless of where you stay or which mountains you choose to enjoy, your time in Banff, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay will be one to remember.
Above – enjoying lunch with a view at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Above – outside the lobby cabin at Baker Creek Mountain Resort in Lake Louise.
Read more posts from Alberta:
- 30 Photos to get you stoked for the ski season
- Winter in Banff: Our best anniversary to date
- Dog sledding to the Great Divide in the Canadian Rockies
- 22 photos from Alberta’s Canadian Rockies we can’t stop looking at
- This place surprised us the most on our trip to the Canadian Rockies
Have you visited any of the Banff ski resorts?
Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below.