Banff is a magical town nestled amongst a stunning backdrop of snow covered hilltops located in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This area promises memorable snowboarding and skiing and some of most breath-taking scenery. From this stunning ski town, the big 3 ski resorts of Mount Norquay, Lake Louise ski resort and Sunshine Village are easily accessible by shuttle transfer or car hire. These ski resorts boasts 3000 acres of shredding between them and average 9 metres of snowfall every year. 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 two high school. The way we organised 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 snow to Banff in late-January? They were like yeah sure… just book it in and that was it! It was an adrenalin packed moment of excitement that I’ll never forget.
This is the way stuff should be organised 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 book accommodation was so. We booked a total of 6 nights in Banff and had an amazing 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 you can find and use a reputable travel agent to book your flights. It is more important to use reputable travel agents than ever before due the global pandemic and unpredictable nature of overseas travel moving forward.
Pro tip for those of you flying in from Australia – fly Air Canada all the way on their 787 Dreamliner jet! It’s more spacious, 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 great discount, 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 centre 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 our breakfast and snacks. The other room was bigger which a separate living area, bedroom and kitchen was ideal for my three mates.
Moose Hotel and Suites also has a roof top spa, gym, laundry and the best part was close how it was to the ski resort bus transfer, which brings me to my next tip.
3. Book accommodation close to ski resort bus transfer
If you’re planning to use bus transfer to get 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 lugging all your snow gear to the bus and stumbling 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 our 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 organisation the night before like being slightly sober so you can focus in getting stuff organised 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 learnt on the first day because we were jet lagged, hung over 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 which 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 is 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 to 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 its 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 this did this on repeat one morning as it had a great mix of intermediate and advanced feel, great views, tree lined run and heated chairlift is 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 by the far the largest ski resort of the Big 3 resorts and worth spending 3 out of 6 days here. I love this mountain and is a close competitor to my favourite Big White Ski Resort! It’s a shame it costs a lot to stay at the Lake Louise Hotel and takes almost an hour to get from Banff to Lake Louise. This mountain is big, not many queues, there’s 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 the bottom. If you’re a skier though it may be heaven because its surrounded by trees and completely 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 its highly recommended by the locals 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. Its got a true Canadian fine dining experience with the Bison infused menu, stunning cocktails, warm hospitality and a cool vibe. I recommend for you to make 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 specialises 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 are large, cocktails were awesome and staff were very friendly. We found this place by accident and I’m glad we did. They have a cabinet fill with the biggest collection of chillie sauce 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 flavour, I high 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 travelling on a budget or with fussy kids who can’t decide and/or are allergy conscious there’s always McDonalds or Subway.
Oh and don’t forget to tip the staff at least 10% to 15% meal price otherwise its 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 forget the things in between. Its 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 to it the easy way.