Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies lies the mountain town of Banff. Offering easy access to three world-class ski areas, collectively named Ski Big 3, you have the choice of skiing at Sunshine Village (20 minutes out of town), Lake Louise (35 minutes to the north) and Norquay (just outside the town of Banff).
Ski Big 3 boasts some of the best groomers in western Canada and offers over 8,000 acres of terrain to suit all abilities. Due to its inland location on the continental divide, it gets that legendary light and dry powder that interior Canada is known for.
As dawn breaks on our first day in Banff, I peep out of our hotel window to be greeted by the breathtaking Rocky Mountains. Immediately it’s clear to see why they were named the Rockies. Their large sheer rock faces dramatically line the valley walls, towering high above the mountain town. It is hard not to note the air of wild and adventure that the mountains impose. We are excited to get our snowboard gear on and explore deeper into the luring landscape.
Day 1: Sunshine Village
An easy hop skip and a jump from our hotel and we are on the free (with your day pass) shuttle bus heading up to Sunshine Village. After an enjoyable twenty-minute ride admiring the breathtaking scenery, we arrive at the base of Sunshine Village. Continuing to be blown away by the views we take the gondola up through the narrow pine wooded valley as we climb higher to the ski area.
At the top of the Gondola you arrive in the middle of the Mount Standish bowl with multiple lift options. All provide access to wide open groomers in every direction. We were lucky to hit resort on a day with a dusting of new snow. The bowl is fun and playful; head up the Strawberry high-speed quad lift, and take a right to hit up terrain with rock drops of varying sizes and mellow rollers.
For the steeper, more challenging terrain, and those with avi kit (and practiced avi skills) head to Delirium Dive and Wild West. This is lift accessible backcountry (or slackcountry as we like to call it), and will keep the more technical rider happy. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to explore this area as it wasn’t open, but it’s definitely on the list to try and get back to on a future trip when conditions are favorable.
In the afternoon we headed over to Goats Eye Mountain and found some fabulous riding in the steep trees, with pockets of fresh light pow. Think narrow boardercross runs, great to challenge your riding, agility and commitment to tight turns.
Visiting at the end of January the mountain was a tad chilly and we were very happy to catch a ride up Lookout Mountain on the new Tee-Pee Town lift. The only heated chairlift in Canada, it was a welcome touch of luxury to have the derrière warmed on this long exposed lift.
Day 2: Lake Louise
Lake Louise has some of the best of groomers I have ridden. Long, wide and of decent gradient. We rode on a busy Saturday and still found that we had the slopes almost to ourselves. For the beginner rider, there are suitable runs all the way from the top of the mountain, so you’re not stuck on the lower slopes. This means everyone can enjoy in the tremendous views of The Rockies.
The park at Lake Louise is certainly up there with the best in the world. With over 50 features, consisting of 15 jumps, rails, boxes and other fun jibs, there is something fun to ride for all abilities. It offers great opportunity to progress your freestyle skills, with clearly marked routes of differing ability. The long laps also allow you to piste houn (go really fast!), in between the terrain park areas. Take the Glacier Express Chair from the base to check out a bird’s eye view of the park and admire the tricks being thrown down on the pro line.
After a full day of exploring the mountain, we welcomed some outside après around the fire pit, of course with a Caesar in hand!
Norquay is the local’s after work favorite. Just a short drive away from Banff town, it opens for night skiing from 5pm to 10pm and has great views of Banff town. We didn’t get to ride Norquay during the day but from our adventures at night, it looks like a great resort for a chilled family day.
The town of Banff is vibrant and bustling with so many options for food, drink and shopping. Pop into the world famous Rude Boys snowboard shop and check out some cool gear. If you have a car, when in Lake Louise make sure you visit the Fairmount Hotel and take a walk on the lake. It is a photographer’s dream… just be careful of the shallow ice, there were definitely a few dicey spots and you definitely don’t want to be falling in!
Banff is only a 90 minute drive from Calgary International airport, or a short 1.5 hour connecting flight from Vancouver airport. For more info on Banff, skiing the big 3 and planning your trip, check out www.skibig3.com.