Banff Skiing: Ultimate Guide to the SkiBig3 Resorts

Skiing in Banff can be an unforgettable experience, and it has deep ties to the ski culture in North America. The Ski World Cup begins the season at Lake Louise, and the 1988 Olympics took place in Canmore and Nakiska Ski Resort.

Banff is home to some excellent skiing and definitely has some epic days in store for those who ski or ride regularly. Skiers are in for a good holiday with three ski resorts, many accommodation options, wildlife, consistent temperatures, a charming town, plenty of off-mountain activities, backcountry options, and many restaurants.

Skiing in Banff and Canada provides visitors access to some of the best ski resorts in the world and a lot of value. Lift tickets are more affordable than comparable ski resorts in the United States; the exchange rate only tips it more in visitors’ favor.


A Guide to Banff Skiing


How To Get To Banff

Skoki Parking Lot With Truck and Snowboard Skiing in Banff

What’s great about a ski holiday in Banff is the accessibility. It’s pretty easy to reach Banff compared to the ski resorts of interior British Columbia. Calgary International Airport (YYC) serves as the hub for visitors outside the region. It has several direct flights to all major Canadian airports and direct flights to the U.S. and Europe, notably London, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam.

From Calgary, the drive to Banff takes around one and a half hours and is easy to complete in a rental car via TransCanada. That being said, winter driving conditions on the TransCanada as one reaches the mountains can be treacherous, with high winds and snowbanks on the days a big storm rolls into the region.

That being said, those storms only come in a couple times a season. However, if you don’t want to drive, there are several options for private transport to the town of Banff. The Banff Airporter runs a regular shuttle between the airport and Banff/Canmore, and booking online is easy. Once you’re based in Banff, the ski resorts operate free shuttles to the base, and the town of Banff is very walkable.


Ski Accommodation Options

Downtown Banff

Since the ski resorts in Banff are located in the national park, they do not have large villages or accommodation options at the base. Instead, most should choose to base themselves in the town of Banff or the village of Lake Louise.

There is one on-mountain accommodation option at Banff Sunshine Village, but it is expensive and limited. You’re also “stuck” on the mountain once the lifts shut down — it could be good or bad. Additionally, one could consider booking a cozy cabin in Banff based in the park, such as Baker Creek Resort or Storm Mountain Lodge.

For most visitors, we’d recommend staying in Banff as it is incredible at providing guests a good time. There are many restaurants, tour operators, bars, sights, breweries, and shops, so you’ll have plenty of things to do when you’re not skiing. We have a post that shares all of our favorite hotels in Banff.

However, the short version of our favorite hotels would include the Mount Royal Hotel, Peaks Hotel & Suites, Fairmont Banff Springs, and the Moose Hotel and Suites as excellent options. You can also consider basing yourself in Canmore, a bit further from the ski resorts! Canmore will also require a car rental as there are no resort shuttle services. If you want to learn more about Banff vs. Canmore, check out our post.


Ski Big 3

Top of The Lake Louise Ski Resort Skiing in Banff

You can’t think about Banff skiing without mentioning SkiBig3. The collection of the three local ski resorts allows visitors to buy a lift ticket that works at all three mountains. This means one can ski at one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Although, the distance between the resorts and their size makes it better to stick to one resort for the day.

Bow Valley Parkway

The pass is great for visitors as it offers a discount when multiple days are purchased and provides flexibility. The most common package is the three-day lift ticket pass which can be used over five days for around $401 (USD 300). The best part about Ski Big 3 is all of the resorts are located in Banff National Park, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Ikon Pass holders can also take advantage of seven days at Ski Big 3 Resorts. This means they get a combined seven days between the resorts, not seven at each. So if you hold an Ikon Pass, it is well worth making a trip to ski in Banff and add on a trip to Revelstoke, which is also on the Ikon Pass. RED Mountain Ski Resort in Rossland, is an excellent resort if you want to continue even further.


Lake Louise Ski Resort

Line Above Brown Shirt First at Lake Louise Ski Resort in Banff National Park
boot packing at Lake Louise Ski Resort

Resort Overview

  • Season: November — May
  • Avg Ticket: $119 – $154 CAD
  • Average Annual Snowfall: 179″
  • Vertical: 3251′
  • Total Lifts: 11
  • Ski Area: 4,200 ac.

Highlights

Lake Louise, Breathtaking Scenery, Long Runs, Variety of Terrain, Chutes, Bowls, Wildlife, Ski Touring, Long Runs, Reliable Snow, Lack of Crowds (Weekdays), Ikon Pass (7 days to SkiBig3), Beginner Terrain, Groomed Runs, Good Lifts, Decent Park

Negatives

Lacks On Mountain Accommodation, Expensive, Crowded Weekends, Cold Weather, Less Snowfall Than Nearby Mountains.

Lake Louise is one of Canada’s most well-known ski resorts, thanks to its location in Banff National Park. It’s a gorgeous ski resort where the quality of the ski is only surpassed by its stunning natural location. Lake Louise Ski Resort is one of North America’s largest ski resorts, with 4,200 acres covering four mountain faces.

Backside Lake Louise

The terrain varies between beautiful groomers, challenging steeps, and expert-level chutes. Every skill level will find something enjoyable at Lake Louise, and it’s a manageable mountain to navigate after a bit of orientation. Experts love the extreme terrain, while intermediates and beginners love the long-groomed runs.

The mountain views, particularly of Mount Temple, Hector, Lake Louise, and Mt Victoria, are eye-watering, along with a seemingly endless forest stretching across the valley. Highlights include the back bowls and the west bowl, which offer impressive steep chutes and alpine terrain. Due to the resort’s location and winds, the bowls are often wind-loaded with powder even days after a snowfall.

The cold climate ensures Lake Louise has one of the longest seasons in Canada, from November to May! While it is no powder mecca, the average snowfall is around 500 centimeters. The snow that does manage to fall on the mountain is of the best quality, as the dry air and cold climates make for great snow.

Lake Louise has one significant downside, which comes with the cost and lack of accommodation. Since it’s in a national park, there are no hotels on the mountain and only a handful in Lake Louise village. Most visitors will plan a trip to Lake Louise with a stay in nearby Banff, a 40-minute drive away.

Ski At Lake Louise Frontside

Banff has an ample amount to offer visitors as one of the best resort towns in Canada. There are three ski resorts in Banff Mt. Norquay, Banff Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise, known as SkiBig3.

Learn More About Lake Louise


Banff Sunshine Village

  • Season: November — Late May
  • Avg Ticket: $119 – $154 CAD
  • Average Annual Snowfall: 360″
  • Vertical: 3510′
  • Total Lifts: 11
  • Ski Area: 3358 ac

Highlights

Variety of Terrain, Chutes, Bowls, Ski Touring, Long Runs, Reliable Snow, Lack of Crowds (on Weekdays), Ikon Pass (7 days to SkiBig3), Beginner Terrain, Groomed Runs, Good Lifts, Great Park, Good Snow, Long Season

Negatives

Short Runs, Flat Light, One Isolated On Mountain Lodge, Flat Spots, Cold Weather, Not great tree skiing

Banff Sunshine is a mountain that offers something to everyone, from professionals to beginners. You can easily find yourself smack dab in freeride terrain that would be considered out-of-bounds in other resorts or cruising down a mellow green to the Trappers Pub. Jagged peaks loom high above alpine trees, and the views of untouched alpine are unparalleled.

Sunshine Village Ski Resort

When you first arrive in the parking lot, the mountain does not look like much, as the base is simply a gondola station and one restaurant. To reach the actual resort base, guests must take a 15-minute gondola that delivers them into a sprawling resort that looks like it belongs in the Alps, not North America.

Sunshine Village has a central resort center with several restaurants, shops, and a hotel. It serves as an excellent meeting point for groups of varying riding abilities. From the center, several lifts go out to the mountains and ridges in the area. Since the resort base is high in elevation, most runs are relatively short. There is a ton of variety in the terrain and something for every level of skier.

Sunshine Village Ski Resort

Don’t let the expert terrain detract you from visiting the resort, as it also has a plethora of groomed beginner and intermediate runs. The resort has something for everyone, and the base area makes for a perfect central point to meet after skiing the surrounding peaks.

The downside to Banff Sunshine Village is the shorter runs, various flat sections connecting the mountain, and the weather. As the resort sits in the alpine, there are a lot of days with very flat light and cloud coverage. It can be bone-chillingly cold on a frigid day when the wind blows.

Powder at Sunshine Village Ski Resort
Staff writer Regan, enjoying the powder

Similar to Lake Louise, Sunshine Village lacks on-mountain accommodation. However, they are 20 minutes closer to the town of Banff and have one mountain lodge that makes for an extraordinary experience.

The resort’s marketing team claims they have “best snow in Canada,” almost on a daily basis. After spending multiple seasons at different resorts in Western Canada, we can say this can’t be further from the truth, though a good effort on their part.

That being said the cold temperatures in the Banff National Park can indeed preserve the snow well, but it can get icy and windswept very easily.

Learn more About Sunshine Village


Mt. Norquay

  • Season: Early November — Late April
  • Avg Ticket: $88 – $129
  • Average Annual Snowfall: 119″
  • Vertical: 1650′
  • Total Lifts: 6
  • Ski Area: 190 ac

Highlights

Beginner Friendly, Proximity To Banff, Rail Park, Night Skiing, Tube Park, Cheap Lift Tickets, Uncrowded

Negatives

Usually Crappy Conditions, Most Steep Runs Are Just Firm Moguls and ice, Small Terrain

Mt Norquay is the most digestible of resorts here and the least imposing for beginners/intermediates. It’s only a 10-minute drive from the town of Banff, making it a great option to get some quick runs. However, it’s also referred to as the subpar cousin of Lake Louise and Sunshine. While it’s a member of “SkiBig3,” it’s not so big, and the ski is paltry for Western Canada.

The resort has been operating since 1926 and offers several activities, including snowboarding, tubing, and skiing. It’s also the only mountain that offers night skiing in the area and is relatively small compared to the other resorts of SkiBig3.

Mt Norquay Cascade Chair Sun Shining

Its shortcomings lie in the lack of snowfall and the resort’s orientation, which leads to poor snow conditions. If you plan to ski at Mt. Norquay, come expecting ice and hard-packed snow. The steepest runs also develop huge moguls that can get pretty firm — no fun on a snowboard.

Of course, if you’re used to skiing on the East Coast, Mt. Norquay can seem pretty impressive. There are some steep black runs and excellent groomers. They also have a pretty sweet little rail park, suitable for a nighttime park sesh. Norquay also has fantastic views over Banff, the Bow Valley, and Mt. Rundle.

On a powder day, the resort is super close to town, and you won’t compete against powder-hungry locals who head to Lake Louise and Sunshine Village—of course, you’ll miss out on the vastly superior resorts.


Lake Louise Vs. Sunshine Village

Sunshine Village Top Of Chairlift

This is the classic debate amongst locals who hold a season pass at either ski resort or both. Lake Louise and Sunshine are both great ski resorts, but Lake Louise is better for those who ski or ride regularly. This is primarily due to the superior terrain and layout of the Lake Louise ski resort.

Banff Sunshine Village has more lifts, a better resort center, on-mountain accommodation and receives more snow on average. The resort center and lifts make the resort pleasant for a group with varying abilities, as they can meet at the center easily after a run. It’s also a bit more beginner-friendly, with more green runs that are short and sweet.

They also have the on-mountain lodge, which makes for a memorable experience. The negatives of Sunshine Village are the shorter runs, flat light, wind-affected terrain, flat sections at Sunshine that require navigation to avoid, especially on a snowboard, and owners who don’t have the best reputation.

snowboarding at sunshine

Lake Louise has far longer runs, better pistes, superior terrain, sustained pitch, better visibility, ease of navigation, tree skiing, parking, better early season, and it sees fewer crowds. In short, it comes down to the mountain’s layout and the general flow conducive to a great day on the hill. Lake Louise receives less snowfall, and the front runs can get a bit firm if it’s been a while since the last snowfall. We typically hang out on the backside of Lake Louise.

Both resorts are comparable in terms of snow quality, grooming, on-mountain dining, and terrain parks. However, it is easier to do park laps at Sunshine Village due to the resort’s shorter runs and better chairlifts. Both resorts can also be bitterly cold, but it is a little easier to escape the wind/cold at Lake Louise.

You’ll likely have a fantastic day at either mountain when the conditions are good. On a mixed weather day, we’d probably opt for Lake Louise due to the flat light and wind-swept conditions of Sunshine Village. Either way, you won’t be disappointed, and we recommend you ski on both mountains if coming to Banff for a ski vacation.


Tips For Skiing in Banff

  • Make sure to dress warm! Temperatures in Banff are some of the coldest in North America, and it’s pretty regular to have a windchill of -20C. Layers are key here and allow you to drop a layer if you get too hot.
  • We like Banff as a base because it has a lot more for a group, but if you’re a diehard, Lake Louise is super nice as it’s close to the best resort.
  • Pick up a SkiBig3 pass and wait to plan out your days until the forecast is a few days out. That way, you can follow the snow forecast or avoid weekend crowds. We don’t trust either resort’s marketing team, and find they often embellish their snow reports. Instead we like to check snowforecast.com.
  • Don’t miss out on all the other great winter activities in Banff. Even if you love to ski or snowboard, there is a lot to enjoy if it’s your first visit.
  • You may see tracks outside of resort boundaries, but DO NOT cross the boundary line without avalanche equipment and knowledge of the specific terrain.
  • If you plan far enough in advance, consider getting a super card/plus card from Lake Louise or Sunshine, as it costs $99 CAD. The card provides a discount on all tickets and on-mountain food, and you get a free lift ticket on your 1st, 4th, and 7th day.
  • If you’re planning to visit over the holidays, plan to avoid skiing on a busy weekend and save that time to enjoy other awesome activities around town and the park.
  • Shop for rentals around town if you need them! There are many options between Banff, Canmore, and ski resorts.
  • Consider using private transport and the free shuttle buses to the ski resorts if you’re uncomfortable with winter driving. You do not have to drive, but it does give you great flexibility to visit the sites outside of the ski resorts.
  • Lake Louise and Banff Sunshine Village have some of North America’s longest seasons and consistent skiing. You don’t have to visit in the “peak” ski season in February to have a fantastic time. Some of our best Banff skiing conditions have been in April!

Things To Do In Banff in the Winter

Natasha Petting the Horses Who Draw the Sleigh

I love Banff all year round, but I particularly love Banff in winter. While most people think of the Canadian Rockies as a summer destination, I believe that winter in Banff is what it’s all about.

There are so many amazing things to do in Banff during the winter. I actually got sad this past year when spring rolled around. It’s not all about skiing in Banff, either!

Ice Skating on Johnson Lake

One could consider a nice winter hike along the frozen Johnston Canyon to try out ice climbing a frozen waterfall for the first time. Then there are the animal experiences like a horse-drawn sleigh around Lake Louise or a dog sled tour in Canmore.

Or lace up a pair of skates as it is Canada, and there are many natural lakes and maintained rinks for ice skating in Banff. If that’s still not enough, try snowshoeing or hit up the tube park at Mt. Norquay. And that’s only the beginning of things to do in Banff in the winter!


Other Regional Ski Resorts

On Mountain Cabin at Panorama Ski Resort

There is some tremendous skiing, a half days drive from Banff to the Powder Highway. All of the resorts are a bit too far for a day trip, but there are a dedicated few that take a day trip to Kicking Horse in Golden or Panorama in Invermere in the Columbia Valley.

Revelstoke is our favorite ski resort in Canada

If you’re a passionate skier or snowboarder, these resorts are well worth visiting; however, they are not quite as suited to catering to the resort crowd. Personally, we love these ski resorts and visit almost all of them every season. It would be tough to pick a favorite resort in the world, but Fernie and Revelstoke would be at the top!

20 Best Ski Resorts In Canada: Experts Guide

Cross Country Skiing in Banff

Banff is not all about downhill skiing. Cross-country skiers will be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful place to enjoy the sport in North America than Banff and Canmore. Several trails are managed by Parks Canada around Lake Louise Village, and Canmore Nordic Center has 60km of trails and hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.

While the ski resorts do not manage cross-country ski trails, there are many lodges, such as Skoki Lodge, Lake O’Hara Lodge, Assiniboine Lodge, and Shadow Lake Lodge, where you can ski into the backcountry and stay in comfort. The lodges are catered, super cozy, and nestled far away from the crowds of the ski resorts and town.

10 Best Banff Cross Country Skiing Trails

Backcountry Skiing in Banff

Splitboarding on Bow Summit

There is a big community of backcountry skiers who ski regularly in the Canadian Rockies. We took our first tours here and our AST 1 training in Canmore with Yamnuska Adventures. Backcountry skiing here can be tremendous, with fantastic powder, pristine wilderness, and many areas to explore.

The snowpack is notorious; tragically, a community member is lost to an incident almost every season. The terrain and consequences here are profound. We chose not to comment on where or how to go backcountry skiing as it requires solid education and experience.

If you’re visiting, you won’t have the insight into daily weather updates and terrain, so seek a guide; Yamnuska Mountain Adventures has guided us several times.


Best Places to Stay for Skiing in Banff


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About Cameron

Cameron is a resident of Canmore, Alberta. After traveling the world for six years, he settled down in the beautiful Bow Valley with Natasha. He has been featured as a travel expert with numerous publications worldwide and has spoken on several occasions about the power of travel. He has a passion for all things in the Canadian Rockies and loves to spend his time snowboarding, scrambling, camping, biking, and trail running. Conservation is a deep fundamental in his life, and he aims to inspire others to care about our natural world. You can learn more on the about us page.

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