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//Editor's Picks

Dom Killinger

25 Feb 23

Banff & Lake Louise

Dom Killinger

25 Feb 23

Banff & Lake Louise – The Ultimate Winter Mountain Adventure Destination

The three ski areas of Banff Sunshine, Mount Norquay and Lake Louise Ski Resort are very different to most others on the planet. They are all located within one of the last of the wild places, within the boundaries of Banff National Park – a protected place where commercial development has been kept in check.

Skiing here, or even just staying in downtown Banff or Lake Louise, is a totally awe-inspiring experience like no other, surrounded by towering mountains, spaces shared with wildlife, indigenous heritage, and nature at its purest. 

Thanks to it’s high elevation and up to nine metres (30 feet) of annual, feather-light snowfall, the region’s three ski areas have the longest non-glacial ski season in North America – with seasons lasting up to seven months (from early November through to May) making the area one of the best in the world for spring skiing.

We visited in early January, an often quieter time to visit, and this time can be hit with super freezing temperatures, in fact a decade or so ago when I last visited Banff, it hit -42 degrees, ski lifts closed, air conditioning shut down and diesel was freezing, it doesn’t usually last long, but it’s worth knowing it’s possible!

The resorts are collectively known as SkiBig3, and they really are all different, and all equally worth the visit.

This video will give you an insight into the 3 resorts


If there’s one criticism, and something that many don’t initially know, is that the skiing in this magnificent region known (that’s Banff, Lake Louise and Norquay) is all a short drive away, it’s not in what’s known as Downtown Banff.  But have no fear, your ski pass gets you on the free bus that whips you up to your nearest slopes without any hassle at all.  

If you do choose to drive to the slopes, which actually just isn’t worth it unless you are really fussy about public transport, then be sure to have your Banff National Park Pass , because they regularly setup road blocks to check you have one!    


Driving from Calgary to Banff up the Trans-Canada Highway with zero traffic and super smooth tarmac is the start of something truly special. 

The vast Canadian Rockies towering up ahead of you is like a superimposed mountain scenery that lies in the distance at the end of your arrow straight empty highway.  

Needless to say, the drive is simple, but if driving isn’t your thing, then an endless supply of mountain transfers are available from Calgary airport.  Take a look at this site that gives more advice about travelling Calgary to Banff Travelling from the Calgary Airport to Banff – SkiBig3

Banff & Lake Louise

Credit Dom Killinger


Within a short hour and a half, you arrive on Banff Avenue, lined with hotels and condos of all shapes, styles and sizes and you quickly realise this is a truly authentic Canadian town with real locals.  This is not a “purpose-built resort” for the sake of a ski resort.  

Banff is the larger of the two resorts (Banff and Lake Louise), with about 8,000 permanent residents – so actually ten times the size of Lake Louise!  With heaps of local flavour and characters this is a lively, friendly town with an all-around awesome après scene, so its a great choice for nightlife lovers, foodies, families, shopaholics, arts and culture buffs as well as non skiers, you are all well catered for here.

There are some superb galleries including that of Brandon T Brown whom we got to know while in Banff.  He spends hours and even days and weeks on end to capture the very best wildlife photos, always with the aim of – never interrupting nature in action.  Brandon is well worth looking up.

There is a wealth of wonderful wildlife in Banff, and Alberta in general, not to mention bears, wolves, lynx and eagles, all of which have been captured by Brandons lens at some stage.  In fact, on the way back to Calgary airport we saw a herd of Moose at their watering hole, and regularly at night we would see deer and Moose ambling down Banff Avenue on the snowy roads.  Ignored by locals as a normal occurrence and photographed by visitors as their holiday spectacle.  

Here’s a quick glimpse of Banff Avenue and it’s shops.



Of course, there is a whole range of accommodation in Banff to suit all budgets and needs, from the Fairmont Banff Springs, that’s probably the ultimate choice (although it’s a good 15-20 minute beautiful walk outside of central downtown Banff, to a range of condos and hotels of all star ratings.  And you can get easy access to all of these on the Banff Lake Louise website.

We stayed at the Moose Hotel & Suites, which was a really nice blend of hotel facilities and condo style accommodation, so I had a lounge with open fire, kitchenette and a huge bedroom with bathroom.  It’s located right in the town centre, but to be fair, most of the hotels are right in the heart of the downtown action.

The Moose Hotel & Suites was a great place to stay, it felt comfortable and cozy, nice quality without being stiff or stuffy.  It had underground parking, a roof top open air spa and Pacinis, a brilliant Italian restaurant on site, not to mention a bus stop right outside!


Eating out in Banff and going for après drinks is an experience that could occupy every night of a fortnight and still leave plenty of places you haven’t tried.

I would highly recommend The Wild Flour Artisan Bakery for the best breakfast in Banff (OFFICIAL), their pastries would rival any French bakery, coffees to match and fresh juices that give you that energy burst before your day out on the hill.

For lunches and evenings there is every kind of cuisine available, from the Authentic Mexican at Magpie & Stump with it’s heavily wooded chalet style exterior that’s been in Banff for longer than I’ve been going there (that’s 14 years) to the fabulous steaks at Saltlik or the truly exceptional Bluebird Wood-fired Steakhouse where the steaks are cooked in a real open fire and you sit around a large stone chimney with high vaulted ceiling.

The dining options don’t stop there, there is something to suit every family member, from the ribs and wings at the family friendly chain style Earls to Una pizza and wine and many more besides. 

After dinner, head to the Park Distillery on Banff Avenue, this is a real Canadian distillery where you can see all the pumps and pipes in action whilst sitting around the edge of the bar to order small (or big) eats, as well as your favourite cocktails.  This is a really happening bar full of locals and après skiers alike, and the perfect way to close your night in downtown Banff.

For those wanting a more refined and quiet drink, then a casual dander out to The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a great after dinner walk, and sitting in the grand library bar for a glass of wine among truly exceptional surroundings just can’t be beaten.  It’s well worth the walk, let alone the stay.

A quick Guide to Mount Norquay Banff

Mount Norquay is the closest skiing to Banff Town Centre, just a ten minute drive away.  This is where the local race teams train and is also known as “Banff’s backyard”. Being so close to Banff, it’s ideal for families with kids and teens (who love the night skiing available here.) 

Locals talked about Norquay as being steep and icy and I have to say it almost put me off going, but that really would have been a mistake.  I tend to find skiing in the USA and Canada quite different to Europe in that they are more cautious.  Therefore their steep, was more our fast reds, and their icy was moreover crusty beautifully groomed slopes, no wonder they call them groomers!

I got off the Mystic Express Chair by 8.45am and blasted around immaculately groomed, tree lined, fast red and cruisy blues, the perfect pitch if you’re learning how to link turns.  I skied for 2 hours before I even saw another sole, it was like I had hired my own private ski resort.  And the views out to downtown Banff as the sun rose were nothing short of spectacular.

But there’s high-adrenaline terrain here too. Known as “the best-kept secret in the Canadian Rockies,” Mt. Norquay lives up to its name with astounding advanced and expert terrain off its famous North American two-seater chair. The Artillery Chutes are no exception, known to locals as the “steep and deep”. Just downslope from the Gun Run entrance, Artillery Chutes have been gladed and reopened!  These chutes face a similar North-facing aspect as Gun Run and allow for untouched powder turns late into the day.

Norquay has built a reputation for its incredible grooming, its night skiing (Fri/Sat nights) and for having a fully lit terrain park, and Alberta’s longest and fastest tubing lanes-8 tubing lanes. These make Mt. Norquay perfect for teens and families.  Afterwards, head to their Lone Pine Pub and celebrate with this season’s new Norquay 97 Rusty Edges Amber Ale, brewed by Banff Ave. Brewing Co. 

Norquay is actually the oldest resort in the Canadian Rockies, it opened in 1926. Many Olympic and World Cup ski racers have gotten their start here. But its attitude is far from backwards-looking, in 2021 it became the first ski resort in Canada to be powered by 100% renewable power. Partnering with Bullfrog Power, Canada’s leading green energy provider, Mt. Norquay’s new green-powered status means it’s now running 100% on renewable power, generated from a blend of wind and low-impact hydro power from new, Canadian renewable energy facilities – that’s everything from keeping the resort’s chair lifts moving, to lighting up its day lodges.

There’s no mountain restaurants, just a bar / restaurant at the base accompanied by a massive car park, so it’s not somewhere you would want to spend your whole holiday, but if you love carving around the groomers and want quick easy access from Banff town centre, then this is a great place to start your SkiBig3 holiday.  

Watch the Banff Resort Guide Video to get a real feel for the resort in under 10 minutes.

What is Banff Sunshine like for Skiing

When somebody says they have skied in Banff, this is most likely where they mean.  Here you can find the only ski-in ski-out accommodation across the 3 resorts, Sunshine Mountain Lodge where you can truly walk out of the hotel reception, clip on your skis, and go.  

With a network of lifts to take you into an awe inspiring ski area that sits right on the continental divide separating British Columbia and Alberta, this really creates an experience with views like nowhere else.

Banff Sunshine is only a 15 minute drive / bus from downtown Banff, and similarly has a massive car park and a base station with bar and restaurant, but what separates this resort from the others is the fact there’s a hotel reception right at the base station car park. Yes that’s right, you can check your bags in right here (if you are lucky enough to be staying at the Banff Sunshine Village), and they will get your luggage up the hill ready for your return to the hotel after a great days skiing.

Banff Sunshine has the longest non-glacial ski season of any resort in North America, with 201 opening days planned this season, culminating with the famous 95(ish) annual Slush Cup pond-skimming contest on May 22nd! The resort is famous for its 100% natural snow – no snowmaking and its use of snow farming.

The rainbow-coloured gondola takes you to the famous “Upper Village”, nestled in the alpine trees  at 2200m. From where you can access the full 3358 acres with 12 lifts and 137 runs, the longest an epic 8km (5 miles)! And you can also ski in two Canadian provinces at once, British Columbia and Alberta, along the Continental Divide.

Delirium Dive is Banff Sunshine’s famous double black area, a cool “intermediate” between groomed runs and backcountry for those wanting to get into more free ride skiing while still in a patrolled area.  

We stayed at Banff Sunshine Lodge and it’s a true experience, it feels nestled into the trees with rooms looking out over the base of the ski area.  It boasts an outdoor spa bath, steaming up onto the snow and a beautiful ranch style restaurant – Chimney Corner Lounge,  centred around a colossal double side, stone fireplace where you can take casual dining, breakfast or relax for evening drinks.  There is an additional more refined a la carte dining room called Eagles Nest which is their Canadian Bistro and also a ‘to-go’ deli in the foyer where you can grab great coffee, bagels and pastries as you head out to hit the slopes.  This is a really popular meeting point in the mornings.

It’s fair to say that staying up in Sunshine is a great experience, this is not a ‘resort’ like we know it, there are no shops, or street, and in fact only a couple of other restaurants, the most popular being the Mad Trappers where the buffalo wings and Nachos are an absolute must.  The service is true Canadian style with waiters right at your side every time you need a top up of fresh mountain water or a Canadian beer to accompany your Caeser salad.  

The ski area, the views and the ski-in-ski-out are all faultless, but you do have to bear in mind that to get back to downtown Banff is a Gondola ride and then a drive / bus, so all in all about 20-30 mins, and the last gondola back is not late, so if you are staying at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, then you’re probably staying there for après too.  

If you want later drinks and the fabulous eateries of downtown, then staying in Sunshine might be something you do for a few nights of your stay for the great experience.  That said, I could have stayed longer than the 3 we were there!   

Here’s a little sneak preview into Sunshine Resort and Sunshine Mountain Lodge


Lake Louise Resort Guide

The skiing furthest from downtown Banff is Lake Louise, it’s about 35 mins by car (45 mins by ski bus) on that same great highway.  It has a population of only around 700 and is a great choice for anyone who wants some peace and quiet and loves nature …although adventure seekers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and those looking for a truly Canadian experience will hit the jackpot here. 

The extra drive is an absolute must, not something you want to miss by taking a doze.  And the wildlife and wilderness that you wake up to each morning if you are lucky enough to stay in Lake Louise is quite magical, making this a truly iconic destination.

There is a large base area building with acres of parking, a few super scale self-serve style restaurants plus an Indian restaurant, a ski hire shop and a guiding station where you can book lessons or ski guides.   

Known as “the friendly giant” Lake Louise’s Ski Resort at 4200 acres makes it the third biggest ski resort in Canada, with 164 runs and 11 lifts. There’s a massive mix of terrain here from incredible steeps in the back bowls which is achievable for most intermediate skiers, to glades, chutes, groomers and powder pockets as well as blue runs off of every chair.  

Without any doubt this is a phenomenal ski area, if you are a groom hugger you can blast around the hill for hours without getting bored, and if you are more adventurous you can explore so much more of the mountain that remains within the ski boundary, giving you a real freeride feel, without getting into real back country territory.  

There were areas of the mountain that I explored that I likely wouldn’t have done alone, but in the safe hands of a guide I was able to ski a good few long days, seeing some of the best sites that Lake Louise had to offer, free-riding in a safe and controlled way, experiencing off piste connections with pisted areas, little side jumps, racing reds coupled with powdery bowls.  So a guide can really accelerate the enjoyment factor by multiples.

This season is the first full winter for the new high-speed Juniper Express quad-chairlift which opened in February last year. The high-speed quad whisks skiers and riders up the mountain to access its five dedicated blue trails in as little as six minutes. 

This sector is the perfect area for beginner and low-intermediate skiers to practice their skills and build confidence. 

You can only marvel at the view from the top of the resort over to Lake Louise itself.  This magnificent frozen lake enveloped by a dark shadowy mountain scape all dwarfing the huge Fairmont Château Lake Louise hotel that sits right at the edge of the lake.  This is a well worthwhile ten minute drive from the resort base to go and enjoy a drink in the hotel and skate around on the lake.  And if your budget allows, a couple of nights here is absolutely worth every dime.  

The dining here overlooking the lake was exceptional with service to match, and the deli style coffee shop with muffins and toasties really hit the mark after a full day on the hill.  The grand central reception area with colossal sweeping staircases really gave that feeling of staying in a bona-fide castle.

Lake Louise Ski Resort is open into May and is currently showing off its ever-improving facilities following the approval of its Long Range Plan by Parks Canada. Several new quad chairlifts have been unveiled in the past few years as well as another 480 acres of freeride terrain (for high intermediate to expert skiers) in West Bowl, and there’s much more planned. West Bowl remains largely unexplored by UK visitors but with its many (patrolled) glades, gullies, fresh powder and fun chutes, you can always find a fresh line here!

Take a quick sneak peak of the Lake Louise Area and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.


A SkiBig3 Lift Ticket gives you access to an incredible 8000 acres of skiable terrain, 29 lifts and 362 runs across Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt Norquay ski areas.

You can wake up each day and decide which resort to experience, perhaps following the best snow conditions, what friends or family prefer or just the best shuttle schedule for your needs.

Banff & Lake Louise

© Reuben Krabb

There’s built-in grace day flexibility so you can enjoy rest days during your vacation without losing any ticketed ski days. Or you can ski two resorts (or more) in one day – at no extra cost! A SkiBig3 Lift Ticket is valid at any and all resorts during a single day.  You can also do some evening tubing at Norquay for no extra cost using your SkiBig3 Lift Ticket.

You can download the SkiBig3 App to make things as simple as they can be. You’ll then have the insider guide to Banff National Park’s three ski resorts on your phone, including snow reports, shuttle times and webcams. You’ll also find the loyalty programme SkiBig3 Pass Perks in the app, complete with digital coupons.

The SkiBig3 Trifecta Challenge

To conquer the SkiBig3 Trifecta Challenge you simply need to ski or board at all three of the “Big3” resorts! It does not have to be on the same day. Once you have skied or boarded the “Big3”, stop by the SkiBig3 Adventure Hub to have your SkiBig3 Lift Ticket, Mountain Collective or Ikon Pass scanned and validated. Conquerors get a coupon for a free drink at a local establishment and a special SkiBig3 Trifecta Challenge prize.

SkiBig3 Pass Perks

SkiBig3 has teamed up with select Banff, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Canmore partners to offer SkiBig3 Pass Perks including discounts at food and beverage outlets at each of the three resorts as well as at restaurants and bars across Banff and Lake Louise. You can also save on experiences like non-ski tours and adventures and local fitness and wellness classes.  It’s all in the SkiBig3 App where you can see digital coupons on your phone.

What can non skiers do in Banff

There’s a huge range of non-ski activities in Banff, Lake Louise and the surrounding area. The numerous shops, several museums, art galleries, spa culture and local Banff hot springs are just the start. You can even take in an ice hockey game in nearby Canmore or skip back to Calgary to take in a full on series match.

We chose 1 super activity to knock off our bucket list, White ’n’ Wild Snowmobile Adventures in Golden, about an hour and half drive and worth every minute.  

The drive to Golden was extremely picturesque and simple, and finding the activity was an adventure in itself!  

We were met at the bottom of a knee deep powdery track by a fully masked, mountain goat on a quad bike with ski tracks retro fitted.  He looked at our huge Durango 4×4 with wheels the size of a small family car, that until now we had been pretty proud of, and said, ‘you might not get up here in that, but we can give it a go. 

Needless to say we managed, and at the top of the densely forested track, we congregated in a toasty warm shack to get kitted out in helmets, over-gloves and, essentially any other layers you wanted to don.  We signed our lives away and jumped on these meaty looking snowmobiles, to be given a safety briefing.  I’m always quite sceptical of these things, feeling like the motors will be restricted and we will drive around a circular track for 30 minutes, then go home.  But this was nothing like.  

The bikes rumbled and edged forward with power and we were quickly lead away and up through densely forested mountain pathways with metres of powdery snow either side of us, sky scraping christmas trees, laden with snow dumping their loads on us as we passed.  We drove for about an hour, dodging deer running out in front of our bikes at zero notice.  We ascended higher and higher via mountain tracks and narrow pathways, accelerating hard when it was safe, riding the bumps and dips, it was so exhilarating even in comparison with the fabulous skiing we had previously experienced.  

Finally at the summit we rested at a magnificent mountain hut on 2 metre stilts to keep it off the snow.  We arranged a small camp fire, and supped on hot chocolate and warm cookies that our host had brought with him, whilst we looked over spectacular views down the valley, alpine trees for as far as the eye could see.  We listened to stories about our guide being stalked by a Lynx in his front yard. It felt like a movie set.  

You want a memorable experience, this is one for you.  And don’t be put off, they did run this for all levels of riders and in fact one person that joined us had never driven any kind of motorised vehicle before, and yet they were able to separate them and take them for their own unique experience.  Check out White’n’Wild in Golden.

For those needing something a little slower paced, Yoga is also growing in popularity in Banff,  as everywhere, with the town’s newest yoga studio, Flow State Yoga, Banff’s second yoga centre, offering the chance to stretch your muscles and recharge after your activities.

Among newly available options in the region, you can also choose to explore Banff on a guided fat bike tour with Banff National Park featuring some of Canada’s most scenic trails. Here you can discover landscapes blanketed in snow and hidden viewpoints. Bikescape, Banff’s only guided mountain biking/fat biking company provide guided tours for all ages and abilities.

Or you can visit the park’s most picturesque lakes in winter on the Canadian Rockies Mountain Lake Tour with Mountain Park Transportation. Their interpretive sightseeing tour in Banff National Park visits some of the most iconic lookouts and lakes in the area. From classic Lake Louise, travel up the Icefields Parkway, where every winding curve fills the windshield with a new view. Admire Hector Lake, Crowfoot glacier lookout and the historic Num-Ti Jah Lodge at Bow Lake and come away with a deeper appreciation for the area after your half-day adventure.

You can also sign up for an Evening Ice Walk through a quiet, frozen canyon, dripping with icy waterfalls that shimmer under the starlit sky (Also available during daytime). This new experience with Discover Banff Tours is a totally unique adventure that heightens your senses and shows you a side of the magical Canadian winter you’ve never seen before.

Taking the Banff Gondola, which is about a 10 minute bus ride from downtown Banff or 5 minutes from the Fairmont Banff Springs, is a magnificent gondola that takes you up to tremendous views over the entire town and is well worth the short trip.  At the top of the gondola is an optional 15 min minute, freezing cold walk up a timber stepped walkway to breathtaking uninterrupted views over the whole area.  We utilised our last few hours before driving back to Calgary to do this and we were very glad we did, you just have to time the weather right to maximise the views! 

Among newly available options in the region, you can also choose to explore Banff on a guided fat bike tour with Banff National Park featuring some of Canada’s most scenic trails. Here you can discover landscapes blanketed in snow and hidden viewpoints. Bikescape, Banff’s only guided mountain biking/fat biking company provide guided tours for all ages and abilities.

Or you can visit the park’s most picturesque lakes in winter on the Canadian Rockies Mountain Lake Tour with Mountain Park Transportation. Their interpretive sightseeing tour in Banff National Park visits some of the most iconic lookouts and lakes in the area. From classic Lake Louise, travel up the Icefields Parkway, where every winding curve fills the windshield with a new view. Admire Hector Lake, Crowfoot glacier lookout and the historic Num-Ti Jah Lodge at Bow Lake and come away with a deeper appreciation for the area after your half-day adventure.

You can also sign up for an Evening Ice Walk through a quiet, frozen canyon, dripping with icy waterfalls that shimmer under the starlit sky (Also available during daytime). This new experience with Discover Banff Tours is a totally unique adventure that heightens your senses and shows you a side of the magical Canadian winter you’ve never seen before.

Travelling to Canada

Banff & Lake Louise

Air Canada offers more daily flights from the UK to Canada than any other airline. From London Heathrow, the airline is operating daily non-stop services to Calgary, with Economy fares starting from £624.14* inclusive of all taxes and 1 x checked bag (subject to change). Find out more at www.aircanada.com.

Taking Ski Equipment 

Customers travelling on Air Canada with skis or a snowboard this winter, can carry their equipment at no extra charge on non-stop flights from the UK to Canada.




*Lead in fare based on travel in January 2023

We have a regular Podcast called The White Out where we review the latest gear, talk about the latest snow forecast and updates on where is best to ski now, as well interviews with absolute ski legends AND we spotlight a resort every week and so much more.  You can check out our regular podcast here Apple | Spotify | Podcasts or search The White Out on your chosen podcast directory.