Patrick Thorne

28 Jan 23

How to Get The Best Banff & Lake Louise Ski Holiday

Patrick Thorne

28 Jan 23

Anyone who has driven from the Western Canadian province of Alberta’s largest city, Calgary, on the straight road west towards Banff and Lake Louise will know that this is one of the most stunning mountain destinations on earth.

What’s more, the skiing is sublime, with a choice of three great ski areas on the one lift pass, two of them among Canada’s biggest and best.  Plus Banff itself is a fabulous ski town, again among the planet’s very best, with great shopping, dining and fantastic accommodation choices.  Smaller Lake Louise is a great place to stay too.

So with everything pretty brilliant, it can be hard to go wrong when you plan a trip here. And yet everything being good throws up an unusual conundrum in holiday booking …not the usual one of avoiding making wrong choices, more the fact that you want to make the best choices of all for a truly memorable holiday – not just settle for the standard “good”.

How to Get The Best Banff & Lake Louise Ski Holiday

© John Entwistle

For that, local knowledge is essential and fortunately, Edinburgh-based tailor-made specialists at Ski Independence have plenty of that. They’ve been organising personally-designed ski holidays to Banff & Lake Louise for decades and their staff are, unsurprisingly, only too keen to get out there whenever they can to further increase their knowledge.

But here’s a bit of background before you call them to fine-tune your options and tailor-make your dream Banff & Lake Louise ski holiday.


Banff is both a world-famous ski town and a year-round resort (it’s actually busier in summer than winter) cradled among the majestic Rocky Mountains of the surrounding Banff National Park. The park is vast and was Canada’s first, created in 1885. Its existence has stopped the resort from becoming over-developed.

The town has an extensive and vibrant collection of bars, cafes and restaurants on a truly world-class scale.

How to Get The Best Banff & Lake Louise Ski Holiday

© Noel Hendrickson

“Start your day with the best coffee in town,” advises Ski Independence Marketing manager Vicky, who continues, “I loved the White Bark Café when I was on holiday in Banff a few years back. This unassuming little place is a local’s favourite, where you can contemplate the day ahead sipping on your favourite cup of java, matcha latte or loose-leaf tea (whilst basking on the sun terrace if you’re lucky). I went out of my way – more than once – to get my caffeine fix here!”

“Don’t leave without sampling a Caesar – a Canadian Classic! This bonkers Bloody Mary with a twist is a must when visiting Banff. Expect salt, spice and seafood blended with tomato and clam juice (Clamato juice to the locals. No, really) in a tall pint glass, served with a gherkin, possibly a pickled onion, and sometimes a sausage, but always with a stick of celery, and a large splash of Tabasco sauce. For the best Caesar’s in town head to the Saltlik, the Fairmont Banff Springs or Nourish,” advises Nick, the North American Product Manager for Ski Independence.

Karen, Senior Ski Specialist at Ski Independence, likes her steak however, “Melissa’s Missteak is a Banff institution and rightly so. You’ll be hard-pushed to find a tastier, better-value steak anywhere. With happy hour specials and good honest home cooking on the menu it’s well worth checking out,” she advises.

The Experiences

Banff has a vast choice of things to do besides ‘just’ endless skiing and boarding. There are hot springs, cross-country ski trails, ice skating options, museums, galleries and spas. Although dog sledding and snowmobiling aren’t permitted in the National Park you can easily enjoy them by taking an organised tour just outside the park. Shopping is big here too,  there’s an extensive and eclectic collection of retailers, and the town has even won awards for its shopping quality!

Vicky spotted something a little different this winter which the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel has created ‘The Haute O2’. This unique pop-up event transformed a mountain-top bistro into an oxygen bar and private dining experience – complete with guided breathwork in a specially prepared relaxation space and oxygen-rich cocktails. Guests set off in an open-top motorcoach from the Banff Springs Hotel and arrived at the restaurant via the North American Chairlift for a ride full of fresh, invigorating mountain air. Forest Bathing or Scenic Insta Tours are also available through the Banff Springs Hotel.

Banff Accommodation

How to Get The Best Banff & Lake Louise Ski Holiday

Canasta Lodge

SkI independence can advise of the best Banff accommodation to suit your needs. The iconic Fairmont Banff Springs, located a mile south of the town centre, has dominated the resort’s skyline for over a century and is certainly a legendary hotel to base yourself in. But there are other great options too like the Moose Hotel & Suites which is close to downtown amenities and right next to the ski bus stop, has its own popular Italian restaurant and provides access to the Meadow Spa & Pools with 10 treatment rooms, private outdoor hot pool, a bright indoor pool and two rooftop hot pools with spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies. Or there’s the recently refurbished and highly-affordable Canalta Lodge in a quiet location on Banff Avenue where guests can enjoy outdoor hot tubs, a sauna and a glacier plunge tub.

The Skiing

There are three ski areas in the area that can be visited individually or all together with a ‘Ski Big 3’ lift pass during your stay. 

How to Get The Best Banff & Lake Louise Ski Holiday

© Reuben Krabbe

Sunshine and Lake Louise, each a short drive or ski bus ride from downtown Banff, are among Canada’s biggest and best ski areas. The third area, Mt Norquay, sits directly above the town and if you follow Main Street up, you’ll see it above.  It’s smaller but like the others has something for every skier or boarder, a snow record so reliable it’s open six months of the year, and magnificent views out from the slopes.

How to Get The Best Banff & Lake Louise Ski Holiday

© Jeff Bartlett

Sunshine, is one of Canada’s largest ski areas with over 3,300 acres of terrain and is a 20-minute drive from Banff. Famous for its reliable natural snow cover – it’s one of the first in the country to open for the season in early November each year and the last to close in late May – and exciting terrain, it’s a great resort. 

“I love Goat’s Eye Mountain at Banff Sunshine Village – one of the resort’s 3 peaks – with the Wild West freeride zone and mandatory air halfway down off one side (I wasn’t expecting a cliff band), blue cruisers down the middle and black, then double black, off the other side leading to glades,” says Nick, clearly a good skier, who continues,

“Delirium Dive off the top of Lookout Mountain up on the Continental Divide is incredible but can be a little scary – it’s genuinely steep and rolls away from you so you can’t see the slope until you’re 100% committed (or stuck!). The top entrance is sketchy (turn-or-die type stuff), with scenery to die for. You need a full avalanche pack to get access and you must ski with a buddy, or better still a local guide. 100% worth the effort if you have the skills.”

(Editor’s note: less scary terrain is available at Sunshine and Banff’s other two ski area, and lots of it). 

How to Get The Best Banff & Lake Louise Ski Holiday

© Reuben Krabbe

Sunshine is a 20-minute ski bus ride from downtown Banff, or you can drive yourself if you wish of course if you have a hire car. Karen believes that in this case, the bus is best though.

“Put off by the idea of taking a bus to the slopes? Don’t be. Sit back, relax and take in some jaw-dropping scenery and try to spot some wildlife on the way to the slopes. I’ve seen mountain goats, bighorn sheep and even a bear on the way up to Sunshine Mountain!” she says. 

Lake Louise

How to Get The Best Banff & Lake Louise Ski Holiday

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Lake Louise is another world-famous ski area, also with a long and illustrious history and great record snowfall like Sunshine, it hosts the first Downhill ski races on the World Cup tour in November each year when other venues don’t have enough snow. It’s one of Canada’s three biggest ski areas with 4,200 acres of terrain and it also has, arguably, the most stunning scenery of the three (although it’s a close call and “in the eye of the beholder” a little).

There’s a small resort base here and the option to stay at the legendary Chateau Lake Louise, run by the same Fairmont Group as the Banff Springs. You can base yourself here and ski Lake Louise and travel to one or both of the other areas, the same as you can choose to base yourself in Banff or spend a few nights in each. Anyway, this wonderful hotel similarly has a small resort’s worth of facilities including a spa, shopping, bars, cafes and restaurants on its lower levels, the outdoor activities like ice skating on the frozen lake.  

“If you’re staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise do yourself a favour and upgrade to the Lakeview rooms. I sometimes think view-based upgrades on a ski holiday aren’t necessarily worth it, but this one is the exception. Sunrises and sunsets over Lake Louise are equally spectacular!” says Karen.

In terms of dining, there’s a big choice from dawn until, well, dawn the next day.

“Breakfast is probably my favourite meal of the day, whatever the setting and Poppy’s Brasserie at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was up there with the best I’ve ever experienced. Not only was the food incredible – “More poached eggs, even more coffee? Yes please!” – but the view is impossible to beat, looking out over the iconic, frozen expanse of Lake Louise. A post-breakfast walk on the ice helped set up the rest of the day perfectly,” Vicky concludes.

To take advantage of the depth of knowledge that Ski Independence has of Banff & Lake Louise and enlist their help to tailor-build your best holiday, created around what you want and need, there simply follow the link. ➡️  Ski Independence

How to Get The Best Banff & Lake Louise Ski Holiday