Banff, Alberta. PHOTO: Ryan Creary
Banff, Alberta. PHOTO: Ryan Creary

Passing Through: Banff-Lake Louise

With several ski areas and mountains forever, this small Alberta town has just about everything

PHOTO: Ryan Creary

While Canada has been a destination for skiing for many decades, for much of those years the term "Canadian skiing" simply meant "Banff, Alberta." Of course there were other ski areas in the country, but pre-Whistler, the Canadian Rockies was simply the only place ski-happy Europeans wished to ski in Canada. And why not? The jagged spires and deep valleys of the Rockies are reminiscent of the homeland. Indeed, it was men with names like Fritz and Franz who put Banff on the map, and almost a century later, the town within a national park remains a must visit for recreational and serious skiers alike. While the area has a reputation for a thin snowpack, there is no shortage of challenging terrain and, when the snow does come, there are few places that deliver snow as light as the Rockies. There are also few places the terrain is as rugged and beautiful. The fact that the season lasts from November until May means skiers get good value out of a season pass.

The iconic town of Banff (and its sister city, Canmore, located 20 minutes away outside the park boundary) is a perfect staging ground for skiing and ski mountaineering within the Canadian Rockies. Banff is a thriving (read: busy) tourist town with a rich alpine history. Canmore is the less busy, less expensive, more local-friendly town immediately next door. Whichever one you choose to stay in, you'll be happy with good food, friendly places to drink, and plenty of accommodation options. Collectively, the two towns service three ski areas: Mount Norquay, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village.

Sunshine Village has a diverse collection of terrain. Short but fun mini-golf lines of Standish Chair will keep skiers happy until they can duck into the big mountain feature of Delirium Dive—arguably "one of the best resort runs in the world" according to professional skier Chris Rubens, who was raised on Sunshine Village's slopes. Be sure to bring your avie gear and a friend—Delirium is only accessible with both.

Norquay is the local's hill, based mostly on its close proximity to town, but also because it has some solid steep skiing if you hit it with good snow. That being said, the small mountain is mostly known for ripping high speed groomers. A strong ski racing heritage—including hosting a World Cup in 1972—means the runs are meticulously cut and groomed.

Perhaps Canada's most famous ski resort of all time, Lake Louise is a mostly alpine paradise of fall line skiing that can be lapped easily and quickly. The lift system here is designed for maximum enjoyment and it's not hard, even for rookies, to get the most out of their time spent on the lift. Outside the boundaries, it just gets better. "The back bowls off Whitehorn or Paradise are some of the best ski touring in the world, I think." Says Rubens. "It's where Hoji and I learned how to ski fast through big terrain and jump off rocks, and, more importantly, not jump on rocks."

Grub and pub options are crazy plentiful, but here are some of Ruben's picks. "Lake Louise has the Sitzmark Lounge for après. The Rose and Crown is a crowd favorite. Banff has the Magpie and Stump [Mexican]. In Banff, eat burgers at The Eddie."