Alpine Skiing in Banff National Park: Canada's Most Popular Park Has Three Alpine Ski Areas
Banff National Park in the Alberta province is Canada’s first and most popular park. Founded in 1885, it is also a World Heritage site based on its representation of the Earth’s evolutionary history and geological values. For non-scientists, that means the 2400 acre park is an endless Kodak moment, where glaciers, mountain peaks, waterfalls, canyons and lakes take your breath away at each turn.
Banff is a Scottish word, which comes from a region in Scotland from where many of the railroad workers came who built the trans-Canada railroad. To promote tourism to the area, the railroad also built a number of resort hotels along the route. These include the beautiful Banff Springs Hotel, which looks like a Medieval Scottish Castle. A few miles away, the Chateau Lake Louise looks more like a Swiss chateau, reflecting the influence of the Swiss mountain climbers who helped make mountain climbing in this part of Canada such a popular sport.
. For those who have skied the Colorado Rockies, or even visited the Colorado landscape in the summer months, the intensity of the Canadian Rockies in comparison is quite startling. The Canadian Rockies consist of sedimentary rock, thus the mountains are more jagged, sharp and twisted than their southern US counterparts. And the impact on the skiing is equally intense and powerful.
The three ski areas in Banff are Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise with a total of 124 miles of trails over 7700 acres, but each with its own personality, challenges and rewards for the ski enthusiast.
The smallest and closest to downtown Banff is Norquay with 200 skiable acres. Norquay is quite popular with the locals for a couple of reasons. One is that Norquay is the only mountain to offer nighttime skiing. The other is the ski-by-the-hour rates. Of course, most locals buy a season pass, but skiing by the hour allows you the freedom to spend just a few hours on the mountain rather than all day to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth. Norquay is usually the first mountain to open each season.
In contrast, Lake Louise, 35 miles from the village of Banff, is the largest ski area in the Rockies with 139 runs over 4200 acres on four mountains. Every chair lift has a green run for beginners and the views from any spot on any mountain are magnificent. Remember, you are in a World Heritage Site, so development has been limited and the mountains, in turn, are not bashful about showing off their grandeur with a fresh blanket of snow. Lake Louise is also the beginning point of the World Cup ski races, an immediate endorsement of the quality of snow, terrain and facilities here.
Sunshine Village is the highest resort in Canada and often receives the most snowfall, so if you’re a fan of the deepest powder, Sunshine is your spot. This resort crosses out of Alberta and into British Columbia, straddling the Continental Divide, which is kind of fun. Just introduced in the 2017/18 season is SlopeTracker, a GPS system of sorts that monitors such things as top speed, number of runs, calories burned and hours spent riding. At the end of the day, and after your turn your system back in, you receive a poster quality printout of your day on the mountain.