Whenever people ski or snowboard at one of the resorts in Banff National Park, they often just say they're "holidaying in Banff". For those who've never been or looked at going, the confusion is understandable and the shock even more so upon realising 'Banff' is actually three very different ski resorts. Sunshine Village, Mount Norquay and Lake Louise are the three resorts that give Banff its worldwide snow holiday appeal. Now you know, the next step is determining which one is best for you.
Lake Louise - King Of The Mountain
With 1,700 hectares of skiable terrain across four mountains, Lake Louise is Canada's largest winter amusement park. It has also been named Canada's best ski resort three years running, so it's no surprise Lake Louise is the most recognisable of the three. But with great fame comes great numbers, so expect plenty of fellow powder hounds on the runs. The space is well used, comprised of 145 marked trails (the longest being eight kilometres) serviced by 10 chairlifts, along with terrain and tube parks. Runs range from beginner greens to double black diamond for experts. The nearby village is only minutes from the resort and one of the world's best winter retreats. The setting draws its charm from the icy-blue lake in the middle of town. This goes perfectly with the selection of luxurious resorts, chateaus, mountain lodges and inns.
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Mount Norquay - Family-Friendly
Norquay turned 90 years old this year. In that time the skiing veteran has paved the way for quaint, family-friendly resorts in Canada. Mount Norquay is situated right outside Banff, Canada's snow-crazy settlement where you can find cosy holiday condos and chalets, along with restaurants, boutiques and native wildlife. But life is always better on the slopes, and Norquay doesn't disappoint with 60 marked runs, multiple terrain parks and alternative snow activities such as sleigh rides, dog sledding and snowshoeing. This is one of the best places in Canada for learning to ski or snowboard. About 56 percent of runs are tailored to beginner and intermediate skill levels, while the established snow school provides kid and adult programs along with clinics and private lessons.
The resort's daycare is open from 9am to 4pm, and there are two dining outlets on the mountain for those who need a break. However, one of the most impressive aspects of Norquay is the Mountain Hosts initiative. Visitors new to the mountain are able to meet up with experienced Norquay locals who lead groups around the mountain, showing the best routes to ski or board. And don't worry, there's plenty to challenge those with more seasons under their belts – Norquay is used for Olympic and World Cup training.
Sunshine Village - Powder Hungry
With the highest elevation of any Canadian ski resort, Sunshine Village promises a seven-month season (longest in Canada) and more snow than any of its Banff neighbours. All that glorious powder doesn't go to waste. Guests are spoiled with about 1,335 hectares of terrain including some blood-pumping runs such as Delirium Dive (voted into the world's top 10 off-piste destinations). Accompanying all this downhill action is Rogers Terrain Park, which ups the ante with 50 jibs including rails, boxes, jumps and tubes.
Sunshine Village also offers one of the more unique experiences on any Canadian snow holiday: skiing or boarding between two provinces. Ride down Lookout Mountain and you can swerve over to British Columbia then back into Alberta on the one run. There's still plenty to occupy once you've unclipped. Dining is covered with coffee shops, fireside gourmet dinners and lively bars. Try the Historical Snowshoe and Fondue Tour for an immersive experience into Canadian history and culture. Banff's only ski-in ski-out accommodation can be found at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge, where there are more treats in store such as an outdoor hot tub, regular bonfires and tobogganing.