Skiing at Sunshine Village - Image credited to: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Feb 16, 2016 by Michael Cochrane
Without exception, the hamlet of Banff and its surrounding pistes, including Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, dramatically boast unparalleled access to alpine recreation that has left even the most critical winter enthusiast at a loss for words. Those striking out from Calgary or Vancouver are rewarded by jaw dropping scenery as they meander closer to the town along the “Trans-Canada Highway. A combination of dry, champagne powder plus over 8,000 acres of combined accessible terrain has created a steady draw for all walks of people. Banff, for all its diversity, opens itself to every possible desire in terms of winter enthusiast. There are those who make pilgrimages for its overwhelming beauty, while others come in search of the healing potential offered by mineral hot springs in town. Truth be told however, most flock here for the snow and the outdoor adventure offered by skilled and knowledgeable outfits. Regardless of what you may be looking for in terms of relaxation or adventure, there is certainly something for all tastes when you come to visit this unique town. Here is a list of our top picks to get you outside while visiting, and rest assured, we will be there waiting to warm you up once you kick off the snow at the end of the day.
Banff Avenue in Winter with Stunning Cascade Mountain in the Background - Image credited to: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Famous for its dry, fluffy powder, most winter enthusiasts making their way to Banff do so to take full advantage of the world class tracks they can carve out on their skis and snowboards. The area as a whole boasts three stunning all-access summits: Sunshine Village, which is located just 15 km outside of town offers terrain for all skill levels and presents over 1,300 hectares of accessible runs. A little further down the road is the inspiring alpine playground of Lake Louise which commands an impressive 1,700 hectares and guarantees to impress with exceptional slopes, stunning scenery, and an average annual snowfall of four and a half meters! Not to be overlooked are Banff’s own local lifts of Mt. Norquay which sit just outside the township and are a great place to get warmed up before venturing outward to visit the other two summits. What makes the experience even more convenient is the fact that all three mountains offer a Tri-Area lift pass granting complete access to an area totalling more than 3,000 hectares of alpine bliss. Add to this the free shuttles that will whisk you to the mountain of your choice and you will be questioning why you didn’t make plans to visit sooner.
Skiing at Lake Louise - Image credited to: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Aren’t one for all the action and speed of an alpine adventurer, but still want to absorb the pristine winter beauty offered in Banff? Why not slow things down by soaking in the surrounding terrain and exploring an extensive network of well-maintained cross-country trails! The cross-country ski experience offers an intimate look at the local mountainous landscape without the need to jockey for a lift position. Parks Canada has created a generous collection of routes considering options for all ski levels. You will be able to discover a connection to nature that few others get to experience and feel a sense of pride at knowing that all the ground covered was done under your own steam. For a full list of trails and trail conditions, be sure to check out the Parks Canada website.
For those hoping to get even more up close and personal with the rugged charm of the Rockies, or wanting to escape the manicured trails altogether, there is no better option then strapping on a pair of canvas lined snowshoes. Move silently enough to hear resident birds crooning away all while staying comfortably atop the snow. Banff supports numerous outfits offering tours for first timers, or simply to those new in the area, and you will be impressed by just how much there is to see when you explore the backcountry at your own pace. And of course, your hotel will certainly be able to accommodate any equipment rentals or tours you might be after. As with any winter activity, always be sure to speak with locals, check the conditions, and dress appropriately for any and all terrain you might encounter.
Snowshoeing in Banff National Park is Awe-Inspiring! - Image credited to: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Looking for the ultimate Canadian experience? Consider getting behind a team of experienced sled dogs or draft horses ready to whisk you among the trees for an adventure unlike any other. Few holiday destinations offer guests the chance at experiencing the wilderness from a four-legged perspective, but once again the town of Banff comes through! Find yourself bundled into a sled with a thick blanket for tours ranging from 30 minutes to the entire day. Experienced Mushers with an intimate knowledge of the region will lead you through dramatic landscapes all under the power of your fur coated guides. There are numerous operators in and around Banff all committed to the highest standards of animal and environmental welfare, all of whom are eager to introduce you to their canine colleagues.
If you happen to be a romantic at heart and want to give someone special a memory that they will cherish for years to come, consider one of Banff’s elegant horse drawn sleigh tours. You will find yourself being whisked along the banks of the frozen Bow River in the height of winter while snug under heavy blankets, marvelling at how the gleaming snow will make you feel like a figure right out of a Christmas card. Options for guests include larger public sleighs allowing you to share your experience with other winter merrymakers, or choose the cosier option of a charming sleigh ride for two. Operators provide everything from hot cider to Champagne and chocolates depending on how you would like to tailor your excursion. The friendly concierge staff will be more than happy to make all arrangements for you and your loved ones or guests adding that personal touch that locals in Banff are so well known for.
Horse Sleigh Ride at Lake Louise - - Image credited to: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Rev up your holiday on an engine spitting horsepower with a snowmobile tour into Banff’s wondrous backcountry. Take in the old growth forest and wonder at frozen waterfalls while your guide points out secret highlights that only natives will be able to let you in on. Attendants will set off with the group at a steady pace allowing riders to become accustomed to and confident with their machine. Once reaching open parks and powder filled bowls however, guests will be able to blast into drifts and have some adrenaline pumping fun. Most operators offer tours and packages to suit all abilities, from novice to advanced. Just be aware, some of the more rugged expeditions require a certain level of experience. Be sure to speak with your host and they will find a package that will be guaranteed to please.
Ready to traverse some of Canada’s most remarkable formations with ice cleats strapped to your boots? While an endless variety of ice hikes are available in and around Banff, there are treks that really stand out. Not to be missed on your next excursion to our town are the Johnston Canyon, located just outside of the village and Grotto Canyon a little further down the road outside of Canmore. Marvel at the alien beauty of frozen solid waterfalls and streams, ice pillars and expanses of crystal coloured surroundings. Learn what it feels like to be in the silent and tranquil blanket of Alberta’s great wintery outdoors. Like most winter adventures in the area, ice hikes can be attempted alone, but it is important to consider safety first, especially when interacting with forces as dynamic as snow and ice. If you are new to the area, there are a number of establishments with expertly trained guides and naturalists who specialize in making your adventure a wonderful and memorable one.
Icewalking and Frozen Waterfalls at Johnston Canyon - Image credited to: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Banff encompasses virtually everything a person could want in an ultimate winter destination. The list of activities available to visitors spans much further than most would ever expect, and what makes the experience truly singular is the world class hospitality which has made the hosts almost as famous as the stunning scenery. Your stay in our town will undoubtedly create memories to last a lifetime and we will go above and beyond to make sure that you want to make our home a repeat destination. Whatever the initial draw might have been, whether high-octane adventure or a relaxing getaway with someone special, it is certain that you will leave having made great friends, both two and four-legged. Finally, to round off a vacation that looked as if it couldn’t get any better, don’t forget to make time let it all soak in as you submerge into soothing bliss of Banff’s natural hot springs. As you sit back and let the bubbles do their work you will probably catch yourself wondering how you can prolong the trip one more day.
Banff Hot Springs - Image credited to: Tourism Calgary
The Northern Lights being viewed from Banff - Image credited to: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography