Michael’s Big Ski Review: British Columbia & Alberta

Another way to enjoy the mountain in winter, take in the panoramic view of six mountain ranges from the Banff Gondola: Michael Williamson-Giles

By Michael Williamson-Giles, Ski Product Manager

So here it is—it’s the blog you’ve all been waiting for—a complete review of our ten-day whistlestop tour through British Columbia and Alberta. In this post, we will be checking into plenty of hotels across all nine Canadian resorts we visited, including Whistler Blackcomb, Sun Peaks, Big White, Silver Star, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Panorama, Lake Louise, and Banff. Hopefully, our first-hand appreciation of the accommodation and après, along with some of the spectacular drives, will be a useful guide for your ski holiday or ski safari.

TAKING OFF

We start back at the airport, with the Air Canada Desk proving to be smooth sailing from bag drop through security, but as with all international flights, we do still advise a three-hour window for check-in. We also found the self-service kiosks to be particularly handy for printing luggage labels and spare boarding cards. Although everything seems to be electronic these days, having a paper boarding pass you can tuck into your passport always seems easier than unlocking your phone and trying to dig out the QR code!

Our flight went similarly well; the Air Canada staff were friendly, and as both of us are over six feet, sitting in the extra legroom seats is well worth the additional cost. The Premium Economy cabin did look nice with wider seats, and as always, Business Class with its lie-flat beds would be a welcome upgrade, especially on the night flight home!

Once we reached Vancouver airport, it was time to hit the road in our Ford Escape, perfect for two of us with 10 days’ worth of luggage. As we would both be getting behind the wheel, we made sure we were covered for an extra driver, and please note that SatNav is an additional fee. For newer hotels, you might want to have the full address on hand, as the SatNav might still have some catching up to do when it comes to more recent developments.

DRIVING TO WHISTLER ALONG THE LEGENDARY SEA-TO-SKY HIGHWAY

The journey from Vancouver to Whistler was spellbinding. It’s easier than you think to switch sides on the road, and as all of the cars are automatic, you don’t have to worry about the gear stick being on the other side! That said, it’s worth making yourself aware of the more unique traffic laws, including the need to let pedestrians cross when turning left, even though the light is green! We were helpfully reminded of this by a very “polite” young man in Vancouver!

On our Big Ski Review we travelled in a Ford Escape, perfect for two of us with 10 days’ worth of luggage

As always, the Sea-to-Sky Highway never disappoints when it comes to scenery, with the 74-mile ocean-side roadway taking you past waterfalls, historic sites, lookouts, river valleys, and more. And, of course, in the winter, it’s even more spectacular—more so on the way back to the airport in the daylight.

Enjoy some of Whistler’s best ski-in-ski-out après at the Dubh Linn Gate Pub, the Pan Pacific Mountainside’s on-site restaurant

Once we arrived in Whistler, it was time to grab a bite to eat after travelling all day. We headed to one of our favourite spots in the village: the Dubh Linn Gate at the Pan Pacific Mountainside. If you are a fan of chicken wings (which we are), this is a great place to go. They also serve lots of other very nice pub-style food. Many wings and a beer or two later, it was time to head to bed. As much as we wanted to stay out, we knew the time difference was catching up with us, so it was off for an early night.

THE HILTON WHISTLER RESORT & SPA

Named by Conde Nast as the 10th top resort hotel in Canada, the Hilton Whistler is steps away from the chairlifts

Superbly located, the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa is positioned right by the base for that hassle-free ski holiday we know all families love. I can also attest to the comfort of the bed, as this was where we were staying for this trip. The Hilton Rooms are huge with a handy desk area, which I used to catch up on emails in the morning. You can also opt for the Family Combo or Junior Combo, both of which are a combination of two interconnecting rooms with kitchens that are perfect for larger families.

THE LISTEL, WHISTLER

Situated right in the centre of the village, the Listel is a three-star hotel that also features some hidden surprises. Fine dining aficionados will find its Bear Foot Bistro more than a little tempting—the restaurant comes complete with a bar and open kitchen. With fabulous art adorning the walls, there’s a real modern vibe going on here.

THE CRYSTAL LODGE, WHISTLER

Also right in the heart of the action is The Crystal Lodge. Arguably an impressive three-star hotel with a maximum one-minute walk to the main gondolas and chair lifts, you can see why it’s a popular choice. Modern rooms within a short distance of the slopes—what’s not to like?

AAVA HOTEL, WHISTLER

If you feel better suited to a quieter location, the three-star Aava Hotel is also only a short walk from the village and the lifts. The pool and hot tub area are secluded, and yes, it’s on our list of favourites in Whistler.

THE SUMMIT LODGE BOUTIQUE HOTEL, WHISTLER

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Quaint and quirky, the Summit Lodge Boutique Hotel in Whistler is in a prime position with the gondolas, bars and restaurants only a short walk from the hotel

The Summit Lodge and Boutique Hotel is one of those standout, exclusive finds. If you don’t mind being slightly further away from the heart of it all and you’re looking for a hotel with self-catering facilities, this is a great option. Romantics will be easily won over by the secluded pool area, which feels very private. A real hidden gem.

THE DELTA WHISTLER VILLAGE SUITES

The Delta Whistler Village Suites is another favourite when it comes to great-value suites with separate bedrooms and kitchens. The hotel is currently undergoing a renovation, so it’s worth exploring this season. There’s a free shuttle to the slopes and a huge pool, which, if travelling with children, is a plus factor when you need to keep them entertained outside of ski-time.

PAN PACIFIC VILLAGE CENTRE, WHISTLER

Our preference at the Pan Pacific Village Centre would be the suites, which are all complete with full kitchens. The balconies on the higher floors also made the grade for us. While the pool is a lap pool, you can use the facilities at the Pan Pacific Mountainside, and you can start off your ski day with a hearty breakfast included in the price. A top tip is to store your skis at the Pan’s Mountainside location, as this is (as the name suggests) closer to the mountains!

PAN PACIFIC MOUNTAINSIDE, WHISTLER

Located only steps from both Whistler and Blackcomb gondolas, the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside is a fabulous luxury ski-in-ski-out hotel for skiers who want to stay right in the heart of the village

In its look and feel, the Pan Pacific Mountainside is the twin of its Village Centre sister, but the pool really takes aprés to the next level. It’s a preferred choice of ours in Whistler as it overlooks the ski hill just enough so you can watch the action without losing out on your privacy. As you’re right by the base and close to the Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub, the rooms on the higher levels of the hotel would be our suggestion if you are not a night owl.

BLACKCOMB SPRING SUITES, WHISTLER

Unlike most others in Whistler, Blackcomb Spring Suites is a true ski-in-ski-out hotel. You can literally hit the ski run right out the back door via either the Green Line (green) run or Merlin’s (blue) run to the Blackcomb Base. With a great choice of fabulous rooms, from studios up to two-bedroom kitchens, and a beautiful pool area surrounded by trees, it’s in our top five Whistler hotels. You might have to ski down for breakfast (unless using the kitchen in your suite) or you can use the free Whistler Roam bus to get into the village, but with its amazing ski access, it ticks all the right boxes.

CREEKSIDE: THE ORIGINAL WHISTLER

The Creekside Gondola provides access to Whistler Mountain. Whistler Creekside offers all the amenities found in the Village

Whistler Creekside, or the original Whistler as it is fondly known, deserves a special mention as we feel it’s a standout location all on its own and an ideal option for families and couples. Please note: beginner skiers would need to go down via the lift as there are no green runs down to the base.

As there are over 20 restaurants in and around Creekside, when it comes to dining out, you are literally spoiled for choice. And, there is also Dusty’s, the locals favourite bar, along with fine dining at Rimrock Café.

All of the lodging here is self-catering, with condo options including two of our preferred choices, First Tracks and Evolution; the latter is consistently ranked among Whistler’s top luxury hotels. All of the accommodation is close to the base, making for a fabulous ski experience—Creekside’s own gondola gives you access to all of Whistler’s terrain. A 10-minute drive, cab, or bus will take you into the village, but a Creekside-only stay still ranks as a great experience for those looking for a more laid-back Whistler.

NITA LAKE LODGE, CREEKSIDE

Located in Creekside, ​Nita Lake Lodge offers a complimentary shuttle service, which will take you to and from Whistler Village

Nita Lake Lodge is a magical place to stay in the winter, and if you’re seeking a luxury quiet retreat on your ski holiday, the hotel and its accompanying spa are highly recommended. It’s also worth mentioning that Nita Lake Lodge recently received the top spot in Canada in the Conde Nast Traveler 2023 Readers Choice Awards. Nita is listed under the category of “Best Resorts in the World.”

A short walk to the Creekside base will give you access to ski. Alternatively, you can take one of the hotel’s shuttles to the base or into Whistler. Overall, we found the rooms to be quite spacious for a boutique hotel, and nothing beats the captivating views of tranquil Nita Lake.

DUFFY LAKES DRIVE

This scenic route from Whistler to Sun Peaks, is known as Duffy Lake Rd, the road winding through a dense forest and following a mountain stream

In need of a pick-me-up and a bite to eat before heading off to Sun Peaks, we stopped off at Rockit Coffee for a well-needed caffeine hit and a breakfast bite. They make a great cuppa coffee, and the rock-n-roll/retro themed surroundings were perfect for an early morning pit stop.

Leaving Whistler, we headed east into the interior of British Columbia and along Duffy Lake Road to our next resort, Sun Peaks, the second-largest ski area in Canada. This is a truly incredible five-hour drive; in fact, it was so impressive that I felt as though we were on the road for less than an hour. Watch out for those endless bends on the roadside, framed by mountain vistas and stunning lakes and rivers. And do make some time to stop and stare along the way.

SUN PEAKS GRAND

Après is on your doorstep at Sun Peaks Grand with Sun Peaks’ heated outdoor pool and three slopeside outdoor hot tubs

Around 250 steps from the lift, Sun Peaks Grand is still a solid choice. The accommodation here is well appointed and spacious, and great news, the communal areas are currently getting a makeover. Our favourite option is The Residences, these homes-away-from-home featuring one and two bedroom suites and full kitchens with a washer and dryer. Mantles Restaurant in the hotel and the bar area also gets a nod of approval from us.

After checking in and sampling the Sun Peaks Grand bar, we were recommended a place called Bottoms for dinner. Located, as you might have guessed, at the bottom of the village by the base, the bar has a great atmosphere and a good selection of beers and cocktails. As we had adjusted a little more to the time difference, we felt we should spend a good amount of time here, making sure that the food, beers, and cocktails were up to Frontier’s standards. I love a White Russian cocktail but here they served it with maple for that Canadian Twist, definitely went down well!

BEAR COUNTRY LODGING, SUN PEAKS

From Studios to a 4 + Den Townhouse, the properties at Bear Country Lodging are all within walking distance to the village and lifts, and most come with their very own private hot tub!

NEW For Frontier Ski: Bear Country Lodging was a pleasant surprise, as they recently acquired Nancy Greene’s Cahilty Lodge. This was the first hotel in the resort, the property built by former Olympian Nancy Greene.

The rooms have been given a great makeover, and best of all, you’re in a fabulous location at the top of the village. We will be adding this to our website in the near future, as they offer some excellent room options in an ideal spot.

The company also manages private homes, including Kookaburra, the most luxurious and closest to the village; Trappers Landing; and the Crystal Forest Condos—some lovely home-away-from-home options available at these three locations.

BIG WHITE

After this most recent visit to Big White, Stonebridge Lodge is still at the top of our list for accommodation, followed by the Sundance Lodge. There are also plenty of great value, three-star options that have lots of different room types, many with cooking facilities in central locations. The families who come here will love Happy Valley, and there’s dog sledding and snowmobiling directly from the village.

SILVER STAR

Silver Star is another well-known resort for us. We were pleased to see that there have been some improvements at the Snowbird Lodge—the three bedroom options are particularly stunning.

The Firelight Lodge’s larger self-catering units also make our recommendations list, along with the Vance Creek Hotel and the Chilcoot Lodge, as they are reasonable three-star options.

REVELSTOKE

While Revelstoke is undoubtedly made to order for advanced skiers, there is plenty of terrain marked for all skill levels

Revelstoke is constantly expanding with new lifts going in, and while it’s known as a haven for advanced skiers, there is certainly room for the up-and-comers. In fact, there’s both a blue and a green run down from the top. To truly appreciate the amount of terrain, simply ride the initial gondola, and the mountain opens up to its wealth of terrain.

Currently, Sutton Place is the only on mountain accommodation (although a new hotel is being built), and everything from its studios to two-bedroom suites has high-end appeal. Proving there’s always more to offer, Revelstoke town is a free shuttle away and well worth a visit for some additional dining options.

After going to three resorts in one day, we felt we were deserving of dinner, so we headed off to The Rockford Bar and Grill, complete with global food offerings. The fish tacos were a welcome change from the burger and chips (and, of course, chicken wings) we had lived off so far.

KICKING HORSE

Kicking Horse has a rugged, old-school feel to it, and that’s all part of its charm, with the authentically Canadian resort catering mostly to the advanced skier. Hard to beat, the Champagne capital of Canada has both great snow and accommodations. In particular, the Glacier Mountaineer Lodge, which is close to the base, is a property offering everything from studios to two bedrooms. For something a little quieter and further away from the slopes, opt for the Palliser Lodge. Only steps from the gondola, you’ll also find the boutique Winston Lodge and, for those seeking a more communal ambience, the adult-only Vagabond.

PANORAMA

Centrally located in the Upper Village, Peaks Lodge sits directly next to the Panorama Springs Lodge and Hot Pools

Ninety-five miles southeast of Kicking Horse lies Panorama—one of our all-time favourite resorts. Why might you ask? Panorama caters well to all abilities, with an upper and lower village connected by a speedy two-minute chairlift. With all the runs ending at the same base, it’s also ideal for families.

The upper village has a good range of self-catering accommodations with hot tubs a plenty, including the Panorama Springs (everyone staying in the resort can use these hot pools). My personal choice would be Peaks Lodge. It’s a short walk from the slopes, but the rooms here are of the highest quality in the resort. The lower village has Horsethief and Toby Creek Condos, which are three-star and ideal options for those wanting to be in a quieter location.

A new arrival on the hotel scene is The Approach, with its modern hotel rooms. Its location, being right by the lift, is a major advantage, and the hotel’s double bunks are ideal for larger groups.

Want to branch out of the resort and explore more dining options? Invermere is only a free shuttle away. The Viking bar Ullr served up some of the best food of the trip—yes, a Viking bar, really—and there was a great beer selection, so we do suggest you visit. Just catch the free shuttle that runs into Invermere, but be sure not to miss the last bus at around 10 p.m. as there are no taxis.

HIGHWAY 93

The 106 kilometre long Banff-Windermere Highway (Hwy 93 south) cuts through the Kootenay National Park, an area of incredible scenery and abundant wildlife

On our drive from Panorama to Lake Louise, we travelled on Highway 93 where we took the Banff Windermere Highway through the Kootney National Park. The drive is simply breathtaking, and one of the most beautiful drives in the Rockies it was definitely the better alternative to the less scenic route offered up by the SatNav. We certainly took longer on this drive as there were so many places to stop off along the route; in fact, it was probably my favourite drive of the trip.

LAKE LOUISE

Without a doubt, Lake Louise Ski Resort holds its own when it comes to extensive and exciting terrain, but it’s certainly more of a quieter affair when you consider the accommodation in the nearby village, and that makes it an ideal option for romantics. The Post Hotel & Spa—a Relais & Chateaux property—is where we would stay in Lake Louise.

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies

For those in search of a truly stunning location, it has to be the Emerald Lake Lodge. We were bowled over, and not for the first time, by the stunning Emerald Lake. In our opinion, it is as, if not more, beautiful than the famous Lake Louise. The accommodation, which is based mainly in small cabins dotted in the woodland qualifies as rustic luxe. You need a car if you are staying here, and if you are wanting to ski, you should note that it’s a 35-minute drive away from the ski hill. Still, if cosy, secluded accommodation in a knockout location is at the top of your list, this is worth considering.

BANFF

Next, we headed up the road on a mere 36-mile drive to Banff. This is where all the action is happening, and there are some wonderful places to eat and après late into the night. From this trip, we can recommend Tooloulou’s, where we were enjoyed Louisiana-style food, including delicious servings of shrimp, alligator, and crayfish.

We then headed to Tommy’s Bar, a lively downtown haunt with great beers, music, and a lively atmosphere. We had a good time here chatting with the locals, and Batman even made an appearance. We think he may have lost a dare, or maybe he was out looking for bad guys; we never quite found out! Even though we are no strangers to Banff, this is proof it is still full of surprises.

MOOSE HOTEL & SUITES, BANFF

The Moose Hotel & Suites has some excellent amenities including an indoor pool, two roof-top hot pools with spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies, a fitness room, and a full service spa

The Moose Hotel & Suites is one of our favourite “boutique Canadian” properties, and our preference is for the King Rooms on the upper floors with their fabulous mountain views. And what’s not to love about rooftop hot pools—again, with amazing views that only Banff can deliver. There are also one- and two-bedroom suites on the top floors, which are a good addition for families. The sunken bar area always seems to be showing some kind of sport, with the high-end Pacini, an Italian restaurant, being a top restaurant to visit.

BANFF PTARMIGAN INN & BANFF CARIBOU LODGE & SPA

Three-star hotels that are both in great locations along Banff Avenue. If you would prefer not to have your room overlooking the inside of the hotel, we highly recommend the Superior rooms, which have windows facing outward. The Caribou has The Keg restaurant on site (think of Harvester in the UK, but if the Harvester was more of a stylish all-out foodie affair), and the Ptarmigan has the Meatball and Pasta restaurant, which rather unsurprisingly, given the name, serves Italian food.

THE FOX HOTEL & SUITES, BANFF

The Fox brings the mountains inside the hotel; birch trees, waterfalls, and a Cave & Basin inspired hot pool add to the Rocky Mountain ambience

The Fox Hotel is great for larger suites, including the impressive Premier Loft King Suites (I was certainly foxed by the room arrangements when I stayed here a number of years ago, until I realised you have to take a hidden staircase to reach the bedroom), and ideal for families. The cave-style hot pool makes this hotel really unique, and there is a Chilli’s restaurant on site.

RUNDLESTONE LODGE, BANFF

A simple three-star option. We love the larger suites at the Rundlestone, and the two burner hobs found in some of the rooms as self-catering facilities are hard to come by in Banff. A superb option for families.

NEW FOR 2024-25: THE CANOE & THE OTTER, BANFF

The Canoe, a high end property, and The Otter, a more standard hotel, are two new properties that are currently being built. While you will have a 20 minute walk to town, you will have the use of a complimentary Roam Bus Pass if you decide to stay at either hotel. Both will be available in the 2024-25 season. We took a look from the outside and the building work seems to be progressing well.

THE ROYAL CANADIAN, BANFF

A four-star boutique property, the Royal Canadian Banff is located in a prime position in the centre of Banff featuring elegant rooms and suites and an indoor mineral swimming pool and spa services

The Royal Canadian is an exclusive hotel that is ideal for couples. The property has a higher-end feel than lots of the downtown hotels in Banff, and it features a lovely indoor pool complete with a rock waterfall. It’s worth noting that the hotel often has free room upgrades to Premier Rooms with fireplaces if you book early enough. We feel it’s perfect for those wanting a quieter location but still within walking distance of downtown Banff.

THE ELK & AVENUE HOTEL, BANFF

It was great to be back visiting this Frontier ski favourite. From the nice hotel lobby to the clean and bright spacious rooms, we can see why the Elk & Avenue always receives rave reviews. A wonderful three-star and great value for money.

TIME TO KICK BACK

After a busy day in Banff, we popped into the Elk and Oarsman for some elk-topped nachos and sat out on their roof terrace, where we enjoyed the 360-degree mountainscape.

We also popped into High Rollers, a bowling alley that doubles as a pizzeria. This is a great place for families, but we advise you to book in advance for bowling, as unfortunately they had no alleys free—and I was so looking forward to unleashing my competitive streak!

For the sports-crazed fans amongst us, including myself, the louder ambience and the crowd at The Canadian Brewhouse might be more your style. As this was the last night of our trip, we sat here and watched the hockey over a few beers before heading back to the hotel.

JETTING BACK FROM CALGARY

AVIS was smooth sailing on our return, but as drop-off is closest to the domestic check-in, be aware that you will have a good walk to catch your international flight. For Air Canada, everything, including bag check-in, is fully automated, and it was a seamless operation. The perfect end to our Big Ski Review.

Stunningly scenic, Highway 93 South (also called the Banff-Windermere Highway) runs 94 km through the centre of the Kootenay National Park

If you are looking to book a ski safari with us, we can promise some incredible drives in between resorts. The Sea-to-Sky Highway, the Duffy Lakes Road, and Highway 93 were all head-turners. For that reason, we’d suggest not relying too heavily on the SatNav and taking the more leisurely route to enjoy Canada’s impressive scenery.

AT FRONTIER SKI, IT’S PERSONAL

We hope our review has inspired you to see more of the Canadian resorts we offer, and if you’d like to talk to me directly to discuss your ski holiday or ski safari please call me on my direct number 0208 629 0845 or the main office on 020 8776 8709 or email michael@frontier-travel.co.uk.

Built up over the course of three decades, at Frontier Ski, every recommendation we make is based on first-hand experience. As an ATOL and ABTA-protected tour operator, you can also book with complete confidence.