Located within Canada’s Banff National Park, the SkiBig3 area offers one of the world’s most breathtaking mountain escapes, the surrounding area more than earning its reputation as a world class ski and snowboard destination. In this southwestern slice of Alberta, you have Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mount Norquay – each one offering a very different experience, and all three accessible in the one ski holiday.
Simply hire a car or take a short transfer from Calgary Airport and use the brilliant ski shuttle system (included with the lift ticket) to explore each of the stunning ski areas. Even more of a bonus, you get to combine all of this fabulous powder with a lively Western town, Banff right at the centre of this great Rocky Mountain paradise.
A dream combination for anyone who is looking to ski, the figures speak for themselves, the big 3 giving you access to 8,000 acres of skiing and riding, two gondolas, 26 chairlifts and 290 named runs. With so much on offer, our experts have taken a closer look at the ski potential of each resort so you can make the most of the slopes.
Mount Norquay: Alberta’s Hidden Gem
With a vertical rise of 1,630 feet, Mount Norquay is perhaps the underdog of the Big 3, but it still has plenty to shout about. The birthplace of skiing in the Canadian Rockies, the resort dates all the way back to 1926, and for many years, it was known as the ski racing mecca for Western Canada. Today, it offers amazing runs on a budget, challenging moguls and superb ski for all levels without the crowds. The closest of all the resorts to Calgary (just five minutes away from the town of Banff), it is also the easiest to reach. And, the smallest of the big 3, for what it lacks in size, on just 190 skiable acres, it certainly makes up for in terms of its varied runs (a total of 60), including green, blue and black.
Doing more with less, Norquay’s annual average snowfall may only reach three metres, but there’s no shortage on the slopes as there is snowmaking across 85% of its skiing terrain. Five lifts take skiers and snowboarders upwards for glorious views across Banff and the Bow Valley: the famous Sightseeing Chairlift a 10-minute open-air journey to nearly 7,000ft elevation – the ride giving you access to the historic Cliffhouse Bistro. Well suited to experienced skiers, this hidden gem is also home to one of the steepest runs in Canada, Lone Pine littered with challenging bumps, the moguls visible from town. The only resort in the national park to offer night skiing, complete with a fully lit terrain park, and night tubing (the largest tubing park in the Rockies complete with eight lanes), Mount Norquay is still proving it has the same ski magnetism it did back in the day, these slopes a great introduction for beginners and family skiers.
Banff Sunshine: The Piste De Resistance
Located on the border of Alberta and British Columbia, Banff Sunshine is a winner with lovers of ski due to its summit elevation (topping out at 9,000 feet, the highest in Canada). The resort receives more snow than any of its counterparts and stays open for longer: the season stretching from early November until late May – the longest non-glacial ski season in the country. Its location also affords visitors the opportunity to ski the continental divide (take the Great Divide Express lift) and cross from one province to the other – a cool bucket list run for any skier. Spread across three mountains, Mount Standish, Lookout Mountain and Goats Eye Mountain, its vast 3,300 acreage comes complete with 12 lifts (including Canada’s first heated chairlift with tinted windshield), 3,514 feet of vertical rise and 120 trails. And, as up to 10 metres of snow falls here annually, there is more than enough powder of the light, dry, fluffy kind.
As a general rule, the lower slopes are the best for beginners, the sheer amount of space ideal for anyone getting to grips with the sport, as there is plenty of freedom to turn. Experts can also expect some fun mountain runs. Delirium Dive, named one of CNN’s most extreme ski runs in the world, is known to Banff locals by the simple moniker of “The Dive” – the ride packed with chutes boasting 2,500 feet of steep vertical, wide-open bowls and acres of wild mountain terrain. Such powder prowess has not gone unnoticed, and Sunshine was awarded with “Best View from the Best Off-Piste Run” by Ski Canada magazine. Its accommodation is equally powder hound friendly, the resort’s Sunshine Mountain Lodge, the only ski-in ski-out or on-mountain lodging in Banff. Our tip, forgo the gondola and ski back to your car!
Lake Louise: The Crown Jewel Of Banff National Park
Lake Louise is impressive due its size alone, this being the largest of the Big 3 resorts, and one of the biggest in North America. And, the impressive accolades don’t stop there. The World Ski Awards crowned Lake Louise as the best ski resort in Canada for consecutive years, and also described as the crown jewel of Banff National Park, Lake Louise has hosted the annual Women’s World Cup race for decades. Proving you won’t get lost in the crowds, there is a massive 4,200 acres of skiable terrain, over 145 runs, ten lifts, a vertical rise of 3,250 feet and a set of back bowls to rival anything else, literally anywhere. On average, each winter sees roughly four plus metres of light, dry powder, and 1,000 acres of snowmaking is scheduled annually.
Catering to every level of skier there are trails on a total of four mountain faces, and with a large proportion of the skiing below the treeline, there is plenty of terrain to cover. Wide groomed routes are available for beginners on trails like Wiwaxy, while intermediates strike it lucky here, as almost half of the runs are dedicated to them: favourites include the Wolverine and Bobcat. With 30% of the slopes set aside for the experts, this powder packs a punch, the steep tree trails under the Ptarmigan chair just waiting to be shredded. Even more legendary runs await, the six seater Top of the World chairlift giving you access to Lake Louise’s infamous back bowls and double black runs.
Big 3 Rewards – FREE BEER & TRIFECTA AWARD!
Ski or board at each of the Big 3 ski resorts in Banff National Park and you will be eligable for a reward. Once you have skied all three, drop by the SkiBig3 Adventure Hub to have your SkiBig3 Lift Ticket, Mountain Collective or Ikon Pass scanned and validated. The worthy get a coupon for a FREE Pint of Beer with food purchase (house wine or soft-drink also an option) compliments of the Elk & Oarsman and St. James’s Gate, and most importantly, an exclusive commemorative SkiBig3 Trifecta Award. Glory pics should be shared with the hashtag #SkiBig3Trifecta.