Banff Lake Louise is one of Canada’s largest ski areas offering one of the world's best mountain landscapes including awe-inspiring summits, endless powder and the most photographed lake on the planet.
The town of Banff and its three principal ski areas in the state of Alberta are located in the true Canadian Rockies where, at their highest elevations, they border the Continental Divide. This geographical phenomenon not only produces one of the world’s most enviable snow records, it also provides award winning alpine drama.
Canada’s Rocky Mountains are interlaced with glaciers galore, cathedral like spires and hostile looking ridges, affording them the same magnificence of Europe’s Alps, just more immense in scale. This distinguishes them from America’s Rockies, especially those in Colorado, which, though slightly higher, are predominantly domed and far less dramatic than Alberta’s Rockies.
Alberta’s natural allure is only strengthened the further down one ventures toward the tree line, foot-hills and valleys. While gold mining, fir trading and oil (black gold), have all kept Alberta’s prosperity in good health over the centuries, it is now the state’s 661,000 square kilometres of outstanding natural beauty – mostly preserved in its national parks – that keep people coming, whatever the season, to spend their tourism budgets here.
It began with Mount Norquay opening in the early 1920s, followed soon after by The Lake Louise ski area and Sunshine Village which opened in the 1930s. Mechanical ski lifts began appearing at the resorts in the early 1940’s, with Canada’s first chairlift installed at Mount Norquay in 1948. Now there are over one million skier visitors each winter, who are drawn by the jagged, majestic peaks, unforgettable natural beauty, and exceptional skiing and snowboarding.
Banff Lake Louise comprises three distinct ski areas which are connected by an efficient shuttle bus service and Ski Big3 lift pass, but importantly to note, the ski areas are too far apart to be linked by ski lifts or piste network. The triumvirate – Mount Norquay, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village – is known as an “ensemble” and together constitute a world-class ski destination available on one SkiBig3 tri-area lift ticket, available from Ski Banff Lake Louise Sunshine.
Mount Norquay, with its history and close proximity to Banff town, is the undisputed locals’ favourite. It might be considerably smaller than its younger siblings, easier to reach from Banff and credited with a family-friendly image, but woebetide complacent ski souls’ who think these slopes are easy meat for all comers. There are some steeps and bumps on Norquay to rival the world’s fiercest, lift served ski runs. Mount Norquay has consistently produced a massively disproportionate number of top ski racers and freestylers. It is also the only resort in the Canadian Rockies to offer night skiing.
Lake Louise has the largest and most varied terrain of the three ski stations, offering multiple mountain faces, thousands of acres of wide-open bowls and, critically, a beginner trail off every chairlift. The name of the famous 1.5-mile long (2.5-km) lake, which often reflects the towering ice flows and springs that cascade into its shimmering, emerald depths, from the Victoria Glacier above, is derived from the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert – Princess Louise Caroline Alberta. The state of Alberta, which houses all the Banff Lake Louise ski areas, is named after the same princess. Little surprise then that Banff Lake Louise, originally settled in 1884 as a Canadian Pacific Railway logging camp and later designated Canada’s first National Park (Banff National Park, and more recently awarded protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), is consistently voted North America’s Most Scenic Ski Area.
Sunshine Village does not enjoy the same international cachet as Lake Louise but as the highest of the Banff resorts, Sunshine typically offers its growing number of winter sports enthusiasts a deep blanket of superb powder snow on its intriguing variety of terrain, ranging from wild and gnarly steeps to wide open groomers, all making it a more than worthy, but friendly rival, to Lake Louise.
Western Canada is also the spiritual home of helicopter skiing and Banff Lake Louise, is a popular pick up area for skiers and snowboarders wanting to notch up this unforgettable thrill. Helicopter skiing is not permitted in national park territories but helicopter companies quickly whisk powder skiing junkies over the nearby border into British Columbia where helicopter skiing terrain is practically unlimited.
Banff Lake Louise Pros & Cons
+ Protected wilderness of Banff National Park.
+ Certainty and quality of snow.
+ Banff is lively with great bars and restaurants.
+ Efficient shuttle bus service to ski the big three.
+ Variety of skiing in three ski areas for all abilities.
+ Superb lift-served backcountry experiences.
+ Night skiing at Mt. Norquay 10 mins from Banff.
– Ski areas are quite far apart and not connected.
– Sunshine Village has just one overnight-lodge.
– Lake Louise can be crowded at peak times.