When it comes to snow-filled holidays, skiing, cosy fireplaces and steaming hot chocolate, no one showcases a better winter wonderland than Canada's Banff National Park. Take the family to this haven of magic and adventure.
1. Fairmont Château Lake Louise
There are more than a handful of people who will tell you Lake Louise is the nicest place on the planet - and a good deal more say the Fairmont Château Lake Louise is the nicest place to stay. It would be hard to argue either. An historic resort which boasts a prestigious reputation and winter wonderland surroundings, it commands a formidable presence on the lake’s eastern shore. Over a century prior it was the base for keen alpinists, and you can still embark on snowshoeing and cross-country skiing straight from the doorstep.
HOT TIP: Visit the hotel’s luxurious spa, peruse the floor-to-ceiling wine library, or simply indulge in a rich cheese fondue - in one of six fine-dining establishments.
Photo credit: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism / Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
2. Skiing and snowboarding
Banff National Park is home to three resorts: Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay, collectively known as SkiBig3. You only need one lift ticket, the SkiBig3 lift pass, to access every resort, with complimentary shuttle buses to and from Banff township. Mt. Norquay is favoured by families finding their ski feet, and an easy yet varied landscape exists at Rock Isle Road at Banff Sunshine. Lake Louise Ski Resort, the largest of the trio, boasts deep, fluffy powder, and there are green runs available from every chair lift, so newbies love it.
HOT TIP: Definitely try all three ski areas, but Mt. Norquay is the closest to Banff (just under 8km) and definitely the local’s favourite, especially for ease and convenience. The atmosphere is family-friendly and there’s night skiing on Friday and Saturday evenings, so you can really make the most of it.
Photo credit: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism / Noel Hendrickson
Ice-skating in the open-air, with a frost nipping at your nose, is an exhilarating experience. Kids love whizzing about on ice as smooth as glass, while adults love feeling like children again. The world’s dreamiest ice-rink is the all-natural Lake Louise, maintained by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Frozen solid between mid-December and April, it’s divided into multiple skating rinks, with ample space and rentable skates. Surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, these formidable ‘spectators’ loom like gentle giants over the vast ice.
HOT TIP: Stay warm at the pop-up bar. Set at the foot of Victoria Glacier, Lake Louise is the perfect setting for ice – and drinks served over it!
Photo credit: Gerard Yunker.
4. Dog sledding
It’s not every day you’re escorted across angel-white snow by Alaskan huskies, but traditional dog sledding is quintessentially Canadian and an exciting, must-do adventure. Bordered by soaring mountains, glide through snow-covered forests with a team of beautiful dogs and their experienced musher (the driver). You’ll get to prepare the huskies for the sled, try your hand at mushing, or simply hunker down in the sleigh, surrounded by blankets and a snowy-white kingdom.
HOT TIP: Gloves, hats and warm boots are essential. You don’t want to expose too much southern hemisphere skin.
Photo credit: Noel Hendrickson.
Ice-hockey is to Canada, what rugby is to New Zealand, so you can imagine how passionate they are about a puck. From the roaring crowds, to the slamming of (well-padded) players hitting the rink’s barriers, Canada’s national game will make your hairs stand on end. When in Banff, make some noise for the Calgary Flames, an NHL team, at Calgary’s Saddledome Stadium. The atmosphere’s electric, and of course, the obligatory hot dog tastes sublime. Although Calgary is 1.5 hours from Banff, guided tours to the stadium are available and include a guide, commentary and of course the game itself.
HOT TIP: Consider your Hot Dog a starter, and complete your night with a big plate of hot poutine. Cold weather comfort food at its finest. This dish is a toppling masterpiece of chips, cheese and ladles of thick rich gravy.
6. Snowy adventures
Boredom isn’t a recognised word in Banff National Park. There are endless ways to have fun, including snowshoeing (for those eight years and over) which is much like hiking, but with light, dry powder beneath your feet. The region’s natural hot pools attract the R&R-crowd, while the various sightseeing gondolas are perfect for those after lofty excursions. Snow tubing is also a must: at both Mt. Norquay and Lake Louise Ski Resort, grab an inflatable donut and race each other downhill. Better yet, a Mt. Norquay, you can do it at night - under a magical blanket of stars.
HOT TIP: Get winter cosy. Between the skiing and building snowmen, there are hot toddies and toasted mallows, roaring log fires and big bowls of poutine.
Photo credit: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism / Noel Hendrickson.
7. A region full of surprises
The Rocky Mountains might direct your eye gaze, but there are plenty of other delightful distractions in the region. Every January, the 10-day Ice Magic Festival fringes Lake Louise, with world-renowned ice carvers competing for the coveted Canada Cup of Ice Carving. Children adore the mythical ice creatures and glistening castles. Wait until nightfall and embark on a guided ice walk to Johnston Canyon. The frozen waterfall, coupled with crystallised walls bathed in starlight, is perfectly ethereal.
HOT TIP: Rocky Mountain cuisine is hearty and delicious, with plenty of belly-satisfying meals to keep you warm and content.
Photo credit: Jason Stang.
Top 10 reasons to grab your ski gear and go:
- Three world-class ski resorts all located within Banff National Park.
- You only need one SkiBig3 lift ticket to access Mt. Norquay, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Banff Sunshine.
- The ski season is long. From November all the way through to mid-May.
- There's more than nine metres of annual snowfall.
- Powder hounds have access to 8,000 acres of skiable terrain.
- Winter in the Canadian Rockies is low season. IE, great value for a ski holiday!
- Banff National Park is an easy 90-minute drive from Calgary International Airport.
- The highest resort is still only 2743 metres so altitude is not an issue.
- Family-friendly accommodation, dining and entertainment is extensive.
- It's not all about the snow. Shop, spa, or soak away your ski bumps in the region's famous hot springs.
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