Banff is a reasonably priced resort that boasts some lovely skiing and has plenty of buzzing bars and restaurants to boot...
In summer, Banff is humming with tourists. Come winter, however, it quietens down considerably, and its three ski areas - Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise - have a real edge of remoteness about them. None of these ski areas is actually in Banff: although a couple of them offer accommodation, most skiers and snowboarders fly into Calgary, stay in Banff, and then commute by free shuttle bus to the slopes each morning. It's not nearly as convenient as a ski-in, ski-out resort, but the reasonable prices, spacious accommodation, and Rocky Mountain scenery are more than adequate compensation for many visitors.
Resort height: 1,400m
Taken together, the Banff resorts of Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise provide a range of terrain as wide as any I can think of - from stomach-in-your-mouth steeps to gentle, confidence-boosting nursery slopes. There are some well-maintained terrain parks too (especially in Mount Norquay). All are covered by the Tri-area lift pass, and served by a free shuttle bus, but you need to be prepared for the commute each morning - which can take 40 minutes if you're heading for Lake Louise.
For information on Lake Louise, check out our separate resort report. It's the largest ski area in the National Park. Sunshine Village is the second largest. It gets a lot more snow than its neighbour, and a lot more wind too. But the regular top-ups of the white stuff keep the pistes in great condition, and many visitors quickly fall in love with the combination of grippy snow and confidence-boosting beginner and intermediate trails (although many are very short). There are also steeper trails here for more advanced skiers, and the real experts can have a crack at the aptly-named Delirium Dive, off the north face of Lookout Mountain.
Norquay is the smallest area - worth a visit for a day whatever your level, but no more than that, unless you're a freestyler drawn by the jumps of the Cascade terrain park.
By the way, advanced skiers staying in the resort should consider heli-skiing over in British Columbia. But be warned - it's a long drive, and it's not cheap!
The flight from the UK is usually direct: but it is a long one...
Once you land in Calgary, the transfer to Banff takes less than two hours.
Banff offers stunning scenery and great all-round skiing, making it a good choice for mixed ability groups...
As long as you don't mind taking the bus each morning and evening, you should find pistes to please you, whatever your level.
There's plenty of fun to be had in the all-year-round resort of Banff, both before and after the sun goes down...
British visitors to Banff will find their appetite for après-ski sharply diminished by jet lag over the first couple of days (falling into a deep sleep at 7pm is quite normal). But once their body clocks are adjusted, they'll find plenty of buzzing bars in town, several with live music, including Wild Bill's, the Rose and Crown, and the St James Gate. There are some top notch-restaurants too. Thanks to all those cows reared on Alberta's vast prairies, this is a great place to eat steak or ribs (for example, at Melissa's and Saltlik), but there are more gastronomic experiences to be had here, too.
Banff's bar, restaurant and shopping scene provides a lively backdrop to the wide range of wintry activities on offer here - including cross-country skiing, snow-mobiling, dog-sledding and even ice-climbing. You need to be ready for the cold here, however, as temperatures below -15C are not uncommon.
Cost of living 7/10
Ski holidays to Banff are good value, and empty seats and beds are often discounted at the last minute. One thing to watch out for, however, is the fact that many hotels have two queen-sized beds in their rooms, and prices are often for four people sharing a room. It'll cost considerably more if there are just two of you!
Attractiveness of the resort 7/10
The mountain scenery is gorgeous - especially around Lake Louise. The area around Banff itself is less amazing, visually, and the town is rather spread out (it's designed around the car, rather than the human being). Nevertheless, the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.