Away from the crowded slopes in destinations such as Whistler and Jasper lies Banff National Park in Alberta. Banff National Park in Alberta, welcomes over three million visitors a year and it’s not hard to see why so many people flock to the tiny town. With a range of outdoor adventures, breathtaking scenery and gourmet cuisine, the winter months make a great ski destination, while the summer months are perfect for exploration.
Banff itself has a small population of just 6,000 people with strict enforcements on building and expansion so the town is based on residents, rather than empty second homes and therefore has a strong community feel. Watch out for the free roaming deer and elk, and that’s not the only wildlife here – many of the parks are home to grizzly bears, wolf and big horn sheep, the latter particularly visible during the summer months.
As soon as you enter Banff National Park, the views are second to none, with the Rockies bordering the highway, it’s evident that there is going to be enough ski for every level – the 2009 World Cup alpine ski racing takes place in the park.
Within an hours drive, Banff boasts three ski resorts – Banff Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise Mountain resort. Between the three of them, they offer 200km of trails spread across an impressive 7,748 acres! The three resorts are very different and if time allows, I would recommend all three – Mount Norquay is the smaller of the three and an excellent location for beginners and intermediate with excellent groomed slopes, Sunshine Village is very diverse and accommodates all levels with extremely wide slopes (take a ride on the Continental chairlift which actually takes you over the border to British Columbia) and Lake Louise is unique in that all the chairlifts offer a run down to accommodate all levels so different level skiers can pretty much ski together.
If you aren’t a skier or a boarder, don’t discount Banff because there’s so much more to see and do.
Dog sledding is big business and a great way to explore the breathtaking scenery without having to do anything. Kingsmik Dog Sled Tours offer a choice of rides from as short as half an hour up to two hours taking you through the park’s forest with views of Mount Temple’s summit. You can learn the art of mushing or just sit tight wrapped up in your sleeping bag as the over-excited dogs pull you through the woodland trails.
For some pampering, you are spoilt for choice with a selection of premium spas, but what really separates Banff is the hot springs. Located 4km south of the town, near the Banff Gondola, the water emerges at a hot 47 degrees which is then cooled by surrounding snow and ice. Banff Upper Hot Springs offers a range of spa treatments in addition to the hot springs baths.
We’re not sure whether après-ski is classed as an official activity, but it’s definitely a must-do after a hard days ski! Downtown Banff is bustling with bars, restaurants and hotels and for a small town there is certainly no shortage of places to grab some food or a drink. Our favourite was the busy Elk and Oarsman on Banff Avenue – whether it’s an Elk burger or just a pint, the atmosphere, giant screens, pool tables and generous sized portions make it a great watering hole.
Last but not least, remember to check out the bars on the pistes, as soon as ski’s up, these places fill up and the atmosphere is soon buzzing.
Banff National Park is a stunning location for winter, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet, it really is a sure fire for your must-see list.