Skiing, snowshoeing and biking in breathtaking Banff

March, 2022
banff snow shoe

Chris LeBlanc, left, and Joel Hagen, right, snowshoe across a frozen lake at Vermillion Pass near Banff. Pam LeBlanc photo

My last trip to Banff, in 2019, coincided with a polar vortex. I wore two sets of thermal underwear, loaded my pockets with chemical hand warmers and wore a balaclava to stay warm when temperatures dove to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Despite that cold snap, the trip went down as one of the best ski trips of my life. I skied three resorts, learned about Canadian culture and laid eyes on Mount Rundle –– a huge frozen slab of a mountain overlooking Banff that looks like it’s been smacked with a giant frying pan.  

I had to get back. And in February I did. 

This time, temperatures hovered closer to 30 degrees, and besides skiing, I hiked to a frozen waterfall at night, snowshoed along the Continental Divide and rode a fat bike. 

It’s a good time to visit Canada. Americans need proof of vaccination and a negative Covid test to travel there, but the hassle pays off. Exchange rates are favorable –– about 76 U.S. cents per Canadian dollar. And Banff’s elevation is about 5,000 feet, which means you’re less likely to suffer from altitude sickness than at higher resorts like those in Colorado. 

I flew to Calgary, then picked up a rental car for the 90-minute drive to Banff. Here’s how my trip unfolded… 

Day 1: Mt. Norquay near Banff lures with old school charm

Mt Norquay banff

Simon Moffatt skis down a gully at charming, family-friendly Mount Norquay ski resort near Banff. Pam LeBlanc photo

I checked into the Moose Hotel in downtown Banff and woke up the next day ready to start exploring.  

First on the list? Mt. Norquay, a vintage ski resort perched on a mountain a quick seven minutes away. On a clear day, you can see into town from some of its slopes. 

At less than 200 acres, it’s the tiniest of what locals call “the Big 3,” but it packs that acreage with a lot of old-school charm.  

“It’s Banff’s backyard,” says Simon Moffatt, my tour guide for the day. Locals cut their mountain teeth here, and a robust ski race program trains up-and-coming athletes. 

Related: French Fries, Cheese Curds and Gravy Combine in National Dish of Canada 

I love the vibe. At the Cliff House atop the North American lift, photographs of Marilyn Monroe, who stopped by while filming “River of No Return,” hang from the wall. The mountain hosted ski jumping competitions from the 1940s through the ‘60s. You can still see the remains of the judging booth, but the jump was dismantled in 1972. The resort is also home to the longest snow tubing track in Alberta. 

We ski until mid-afternoon, then return to Banff. We’ve got big plans for the night: fondue at the Waldhaus, a Bavarian-themed cottage operated by the Fairmont Banff Springs. There, in front of the fireplace, we spend a few blissful hours sipping wine and dipping slices of green apple, tiny onions, chunks of baguette, and gherkins into a simmering pot of boozy melted cheese. If you go, bring a fat wallet. The fondue experience, which includes an entrée and dessert in addition to the fondue, will set you back about $75 U.S. per person.  

Day 2: The incredible scenery of Lake Louise

Banff Lake Louise

Chris LeBlanc skis an empty run at Lake Louise ski resort in Canada. Pam LeBlanc photo

The next day, we gear up and toddle to the bus stop outside our hotel for the 45-minute shuttle ride to Lake Louise Ski Resort. The 4,200-acre resort was my favorite in 2019, but today the winds are blasting, and the sky is murky.  

Still, we tag along on a free Lake Louise Ski Friends tour to get a grasp of the resort’s 4,200 acres. The free program, which allows anyone to join a guided, two-hour tour, has been duplicated at ski resorts around the globe. Our guide takes us to a run called Rock Garden, which looks like the set of an old Star Trek episode with its snow-capped, hippo-sized boulders. We weave our way through, whooping with glee.  

High winds and poor visibility keep us from exploring the 420 acres of new terrain that opened last season in the resort’s West Bowl. But in the afternoon, we dip into tree runs and admire the views, which stretch across the valley to the castle-like Chateau Lake Louise.  

This place is drop-dead gorgeous. 

We’ve got evening plans: a moonlight hike to a frozen waterfall at Johnston Canyon with Discover Banff Tours 

“Darkness is not a bad thing,” our tour guide tells us a few hours later, as we strap metal cleats to our hiking boots and flip on headlamps for a stroll up a glittering canyon decorated with icicles and weird snowy formations. He’s right. It sparkles and shimmers. We pause in front of a waterfall so cold it can’t move to sip hot chocolate and nibble maple cookies before hiking out by moonlight. 

Day 3: Fat biking and snow shoeing in Banff

fat biking banff

Clare McCann and Chris LeBlanc ride electric fat bikes across a snowy field in Banff. Pam LeBlanc photo

On day three we take a break from skiing to see what else Banff has to offer.  

In the morning, we hop aboard beefy fat bikes equipped with studded snow tires and electric motors for a spin along some forest trails.  

Related: Last Call: Cat Skiing at Colorado’s Keystone Resort 

Coach Clare McCann started Bikescape two years ago and leads cycling and cross-country ski tours around Banff for folks, like us, who want to give their quads a break. We zoom alongside a river, over bridges, and up to Bow Falls, where she points out the starting point of a daunting 2,745-mile ultra-endurance bike ride called the Tour Divide.  

snow shoe break banff

Chris LeBlanc enjoys hot tea during a break while snow shoeing with guide Joel Hagen of Great Divide Nature Interpretation. Pam LeBlanc photo

That afternoon, we drive to Vermillion Pass, 30 minutes away, for a snowshoeing tour with Great Divide Nature Interpretation.  

We don’t follow any trails –– we break our own in the pristine fields of white. Guide Josh Hagen leads us through poufs of powder and across a series of frozen lakes along the Continental Divide.  

“It’s all Dairy Queened up,” Hagen says, as we admire the landscape. Hagen infuses the tour with history, geology and biology, pointing out where wildfires occurred a century ago and ferreting out a set of lynx tracks. A highlight? Packing out a spot for a mid-afternoon picnic of hot spiced tea and homemade energy bars. 

Day 4: Bring on the Sunshine

Banff Sunshine

You have to ride a gondola for 20 minutes to reach the base of Sunshine Village near Banff in Canada. Pam LeBlanc photo

On the fourth day, we pack our bags and drive to the parking lot of nearby Banff Sunshine Village, where we hand our luggage to a porter who will whisk it up to the lodge where we’re staying. It’s a 20-minute ride on the longest gondola in Canada, past a waterfall popular with ice climbers, to reach Sunshine Village, the center of all the action. 

Related: When in Canada, Try BeaverTails 

We know immediately we’ve found our place. An old log cabin serves as a bar and day lodge. The Sunshine Mountain Lodge, the only ski-in, ski-out lodge in Banff, caters to lucky guests (like us) who plan to stay the night. It’s secluded, cozy and beautiful.  

The slopes fan out like an octopus in front of us. The longest stretches for five flowy miles. The terrain swoops and rolls through wide open expanses. I’ve landed in ski heaven. 

“It’s like skiing in the backcountry, not only for conditions and terrain, but the view,” says David Arney, who’s showing us around.  

We ski until we can’t, stopping mid-day for Canada’s version of a doughnut at the BeaverTails trailer, then convene at Mad Trapper’s for a celebratory bourbon. Our legs are shot, but we revive them in the hot tub before cleaning up for one final fancy dinner at the lodge’s fine dining restaurant, the Eagle’s Nest.  

Saying goodbye to Banff

And then we walk outside, trying to stretch out our last night. Snow sifts from the sky; the moon pops in and out of view. It’s silent up here, with the crowds gone. 

We wish we could take the serenity with us when we pop on our skis the next morning for the 20-minute run back to the parking lot, but that gives us a chance to say goodbye to our favorite stop of the week. 

Banff, you did not disappoint. 

banff sign

Pam and Chris LeBlanc pose in front of the Banff sign in Banff, Alberta. Pam LeBlanc photo

If You Go

Getting there:

American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines and Air Canada all service Calgary. Direct flights are available from Houston or Dallas, but from Austin you’ll have to connect. I flew through Denver. Once in Calgary, rent a car or take a van shuttle to Banff, 90 minutes away –– with no sketchy mountain passes to navigate. Americans must show a negative PCR Covid test to enter. They also need a rapid Covid test to return to the U.S. 

Stay:

The Moose Hotel, 345 Banff Avenue, offers comfortable rooms and the best roof-top hot tub I’ve ever experienced. In Sunshine, stay at Sunshine Mountain Lodge. 

Do:

Go downhill skiing at Mt. Norquay, Lake Louise or Banff Sunshine Village. Try snowshoeing or fat biking, or take a night hike to Johnston Canyon. 

Eat & Drink:

Sit at the bar at Park Distillery, the only distillery in a national park in Canada. Eat fondue at the Waldhaus. Besides good booze, it serves hearty, campfire-style cooking like stews and burgers. At Sunshine, don’t miss BeaverTails, which serves fried strips of dough shaped like the tail of a beaver. 

Pro Tip:

Wake up early and hit the hot tub on top of the Moose as the sun rises. It opens at 6:30 a.m. 

Follow Austin Travels


Austin Travels is a women-owned, Austin-based travel magazine committed to highlighting destinations in Texas and beyond through the lenses of diverse and talented writers.

Subscribe

Three and a half cool days in historic Pensacola, Florida

Three and a half cool days in historic Pensacola, Florida

In Wydaho, stay in Idaho and ski at Grand Targhee in Wyoming

In Wydaho, stay in Idaho and ski at Grand Targhee in Wyoming

48 hours in New York City

48 hours in New York City

From scenery to bars, our picks for the best of North American ski resorts

From scenery to bars, our picks for the best of North American ski resorts

Where to eat — and how to bathe — when you’re in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Where to eat — and how to bathe — when you’re in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Eat, Sleep, Dive: A live-aboard dive trip in the Turks and Caicos

Eat, Sleep, Dive: A live-aboard dive trip in the Turks and Caicos

Dreaming of a trip Down Under? Plan an Australia adventure in 2023

Dreaming of a trip Down Under? Plan an Australia adventure in 2023

To Los Angeles, with love

To Los Angeles, with love

Three days in Monterey: Capturing California’s coastal charms

Three days in Monterey: Capturing California’s coastal charms

New terrain, new lifts and more: What’s new at ski resorts this season

New terrain, new lifts and more: What’s new at ski resorts this season

Surf Ireland: Catching waves on the Emerald Isle

Surf Ireland: Catching waves on the Emerald Isle

Discover the draws of Door County, Wisconsin

Discover the draws of Door County, Wisconsin

St. John: A Perfect Week in Paradise

St. John: A Perfect Week in Paradise

A beginner’s guide to Universal Orlando with kids

A beginner’s guide to Universal Orlando with kids

From rockets to caverns, 5 fun adventures in Huntsville, Alabama

From rockets to caverns, 5 fun adventures in Huntsville, Alabama 

Destin delights: How to spend a long weekend on the Florida Panhandle

Destin delights: How to spend a long weekend on the Florida Panhandle

Learning all things Louisiana at Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge

Learning all things Louisiana at Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge

New draws to Denver

New draws to Denver

Dreaming of Disney World? 10 takeaways for a less daunting, more magical trip

Dreaming of Disney World? 10 takeaways for a less daunting, more magical trip

A rare retreat to mountainside luxury at Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch

A rare retreat to mountainside luxury at Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch

Discovering magical mermaids, memories at Weeki Wachee Springs

Discovering magical mermaids, memories at Weeki Wachee Springs

36 hours of family fun in New Orleans

36 hours of family fun in New Orleans

Recapturing Zen at Kripalu

Recapturing Zen at Kripalu

Soaking in family fun in Seattle

Soaking in family fun in Seattle

Scalloping, saltwater springs and seashell strolls on Florida’s Sports Coast

Scalloping, saltwater springs and seashell strolls on Florida’s Sports Coast

Slowing down by the sea in Ambergris Caye, Belize

Slowing down by the sea in Ambergris Caye, Belize

Frolicking in Finland: Contemporary design and Nordic adventures await

Frolicking in Finland: Contemporary design and Nordic adventures await

At Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a ‘Festivarian’ is born

At Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a ‘Festivarian’ is born

Summer in South Haven, Michigan

Summer in South Haven, Michigan

The Green O: Mother Nature’s Posh Playground

The Green O: Mother Nature’s Posh Playground

Walking in Memphis: History, soul music and good trouble in Tennessee

Walking in Memphis: History, soul music and good trouble in Tennessee

Fishing, golf and more in the Santee region of South Carolina

Fishing, golf and more in the Santee region of South Carolina

Family friendly fun during a quick trip to New York City

Family friendly fun during a quick trip to New York City

A Mother’s Day getaway to charming Charleston

A Mother’s Day getaway to charming Charleston

Playing in Portland, Austin’s Unofficial Sister City

Playing in Portland, Austin’s Unofficial Sister City

Spring and summer stops in Southern Colorado

Spring and summer stops in Southern Colorado

Skiing, snowshoeing and biking in breathtaking Banff

Skiing, snowshoeing and biking in breathtaking Banff

Sweet spots for family fun in Santa Barbara, California

Sweet spots for family fun in Santa Barbara, California

8 Tips for Skiing with Kids

8 Tips for Skiing with Kids

Chilling Out at Beaver Creek Resort

Chilling Out at Beaver Creek Resort

7 magical things to do in Door County, Wisconsin

7 magical things to do in Door County, Wisconsin

Family fun: 5 can’t-miss attractions when visiting St. Louis

Family fun: 5 can’t-miss attractions when visiting St. Louis

Family travel: Calm and cool in Los Angeles

Family travel: Calm and cool in Los Angeles

Mother-daughter getaway: Finding MGK, music and magic in Cleveland

Mother-daughter getaway: Finding MGK, music and magic in Cleveland

COVID Testing and Traveling Abroad: Know Before You Go

COVID Testing and Traveling Abroad: Know Before You Go

A rare glimpse at pearl farming in Tahiti

A rare glimpse at pearl farming in Tahiti

Family travel: Meandering through Montreal

Family travel: Meandering through Montreal

Five reasons Colorado’s Winter Park Resort should be on your family’s ski trip list

Five reasons Colorado’s Winter Park Resort should be on your family’s ski trip list

Squeezing in every snowy moment at Solitude Mountain Resort

Squeezing in every snowy moment at Solitude Mountain Resort

Here’s what’s new at resorts for the 2021-22 ski season

Here’s what’s new at resorts for the 2021-22 ski season

Big Easy delights: Food, fun and family in New Orleans

Big Easy delights: Food, fun and family in New Orleans

Uncovering the magic and mystery of Washington State

Uncovering the magic and mystery of Washington State

Red River is ripe with reasons to visit

Red River is ripe with reasons to visit

Must-Do’s in Denver

Must-Do’s in Denver

Falling for Cape Cod’s off-season charms

Falling for Cape Cod’s off-season charms

Heeding the call of Nashville’s siren song

Heeding the call of Nashville’s siren song

7 ideas for family fun in Panama City Beach, Florida

7 ideas for family fun in Panama City Beach, Florida

Reading Roxane Gay at the Mauna Lani in Hawaii

Reading Roxane Gay at the Mauna Lani in Hawaii

Keeping it cool in Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Keeping it cool in Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Summertime in Colorado: 4 spots ripe for family fun

Summertime in Colorado: 4 spots ripe for family fun

Conquering Austria’s Alpine Road

Conquering Austria’s Alpine Road

Fort Collins: Paddling, Hiking and Biking, Oh My

Fort Collins: Paddling, Hiking and Biking, Oh My

A new tour through the past at Oak Alley Plantation

A new tour through the past at Oak Alley Plantation

Explore the gravel roads around Fort Collins on the FoCo Fondo bike ride

Explore the gravel roads around Fort Collins on the FoCo Fondo bike ride

Fully vaccinated? Traveling to Puerto Rico just got breezier

Fully vaccinated? Traveling to Puerto Rico just got breezier

To date a matador: Seduced by Spain

To date a matador: Seduced by Spain

Cabin culture: Escape the crowds at these remote U.S. hideaways

Cabin culture: Escape the crowds at these remote U.S. hideaways

Essay: Can we really leave no trace when we travel?

Essay: Can we really leave no trace when we travel?

Mountain biking mecca Mesa Verde Country is a must-ride

Mountain biking mecca Mesa Verde Country is a must-ride

Bike to Bentonville for 150 miles of trails and much more

Bike to Bentonville for 150 miles of trails and much more

Colorado’s Calling –– Take a summer trip to this cool state now

Colorado’s Calling –– Take a summer trip to this cool state now

Set your sights on Steamboat Springs this summer

Set your sights on Steamboat Springs this summer

A foodie’s guide to eating (and foraging and making chocolate) in Costa Rica

A foodie’s guide to eating (and foraging and making chocolate) in Costa Rica

Discovering hints of home in Red River

Discovering hints of home in Red River

New Mexico road trip: 10 top experiences, from Albuquerque to White Sands

New Mexico road trip: 10 top experiences, from Albuquerque to White Sands

Diving into the history of falconry at The Broadmoor

Diving into the history of falconry at The Broadmoor

5 questions with influencer Jeff Jenkins, who helps ‘chubby people travel the world’

5 questions with influencer Jeff Jenkins, who helps ‘chubby people travel the world’

Finding a ranch to call home in Granby, Colorado

Finding a ranch to call home in Granby, Colorado

Oyster safaris and mystery solving along Sweden’s Bohuslan Coast

Oyster safaris and mystery solving along Sweden’s Bohuslan Coast

Escape to Los Angeles: 5 fun things to do in Southern California

Escape to Los Angeles: 5 fun things to do in Southern California

Adventures Await: Roaming the road in a campervan

Adventures Await: Roaming the road in a campervan

If you’re heading west, 5 reasons to visit the California gem of Terranea

If you’re heading west, 5 reasons to visit the California gem of Terranea

For every season: A house divided over Estes Park, Colorado

For every season: A house divided over Estes Park, Colorado

The soaking life: A baker’s dozen of the best historic spas across the world

The soaking life: A baker’s dozen of the best historic spas across the world

California escape: Peace, harmony and inspiration in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs

California escape: Peace, harmony and inspiration in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs

When the snow melts and winter crowds leave, these Colorado spots are the coolest

When the snow melts and winter crowds leave, these Colorado spots are the coolest

Dreaming of a Virgin Islands Vacation? Tips for traveling to St. John right now

Dreaming of a Virgin Islands Vacation? Tips for traveling to St. John right now

Dreaming of the RV life? Lessons learned from a 10-day national park road trip

Dreaming of the RV life? Lessons learned from a 10-day national park road trip

Colorado Ski Gems

Colorado Ski Gems

Escape crowds and capture memories in snowy Southwest Montana

Escape crowds and capture memories in snowy Southwest Montana

What to know before you book a ski trip during a pandemic

What to know before you book a ski trip during a pandemic