The Snowy Frontier Of Banff

2 April 2015

There are certain advantages to staying in a ski resort town, instead of on the mountain.

In New Zealand’s Queenstown, it’s the array of adventure activities and good foodie spots.

In America’s Aspen, it’s the stylish mountain culture seen in everything from the Victorian-era architecture to the galleries and shops.

In Italy’s Cortina d’Ampezzo, it’s the fascinating daily custom of the passeggiata, when the Italians dress up to amble along the streets in the early evening, seeking the famous and fashionable, sipping espresso and window-shopping.

In Canada’s Banff, it’s the feeling of being in “frontier land’’ in the rugged and beautiful Banff National Park, which the United Nations has declared a World Heritage site.

 The ruggedly handsome world of Banff National Park (image: Getty)

 

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Spot Wolves, Elk And Coyotes On An Ice Walk

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Banff is also the springboard to three nearby ski resorts – Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay – skiable on a tri-area lift ticket that gives access to 3200ha of terrain ranging from extreme (take your avalanche beacon and shovel) to the mildest nursery slopes.

Of the so-called “big three”, Lake Louise is furthest from town, about 45 minutes by road.

 All skill levels are catered for

 

More distant, but still accessible for a day trip, is a fourth resort, Kicking Horse, where the terrain is mostly hard-core.

Throw in some dinky-di Canadian “extras’’ such as tickets to see the Calgary Flames NHL ice-hockey team, or canyon ice walks during which you may spot wolves, elk, moose and coyotes, and you can understand why Banff is one of the world’s most popular ski destinations.

The Alberta town is also renowned for the Banff Film Festival, an annual screening of short films and documentaries about mountain culture and sport. The festival is so popular that it now tours the world (and will be in Australia in May and June).


There are many resorts to choose from. Which Is The Best Canadian Ski Resort For You?

You'll be amazed at what they leave behind. The Most Bizarre Items Lost On Ski Slopes


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From 'Knee-Trembler' To Easier Terrain

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Banff is a firm favourite with Australians, who can reach the town via flights to Vancouver and Calgary. The 130km stretch from Calgary airport to Banff is covered by frequent and efficient shuttle services.

Lake Louise is the biggest of the three Banff resorts, with mostly intermediate terrain that is book-ended by some easy slopes and extreme descents. There are spectacular mountain views wherever you look and the resort is the first stop on the annual World Cup ski race circuit.

Sunshine Village may sound mild, but if you peek into the resort’s Delirium Dive you’ll soon see why this area, with its 50-degree slopes, has been described as a “knee trembler” by the astute folk at Outside magazine.

 There are horse-drawn sleigh rides around the shores

 

Sunshine, thankfully, also has a lot of good terrain for less gifted skiers.

Mount Norquay is the pocketsized cousin to Lake Louise and Sunshine. Despite its size, its groomed and uncrowded runs through big stands of trees are a delight and perfect for a warm-up day.

If you want to get serious at Norquay, jump into the double-black bumps around the North American Chairlift.

The Canadian Pacific Railway was instrumental to the growth of Banff. When completed in the late 1800s it brought tourists and two grand railway hotels: the castle-like Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise.

Fortunately, both luxury properties are still in operation, under the stewardship of the Fairmont hotel group.

The chateau overlooks a glacier and an emerald lake that freezes in winter, with skaters sailing over its surface and horse-drawn sleighs circling the perimeter.

Don’t necessarily write off these top-end hotels as being too expensive. Luckily for skiers, winter in Banff is low season and tariffs are more affordable than in summer.


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Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on snow holidays to Banff, Canada.

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Robert Upe

Robert Upe is an award-winning travel writer and editor, specialising in skiing. At last count he had visited 50+ snow resorts. He has co-authored skiing guide books and was travel editor for Fairfax. Off snow, he has a passion for travel in Asia.