Banff

Alberta, Canada

Banff is a happening ski town situated in what would have to be one of the most scenic mountain locations in the world. With three great ski areas all within easy driving distance, Banff is the perfect base from which to explore this part of the Rocky Mountains. 

Scout Loves

  • Banff offers three great ski resorts that are all within easy reach.
  • There is a happening downtown scene with plenty of bars, restaurants and shops.
  • The scenery is mind-blowing. Picture postcard perfect.
  • Banff is located within Banff National Park in Alberta – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • You can drive to Banff from Calgary International Airport in under two hours.
  • It’s relatively easy to get around with a rental car or by using the town’s public transport system. 

Scout Tips

  • Banff itself does not have a ski resort. Norquay is the smallest and closest resort (a 10 min drive). Sunshine and Lake Louise are around 30 and 45 minutes’ drive respectively.
  • You can purchase a tri-area ski pass to access all three resorts.
  • While there are a lot of accommodation options, Scout found only a few hotels that are decent and well-priced.
  • Banff and the nearby ski resorts can be incredibly cold. When it’s -22F/-30C the lifts don’t operate. 
  • Like so many Canadian resorts, half the working population seems to be Australian! 

Scout Review

Around the world there are several destinations that are synonymous with skiing when in fact they’re not an actual ski resort. But usually the bonus of staying in one of these places is that there are several (not just one) great ski resorts nearby. Some that come to mind are Queenstown and Wanaka in New Zealand, and France’s Chamonix. Another is Banff, Alberta.

There are three great ski resorts that are all an easy drive from Banff – Norquay, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise. Staying in Banff as opposed to at those resorts (well you can’t actually stay at Norquay) has great advantages. Firstly, you can buy a pass that allows you ski all three, and decide each day which one you want to go to. Secondly, Banff is a vibrant mountain town set amongst incredible scenery.

While the two resorts with on (or close-to) moutain or nearby mountain accommodation (Sunshine and Lake Louise) share the same picturesque settings, they don’t necessarily have such a happening scene. So if you don’t mind a bit of a drive each day and like a bit of variety in your ski and après activities, staying in Banff is an excellent choice.

Banff is also the perfect stop on the way to resorts further afield such as Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Fernie and Panorama.

Banff Skiing

There are three main ski resorts close to Banff, offering over 8,000 acres of skiing and plenty of incredible champagne powder every season - Lake LouiseMt. Norquay, and Sunshine Village. The Ski Big 3 lift pass allows ultimate flexiblity for skiers to choose which mountain they would like to ski each day, and includes your bus fare daily from downtown Banff hotels. All three ski resorts are also part of the IKON pass. 

The skiing at Lake LouiseMt. Norquay, and Sunshine Village varies considerably, especially in terms of terrain on offer and on-mountain facilities and services (like restaurants, ski school, rentals, etc), so check out the individual detailed resort reviews for more information.

Banff For Families

Banff is a great place for families particularly because of its proximity to Mt Norquay – a famously family-friendly ski resort. However you should be aware that Banff can get very cold, which will be a problem if your children are serious beginners or prone to illness. If you are concerned about the temperature, try to plan to visit in Spring.

Beyond skiing there are plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained, including ice skating, tubing (particularly at Mt Norquay) ice walks, plenty of nature activities, hot springs, sleigh rides and more. There are lots of family friendly dining options in Banff and plenty of self-catered accommodation options.

Given the need to use transport to get to the ski resorts, we would recommend hiring a rental car if you’re skiing with kids. It would make it a much easier, more flexible and therefore more enjoyable experience. However there are ski shuttles if this is not an option.

More details for families, including babysitters, contact details and approximate pricing are available in our Scout Field Guides (included with every ski package booked via Scout).

Banff Accommodation

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There are a wide range of accommodation options in Banff, but unlike most other resorts we found it to be lacking in the mid-to-high range category. Although of course there’s always the Banff Fairmont Springs Hotel – an iconic castle-shaped hotel that towers above the rest (in price, facilities and service). There are only a handful nice and modern hotels to choose from – which is surprising given Banff’s popularity with tourists. That said, there are definitely some good options so read our reviews to work out which is the right one for you. Many are located along the main street of Banff, making it super easy to get to the ski resort each morning, and enjoy the wonderful restaurants and bars on offer.

Resort Activities

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Besides world-class skiing, there are some fantastic activities to keep the kids entertained on your Banff ski vacation. Head to the adventure hub on the main street in Banff where you can book activities including snowshoe tours, magical sleigh rides, ice walks, and snowmobiling. Some of the more popular tours include a Lake Louise sightseeing trip (discover the magic of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise), guided van tours of the surrounding National Parks, and trips to Calgary for a NHL hockey game. 

The Banff Upper Hot Springs is also a must-visit, especially for families. It's a great way to spend an afternoon (and give those ski legs a good rest), and admission is included with all Ski Big 3 lift passes of 3+ days.

Getting There and Around

Banff is very simple to get to. It is an easy hour and a half drive from Calgary International Airport along the Trans-Canada Highway 1. There are also several public shuttle options from the airport, as well as private services.

It’s easy to get around Banff, and even if you have a car for getting to the ski resorts, you don’t really need it for getting around at night (so you can relax and enjoy a few drinks!). If you’re not staying within walking distance of downtown, there are public busses (called Roam) or the taxis, which are readily available and aren’t expensive.

Getting to the ski resorts is very easy by private car, though you will have to take care on snowy days. It’s worth getting a rental car with 4WD or at least snow tires, to be safe. There are also public shuttles that leave regularly in the mornings and evenings from stops around town as well as Banff Fairmont Springs Hotel. Anyone who has a Ski Big 3 ski pass can use the ski shuttles for free.

Find a great map of the Canadian Rockies and location of each of the ski resorts here.

Facts & Figures

Thanks to its location in the Canadian Rockies, Banff can get bitterly cold, especially in January. This does mean the snow is wonderfully light and dry, however, skiing can be challenging with kids on these super cold days. Spring is a great time to visit, with warmer temperatures and more bluebird days to take in the stunning views.

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