1. Endless terrain and piles of powderPhotos: Gn!pGnop
With three world class resorts situated along the continental divide, there are plenty of mellow beginner slopes and no shortage of super gnarly inbounds terrain to set you up for a killer free riding experience.
If you’re looking to get the adrenaline flowing, don’t miss the cliffs at Sunshine’s Delirium Dive — one of the few lift-serviced areas in the world that requires an avy beacon to access — or the equally impressive chutes on the back bowls of Lake Louise. A ton of north-facing aspects and wind-loaded bowls means that you can slash fresh turns in crisp Canadian powder even if you don’t happen to catch a big dump.
2. The coolest vibes
Pretentious attitudes are an all-to-common, serious drawback in many ski towns. However, Banff is lacking the pompous elite who judge based on the brands you’re sporting. Don’t expect packs of steezy bros drowning in tall tees or arrogant pro skiers either. The inclusive international community bonds over a common love for the mountains, which fosters a synergistic stoke for all styles of skiing and riding.
The same guy hucking a massive drop off the Norquay Cliffhouse in the ski movie that’s looping in the background of the bar very well might be the one to offer to buy you a drink to welcome you into town. Prepare yourself to be swept right into the local fold, but beware that you won’t ever want to leave.
3. Skiing and riding in a national park
This is the only place in the world you can rack up the vertical with lift-accessed terrain inside a national park. Aside from the novelty factor, the thoughtful development regulations of the park limit the crowds and subsequent sprawl that have become the norm at other top ski destinations.
4. Mountains as far as the eye can see
Banff is Canada’s first national park, and for good reason. Jagged mountainscapes fill the view in every direction, which means that the backcountry touring options do, too. The view of Mt. Assiniboine (touted Canada’s version of The Matterhorn) from the top of Sunshine Village is unforgettable, and you even get to cross provincial borders on the chairlift. You may have skied all over the world, but prepare to have your mind blown by the setting here.
5. More time to shred
With projected closing dates in mid-May and some lifts operating until 4:30 pm, the resorts around Banff offer more time to shred than many of their lower-latitude counterparts. If you are hanging around for more than a couple days, check out the late season pass offers which make getting on the chairlift even more affordable.
6. Access couldn’t be easier
Banff is only 90 minutes from Calgary International Airport and sits at a comfortable 4800’ above sea level (with resort summits topping out below 9000’). Even if you’re coming from sea level, you shouldn’t have a problem acclimatizing to the altitude. The town also ranks at the top of the list of walkable ski towns, so it’s not necessary to shell out for a rental car. Make sure to gaze up at the dazzling night sky on your short stagger home from the bars.
7. It’s actually budget friendly
Thankfully, $100+ lift tickets and $25 cheeseburgers are not the norm in Banff (even on the mountain). A solid string of downtown joints cater to the community of young snow worshippers with food and drink specials on offer every night of the week. Check out Banff Avenue Brewing on Monday for $4 draughts, and $10 fajitas at Magpie Stump on Wednesdays. If you’re coming to town with US dollars, you can knock another 20% off the already reasonable prices, thanks to the devalued Canadian currency (March 2015). Even as a penny-pinching ski bum living out of a van, you can still afford to eat well and hit the town for some drinks.
8. Fun, social, and affordable accommodation
Not many ski towns offer a lot of budget accommodation, but in Banff a half-dozen centrally located hostels have you covered. Not only does this keep costs reasonable, but it creates an atmosphere where you can mingle with like-minded travelers and find riding buddies. Don’t stress if you’re looking to treat yourself though — there are solid offerings at every level, all the way up to the 5-star service and cuisine on offer at the palatial Fairmont Banff Springs.
9. Winter is low season
With all the awesomeness above, you would expect Banff to be overrun. However, winter is actually low season, which means less crowds, lower prices, and more interaction with rad locals. If you love skiing and snowboarding, this low-key yet world class swath of pristine mountains is the perfect place to take a winter getaway.
This author was an invited guest on a press trip sponsored by Ski Banff–Lake Louise–Sunshine, www.SkiBig3.com.