Insider's Guide to Banff

Paul Zizka
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Planning your winter ski trips? How about a destination that offers three different world-class ski experiences? Not only that, but how about staying in a town that is located within one of North America's most stunning National Parks?

Situated in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies is the charming and renowned little mountain town of Banff, Alberta. With a myriad of winter activities including skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing and even dog sledding, it’s interesting that winter is the town’s slow season. This means comparatively few lift lines, cheaper accommodations, and less crowds. Banff is unassuming. It's not as glam or flashy as Vail or Aspen, it’s more low key. At the same time, it’s set against massive, craggy, almost god-like mountains.

Its rawness is its most captivating, if not jarring feature. The craggy and enormous beauty of the mountains will stop you dead in your tracks just to stare—it’s that gorgeous. Imagine strolling the streets with a backdrop so stunning and majestic it almost doesn’t look real. Banff’s outdoors has a rawness to it that would normally be set far away from a town, but wild and civilized are bound together here. And I do mean wild. Like grizzly bears seen from hotel properties, elk hanging out on the golf course at Banff Springs, and the occasional moose.

How to Get There

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From Seattle, it’s a piece of cake to fly into Calgary. It’s a 1:50 minute flight on a turbo prop. Once you’re in Calgary, you can either rent a car, or hop on public transit and head to Banff. The town is small and walkable, and public transportation is readily available. Call a taxi and it will be there within just a couple of minutes.

Where To Stay

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Rimrock Resort Hotel 
Rimrock Resort is contemporary and gorgeous. Views are beyond spectacular and some rooms offer wall to wall windows where you can just stare and bask in the awe of the place. Décor is elegant and comfortable. The lobby features floor to ceiling windows, leather chairs, and perhaps the biggest fireplace in Canada. It’s a cozy gathering place for people to enjoy food and drink. If you go for a hike, the concierge will give you bear spray. Bears, elk, and moose are frequently seen from the property. This hotel is a few minutes from downtown, so you’ll need transportation, which comes in the form of a shuttle, or taxis. The hotel is located near the Banff Gondola where you can ride to the top of Sulpher Mountain, and historic Hot Springs where visitors have come to “take the waters” since the late 1800s.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Built in 1888, the castle-like Fairmont is the oldest hotel in town and offers beautiful views of the valley and Bow River. There’s an indoor lap pool, an outdoor hot pool, a spa, and multiple dining options within the hotel. It’s a great location for those without a car, as you’re close enough to the center of town to walk.

Buffalo Mountain Lodge
If you want more of a log cabin lodge-like vibe, the Buffalo Lodge is a Banff classic. Located on Tunnel Mountain, previously known as “Sleeping Buffalo” by First Nations. Wood burning fireplaces, a private deck, and claw foot bathtubs are the highlights. Their restaurant offers free range organic eggs, elk, and bison for breakfast. You’ll need transportation into town via rental car, taxi or shuttle, which is no problem.

Where to Eat

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Bear Street Tavern offers craft brew and Banff’s best pizza. This pizza is special because they serve it with honey and rosemary-chili oil to drizzle over your pie—and it’s a deliciously interesting way to eat pizza. Ask a local where their favorite spot is to grab a bite, and this is always on the list.

Banff Ave Brewing Company is a casual, family friendly brewpub with board games and kid’s meals. Beers are made with real glacial water and seasonal ingredients. Winter brews made with cinnamon and nutmeg are perfect for getting cozy après ski.

Where to Ski

There are three main ski hills, known as 'The Big Three.' Each offers its own flavor, and you can get an all encompassing ski pass to enjoy all three. All are family owned and locals tend to be “loyal to their hills.” All offer day care and ski lessons, so bring the whole family.

Paul Zizka

Lake Louise Ski Resort
About 45 minutes from downtown Banff, Lake Louise Ski Resort offers varied terrain from beginner slopes to wide open bowls.

Sunshine Village
Sunshine Village is a powder resort with a ski in-ski out hotel. You have to take a gondola to get to the resort and the gondola closes at 5pm, so when you’re in, you’re in. It’s only 20 minutes from downtown Banff.

Mt. Norquay
Just 15 minutes from downtown Banff, Mt. Norquay is the smallest of the three and offers the steepest terrain, and runs appropriate for all skill levels. Norquay’s proximity to Banff makes it great for getting in a few quick runs while the family shops or enjoys other activities. You can purchase lift tickets by the hour for convenience and flexibility. Mt. Norquay also offers the only night skiing in Banff with a fully lit terrain park.

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