Banff, Alberta is a soul-stirring place to visit. Here, the Canadian Rockies rise sharply to soaring heights and form a dramatic landscape as far as the eye can see. If that wasn’t enough, the many high-alpine lakes, including Lake Louise, feature breathtakingly vivid turquoise and blue waters. We can keep going. Banff is also home to Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a beautiful, pristine preservation. Plus, in the Banff Lake Louise area, skiers and snowboards can enjoy 8,000-plus acres spread over three resorts accessible on one ticket: Ski Big3.
With so much to do and see, coming up with a check list of experiences on your own is tough. That’s why we’ve comprised an itinerary featuring top destination highlights for first-time visitors.
Day 1: Fly into Calgary and check into your accommodations
With Calgary International Airport (YYC) a quick 90-minute drive from Banff, flying into the Canadian Rockies is easy. The Calgary International Airport offers more than 80 direct flights coming straight into this easy-to-navigate airport. Plan it right with an early morning flight and you could be in Banff for lunch!
When choosing your Banff Lake Louise lodging, keep in mind that you will likely need to take a bus, hotel shuttle or car to get to and from the ski resorts, the town of Lake Louise and downtown Banff. If you’re looking for a high-touch, luxe experience and a laundry list of service and amenities, you can’t go wrong with either Fairmont property.
Known as Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies,” Fairmont Banff Springs features 728 guestrooms, 11 restaurants, a world-class golf course, the elegant Willow Stream Spa, and easy access to skiing on Mt. Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Originally built as a base camp for alpinists more than 100 years ago, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is just 10 minutes to Lake Louise Ski Resort and less than an hours’ drive to the other ski areas. Plus, the 554 guestrooms offer the perfect respite after a day on the slopes, and the Escape Spa is just the ticket to prep legs for another powder day.
To save yourself time the next morning and allow to get on the slopes as soon as possible, pre-arrange to pick up your ski equipment that evening if time and your accommodations allow. You can learn more about nearby equipment rentals shops on our property pages or ask one of 65+ Mountain Travel Experts.
Day 2: Warm up with a day of skiing at Mt. Norquay and cap it off with a relaxing soak in the Banff Hot Springs
Thanks to its central location just a couple minutes from downtown Banff, Mt. Norquay is a great resort to kick off your ski vacation at. A long-time local’s favorite, Mt. Norquay is the site of where skiing began in the Canadian Rockies (in 1926). These days, locals and visitors alike love ripping around on the resort’s 74 trails—many of which are considered to be some of the steepest in North America.
If the aches are already catching up to you, set aside some time to soak in the famous Banff Hot Springs, located just two miles outside of downtown Banff, which stays open until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
If you have time on your way back to your accommodations, make a detour to downtown Banff and spend some time at Park Distillery, where you can enjoy locally made, small-batch spirits and craft cocktails. If you’re ready for dinner, Park Distillery’s campfire-style menu features a range, of wood-fired, smokey delicacies.
Day 3: Spend the day at Sunshine Village, enjoy locally made après treats and check out the downtown Banff nightlife
Located 15 minutes from downtown Banff, Sunshine Village is nestled in Banff National Park and provides skiers with the opportunity to ski and ride along the Continental Divide and in two Canadian provinces: Alberta and British Columbia. Sunshine Village features a higher elevation than its two sister resorts, thus it typically receives the deepest and fluffiest powder. Intermediates and experts alike will love Sunshine Village. Those looking for cruisers with epic views will love skiing down the blue run from the top of the 8,900-plus-foot Lookout Mountain. Experts will love exploring the two off-piste zones atop the Continental Divide chairlift: Delirium Drive and The Wild West. For more challenges, don’t miss the double black runs on Goat’s Eye Mountain.
When the dogs start barking, it’s time to head to Chimney Corner, where you can enjoy fireside après-ski drinks and snacks and take in the views of the slopes and mountains from the giant, picture windows. Don’t miss the famed prime rib burger.
Banff might not be known for the kind of nightlife you can find in Aspen or Whistler, but what it offers is certainly fun and lively. If you’re looking to cut up the rug, head to the Dancing Sasquatch. Show your Big3 lift ticket to skip the line and cover before 10:30 p.m. (only on Friday).
If dancing isn’t your thing, head to the new High Rollers, a full-service bowling alley with a great selection of drafts and mouth-watering pizza.
Day 4: Explore Lake Louise ski resort, savor slopeside sushi and skate the lake
Get a leg up on the day and head out early for a pre-skiing breakfast on the way to Lake Louise at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge. Enjoy hearty plates like eggs Benedict on cheddar biscuits with elk ham or elk cranberry sausage and Canadian back bacon. Lake Louise is a 45-minute drive from Banff so be sure to set enough time aside. For at least one leg of the journey to and from Lake Louise be sure to take the alternate route on Bow Valley Parkway. It’s a tad slower, but oh-so-scenic and well known for wildlife sightings and iconic views of Castle Mountain.
The drive is worth it, though, as Lake Louise is by far the largest ski resort in the Banff area. Featuring 4,200 acres spread across 177 runs, Lake Louise has terrain for every level of skier. Those in search of powder will want to head to the back bowls of The Lake and, of course, cruiser-lovers and speed demons alike will enjoy the thrill of testing their mettle on the Women’s World Cup Downhill trail. Experts and challenge seekers will enjoy the steeps of the frontside.
By now, you’re probably craving something on the lighter side, so saddle up to Kuma Yama, located in the Lodge of the Ten Peaks at Lake Louise. Here you can enjoy a variety of traditional and creative sushi rolls, ramen and wide selection of Asian beer and sake.
If you’re not staying at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, be sure to take advantage of your current proximity to this iconic hotel and the beautiful lake it sits next to you. Grab a pair of ice-skate rentals at the Chateau and go for a spin on the frozen lake. Afterwards, warm up inside with afternoon tea and pastries. If you’re feeling romantic or just plain idyllic, and you probably will, sign up for an evening sleigh ride around the lake.
Close out this unforgettable day, with an unforgettable meal in an unforgettable setting. Make an advanced reservation at renowned Caribou Lounge in The Deer Lodge. Come a little early and enjoy a glass of wine while you take in the magnificent views of the Victoria Glacier. For dinner, try the locally raised elk tenderloin and wild caribou medallions. Afterwards, enjoy an aperitif in the original log teahouse.
Day 5: Experience the Johnston Canyon Icewalk and cap off your trip with the ultimate Canadian meal
Enjoy your last day in Banff exploring Johnston Canyon. You’ll still enjoy the crisp mountain air and spectacular views, but at a much slower pace (which will probably be a welcome change after three consecutive days of skiing). The Banff Tours Johnston Canyon Icewalk traverses a series of steel catwalks that provides a spectacular vantage point of Johnston Canyon below. This 3.2-mile tour winds through a natural cave feature, past the lower falls and eventually to the breathtaking upper icefalls. Travel through prime wildlife habitat and learn the clues to how Johnston Canyon was formed. Guests should dress in warm outerwear for this trip including hats, mittens and warm boots.
Next, head to the Banff Tea Co. in downtown Banff and sip an afternoon cup or load up on a couple bags of your favorite blends. When it’s time for dinner, head to the Maple Leaf Grill in downtown Banff for a very Canadian gastronomic experience. Start your last meal in Banff off with the regional game charcuterie board, featuring Rocky Mountain game and artisan Canadian cheeses. For your entrée, try the wild maple British Columbia salmon or the Central Alberta bison tenderloin. Be sure to check out the wine list, too, which features fine vintages sourced from the nearby Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
Feeling prepared to take on your first ski trip to Banff? Get your trip on the books and call one of our 65+ Mountain Travel Experts today. They’re standing by for your call at 800-610-8911. You can also get started by filling out a form for free custom quote.
Originally from the icy trails of New Jersey, I moved West to pursue powder and a career in writing and editing. Now in Aspen, Colo. and working for Ski.com managing the website and blog content, I couldn't be happier. You'll find me skiing at Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands in the winter and mountain biking at Snowmass in the summer.