Culture Trip’s Ski Guide to Banff, Canada

The snow-capped Rocky Mountains overlooking canoes out on Lake Louise
The snow-capped Rocky Mountains overlooking canoes out on Lake Louise | © lucky-photographer / Alamy Stock Photo
Chloe Byrne

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Banff’s snow-dipped mountains, misty pine forests and icy glacial lakes appear like a Bob Ross painting brought to life. With scenery like this, it’s no wonder Banff became Canada’s first national park. But it’s not just the picture-perfect nature and the hope of spotting a grizzly bear or two that draw people in to Banff; the resort town is flooded annually with skiers and snowboarders all intent on the same thing: carving up fresh lines in on the thick, snowy pistes.

Where to stay

1. Juniper Hotel

Budget Hotel

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Courtesy of Juniper Hotel / Expedia

The views from the doorstep of Juniper Hotel are hard to beat, with rolling hills, an army of bushy pine trees and cloud-brushing mountains that rise up beyond. You may even catch sight of a wandering elk or coyote as you unwind in the shared hot tub or tuck into a spicy shakshuka brunch on the bucolic restaurant patio. Mid-century-style rooms range from Standards – facing Mt. Norquay, its ski resort just a 10-minute drive away – to the Penthouse Suite, which is decked out with a plush violet corner sofa, fireplace and fully equipped kitchen.

2. Elk and Avenue Hotel

Hotel

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Courtesy of Elk & Avenue Hotel / Expedia

Elk & Avenue Hotel sits in the heart of Banff – in a few strides you can be toasting an exhilarating day on the slopes in an après-ski bar or perusing hand-crafted souvenirs in boutique shops. If you prefer watching the world go by, grab a seat on the hotel’s corner-front patio and warm up your hands clutching a hot chocolate from Good Earth Coffeehouse. Stomp off snow-covered boots and head inside to find exposed beams, chocolate-brown leather sofas and a cobblestone desk in the lobby, plus faux-fur throws, gnarled tree-stump tables and mountain views in the Junior Suites. There’s also a shared sauna and hot tub if you fancy a muscle-soothing soak and steam.

3. Fairmont Banff Springs

Resort, Suite Hotel, Spa Hotel, Luxury

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Courtesy of Fairmont Banff Springs / Expedia

With its turreted facade, ensconced in evergreen forest and backed by the rugged peaks of the Rockies, Fairmont Banff Springs seems plucked from a fairytale. You can take a dip in the spa’s mineral pool – lined by stone pillars and gushing waterfalls that recreate the natural ambience of hot springs – breathe in fresh mountain air while sinking a few holes on the championship golf course or sip on a floral, Negroni-inspired Wild Flower cocktail in Rundle Bar. There is private storage for skis and bikes, so you won’t be trudging snow or mud across the polished marble floors, as well as six eateries to choose from – swing by the 1888 Chop House for sustainably sourced steak.

What to do

4. Lake Louise and the Icefield Parkway – Full-Day Tour

Tours

Soak up the wild beauty of Alberta on this full-day sightseeing tour. After clambering on board a small coach in Banff, you’ll meet your friendly driver-slash-guide and soon be cruising down serpentine roads, stopping at glacial lakes, blue-tinged glaciers and gushing waterfalls along the way. You’ll get to feel the spray of Bow Fall’s fierce cascade as it spills over the rocks, potentially catch a glimpse of a grizzly bear while driving along the forest-fringed Icefield Parkway and – in the winter – take a tentative wander over the frozen surface of otherworldly Lake Louise.

5. Discover Grizzly Bears from Banff

Tours

Canada, Alberta, Jasper and Banff National Park, Grizzly bears, mother with young animals
© Discover Grizzly Bears from Banff

Pack your camera, grab your binoculars and seize this unmissable opportunity to encounter the elusive grizzly bear. This tour takes you into the heart of grizzly country, stopping to gaze up at Takakkaw Waterfall. Afterwards, you’ll take a gondola to the snow-cloaked peak of Kicking Horse Mountain, where you can devour a gourmet lunch at Eagle’s Eye restaurant. Though you may spot an elk or bighorn sheep along the way, meeting Boo, an orphaned grizzly rescued as a cub will be a highlight – as will admiring the jewel-like glimmer of Emerald Lake on your way back.

6. Two-Hour Banff Horseback Riding Adventure

Tours

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Courtesy of Banff Horseback Riding Tour / Expedia

This horseback adventure, suitable for beginners, allows you to indulge your Wild West fantasies as you explore the untamed wilderness of Banff. First things first, you’ll meet your horse for the day and get a lowdown on the basics of riding, then you’ll be slipping on your helmet and climbing into the Western-style saddle to set off on the Sundance Loop, which takes you along the Bow River. You’ll follow your guide at a relaxed pace, passing natural sulphur hot springs cloaked in steam clouds, taking in far-reaching views of Bow Valley and wading through thick marshes to climb Sulphur Mountain. You may even learn a cowboy trick or two along the way.

Where to eat

7. Magpie and Stump

Pub, Restaurant, Mexican

Alberta: Banff Nationalpark, Banff, Restaurant Magpie & Stump in der Banff Bear Street, Kanada Westen | usage worldwide
© dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

Shelter from whistling alpine winds in the warmly lit Magpie and Stump. Its wooden walls are decorated with animal skulls, tequila barrels and antique firearms, while sombreros, colorful papel picado and cacti nod to its Mexican fare. Pull up a seat and dig into shredded beef tacos washed down with a refreshing cerveza, or build your own nachos and sip on margaritas served in a salt-rimmed jam jar. Quesadillas, chimichangas and enchiladas are also on the menu, promising to soak up some of that après-ski indulgence.

8. The Grizzly House

Restaurant, North American, Swiss, European, Canadian

Grizzly House restaurant in Banff Alberta Canada
© david pearson / Alamy Stock Photo

A Banff staple since 1967, the Grizzly House started life as Western Canada’s first disco, pulsing with the music of touring bands and go-go dancers. It has since transformed into a popular fondue restaurant, serving up exotic meats like rattlesnake, shark and buffalo – alongside the more typical bread, chicken and beef – to dip into the sizzling raclette-melted cheese. The vibe is hunting-lodge-meets-old-school-disco, with ’70s music piping from the speakers and a rustic interior decked out with a taxidermied buffalo head, carved wood bear and totem poles – not to mention the leather-clad mannequin riding a motorcycle.

9. The Bison

Bar, Restaurant, Contemporary, North American, Canadian

Farm-to-table fare is the name of the game at the Bison. Its seasonal menu consists of sustainably sourced ingredients from local, family-run farms across Alberta, so you can be sure you’re getting an authentic taste of Canadian cuisine. Bison, unsurprisingly, is the signature dish here – take it straight up as a buttery ribeye with a side of crispy potatoes, or try the bison ragu and ricotta gnocchi, paired with fresh cheese curds and shallots. You can watch the chefs work their magic thanks to the open kitchen, or head onto the terrace to take in killer mountain views and savor the warm glow of a roaring campfire.

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