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Banff in the winter. Photo by Reuben Krabbe courtesy SkiBig3

Featured Article

World-Class Slopes + Winter Fun

Point your boots toward Banff this winter

If you seek to swap desert mountains and arid winters for snow-capped Canadian Rockies, frozen lakes, and evergreens frosted with mounds of fluffy snow, set your sights on Banff National Park.

Located in Canada’s Alberta Province, Banff is a remote winter wonderland that is surprisingly easy to reach. Delta and Canadian budget carrier Flair Airlines offer direct flights to Calgary from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. United and American have relatively simple routes with layovers in Denver and Dallas, respectively.

From Calgary, you’ll have the option of renting a car or taking a shuttle into Banff. The Banff Airporter Shuttle is perfect if you’re a committed warm-weather driver or nervous about icy roads. I’m an anxious winter driver and loved the comfortable shuttle. Either way, the trip to Banff takes about two hours, making your total journey from desert vista to magical snowscape around six to seven hours.

Visitors to Banff will enjoy one of the longest winter seasons on the planet—the seven-month ski season stretches from late November to early May. Banff became Canada’s first national park in 1885 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The scenery, variety of ski runs, off-the-slopes options, and friendly people combine to make Banff a delightful winter getaway—just make sure to bundle up!

Banff Winter Weather

Winter temperatures range from the high 30s to the low teens, although be advised Canadians use the metric system for temperature and other measurements. For those not used to frigid weather, ensure you have adequate winter gear—ski pants, ski parka, and sturdy, warm boots for traction on icy streets. Skiing or not, you’ll be spending time in the elements, and even shopping on Banff Avenue or walking from your hotel to dinner can be a frosty experience. I live in Texas most of the year, so I’m quick to label anything below 50 as heavy-coat weather.

Make sure you have warm mittens with inserts, which keep your hands much warmer than gloves, and a buff or neck gaiter you can pull over your nose and mouth when the temps plummet. There are shops in town where you can purchase various winter gear if you’ve forgotten something or need an extra layer. I’m pretty wimpy in winter temperatures, and I find keeping my head, hands, and feet toasty goes a long way to help me acclimate.

A Skiing and Snowboarder’s Paradise

From novice to expert, 29 lifts and 362 runs across three ski resorts will give you the perfect dose of adventure. The SkiBig3 lift ticket allows you access to all three Banff-area ski resorts—Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt. Norquay. Only one resort is ski-in, ski-out, Banff Sunshine Village.

There are free ski shuttles that pick up skiers from various hotels in town, so even if you opt not to stay at Sunshine Village, getting to the slopes is still easy. The best deals come with at least three days of skiing and a 21-day advance purchase, so it pays to plan.

Banff Sunshine Village Lodge—Ski on the Continental Divide  

Twelve lifts, 137 runs with 20 percent beginner, 55 percent intermediate, and 25 percent advanced runs.

Lake Louise Ski Resort—Ski with Views of Lake Louise

Eleven lifts, 164 runs with 25 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate, and 30 percent advanced runs.

Mt. Norquay—Offering Night Skiing and Snow Tube Runs

Six lifts, 60 runs with 31 percent beginner, 25 percent intermediate, and 44 percent advanced runs.

Winter Fun Off the Slopes

I don’t ski or snowboard and found plenty of wintertime fun in Banff. Whether you love to ski and are looking to mix things up with off-the-slopes activities or don’t plan to ski at all, you won’t lack for things to do. I spent nearly a week in Banff and stayed busy. This is a trip where people with varying interests can all be happy.

Banff Gondola

Riding the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulfur Mountain offers views of Banff and Lake Louise from 7,500 feet year-round, but the Nightrise experience, available from mid-November through March, is a unique way to experience winter scenery and indigenous culture. Nightrise is included with Gondola tickets and provides an immersive experience, including lights, projections, and soundscapes created in partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation.

Johnson Canyon Evening Ice Walk

My night hike in the park’s Johnson Canyon was the highlight of my trip to Banff. Although the trail is open to anyone, I felt more comfortable going with a group and booked through Discover Banff Tours. The easy 1.4-mile out-and-back trail runs along suspended catwalks built into the canyon, leading to a partially frozen waterfall.

This trail can be explored during daylight hours as well, but my night hike felt like something out of a fairy tale.

Ice Skating

Banff has several spots to enjoy ice skating, both on a frozen lake and at a rink. Lake Louise is the most popular skating spot, but locals also like Two Jack Lakes and Lake Minnewanka. You’ll also find outdoor rinks at Fenlands Meadow and Banff Train Station. 

Banff SnowDays

This January festival (held January 19 through February 4, 2024) brings the artistry of snow and ice sculptures to downtown Banff. There’s also a winter snow play zone with sledding hills, curling, and a fat tire bike track. The crown jewel of SnowDays is the skijoring demonstration. Watch a breathtaking exhibition of trick riding and ski stunts by Alberta’s best cowboys, cowgirls, and trick skiers.

Dining & Drinks

Banff Avenue and neighboring Bear Avenue offer many walkable options if you stay in downtown Banff. Here’s a sampling of my favorites.

  • Bear Street Tavern: Pizza, sandwiches, and cast iron specialties
  • Bluebird Wood-Fired Steakhouse: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch
  • Shoku Izakaya: Rice bowls, sushi, and ramen
  • Wild Flour Bakery: Breakfast, lunch, and pastries
  • Banff Avenue Brewing Company: Local beer, appetizers, and late-night menu

Resort Options for Every Budget

I stayed in the Mount Royal Hotel, and even though it comes in on the lower end of the price point, it did not feel like a budget hotel. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with many offering views of the mountains and Banff Avenue. There’s also a rooftop hot tub and an onsite restaurant, Brazen, serving elevated cuisine casually.

If you don’t plan to rent a car, I recommend checking the distance between your hotel and the Banff Avenue area. There’s no ride-sharing in Banff National Park, but a taxi service is available. There are shuttles to get to the ski lifts, and most organized tours offer hotel pickup, but if you’ve got a longer walk between your lodging and restaurants, shopping, and entertainment, the cold and wind can be brutal.

Here are a few recommendations for staying in Banff:

  • Mount Royal Hotel: Averages $110/night
  • Buffalo Mountain Lodge: Averages $140/night
  • Sunshine Mountain Lodge: Averages $300/night
  • Fairmont Banff Springs: Averages $444/night

Banff is a remote winter wonderland that is surprisingly easy to reach from Arizona. 

  • Trails around Banff. Photo by Lukasz Warzecha courtesy Banff Lake Louise Tourism
  • Bear Street in Banff. Photo by Dan Evans courtesy Banff Lake Louise Tourism
  • SnowDays in Banff. Photo by Shannon Martin courtesy Banff Lake Louise Tourism
  • Snow sculptures in Banff. Photo by Shannon Martin courtesy Banff Lake Louise Tourism
  • Winter fun in Banff. Photo by Shannon Martin courtesy Banff Lake Louise Tourism
  • SnowDays in Banff. Photo by Shannon Martin courtesy Banff Lake Louise Tourism
  • Banff in the winter. Photo by Grant Gunderson courtesy SkiBig3
  • Banff in the winter. Photo by Reuben Krabbe courtesy SkiBig3
  • Lake Louise. Photo courtesy SkiBig3
  • Downtown Banff. Photo by Grant Gunderson courtesy SkiBig3
  • Exploring Banff. Photo courtesy SkiBig3
  • Banff National Park. Photo by Eric Hanson courtesy Banff Lake Louise Tourism