The Crystal Ski Holidays Blog

A quick guide to skiing in Canada

Big-name ski areas, amazing snow, incredible scenery and friendly locals – it’s easy to see why Canada’s such a popular place for ski holidays. If you’re thinking about hitting the slopes across the pond this winter, here’s everything you need to know.

So what’s the skiing like?

Canada’s home to some of the biggest ski areas in North America, and topping them all is Whistler, stretching across 8,171 acres. And in Canada, unlike in Europe, all of the terrain inside the area boundary is covered by the Ski Patrol and is avalanche-safe, so you can ski anywhere you like. Stick to the groomed runs, or veer off to play in untouched powder or zig-zag through the trees.

Confident skiers will really be in their element with so much space, but you don’t have to be super skilled to enjoy Canada. If you’re a complete beginner – or maybe you’ve only been to an indoor slope – pick a smaller resort like Tremblant or Panorama. They’re easier to find your way around and they’ve got plenty of gentler runs. And wherever you go, the ski schools are excellent too. Book some lessons to get to know the mountain and improve your technique.

If you want to explore further beyond the slopes, book a heli-skiing trip to fly up to a remote peak and carve fresh tracks down through pristine powder. It sounds extreme, but most of the descents are about the same level as a red run, so you don’t have to be an expert. And there’s nowhere better to try it – 90% of the heli-skiing in the world is done in British Columbia, and the region around Whistler is 50 times the size of the main ski area.

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Is the snow any different to Europe?

Canada’s famous for dry, light, fluffy powder, and lots of it – some resorts get over 10m on average each year. It also helps that it’s generally much colder here than in Europe. The temperatures peak at around -5°C in December and January, and 4°C in March, so the snow sticks around for longer. Just remember to pack lots of layers to combat the chill.

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Aren’t the piste classifications different too?

The runs are graded slightly differently in North America, and you won’t see any red on the piste map. A black run here is equal to a steep red in Europe, and a double black is the same as a normal European black.

What are the resorts like?

The top ski resorts in Canada are a mix of historical railway towns like Banff, and purpose-built places like Whistler. Accommodation tends to be high-quality, with big rooms, and ranges from global brands like Fairmont and Hilton to traditional mountain lodges. And it’s no secret that Canadian’s are known for their friendliness, so you can look forward to a warm welcome.

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Credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism, Paul Zizka

Is the scenery as spectacular as everyone says?

Locals call Canada the Great White North, and it lives up to the nickname – picture mountains, forests, lakes and glaciers as far as the eye can see, all smothered with snow. Some resorts (like Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise) are even in national parks, so the landscape is protected and you can often spot wildlife like elk and big-horn sheep.

Even the transfers are something special. The Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler is one of the country’s most impressive drives, and you’ll be glued to the window as you wind past ocean views and rainforests before heading into the mountains.

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How’s the food?

You’ll usually be staying on a bed & breakfast or room-only basis, so you’ll have plenty of chances to try out different restaurants. Don’t miss favourites like poutine – a comfort-food dish of chips, cheese curds and gravy that originated in Quebec. And we can’t forget that staple flavour, maple syrup. Tremblant’s especially famous for its maple trees, and you can visit a Sugar Shack to see how the syrup’s made and tuck into a maple-soaked lunch.

All of the resorts generally have a wide range of international foods too, like Mexican, French and Japanese. If you’re a real foodie, head to Whistler to explore over 200 eateries.

As for mountain restaurants, they tend to be bigger self-service places, unlike the traditional huts you’ll often find in Europe. And they’re usually around the lift stations or down at the base of the hill, rather than spread across the ski area.

Wherever and whatever you eat, this is North America, so expect big portions, reasonable prices and friendly service.

What’s the après scene?

If you want to party ‘til late, pick a purpose-built resort like Whistler or Tremblant. They were designed with skiers in mind, so they’ve got more bars and clubs to suit all kinds of après-ski.

But in most places, the vibe is more relaxed. Stop at the bottom of the lifts for a drink, then head back to your accommodation to change before going out again for dinner. After that, you might wind up in a bar, listening to live music, catching some sports on TV or chatting to the locals.

Of course, if that’s not your thing, you can also spend your off-slope time soaking in a hot tub or getting stuck into other winter activities.

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Credit: Travel Alberta

What other activities are there then?

You can do all of the classics, like snowmobiling, snowshoe walking and dog sledding. But there are also loads of unique things to do too.

  • Feel your heart racing in Whistler as you zoom down the Olympic bobsleigh track. Or soar 600ft above the forest at over 100km/h on North America’s longest zipline, the 2km Sasquatch.
  • Keep your feet on the ground in Banff by taking a guided walk through an ice canyon to see frozen waterfalls and spot local wildlife.
  • Glide across frozen Lake Louise on ice skates, surrounded by snow-dusted trees and the Rocky Mountains.
  • Sit back and soak up the warmth of Panorama’s slopeside hot pools, the biggest ones in Canada.
  • Get the full spa experience at the Scandinave Spa in Tremblant, where you can drift between outdoor pools and saunas tucked away in the woods, and take a quick dip in the icy river to really refresh yourself.

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Set your sights on Canada and take a look at our ski deals to book your bucket-list trip.

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