Canada is a bucket-list ski destination and it’s easy to see why. Traditional railway towns are full of friendly locals, and the national parks are bursting with scenery and wildlife. As for the slopes, world-renowned ski areas offer wide open runs and few lift queues. We caught up with one of our ski experts, Lucy, after a trip to the Ski Big 3 area, which covers the resorts of Banff and Lake Louise.
Why should I visit Canada over Europe?
Lucy: For the great slope conditions and pretty much guaranteed snow – there’s just so much of it! I’d also say the hotels are a lure – they’re either ultra-modern with large rooms and a vast collection of facilities, or they’re traditional cabin lodges with a cosy Canadian feel.
Is the snow any different to European resorts?
Lucy: It’s totally different – really dry and fluffy. The snow in Europe can be full of moisture so it feels thick, and it can get wet and slushy under the spring sun. But in Canada it’s more like fine powder so you glide effortlessly with really smooth turns.
The piste categories are different in Canada to Europe. Are they harder?
Lucy: The categories are very similar – they still have green, blue and black runs but there are no reds, and they also have extra tricky double blacks. In general, I found that the slopes are so much wider, longer and a lot quieter than Europe – so there’s lots of space to ski.
For beginners, is it worth going so far to learn to ski?
Lucy: If I was a beginner again, I’d go to Canada to learn – the ski schools and instructors are really impressive. It helps that they’re native English speakers and the majority of the group you’re learning with are too. I spent some time on the mountain with an instructor during our trip and I learned more from him than any previous lessons I’ve had. Plus, the range of gentle slopes is great for a beginner.
Banff and the Ski Big 3 areas are well-known ski destinations. So why’s it so quiet?
Lucy: There’s just so much mountain that everyone has space to explore. Lifts are quiet and you often have the run all to yourself. We also found the weekdays were quieter than the weekend, but even the busiest days here are nothing like the popular European resorts.
Is it quick and easy to get to the ski areas from the towns?
Lucy: I love that you can access three different ski areas so easily from Banff. They’re all 15-40 minutes’ drive away, and there are plenty of free public buses and hotel shuttles that drop you right outside the lifts.
Banff has Mountain Hosts who’ll show you round the slopes for free. Is this worth doing?
Lucy: Definitely. The ski areas are big so it’s worth having an expert to show you the best bits. Our host was great and he knew so much history and heaps of interesting facts about the area.
Are there places to grab lunch on the mountain?
Lucy: Because Banff’s a national park, they don’t really have restaurants across the ski area. Most people head down into the villages for lunch, where there’s everything from sushi and steak to pizza and pasta. Plus, the prices are reasonable and the portions are huge. I tried the local speciality of elk bolognaise and it was delicious!
What’s the après scene like in Canada?
Lucy: Après in Canada doesn’t mean parties on the piste and dancing on tables like in Europe. It’s more relaxed – think soaking in the hotel spa or trying a snow activity like ice skating on the frozen Lake Louise. Lots of people go back to the hotel after skiing, maybe with a quick stop at a local bar, and then head back out for dinner. We didn’t have too many late nights so that we were fresh for first lifts.
What are the top activities to do when you’re not skiing?
Lucy: They’ve got the usual fun activities like snowmobiling and snowshoe walking, but I’d recommend trying something a bit different. The locals are so passionate about their country and there are lots of different tours on offer – from food tours of local restaurants to heli-hiking tours and canyon ice walks.
Apparently the scenery is spectacular. What made you say ‘wow’?
Lucy: Everything makes you say ‘wow’! The wide open mountain ranges, snow-crusted trees, frozen waterfalls and wild animals – especially along the Icefields Parkway drive from Banff to Jasper, and around Banff itself, which is a national park. I looked out my window one morning and saw elk wandering by. You might even spot a wild bear if you’re lucky – Banff has a regular four-pawed visitor.
Are the locals as friendly and welcoming as everyone says?
Lucy: The locals are super chatty and make you feel like an old friend. Most of them are Canadian, but there’s a great mix of nationalities. One thing they have in common is that they’re all super proud of their country – and quite rightly so. The staff in the hotels, on the mountain, in a bar or restaurant will happily chat away about the town and its history. Up in Jasper, you have to work in the town to live there – which is great for maintaining the proud community feel.
I’ve heard Canada is much colder than Europe – is that true?
Lucy: It’s a lot colder than what I’ve been used to in Europe – highs of no more than -5°C in December and January and just 4°C in March. But I planned ahead and took plenty of layers. I also packed a pair of good-quality mittens and hand warmers to slip inside. It can be a little warmer when the sun’s out, but you really feel the cold on the lifts, so it’s a good idea to pop a couple of warmers inside your ski boots too. And they keep all the hotels super toasty – great to return to after a day on the slopes.
Are holidays to Canada expensive?
Lucy: The cost of the actual holiday, which includes your flights, transfers and accommodation, does cost more than some European deals. But for many Canadian resorts, each element of your holiday works on a tiered pricing system, so the earlier you book, the bigger the discount. And when it comes to the lift passes, Banff is a lot cheaper than some of the other Canadian resorts.
As for your accommodation, there are options for every budget including self-catering and bed and breakfast stays, as well as the more luxurious picks.
When you’re out there, food and drink costs no more than London prices, with a beer for around £5-6. And you can take advantage of picnics and packed lunches available from some hotels to save a bit of cash.
Do you have any tips for someone looking to go to Canada?
Lucy: Because the snow’s pretty much guaranteed, there’s no need to hold off booking until the last minute. In fact, the earlier you book, the more likely you are to get a better deal and the longer you’ve got to pay off the balance. I’d also recommend getting the right gear. A good quality coat and gloves are worth every penny. And with the air being so dry, make sure you have plenty of moisturiser – I had a lip balm on hand at all times.
Fancy exploring the slopes of North America? Check out our deals to Canada.