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|Resort: stayed Banff (skied Mt Norquay, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Kicking Horse, Panorama)
Date: 22nd Feb-4th Mar 2008
Our Holiday: A mate and I wanted to experience some Canadian hospitality, we took a Thomson package with BA flights from Heathrow to Calgary and stayed B&B at Irwin's Mountain Inn on Banff Ave.
Basics: Banff is a small mountain town in the Canadian Rockies with everything a skier might need set in stupendous National Park scenery, it is used as a bed base for visiting nearby and far-flung ski areas.
Lift System: All the resorts had modern gondolas and chairs, just a few drags on the beginner's slopes. Sunshine, the most lift-endowed ski area we visited, has 1 gondola and 9 chairs, so these aren't huge areas compared to some european destinations, you could probably ski out the pisted areas of each of them in a day or two, very enjoyable nonetheless. Very little queuing even though it was peak season. The Sunshine gondola first thing in the morning on the holiday weekend was the worst, use the singles line. All the resort staff including lifties are very helpful, friendly and eager for you to enjoy your day.
Sunshine: the "village" at the top of gondola sits in a bowl where chairs fan out to several surrounding peaks with a variety of runs for all abilities above and below the tree-line.
Lake Louise: from the impressive base lodge lifts and long runs fan out up the front-side, off the back-side there are lots of steep off-piste possibilities and the link into the Larch area of enjoyable tree-lined runs. Views from the top across the valley to Lake Louise superb.
Kicking Horse: main gondola delivers you to Eagle's Eye with many steep and deep ways down (some need a hike along ridges) the chutes and bowls of the top half of the mountain, the lower mountain has some tamer terrain for the less adventurous.
Panorama: a series of chairs work their way to the summit accessing Taynton bowl for experts and a plethora of empty runs down through the trees for anyone else.
Mt Norquay: only skied on Fri evening, one chair is open with floodlit pistes either side and fun park directly underneath, entertaining watching the fearless local kids on the jumps whilst riding the chair.
Snow: 2008 wasn't a vintage season in the Canadian Rockies (Delirium Dive expert area at Sunshine wasn't open when we were there). Nevertheless, the snow at Sunshine was about the best I've skied on, squeaky, fluffy and forgiving.
We had several top-ups during our stay and air temps stayed near freezing, on sunny days it was pleasantly mild, even warm. We didn't experience the unbearable cold that you can get in midwinter. The pistes were a bit hard-packed lower down at Louise, Kicking Horse and particularly Panorama. Snow was always best at Sunshine.
Off-piste: Many lift-served and hikeable possibilities within ski area boundaries, snow conditions permitting.
Resort: Banff is a lively place, bars, restaurants, clubs, shops, malls. A proper town compared to village resorts and ski-stations I've visited in the Alps. Very friendly service from everyone we met, no language barriers-a bonus.
Food/Apres: excellent choice at reasonable prices:
On-mountain Trapper's Saloon (C$12 Beef Chili) at Sunshine and carvery (C$13) upstairs at Great Bear Room in Louise's Lodge of 10 Peaks stand out. Starbucks outlets at Sunshine gave large cup of quality fresh coffee or chocolate for C$4-5.
In Banff town, steaks at Saltlik (C$26 steak main), greek night at the Balkan(C$60 a head, 3 courses & 1 drink), Elk & Oarsman(C$12 pizza), cheap eats at Old Spaghetti Factory(C$14-20 3 course pasta & 1 drink) stand out. Magpie & Stump tex-mex let us down with over-cooked chicken and inexperienced service. Grizzly House was OK for hot stone (pierrade) & fondue 4-course set menu (C$44) but not as good as the genuine article in France and they added the service charge automatically, everywhere else left us to decide on a tip, of course 15% is pretty much expected in N America but they really work hard to please (and help you spend more, so beware). Friday night at Aurora's was a lively place to be.
There are many other activities other than skiing; Snowmobiling day trip near Kicking Horse (C$250 inc transport, food and 4-5 hrs snowmobiling), Ice skating on Lake Louise, driving up the Icefields Parkway, Snowshoeing across frozen lakes in the backcountry, hiking to frozen waterfalls in Johnston's Canyon, Cross-country trails everywhere. We had a car for 4 days to access some of these, equipment and advice available from the hire shops in Banff.
Accommodation: There's something for all budgets in Banff, just make sure you're not so far down Banff Ave that it's a long way to walk into town. Irwin's was basic but OK, good location not too far from town, it was handy having breakfast included, self-service coffee, juice, cereals, toast, muffins set us up for the day. Ski buses stopped 25 metres from the door.
Costs: Our B&B package cost (¬£580pp) barely anymore than the cheapest I ever saw the corresponding BA flights at. In fact, on the flight back, got chatting to one fellow passenger who was surprised to find that he had paid more for his flights than the package I was on. Charter flights from Gatwick may be a little cheaper, these sometimes get discounted too. It is probably going to cost more in total than a Europe trip from the UK, though.
On the ground, I found everything reasonable (exchange rate around ¬£1=C$2), similar or slightly cheaper than home, even good value compared to resort prices in the Alps. Liftpasses are a bit pricey, but lack of crowds and queues made up for this.
Day trips to Kicking Horse and Panorama cost little more than lift ticket price so definitely worth it if you don't mind spending some time on a bus, awesome scenery makes up for it.
Conclusion: Recommended, you must try it once and then you'll probably be hooked:
Plus points: scenery, good snow, English spoken, reasonable costs, friendly service, uncrowded pistes, wilderness within touching distance.
Minus points: jetlag, bus travel to and from ski areas.
I'd definitely go again if I could afford it.
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Last edited by A snowHead on Tue 23-12-08 11:16; edited 1 time in total