Itching to travel? make the quick hop north to the epicenter of Canadian adventure, where you can climb classic ice, shred three resorts on one lift ticket, or soak in hot, healing waters.
Surrounded by the sharp, rugged peaks of the Canadian Rockies and host to the most important adventure film festival on the planet, the mountain resort town of Banff draws everyone from world-class ice climbers to family skiers to slackers with no particular agenda. Maybe it’s all the adventure nearby or just that famed Canadian politeness, but everyone in this place always seems to be smiling. And while Banff may be adventure central, there’s no need to rough it: After you play, relax at the hot springs, spoil yourself at the spa, or enjoy the lively après scene in the the happening hamlets downtown.
With three easily accessible world-class resorts, consistent snow, views that will grow your Instagram following, a long season (mid-November to late May), and extensive backcountry options, the Banff area is a must-visit for snow lovers of all levels. Boasting 8,000 acres of skiing, 26 chairlifts, two gondolas, and terrain ranging from steep chutes to family friendly cruisers, Mt Norquay (banffnorquay.com), Lake Louise Ski Resort (skilouise.com) and Sunshine Village (skibanff.com) get hammered with an average of more than 30 feet (that’s nine meters, eh) of fluffy powder each year. Experts will especially enjoy the exceptional freeride terrain like the famed Delirium Dive at Sunshine Village and The Back Bowls of Lake Louise Ski Resort. And, one tri-area lift ticket will get you into all three resorts!
Countless cross-country trails offer options for those looking for a Nordic experience while the wide, wild backcountry beckons those with the right gear and avalanche education. If you want to break open your piggy bank, the helicopter-accessed terrain here guarantees fresh tracks, thousands of vertical feet, and nights at remote luxury lodges. Check out CMH Heli-Skiing (cmhheli.com) and R.K. Heli-Skiing (rkheliski.com) if you want to explore the steepest and deepest of the Rockies (and consider carbon offsets).
Discover a winter wonderland with a must-do jaunt through Johnston Canyon, a chasm peppered with frozen waterfalls. The tranquil snow-covered forest and all that ice make the place feel like Narnia. Those short on time can hit the local’s favorite jaunt: Tunnel Mountain, a quick leg and lung buster that reaches a mountain summit and delivers stellar views of town, the Bow and Spray River valleys, and Mount Rundle. Other great hikes to check out are the strenuous Sulphur Mountain, which follows a series of switchbacks to the top of the gondola, where astounding panoramas await. Though most can tackle these winter hikes on their own, many operators, including Discover Banff Tours (banfftours.com), White Mountain Adventures (whitemountainadventures.com) and Banff Adventures (banffadventures.com) offer guided hikes to the area’s best spots.
With dozens of pristine ice routes— many with easy access—Canada’s oldest national park is a playground for climbers. Banff National Park’s classic climbing areas include the Stanley Headwall, Mount Rundle, Cascade Mountain and Lake Louise, each with a slightly different vibe and conditions. Whether you seek long, challenging multi-pitch routes like Trophy Wall with tick-list climbs including Terminator (V, WI 6), Sea of Vapors (V, WI 6) and the Auger Sanction (V, WI 6), or more popular routes like Cascade Falls (III, WI 3) and Johnston Canyon (WI 3-5), Banff is sure to please. If you’ve got the skills, get out there on your own (just check and respect avalanche conditions since many of the climbs are precariously placed). If you want to up your game, many outfitters offer classes, longer courses and guided excursions: Check out the options from Canadian Rockies Alpine Guides (cdnalpine.com), Yamanuska Mountain Adventures (yamnuska.com), or Banff Mountain Guides (banffmountainguides.com).
Adventure is the mantra in this mountain hub of the Canadian Rockies, but ther are also plenty of opportunities to relax, recover and rejuvenate here. Visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs (hotspringsca/banff-upper-hot-springs) and watch snow fall on surrounding peaks while soaking your bones in steamy, soothing water. With a large pool, a café and swimsuits, towels and lockers available for rent (and a price tag of less than $7 U.S.!), these springs make you feel pampered on a ski-bum budget. If you’re looking for an upscale experience, visit the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (fairmont.com/banff-springs/willow-stream), the castle-like landmark that lords over town. Pulsating waterfalls, mineral pools, a steam room, sauna and a host of treatments are sure to heal anything that ails you. Insider tip: Non-hotel guests pay $79 per visit, but after 7 p.m. between Monday and Thursday and all this luxury costs only $35.