Best For: Hardy skiers and snowboarders of all abilities who love big views, wild panoramas, and bighorn sheep on the front lawn
The only town on this list located inside a national park, Banff also happens to be one of the most cosmopolitan. Typically teeming with visitors from many continents, downtown is a warren of international eateries, tourist shops, and museums, all surrounded by pristine mountain peaks stabbing thousands of feet into the sky. It’s one of the few places on Earth where you can walk out of a hip nightclub and two blocks later bump into a grazing bull elk (seriously, keep an eye out, they’re all over the place). Historic hotels and mountain hot springs add to the ambiance of frontier luxury.
There are three ski areas here within a 50-minute drive, all skiable on a single ticket. The runs of small but steep Mount Norquay, home of the one of the oldest chairlifts in North America, are visible from town. A larger and more well-rounded area, Sunshine Village—which is neither a village nor particularly sunny—sits on the Continental Divide and features the most reliable snow in the area. It also has the freeride area Delirium Dive, which harbors the kind of dizzyingly steep and rugged terrain you rarely find in-bounds in ski areas (transceivers, shovels, partners required). Lake Louise is second in size to only Whistler among Canadian ski areas and features some of the world’s most scenic skiing and snowboarding. Shuttle buses are available from town to all three areas. Be prepared for cold temperatures in mid-winter.
Ask a Local: David Spence is a lifetime Banff local, former ski racing coach, and self-described “professional ski bum.” Here are his recommendations.
Best Digs: The Banff Aspen Lodge has great rates and a free skiers breakfast. Since winter is actually Banff's low season, skiers can access the five-star Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel for three-star prices.
Best After-Ski Party Spot: With over 30 bars and restaurants, Banff is the type of town where you barhop. Every place is different, and they’re all within three blocks.
Banff’s Classic Ski Run: The Bye Bye Bowl at Sunshine Village is wide open, and you can’t beat the view.
This story was originally published on February 2, 2012. It was updated and edited on October 30, 2017.