It’s that time of year to start winter vacation planning, and I’m not talking about the beach and all you can drink type of vacations. It’s ski and snowboard vacations! Before we had kids, we spent a couple vacations skiing in Western Canada.
I know that a LOT of people are starting to plan their winter holidays, and I’m often asked which is the best ski hill in Western Canada? It’s actually a pretty subjective question. I’ve been lucky enough to visit 6 of Canada’s top west-coast ski resorts, and I know I’ve got a bunch more to explore.
Here is my guide to skiing in Western Canada.
Ski Big 3 – Also known as Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Ski Norquay – Banff, AB
My very first experience into the world of west coast skiing was a trip to Ski Big 3. it’s a great set up as you stay in Banff, there are hourly shuttles to the three hills.
The hills included in the SKi Big 3 area are : Lake Louise, Sunshine, and Ski Norquay. We never actually went to Norquay as most locals told us it wasn’t anything special (sorry ski Norquay, I’m sure you’re amazing!)
Our first day was at Sunshine and to be honest, we didn’t love it. We didn’t find the right trails, and the runs themselves weren’t that long. I would love to give Sunshine another shot as so many of my friends from Calgary seem to love it there.
We spent the rest of our week at Lake Louise. We love it. The mountain is HUGE and there is such a diverse range of trails. It’s a great first step into west coast skiing.
The week we travelled to Banff was a record cold week, so cold that one of the days Lake Louise wasn’t running the gondola. It was -30C without the windchill.
That’s one thing about Calgary/Banff that other hills don’t suffer from as much, the risk of it being freezing like it is in Montreal.
What was really cool is the proximity to BC and the fact that you do a day trip to a place like Kicking Horse (read more on that below)
I would love to visit these hills again, as this trip was back in 2007 which seems like a lifetime ago.
How We Got There: Flew from Montreal to Calgary. Had a shuttle waiting for us to take us to Banff.
Kicking Horse – Golden, BC
Kicking Horse was a hill I had never heard of until we got to Banff (again, this was back in 2007). During out trip to Banff, my husband booked us a day trip to Kicking Horse. Located in Golden, BC, it’s only an hour and a half away from Banff. Our trip included a bus ride which made this very easy.
I was not ready for Kicking Horse. Kicking Horse is advanced. Like really advanced. It’s a bowl paradise. (What’s a bowl: A bowl is a large mountain basin, characteristically free of trees and tailor-made for great sweeping turns or steep, speedy dives)
Kicking Horse has the 4th biggest skiable vertical in Canada. Most the people we saw at Kicking Horse were advanced. We didn’t see any families (I’m sure there are some, and from what I understand they do have family friendly trains)
Out of the 120+ runs, 45% of them are for advanced skiers and riders and 15% are rated for experts. This means that more than half of the mountain is ready to push your limits and fulfill all your adrenaline junkie dreams. Like I said, I wasn’t ready for this hill. I was exhausted after a week of riding out west, and my day at Kicking Horse was a tough one.
I would LOVE to go back, it’s been a dream to try it again.
How We Got There: We booked a bus and lift ticket tour while in Banff. (It’s only 1.5 hours away from Banff).
Fernie Alpine Resort- Fernie, BC
Fernie Alpine Resort is awesome. We spent a solid 4-5 days discovering this hill and loved it. People love Fernie because it snows, like A LOT! They get up to 37 feet of snow fall each year. There are five huge bowls and with over 140 trails, there is a lot of variety to ski. We visited Fernie during a very cold week, and they hadn’t had that much fresh snow the year we went.
My husband visited Fernie again in January 2020 and he could not believe the amount of snow they received. (He booked super last minute as he was watching the and following the snow to make sure it would be a good experience).
We had friends meet up with us on this trip which was great as they showed us a few trails we hadn’t discovered yet.
The town of Fernie, BC, is very close to the mountain which gives a nice feel and atmosphere.
How We Got There: Flew from Montreal to Calgary. Rented a car, and drove 3 hours to Fernie Resort.
Whistler Blackcomb – Whistler, BC
What can you say about Whistler Blackcomb that hasn’t already been said before? This is probably Canada’s most famous hill. I only got to spend 1 day at Whistler (I didn’t even venture to the Blackcomb side) and I had the time of the my life. It was a bit overcast meaning there was a bit of rain at the bottom of the hill, and snow at the top which made for some poorer visibility.
I made the rookie mistake of taking the harmony express (which is essentially the peak) and riding all the way to the very bottom in 1 run as a last run. Let’s just say it took forever and I needed to take a few leg breaks. It’s a LONG run, but I’m glad I did it. The beer at the end tasted fantastic!
Whistler is a must ski at least once in your life. It’s iconic, but also the hill is great. There is something for everyone, and the après ski scene is fantastic. The hill is huge, and you need some time to really discover it.
How We Got There: Fly from Montreal to Vancouver. Booked a shuttle from downtown Vancouver.
Big White – Kelowna, BC
Big White gets snow, and it’s mild, and it’s family friendly, and it’s a lot of fun! Do you get the same panoramic views of the rockies like you do in Banff? No. Does it matter? Nope!
I was very lucky to visit Big White 2 years ago and I’ve been talking about going back ever since (just waiting for our little guys to get a bit better before we go). It is THE hill for snow, it’s the most family friendly hill in the west, and well, it’s just such a great time. Oh, and did I mention how mild it is there? We were there in December and it was maybe -2C which is incredible for skiing. No triple layers of warmth required!
I really enjoyed my days at Big White, and would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a great hill, with great powder and an amazing vibe.
How We Got There: Flew to Kelowna (with a connection in Vancouver). Big White shuttle waiting for us at the airport to.
So that’s my very small overview of the hills I have been to so far. I really loved my experience out west so far, and look forward to discovering more hills, specifically in interior BC. Why interior BC? Well, it’s the most mild and they seem to get the most fluffy powdery snow!
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