You might not think that skiing at a premier mountain resort in the Canadian Rockies would be a wise choice for an adult beginner to snow sports, but did you know the ski resorts around Banff, Alberta, Canada, were designed with the beginner in mind?
Banff was created with tourism in mind. Located in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, a UNESCO World Heritage site, its history, majestic mountain landscapes, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, canyons and limestone caves make it a wonderful destination for family travel and those seeking to enjoy snow sports.
On average, the area resorts have about 20 percent of their terrain earmarked for those learning to ski or snowboard. This may not seem like a lot of options but, as a mom who is brand new to the sport, it is plenty.
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Skiers are labeled beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced and expert. Green trails are marked for beginners and novices, blue for intermediate and black for expert and advanced.
If you’ve already taken a few beginner lessons and want to practice your new skills make sure to speak with the instructors from the skiing school before you head out to the slopes because they will know what are the best hills for your skill level. There may be a specific run that is suggested by the trail map as best for beginners but but there may be others that are a better fit for you.
Skiing Options Near Banff
The resort town of Banff has three popular ski areas (known as the Big Three): Lake Louise, Mount Norquay and Sunshine Village.
Lake Louise Ski Resort
About a 30-45 minute drive from Banff’s downtown area, it is known to have a bit more beginner terrain than its sister resorts and is generally thought of as a great choice for beginners and families.
This resort has the Sunny Side Kid Zone that is fully enclosed space for kids who are new to skiing and snowboarding. It has a magic-carpet and is conveniently located next to the Daycare and Base Area buildings.
What makes it beginner-friendly for adults is that it has a beginner hill with a long gradual slope that is great for adults and teens taking private or group lessons away from the younger children at the Kid Zone. It has two surface lifts (the grown-up name for magic carpet) that allow you to choose a shorter run or a slightly longer run to practice the new skills you’ve learned with a modicum of dignity compared with what the usual short beginner hills offer.
Sunshine Village Resort
Only a 15 minute ride from Banff, you take a gondola with fantastic views up the mountain. At the base of the ski area is the Sunshine Mountain Lodge with accommodations that look out onto the slopes. This is a great option for beginners and families, like mine, who have different levels of skill because you can cut the day short and kick back with a glass of wine on the balcony and watch your independent children ski to their hearts content.
The drawback of Sunshine to the brand new skier is that it only has a small learning area and the only practice hill is up the “Mighty Might” carpet lift to a short descent. That leaves practicing and lessons for adults on the next larger hill, which can feel a bit steep at first for the newbie that needs to get their ski legs first.
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The two easiest hills, Dell Valley (the easier of the two) and Rock Isle Road, are accessed via the Strawberry Express quad lift. On the Rock trail be careful to follow the signs carefully or you can end up on a harder trail near the bottom that has a fairly steep descent.
For beginners that feel they have mastered these two hills and are ready for a challenge, the resort recommends taking the Standish, WaWa or Angel chair lifts to longer green runs.
Warning! Do not let your spouse talk you into skiing down the mountain over taking the gondola at the end of the day. It starts out easy so give it a try if you want but when you get to the last entrance to the gondola, take it! The rest of the way down is narrow and steep.
This mountain is considered a resort for the locals and it is the “smallest” with only 77 acres of terrain. Its main benefits are its convenient location near the town of Banff and their trails are reputed to be more laid back than its sister resorts.
First time skiers start at the Sundance surface lift near the base village lodge. Those who have mastered the skills of snow plowing and wedge turning you can take the Cascade chairlift to longer and slightly steep green slopes and eventually to more meandering trails. The beginner tails are spread throughout the resort’s 4200 acres so newbies get to experience more than one small area.
The one drawback to this resort is for travelers who’ve come a long way to visit the area. If you have advanced snow boarders or skiers in your family and only have a short amount of time, they are going to want to go to the larger and more diverse mountains. We decided to skip this mountain, much to my chagrin, but I’ve heard that the Glacier Express Quad will take you to a lovely meandering green trail down to the base. Definitely on my list for next time!
Other Resorts Nearby
Others include Canyon Ski Area, Castle Mountain Resort, Edmonton Ski Club, Hidden Valley, Kinosoo Ridge, Marmot Basin/Jasper National Park, Nakiska Ski Resort, Nitehawk Ski Hill, Rabbit Hill Ski and Snowboard Center, Snow Valley Ski Club, and Sunridge Ski Area.
Relaxation After the Slopes
You will be sore. The area has some natural hot springs and there are many spas around town. The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel has a large spa with a number of hot, cold and mineral pools to relax your aching muscles. You can get a day pass to use the pools or it is included with most spa treatments, including massages. The spa is restricted to adults only, but there is also an indoor pool and an outdoor heated pool where the rest of your family can swim and enjoy amazing views if you are guests at the hotel.
TIPS for Those Brand New to Skiing and Snowboarding
- Most injuries occur near the end of the day when skiers and boarders are getting fatigued, so don’t decide at 6 p.m. to do one more run on a more challenging hill
- If you spent years trying to snowboard, try skiing because it is much easier and more intuitive
- Always wear a helmet
- Take a first lesson at a local hill before your big trip
- Make sure your boots fit snug to give you more control on your turns
- Don’t try challenging runs until you are ready
- Look up the mountain before you enter a trail to make sure the way is clear
- Follow the Alpine Responsibility Code posted around the resort