Nov 21, 2017

Canadian Ski Resorts: Which one do you pick?

When there are so many great Canadian ski resorts out there, how on Earth can you pick the right one for you? If you’re coming from abroad for the first time then let me just say one thing first; you are going to LOVE Canadian skiing!

At the end of the day, it won’t really matter which hill you chose; if you’re all about the skiing, you’re going to find that skiing in the Rockies is like nothing you’ve ever experienced;…especially if you’re coming from the overcrowded ski hills in Europe .

Ski sunshine village

With so many great Canadian ski resorts out there, we really need to narrow down the field a little (click each resort to jump to the description).

There are the resorts on the western side of the Rockies:

Whistler (2-3 hours north of Vancouver)

Big White (3-4 hours from Vancouver, 7 hours from Calgary)

Revelstoke (5 hours from Vancouver or Calgary)

Cypress (in Vancouver)

Grouse (in Vancouver)

 the resorts on the Eastern Side of the Rockies:

Kicking Horse (3 hours from Calgary)

Sunshine Village (20 minutes from Banff)

Lake Louise (45 minutes from Banff)

Norquay (5 minutes from Banff)

Nakiska (45 minutes from Calgary/Banff)

and finally, there are the resorts that are on the southern end of the Canadian Rockies:

Fernie (3 hours 30 from Calgary)

Kimberley (4 hours 30 from Calgary)

Panorama (3 hours 30 from Calgary)

Castle Mountain (3 hours from Calgary)

There are also many private hills, backcountry skiing, cat skiing and heli skiing outfits that operate outside of these resorts.

If you’re considering visiting more than one resort on your trip, then consider how close each resort is to its neighbours. If I was planning a ski trip, I would plan to visit a region and then would aim to hit all the resorts in that region.

Combining regions would involve a lot of driving (upwards of 5 hours) on potentially very hazardous roads. Additionally, some regions have tickets that mean you can combine resorts. For example, a ‘Ski Big 3’ pass will combine Sunshine, Lake Louise and Noquay. A ‘Resorts of the Canadian Rockies’ pass would allow you to combine Fernie, Kimberley, Nakiska, Kicking Horse, Stoneham and Mont Sainte-Anne (last two are in Quebec).

Canadian ski resorts:

Best Beginner/Intermediate Resorts:

Sunshine Village:

Sunshine Slush Cup

This is where I spent my first ski season, and it’s the resort I know like the back of my hand. Sunshine is the perfect place for beginners. The entire resort is based around an alpine meadow with fantastically gentle slopes and nothing overly steep. Well… not exactly true; there’s challenging terrain, tree runs, cliff drops and secret routes, but you really have to work a lot harder to find them. Put it this way, you’ll never get off a lift and regret it…unlike some resorts.

My parents visited and (casual skiers, nothing too hardcore) bought the big 3 pass. After a day at Sunshine they literally refused to go anywhere else. They said it was perfect because “every run was gentle and funnels you back to the resort where you can rest up and grab a cup of tea” etc. I think that’s a pretty good summary. If you’re a park rat, there’s also usually a pretty hefty park with some enormous jumps (if you’re that way inclined).

If you stay in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge (book here), you’ll also be able to ski in/ski out.  Lastly, Sunshine Village has Canada’s first and only heated chairlift and is home to the famous Slush Cup!

Skill level: Beginner/Intermediate

Day Pass Price: $85.00 + GST

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Nakiska is definitely a mountain for beginners. It was designed for the Winter Olympics in 1988, mainly for ski racing, but now it’s mostly used by kids and beginners. There isn’t any challenging terrain to speak of but is good if you’re still feeling a bit nervous of your abilities. On the downside, it’s very far from anywhere there’s nothing else going on in that area (apart from Fortress Mountain Cat Skiing – the set of the skiing scene in the movie ‘Inception’). From our perspective, even on days we feel like taking it easy, Nakiska is a little too tame for us.

Skill level: Beginner

Day Pass Price: $69.95

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Grouse Mountain:

Grouse hill overlooks the city of Vancouver and can even be seen from the city on a clear evening. It’s definitely one of the more unique Canadian ski resorts because of its proximity to sea and city. There are only a few runs and the terrain isn’t very challenging so it’s perfect for anyone that just wants to do a bit of skiing while they’re in Vancouver and stretch their legs. It does offer night skiing though, and you’ll get a spectacular and unique view of the Vancouver city skyline if you’re there past dark!

Skill level: Beginner

Day Pass Price: $63.00

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Black mountain snowshoeing

Cypress is another small Canadian ski resort on the outskirts of Vancouver. This is a slightly bigger hill than Grouse but it still has amazing views of the city and the surrounding coastline. There’s also some especially interesting cross country skiing and snowshoeing spots in the area if you’re not looking to ski. Check out our post about hiking to Bowen Lookout to find out more!

As Vancouver tends to be a bit warmer, I’d recommend visiting earlier in the season, as rain and warm weather can product a lot of slush and ice later on.

Skill level: Beginner/Intermediate

Day Pass Price: $75.00

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Big White

Big White is a unique ski resort in the Okanagan Valley; it’s a long drive from Calgary (7hours) but not too far from Vancouver. Due to the unique climate, Big White is famous for a special phenomenon called “snow ghosts”; check out our post on snow ghosts at Big White to find out more!

If you’re looking a for Ski in/Ski out with a good après ski vibe, then Big White has a very European feel to it. It’s far enough from Kelowna to mean that people generally stay on the hill, so there are bars and restaurants open relatively late and you can stumble back to your room as if you were in the French Alps.

The hill itself has a lot of varied terrain. There are definitely some challenging slopes, but it’s easy to avoid them if you’re a beginner. There are some very wide and gentle slopes that you can cruise around all day without ever hitting anything too difficult.

Once again, it’s another resort that offers night skiing and, unlike the ‘park’ oriented night skiing at Norquay, there’s a nice, expansive run to speed down.

Big White also has a huge number of activities within the resort. When we were there we went snowmobiling and it’s got to be some of the best I’ve experienced. There are huge trails in the backcountry reserved especially for snowmobiles you can fly at high speeds without worrying about what you might run into.

big white snowmobiling

Skill level: All skill levels

Day Pass Price: $95-$105 (prebook vs. regular)

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Resorts for Hardcore Skiers:


Revelstoke ski resort

This mountain is enormous. Revelstoke has the most vertical in North America and believe me you’ll be feeling it by the end of the day. It’s steep and the snow is incredible.

Revelstoke is far enough from everywhere to mean that only the most committed skiers make it there on a powder day, especially as it means crossing Roger’s Pass if you’re coming from Calgary. It’s powder heaven but it’s not for beginners. There are plenty of amazing chutes and tree runs scattered all over the place and chances are that you’ll barely see anyone all day. Our trip here last season was probably one of the best days we had all winter.

Revelstoke snowboarding

Incredibly, Revelstoke has also started chartering flights directly to the resort from Vancouver to save you having to drive all that way, and it has tons of amazing activities if skiing isn’t your thing. There’s night snowmobiling and an unforgettable local sled-dog company which we highly recommend.

dog sledding revelstoke

It’s another ski in/ski out ski resort as well, so everything you could need can be found onsite. They also have a free shuttle in to town if you want to try some  pub grub or try ‘drinking curling’ at the local rec centre. Check out our post on Revelstoke for more information!

Skill level: Intermediate/Advanced

Day Pass Price: $99, $79 if prebook

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Kicking Horse:

Kicking Horse Kicking Horse

Kicking Horse has got to be one of my all time favourite Canadian ski resorts. Nicknamed the ‘Champagne Powder Capital”, it’s another big mountain with a load of steep and varied terrain. There are plenty of advanced chutes that’ll put hairs on your chest but also one of the world’s longest green runs (if you get all the way to the top and decide you’re not feeling it!).

One of my favourite features of Kicking Horse Resort is the fact that you have to hike to a couple of its best peaks. Why on earth would hiking be a good thing? Well, because most people are too lazy to do it! The fewer people there are, the better the snow, and the T2 peak never seems to disappoint!

Once again, Kicking Horse is your best bet for a ski in/Ski out resort on the Eastern side of the Rockies, although you’re limited to the bars on the actual resort, so the nightlife is a bit calmer than what you’d find in Whistler or Big White. You can head into Golden, but there isn’t really an après scene.

Skill level: Intermediate/ Advanced

Day Pass Price: $104.95

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Whistler is the Mecca of Canadian ski resorts. If you haven’t been to Whistler-blackcomb yet it should definitely be on your bucket list. It has something for all skill levels and with 37 lifts, it’s so enormous that you could ski for days without ever seeing the same run twice. We try to make it out to Whistler at least once a season just because it’s so much bigger than anything you can find east of the Rockies! If you like long steep runs that’ll make your legs burn then you’ll definitely enjoy Whistler.

We can’t mention Whistler without mentioning the après ski and the nightlife. There’s nothing else in Canada that compares to the après ski that you’ll find in Whistler. If you’re a big fan of European skiing where you can cruise to the bottom of the hill and grab a beer, then Whistler’s the place for you! It’s like Banff but all the bars are at the bottom of the ski hill! It’s also spa and hot spring heaven, and there are plenty of places to choose from at the end of a long day on the slopes.

Skill level: All levels

Day Pass Price: $124 online

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Lake Louise:

skiing Lake Louise

Lake Louise is the biggest resort in Banff National Park, and Louise’s favourite. Lots of advanced terrain and a great step up if you’re not finding Sunshine challenging enough. There are a few great food options, like the new Sushi restaurant, Kuma Yama Sushi, and there are a few great events (like night skiing) worth checking out throughout the season.

Skill level: Intermediate/ Advanced

Day Pass Price: $104

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skiing in Fernie

Fernie is renowned for having either the best snow or the worst snow, and from our experience, that reputation really holds up. Some of the best powder days of my life were spent at Fernie, but also some of the iciest, rainiest days…Watching someone ski with a makeshift trash-bag poncho isn’t all that uncommon in Fernie.  It’s always a bit of a gamble but if you find it on a good day you’re going to have the time of your life. It’s definitely in my top 3 Canadian ski resorts. Check out our blog post here for a more in depth look at Fernie.

skiing in Fernie

The resort doesn’t have a huge amount of vertical, but you’ll find some really technical steep terrain that’ll blow you away. Remember I said that Sunshine doesn’t have any lifts that you’ll regret? Watch out for Polar Peak if you’re not a big fan of steep terrain!

Skill level: Intermediate/Advanced

Day Pass Price: $104.95

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Other Canadian ski resorts worth mentioning:


Norquay Night Skiing

If you’re based in Banff, Norquay is a great option if you’re just looking to go for a few runs. It’s just out of town and takes 5 minutes to get there. The lift passes are cheap (especially on Toonie Tuesdays- $2), and you can get some great vertical in. The lifts aren’t always very reliable though; there’ve been times I’ve been there when only 1 lift was running.

It’s good for families though; there’s tubing for kids (or big kids), and there’s night skiing on Fridays and Saturdays if you’re feeling like testing yourself in the ski park. If you’re visiting in summer, check out the Norquay Via Ferrata!

Skill level: Intermediate/Advanced

Regular Day Pass Price: $74

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Kimberley, Panorama and Castle Mountain:

These are all smaller resorts in the Southern Rockies. They all have good reputations for getting a lot of snowfall, especially Castle, but they’re nowhere near as popular as the other hills that we’ve mentioned. They’re usually populated by more local skiers as they’re way down the ski resort wish list for most holiday makers.

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Best Heli Skiing in the Canadian Rockies?

RK Heli Skiing

Honestly, I’ve only been once and that was at Panorama with R.K Heli Skiing. It was an expensive day out; it currently costs $847 for 3 runs, but it was some of the most incredible powder of my life! They hook you up with some massive fatboy skis and whisk you off for some incredible untouched pow.

The day we did it, the weather was pretty poor so our runs were very short. Worth bearing in mind, especially if you’re only going to do one day of it!

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Who are we to be recommending ski resorts?

Just in case you were wondering if you can really trust our recommendations, I thought we should mention a bit about our history in the mountains! I guess it’s helpful to know if we’re rating these hills from a beginner or an experienced point of view… and if I was looking for solid recommendations, the last thing I’d want to do is take advice from someone who hadn’t actually been there!

To put your mind at rest, Louise and I have a lot of skiing under our belt. Louise was born and raised in Banff, and spending wintery afternoons on the slopes was just a part of growing up. There are few mountains she hasn’t skied in Western Canada. If she says it’s good then you’d better believe it!

And then there’s me.. I was slow to get started, but the first thing I did when I moved to Canada 6 years ago was get my level 2 CSIA ski instructor qualification. I’m far from perfect, but I’ve been shredding like it’s going out of fashion ever since! Between us we’ve had hundreds of days on the mountains and feel like we can give pretty accurate advice and comparisons between all the Canadian ski resorts. If you’re looking for further advice, don’t hesitate to reach out and we can point you towards the mountain that’s best suited to you!

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Canadian Ski resort guide

Written byRobin

About us

About us

Hi, we’re Rob and Louise! We’re obsessed with travel and love to share our adventures! We’re a UK/Canadian couple that currently lives Banff, Canada.


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