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Beautiful Banff worth the trip – Boston Herald

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It was that purpley-sky part of daybreak and a bright, searing moon was hanging over the snow-blanketed trees and dramatic peaks of Banff, Canada.

My friend Larry – who has pretty much skied everywhere in the world – sipped his coffee in the cold morning air and let out a happy sigh, its echo floating upward as breath/smoke toward the still glistening stars.

“This might be,” he said, looking around, “the most beautiful ski town there is.”

He’s not wrong. Banff is almost otherworldly in its beauty. The Canadian Rockies soar just beyond the town center, more dramatic from the lack of foothills. The snow falls often, keeping things white, bright and movie-set perfect. And yet, it’s real.

Even better: Banff isn’t just a beautiful town. More so, it’s a National Park with three unique ski areas, all within easy range from town.

For setting, ski and ride variety and just plain “aha moments,” Larry’s right: It’s hard to beat Banff.

I arrived in Banff via Calgary airport and a rental car ride (less than two hours) on a Sunday afternoon. I’d been before – well before the Pandemic – and I was excited to see how things had and had not changed. With friends, our plan was to ski each of the “SkiBig3” resorts as they are known (https://www.skibig3.com) and to savor the add-ons: unique dining spots, cool non-skiing activities and of course, stays at the two Fairmont Properties in Banff.

How’d it hold up? One word: Perfection.

My first base camp was the Fairmont Banff Springs, a breathtaking property with incredible roots: It was the first hotel built there and is a big reason the region got enough attention to become a National Park (one of the first in the world). It sits above town but below the peaks, giving you a dual mood of nestled in and above it all. I love it.

A shuttle took us to our first ski day at the steep, fast and beloved by locals Mount Norquay, just a five-minute (at most) ride above town. Shuttles run from town all day, making it an easy commute. Norquay is sometimes skipped by the visitor; I suggest you take it on. For views, steeps and history, it’s a must.

It is steep, and can sometimes have more packed than powder, but in this year of troubled weather where I’m from (the northeast), it hit just right. We carved fast and fun runs on perfect packed snow. I never saw a speck of ice.

Norquay’s lift system already runs well – we were able to crank out runs easily – and that will only get better. Their Norquay 100 plan (https://banffnorquay.com/norquay-100-vision/) starts with replacing their North American lift (said to be one of the oldest out there) and their lodge, then digs into even more. For now, though, it’s still worth a ski day.

Day two sent us up to Banff Sunshine (https://www.skibanff.com) a bigger resort with tons of varied terrain and, even cooler: an overnight lodge located smack in the middle of the mountain.

About 20 minutes from Banff proper, Sunshine has you load a gondola up to their mid-mountain base where you’ll find dining and an overnight lodge. Stay the night and when the lifts shut down, the place is all yours (along with the other inn dwellers).

Sunshine wowed me with its terrain, from easy cruisers to steeper fun to – for those with the guts and ability – some pretty epic off piste terrain.

I’m a cruiser lately, though, so my favorite spot this day was Goat’s Eye Mountain, where I found steeper and perfectly groomed trails to just fly down. There’s also Lookout Mountain where you’ll find cruisers, some tougher runs and the Delirium Dive area, an off piste experts-only section sure to thrill your superstar skier or rider.

A cool thing about Sunshine: they farm their snow rather than make it. Giant fencing areas way up top catch snow that’s blowing and store it for the resort to move around where needed. You can see the farms from lifts – and the snow is just perfect.

I wasn’t staying overnight up there this time, so we took the long and fun run back down to the bottom and headed another 20 minutes or so north to Lake Louise, where I checked into the world-renowned Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

After a sunset sleigh ride out onto the famed lake. You think the views are incredible until you turn to come back and see the hotel, lit in the dusk sky, with a backdrop of the ski trails. Wow.

The next day we skied Lake Louise, where a new lift has created a progression learning area that skis like a dream – steeper than most learning spots but with snow so forgiving it’s a perfect place to up your pace or just let loose and relax.

Lake Louise isn’t just beautiful. It’s a challenging (read: their greens ski like most blues I’ve encountered) yet accessible mountain: almost any lift you take gives you a green or blue option, meaning everyone can pretty much ski together.

Our day there featured bluebird skies, temps warm enough to keep us comfortable and cool enough to keep the snow prime, and barely a lift line to be seen. In fact, across Banff that week, I never waited more than a moment at any lift. They’ve got the space to spread folks out, and in this era of crowded trails, that’s a special vibe.

I’ve skied Lake Louise twice: Both days are counted among my best ski days ever.

While I moved from resort to resort, I could have easily spent all three days at any of them. I missed some trails (lack of time) but that just gives me a reason to return.

Banff has the incredible good looks of a “super model” ski town, but that’s not all. It’s got the brains, management and just plain friendly soul that makes it all worth the trip.

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