Canadian Rockies Snowboarding Guide: Part 1

I am fortunate to have been born and raised in Calgary, one of Canada’s biggest cities, and the gateway to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Within a two hour drive, there are several world-class ski resorts and a plethora of other outdoor activities. From my early childhood, I skied, and in my teen years snowboarding became popular and I made the switch. Living in this area means winter is long, so committing to a snow sport is essential in enjoying an 8-month winter.

I try to get out snowboarding at least 10 times a season, usually as day trips from Calgary, but staying overnight is always a nice option to enjoy some apres after a day on the slopes. I am a strong intermediate snowboarder and gravitate towards rolling blue runs with plenty of fresh powder. Over the years, I have gotten to know the resorts in Alberta and British Columbia very well and wanted to write a series on where to snowboard in the Canadian Rockies. There are many resorts that are within a day-trip of Calgary.

Some of the most popular spots in the Banff area to catch some powder:

Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort

1.5 hours drive from Calgary

Sunshine is one of the most popular ski resorts located in close proximity to the town of Banff, in the heart of beautiful Banff National Park. This resort has one of the longest seasons, typically opening in November and holding their end of season ‘Slush Cup’ party annually on May long weekend. Although the resort straddles the Continental Divide between Alberta and British Columbia, the conditions are definitely Alberta-esq with fluffy, dry, champagne powder and plenty of bluebird ski days. The resort terrain is spread across three mountains, and there is something for every skill level here.

Visitors need to take a gondola up from the parking lot to get to the resort base, passing a middle point along the way. From the base, there are some shorter runs which are great for beginners (Strawberry and Wawa), and a variety of longer runs, both with long flat sections, better suited for skiers (Great Divide and Angel). I usually like to warm up on Standish, or Wawa, and then if conditions are good, move on to Goat’s Eye mountain. The resort also features some popular advanced, out-of-bounds sections, requiring avalanche gear such as Delirium Dive and Wild West.

Spring skiing/snowboarding is definitely a highlight here, with many days you can ride in just a t-shirt and enjoy live music and a drink on the pub patio at lunch. The ‘Slush Cup’ is also one of the best end-of-season parties with hoards of costumed riders taking the jump into the pool of melted snow. Something that has been on my bucket list for years.

Lake Louise Ski Resort

2-hour drive from Calgary

Lake Louise is another major resort located west of Banff, on the opposite side of the highway to beautiful lake of the same name. This hill features much longer runs than the other resorts in the area and a wide variety of terrain spread across 4,200 skiable acres. This resort lends itself quite well to either skiing or snowboarding and has a wide variety of terrain with beginner, intermediate and advanced runs starting from every chair. This makes it possible to ride with friends of different skill levels.

Beginners will enjoy rolling green runs, without a lot of flat areas on the front of the mountain, easily accessible via the Grizzly Express gondola. There are some great, cruiser blue runs on the back side via the Larch chair, but be warned of the long, flat run (Pika) to get there, which is a challenge for new snowboarders. More advanced riders will enjoy the area around Top of the World, and if you can handle the t-bar, chutes await off Summit Platter. There is also a terrain park here which features varied levels of jumps, boxes, and rails.

I usually like to warm up with a lap or two down the front of the mountain on the Juniper (via Glacier Express chair), before moving to the back of the mountain via Boomerang, for lunch at Temple lodge and some runs off Larch. On the front side, there are lots of nice treed areas to explore off the Grizzly Express too, and I am discovering new runs every time I visit. Spring skiing is also great here, as the resort is usually open into May.

Mount Norquay: Banff Ski Resort

Just over 1-hour drive from Calgary

Mt Norquay is the closest hill to Banff and celebrating over 90 years of operations. This hill is a bit smaller than the other nearby resorts with only 60 runs and older infrastructure, but it’s a great family-friendly spot. They have terrain for all skill levels, and the North American chair services some of the most challenging terrain in the country. Definitely,a locals hill that is a quick drive from Calgary and has some unique offerings such as the only night skiing in the area and Alberta’s longest tube park.

I don’t make it out boarding here often because if conditions are good I usually go straight to larger resorts like Sunshine or Lake Louise, but I am keen to try to the tube park. I have been tubing at other resorts and its a lot of fun when it’s a beautiful day but not enough fresh powder to justify the cost of a lift ticket. Recently, Norquay started offering select days where Alberta residents can get a lift ticket for only $2, so definitely worth checking out.

Nakiska Ski Resort

45 min drive from Calgary

The closest resort to Calgary, Nakiska is located in Kananaskis country and is the proud host of the alpine events for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. This is a family-friendly resort and the ideal spot to learn skiing or snowboarding, as the runs are short and the groomed runs are wide open. There are also a variety of ski and snowboard lessons for children and adults. A majority of the mountain is rated as intermediate, but there are still some beginner and advanced runs. Lift tickets are affordable here as well, and with 64 trails and four chairlifts, it’s well worth a day out.

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