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A Three-Resort Cluster In Banff National Park Makes For Easy Road Trip

Banff-LL-Cover When you get to the high ground above Banff, there are more freshies to track than most anywhere in North America. (Image via Lake Louise Facebook)

For a trip full of high-mountain terrain, long cold winters and spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies, a trio of resorts in Banff National Park is just the ticket.

Most trips begin in Calgary and an 1-1/2 hour drive to base camp in the town of Banff. From there, three resorts beckon -- after paying an entrance fee into the national park. Elevations top out at 10,000 feet, but the slopes sit squarely in path of most Pacific storms -- and northerly latitude typically extends skiing and riding into May.

First stop is Mt. Norquay (190 a., 1,650 vert.). A classic town hill that is one of the oldest ski areas in North America (open 1926), Norquay spreads across the lower, forested skirt of Mt. Cascade (9,836 ft.).

With a mixed trail menu of 29-21-50, basic base lodge and no beds, Mt. Norquay fits into the mountain-town scene of Banff (8,000 pop.) four miles and seven switchbacks down the road. In fact, Mt. Norquay is so local that its sells a Last Hour ticket so locals can cop a couple of late-afternoon turns.

Three sections divide out among all ratings: North American, with its unique fixed-grip "pulse" chair that bunches chairs for higher uphill speed, is for experts; Cascade and Spirit chairs serve novices; and, the Mystic high-speed handles the blue runs. A Big3 season pass works here.

About 20 minutes west of town sits Banff Sunshine(3,358 a., 3,514 vert.), contained within a massive cirque. Half of the runs follow a green-blue valley floor that is perpendicular to the steeper terrain. Day-skiers can only come in via gondola from parking lot to mid-mountain base. Big3 season pass, Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective accepted.

From there, seven high-speeds -- including a heated quad -- and a pair of fixed-grips handle the flow. It can be frigid, but the season often goes into May.

On the high ground, double diamonds are short but treacherous, punctuated by three super-pitchy, sparsely marked "free zones": Goat's Eye, Wild West and Delirium Dive. Accessed by a short hike off Lookout Mountain, "The Dive" pitches off a 50-degree cornice into precipitous terrain punctuated by cliffs.

To top off the trip, mothership Lake Louise (4,200 a., 3,250 vert.) is 40 minutes up the road. Remote and imposing, Lake Louise rates 70% of its terrain in the black. It does concede much of the forested skirt to blues and greens, especially long, gentle wanderings like the five-mile Saddleback-Pika green off the summit that gives novices a hint of above-timberline skiing.

But as the trees recede, the fun begins. Frontside West Bowl's alpine chutes and glades -- opened in 2020 -- give hotshots all they can handle. Head over to the backside for some of the best bowl skiing North America has. The Summit quad, Paradise triple and Ptarmigan quad deliver powderhounds to what they dream of: Infinite lines down onerous chutes and cliffs anchored by steep, expansive glades.

Eleven lifts include four high-speed chairs and the Grizzly gondola. Backside system a bit clunky and slow, but improvements on the horizon. A broad choice of ticketing fits all abilities. No lodging at mountain. Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective welcome, as well as Big3 season pass.

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