The 10 best ski resorts in Canada

Telegraph Ski and Snowboard
Banff offers three ski areas to explore - reuben krabbe/Banff Lake Louise Tourism

With plentiful snowfall, generally quiet slopes, spacious lodgings and a warm welcome, Canada has huge ­attractions for skiers and snowboarders. Piste grooming is great, and anyone going off-piste can safely do so without a guide ­because, unlike in Europe, everywhere within the ski-area boundary, however steep or challenging, is avalanche controlled and patrolled.

What’s more, Canada is good value. While holiday prices are naturally not as cheap as those in Europe because of the airfares, according to the annual ski costs survey from the Post Office in partnership with Crystal Ski Holidays, released in October, Britons get more for their money in a Canadian resort than one in the United States.

The survey compared prices in six North American resorts (as well as 25 in Europe), giving each a price index based on six-day lift pass, ski and boot hire, a mountain lunch and drinks, including coffee and beer. Costs in the three Canadian resorts – Banff, Whistler and Tremblant – were lower than in Breckenridge, Heavenly and Vail in the US.

Banff was the best value, with a price index of £563, Whistler the most expensive at £828, while in the US the total was at least £832, in Breckenridge.

New for 2018/19, the resorts of the Canadian Rockies group joined Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass, meaning pass holders get free or discounted access to six Canadian resorts including Kicking Horse and Fernie.

Unless stated otherwise, prices are per person, based on two sharing a double or twin room, room only or self-catering, for seven nights, including flights and transfers.

Best for powder

Revelstoke, BC

This is the newest kid on the Canadian block. Until 2007/08 Revelstoke was a small hill for locals served by one short lift. But a gondola and two fast chairlifts transformed it into a resort with the biggest vertical in North America (1,713m) and around 3,000 acres of slopes, which get huge amounts of powder – around 12m a year on average. The resort’s terrain is mostly ungroomed and steep. There are wonderful tree glades and a big open bowl accessed through a cliff band – it’s essential to know the best ways in. The ski school offers half- and full-day private sessions around the terrain – a must for any keen skier or snowboarder. Revelstoke's 14-acre terrain park includes the Gnome Zone, with jumps, jibs and rollers in the trees. There’s a snowcat-skiing area right by the lift-served slopes and, new for 2018/19, a new one-day experience is available to small groups. Heliskiing can also be booked at the base area.  

Revelstoke receives around 12m of powder each year

The small resort village at the foot of the slopes has a hotel, separate restaurant, bar and coffee shop. There are also places to stay in unpretentious Revelstoke town, a five-minute drive away, with a daytime bus service and a fair choice of restaurants and bars.

Where to stay

With its well-appointed condo-style suites, prime place at the foot of the slopes and an outdoor pool, hot tubs and fitness facilities, the Sutton Place Hotel exudes modern luxury. From £1,299 with Frontier Ski.

Alternatives

Whistler gets an average of almost 12m of snow a year and has top bowls and chutes which are usually powder filled. Big White is ideal for learning to ski powder with regular snowfalls and lots of easy intermediate slopes.

Best for experts

Fernie, BC

Fernie has long held cult status among locals in the western Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia because of its abundant snowfalls (up to 11m some seasons and 9m on average) and the adventurous nature of its steep, ungroomed terrain, largely in the shelter of trees. This makes it a superb mountain for experts, so long as they know where they’re going – a lot of the runs are difficult to find and involve long traverses.

To get the most out of the terrain it’s best to get shown around early in the holiday. Sadly the two-day Steep and Deep Camps are only held once a month but are well worth going on; the other option is a Mountain Guide session, specifically asking for an ungroomed terrain group.

Fernie is ideal for experts looking for a challenge Credit: © 2009 Henry Georgi/Henry Georgi

There are also great snowcat operations nearby; Island Lake Catskiing and Fernie Wilderness Adventures. The resort village is convenient but small, with few eating and drinking options – Fernie town, a couple of miles away, has a much better selection of bars and restaurants.

Where to stay

Situated just a few steps from the village plaza at the base of the slopes, Fernie Slopeside Lodge is a conveniently located ski-in/ski-out hotel with two indoor hot tubs. From £1,021 with Inghams.

Alternatives

Revelstoke has great steep and deep terrain. Whistler has more steep terrain than any other resort in North America.

Best for beginners

Sun Peaks, BC

Canada is a long way to go to learn to ski or snowboard, but if going that far, Sun Peaks is a great place to start. It has a friendly, attractive, small village made up of low-rise pastel-coloured buildings with a vaguely Tirolean feeling to them, and a short traffic-free main street. Plus, 80 per cent of the accommodation is ski-in/ski-out.

The ski area is made up of three peaks: Mount Morrisey, Sundance and the main one, Mount Tod. The latter was expanded by more than 500 acres for the 2014/15 season, making Sun Peaks the second largest ski area in Canada after Whistler.

New for 2018/19, the new four-person Orient chairlift will open in the East Village base area, carrying passengers to a height of 1,525m and making it easier to get to a network of easy blue progression runs on Sundance mountain.

Sun Peaks is home to the second largest ski area in Canada

The nursery slopes are right by the village centre and lifts, and there are long easy green runs to progress to, including the 5 Mile top-to-bottom run on Mt Tod, which has a vertical of more than 800m. The ski school runs half- or full-day Learn to Ski/Snowboard packages at C$74 or C$101, which include equipment hire and learning area pass as well as lessons. The resort has a good learning area near the Village Day Lodge, complete with magic carpet lift.

For the more experienced there’s intermediate cruising on blue runs, easy groomed gladed tree runs, plus some seriously steep black runs.

Sun Peaks’ three mountains now claim 135 runs and more than 4,200 acres – much the same as Lake Louise; the only Canadian resort with more terrain is Whistler.

Where to stay

The Sun Peaks Grand is the best hotel in town and very conveniently situated right at the foot of the slopes and lifts. It has a restaurant, pub, outdoor pool, three outdoor hot tubs, sauna and a gym. From £1,148 with Crystal Ski.

Alternatives

Silver Star is a compact, car-free resort with a beginner area right by the village and easy runs to progress to. Although best known as an experts’ mountain, Fernie also has a great nursery slope and very quiet, gentle runs to practise on.

Best for ski-in/ski-out convenience

Big White, BC

North American resorts aren’t known for their ski-from-the-door convenience, but some have been purpose-built for easy access to the slopes. Of these, among the most convenient is Big White – virtually all the hotels and apartments in this modern resort are ski-in/ski-out, with the main lifts starting below village level. Even the main street through the centre of the resort is a designated ski run and can be traversed to get back to accommodation.

The terrain suits intermediates best, and the abundance of snow combined with lots of trees for shelter means it's a great place to learn powder. For 2018/19 Canada’s oldest triple chair, which was built in 1979, is finally being replaced. The new four-person Powder Chair makes it quicker to access gladed tree runs for all levels on the upper mountain.

There's also an area called Happy Valley at the bottom of the village offering activities such as ice skating, snowmobiling, tubing, ice climbing and snowshoeing, served by a gondola that runs till 10pm. The village has limited après bars and shopping, but there are some decent restaurants.

Where to stay

Stonebridge Lodge calls itself “the best accommodation bar none at Big White”. It’s ski-in/ski-out and slap bang in the middle of resort, with a range of spacious, stylishly decorated apartments, most with private outdoor hot tubs. From £1,230 with Ski Independence.

Alternatives

Panorama is a purpose-built resort, with some lodgings set right at the lift base, and others slightly below, linked by a little gondola. In Silver Star the lodgings are halfway up the hill, so the day can start with a run not a lift.

Best all-rounder

Whistler, BC

Whistler’s two linked mountains (Whistler and Blackcomb) add up to make the biggest ski area in North America, which more or less automatically puts the resort on the shortlist of most transatlantic visitors – and certainly intermediates who like to rack up the miles without repeating the same slopes.

For beginners, there are top-to-bottom green runs to progress to after leaving the nursery slopes, and Whistler mountain is very beginner-friendly, with a learning area with covered magic carpet lifts, and plenty of snowmaking and confidence-building green runs.

Whistler is North America's most popular resort for all abilities Credit: Mike Crane info@mikecranephotography.com/Mike Crane

For experts, the numerous high open bowls offer a wide range of possibilities, complemented by regular dumps of powder streaming in from the nearby Pacific. And there are world-class terrain parks.

The purpose-built resort village is big and busy, with lots of bars and restaurants, a lively après scene at the lift base from mid-afternoon onwards, and a wide range of shops. There’s also plenty for non-skiers to do, from zip lines and tubing to snowmobiling and eagle-watching tours.

In 2016 the resort was bought by Vail Resorts which owns Vail and several other American resorts. For the 2018/19 season, Vail Resorts is investing C$66 million in new lifts, of which the highlight is a 10-passenger gondola on Blackcomb Mountain travelling to the top of the mountain, next to the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. It replaces the Wizard and Solar Coaster chairlifts.

Where to stay

The Delta Whistler Village Suites complex has studios and one-and two-bedroom suites, close to the restaurants and shops and a six-minute walk from the lifts. From £1,099 based on four people sharing a two-bedroom condominium with Frontier.

Alternatives

While nowhere else is quite in the same league as Whistler, Panorama has excellent terrain for beginners, experts and adventurous intermediates. It's a bit limited for blue-run skiers, though. In Lake Louise, all three sectors have plenty to amuse intermediates and experts alike, though don’t count on deep powder. For beginners, there are good nursery slopes at the base lodge.

Best for value

Banff, AB

Banff does not offer the lowest on-the-spot prices, but it has one key advantage over other Canadian resorts – tour operators offer great-value package holidays here. The town sits at one end of a fabulously scenic drive through mountainous national parks, and there are a lot of lodgings here to meet summer demand – in winter these lodgings are relatively cheap.

Banff itself is a jolly little tourist town with more than 100 bars and restaurants, and countless souvenir shops. It has three ski areas, each a free bus ride from town. Norquay is only a few minutes away, but tiny, with just 190 acres of terrain including a good nursery area.

Backcountry skiing in Banff

Sunshine Village, 20 minutes away, is a fair size (3,358 acres), and is known for its steep terrain and plenty of snow. A heated fast quad chairlift on Lookout Mountain gives access to some double black diamond runs in comfort. Lake Louise, 45 minutes away, is the largest area, with 4,200 acres of terrain best suited to intermediates and experts, served by 10 lifts.

Where to stay

Four-star Banff Caribou Lodge on the main street is affordably priced, warm and welcoming. As well as a homely atmosphere, it has a steak restaurant and fully equipped spa. From £1,185 with Inghams.

Alternatives

Jasper, which serves the nearby Marmot Basin ski area, is a big summer destination like Banff – so it also has plenty of competitively priced lodgings in winter. Kimberley is a small resort with ski-in/ski-out lodgings offering some keenly priced packages.

Best for charm

Silver Star, BC

The core of this cute village was built in the Eighties to resemble a 19th-century mining village. Silver Star is based around a tiny traffic-free square lined with brightly painted Victorian-era style buildings, wooden sidewalks and faux gas lights. One side of the village opens right onto the slopes. Equally brightly painted individual houses built in the same style are dotted around the slopes above. Nearby, there’s a natural ice rink on a lake and a tubing hill. Nearly all accommodation is either ski-in/ski-out or less than 30 seconds walk to the snow.

The slopes suit all standards, with a mixture of easy green runs, intermediate cruising on well-groomed trails plus a dense network of single- and double-black diamond runs plunging through the trees, many of them top-to-bottom mogul fields. Silver Star developed an additional 130 acres of challenging new terrain for 2015/16, including new gladed terrain in both Putnam Creek and Silver Woods. It’s the resort’s 60th anniversary in 2018/19, and it’s celebrating by installing a fast new gondola linking the village to the resort high point at Summit, 1,915m, replacing a 1970s chairlift.

The ski school has an excellent reputation. There’s also plenty to do off the slopes - and Silver Star’s all-inclusive My1Pass includes tubing, skating and access to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter mountain bike trails, as well as access to the slopes for  skiing and snowboarding.

Where to stay

The upmarket Snowbird Lodge condos are the ultimate luxury ski‑in/ski-out accommodation in the village. Just a few steps down to the village centre, all the apartments except studios have private hot tubs on the balconies, and there’s also a fitness room and 24-seat theatre. From £1,189 for a studio with Ski Safari.

Alternatives

Tremblant has a charming village, purpose-built in the style of old Quebec, with narrow cobbled streets at the foot of a small area of varied slopes. Sun Peaks is a small purpose-built resort with one main, traffic-free street of pastel-coloured buildings. The ski area is the second biggest in Canada.

Best for families

Panorama, BC

The largely car-free resort village is on two levels, linked by a free gondola. The upper village has lots of accommodation with direct access onto the snow, with no traffic in sight. It's based around a skating rink and outdoor hot pool complex, with swimming pools, water slides, hot tubs and a sauna – all free if staying at one of the six residences collectively known as the Upper Village Condos.

There is a good range of child-care options available – Wee Wascals child-care centre looks after children aged from 18 months to five years, a combination of child care and ski school is available for kids aged three and upwards, daily activity programmes are offered, and a list of babysitters is available for out-of-hours care.

Panorama ski resort has terrain to suit all levels including experts Credit: Kari Medig/Kari Medig

Panorama mountain has a 1,300m vertical, one of the biggest in North America, and there is terrain to suit beginners, adventurous intermediates and experts. The dedicated Discovery Zone near the bottom of the mountain, with easy-to use lifts and gentle green runs, is ideal for beginners and young families, while the wide, groomed trails and mellow off-piste of the mid-mountain suit intermediates.

For experts, there are two black-run powder bowls accessible from the resort high point of 2,365m. RK Heliski is based in the village, with a big lodge and heli-pad; it specialises in taking out first-timers and provides special fat skis or snowboards to make powder easier. For 2018/19 it will be easier to lap the highest terrain, thanks to a luxurious new 12-seater snowcat.

Where to stay

Located a short walk from all Upper Village amenities, not only are the Upper Village Condos comfortable and spacious, residents have access to the outdoor pools and sauna. From £991 self-catering with Crystal Ski.

Alternatives

Sun Peaks is a small purpose-built village with one main, traffic-free street and comprehensive child-care facilities through the Sundance Kids Centre and the ski school’s Sun Tots and Sun Kids programmes. Big White has lots of convenient ski-in/ski-out accommodation, Tot Town Daycare in the main square, and kids ski school programmes.

Best for scenery

Lake Louise, Alberta

Lake Louise is spectacularly set in Banff National Park, with great views from the ski area of peaks and glaciers including Canada’s Matterhorn lookalike, Mount Assiniboine. The view from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel of the Victoria Glacier above the frozen Lake Louise itself, is simply stunning. The Lake Louise ski area offers runs to suit all standards, including lots of ideal intermediate terrain. There is no accommodation at the ski area, but it's only a couple of miles drive or bus ride away from Lake Louise village.

The views of the glacier and lake from Lake Louise's ski area are breathtaking Credit: Paul Zizka/Banff Lake Louise Tourism

There are two other ski areas nearer to Banff (a 45-minute drive away) worth exploring too – Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay, which both have intermediate cruising and steep options too. Having a car here is handy as the bus service from Lake Louise to Sunshine, though free if you have a tri-area lift pass, isn’t very regular, it only runs two days a week

Where to stay

For the most spectacular scenic views imaginable, book a room overlooking the lake at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. This beautifully proportioned luxury hotel, in its iconic position on the edge of the water, offers extras such as a private concierge service. From £1,850 with Alpine Answers.

Alternatives

Banff is the main resort in Banff National Park, with Mount Rundle next door and many other spectacular peaks nearby. Whistler offers spectacular views from the top of glaciers and high open bowls and ridges, plus the views down to Fitzsimmon Creek from the Peak 2 Peak gondola – the world's longest and highest lift of its kind, which connects Whistler and Blackcomb peaks – are breathtaking.

Best for bragging rights

Red Mountain, BC

This has long been a cult resort for experts who can handle its steep terrain and tree runs. For 2013/14 the ski area was hugely expanded by a new quad chair (slow, as are the other four chairs here) up Grey Mountain, adjacent to Red Mountain's existing Granite Mountain terrain. This gave access to another 1,000 acres and more much needed intermediate runs to add to its existing, mainly gnarly, black runs through the trees.

The following season, Red also expanded its patrolled ski area by a further 195 acres on Mount Kirkup, accessed by a snowcat service – this was previously backcountry terrain accessed only by hiking or ski touring. The cat-skiing on Mt. Kirkup is a bargain $10 per ride and there’s plenty of other good cat-skiing near here too.

Runs are marked on the piste map but not nearly so clearly on the mountain, so having a local guide is helpful. And many retired locals volunteer to guide visitors around. Don’t worry, they are likely to be experts – more Canadian ski team members over the years originate from Red than anywhere else in Canada. As well as accommodation at the base there is more in the small old mining town of Rossland (4km away and served by free shuttle-buses), which has a laid back, welcoming atmosphere.

Where to stay

New for 2018/19, The Josie is Red Mountain Resort's only ski-in/ski-out, boutique hotel. Next to the Silverlode chairlift, it has 106 rooms, spa and slope-side outdoor pool. From £1,329 including flights and car hire with Ski Safari.

Alternatives

Whitewater is about an hour and a half away from Red and has an equally cult reputation for ungroomed steep terrain. Kicking Horse was developed in 2000 when a new gondola opened up what was previously purely heliskiing terrain; now there’s a tiny village at the base.