Skiing in Canada guide: Where to ski, where to stay and top tips for travellers
You can go big at Big White, small at Mount Norquay, serious at Mont-Tremblant or safe in Silver Star. You can even splurge on an epic week of powder skiing from a heli lodge. Or you can break up your trail time with husky rides, day-spa visits, boutique shopping and fine dining in popular ski towns such as Banff. The choices are seemingly endless.
To help you on your way, here’s everything you need to know about skiing in Canada right now.
See also: Best family-friendly ski resorts in Canada
See also: The Canadian ski resort Aussies have taken over
Table of Contents
Getting there and around
Vancouver is our gateway to Canada, which is fortunate given that it’s also in British Columbia, home to 13 major ski resorts. The two main airline carriers from Australia are Qantas and Air Canada; check their websites for current Covid-19 policies. Once you touch down in Vancouver, you have two main transportation choices. Number one: book a shuttle so you can relax while you’re being whisked across snowy highways to your resort of choice. The second option, and it’s far more fun, is hiring a car, but you’ll want experience of driving in snow. Be sure to pay the excess car-hire insurance to cover things such as stone chips on windscreens. Hertz, Budget and co are available at Vancouver International Airport and hiring is straightforward.
When it comes to new Covid-19 rules, the Canadian government has mandated that all travellers within Canada must be fully vaccinated. Before leaving Australia, you’ll also need to be fully vaccinated, have a digital vaccine passport, and follow test, quarantine and mask requirements.
Where to ski
This is the big question and, thankfully, you can’t go wrong in Canada. If you want a tonne of terrain for all different levels, plus nightlife and family facilities, head to Whistler Blackcomb. The resort is an Aussie favourite for good reason. The kids’ ski-school program is excellent, there’s a huge range of hotels (check out Delta Hotels by Marriott Whistler Village Suites) and the slopes suit everyone, from first-timers to daredevils.
If you’ve been to Whistler, head east to Big White Ski Resort. The resort, which caters primarily to beginners and intermediates, was recently voted the second best in Canada (after Lake Louise) by Condé Nast Traveler. Big White senior vice president Michael J Ballingall largely puts that down to a laid-back attitude with a small-town ethos. “Our operations are run by families for families,” Ballingall says. “There are no big corporate rules. We simply just do the right thing. We look after people who are on holidays.”
Short lift lines, a more than 7m annual dump of snow and friendly locals help. If you’d rather stay off the well-skied path, put Whitewater Ski Resort or, better yet, Shames Mountain Ski Area on your radar.
Where to stay
It’s easy to find uber-expensive ski hotels – they’re always in the best location and heavily promoted. But mid-range and budget accommodation, as well as quintessential Canadian cabins, are often harder to uncover. For mid-range, you can always play it safe and stay with the likes of Holiday Inn. Your starting point should be resort websites, where, Ballingall says, the best deals can be found.
“Booking directly with the accommodator offers on-the-ground assistance upon arrival and during your stay,” he adds.
“Those who wish to use tour operators in Australia will find they are an excellent source of this information and have long relationships with many different apartment operators, and their staff have visited most of our British Columbia resorts.”
If, however, you want to feel like a local, reach out to condominium management companies who rent privately owned accommodation in epic locations. These sorts of places generally have kitchenettes, a mish-mash of beds and plenty of toys for the kids – and they’re much gentler on the budget if you don’t mind taking a gamble.
What isn’t a gamble is staying at one of the hottest hotels in Canada’s ski industry – The Josie at Red Mountain Resort, BC. The trendy ski-in, ski-out property only opened in 2018 and is now part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection.
Where else to play
For skiers and boarders who enjoy a day on the slopes followed by one or two off, it’s best to stay in a resort town such as Banff, Alberta. At the foothills of Lake Louise, Sunshine and Norquay, getting to the slopes is easy, as is entertaining yourself with shops, restaurants and non-ski activities such as ice-skating. Banff also has a Covid testing site (Go Rapid Test) in Bear Street Mall to make travel easier.
If you’ve done Banff but want to holiday in Alberta, try basing yourself in Canmore. It’s only 20 minutes’ south and will give you that mingling-with-locals feeling. If you want to go east, Quebec’s Mont-Tremblant promises serious downhill terrain, as well as cross-country skiing, touring and fat-biking.
What else to know
My biggest piece of advice is to never go on a ski holiday without winter sports insurance, which isn’t included in general coverage. But be aware that even with ski coverage, you won’t be protected if you get injured off-piste (off groomed trails and past resort boundaries).
Be sure to research conditions, too, and listen to locals. Just because you drop into back bowls in Australia doesn’t mean you’re competent enough to drop into them in Canada. The terrain over there is more challenging and the snow conditions more complex.
When you’re packing for your trip, keep in mind the extra weight and hassle of taking your own skis and boards. You can hire gear everywhere and simply carry your own boots and outerwear.
If you can’t part with your precious planks, invest in a ski/board bag with wheels, and lighten your luggage elsewhere. After all, you may want to bring home new après boots and a puffer jacket… and a vest… and a beanie… maybe new goggles.
Canada’s Covid travel restrictions
Travellers must take a PCR test within 72 hours of flying to Canada. Download the ArriveCAN app within 72 hours of arrival and upload proof of a Covid-free test and vaccination. For details, see travel.gc.ca/travel-covid
Travellers must have a suitable quarantine plan, which includes a place they will quarantine if necessary (the first hotel on your itinerary, for example), which can be entered into the ArriveCAN app.
You must take another PCR test within 72 hours of flying back to Australia. Testing locations can be found at the Air Canada website.
10 best ski resorts in Canada
Best things to do in Banff (apart from skiing)
A first timer’s guide to the Canadian Rockies