There aren't many Rocky Mountain resort towns that offer world-class skiing without the usual winter crowds. And if you don't visit Banff soon, you may never get to experience one.


Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park is the type of rugged wilderness that almost convinces you to give up your Palm Pilot, cell phone, and motorized scooter to hunker down among the snow-capped mountains, glacier-fed lakes, and evergreen forests and live a simpler life. Even in its storybook-looking village, you might just as likely encounter an elk rambling through the streets as a pedestrian.

With all its natural beauty, it's easy to see why Banff has become popular among outdoor enthusiasts. Problem is, the majority of visitors show up May through September and leave without ever having gotten a taste of the area's best natural resource - layers of fluffy white snow they call champagne powder.

What most of the summer visitors don't realize is that the park offers three top-notch ski resorts covering over 7,500 acres of groomed trails and dry-powder runs, all within a 45-minute drive of each other: Banff Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise. On weekdays, there's even enough ski terrain in Banff to equal one acre per skier. And it gets better.

Since winter here is considered off-season, hotels slash their prices in half, dinner reservations become a moot point, and the mountain trails are reclaimed by local wildlife - elk, red squirrels, snowshoe hares, and in-the-know skiers, snowboarders, and the like. Add to that a steal of an exchange rate and there's no doubt this is a skier's paradise, without the crowds or attitude of more well-known resorts.

So why aren't there lines stretching from the chair lifts to the parking lot?