With three spectacular resorts, Banff National Park offers dynamic skiing, yes — but also an unparalleled winter wonderland.
The Canadian Rockies resemble a queue of teenage boys in gym class — squat, awkward-looking monoliths hunched among tall, skinny pinnacles. Combine this morphology with a significant vertical rise from the base of the valley to the mountains’ crests, and a first-time visitor might expect to see a dozen ski areas scattered across the landscape. Except this is the village of Banff in southern Alberta, where Canada’s first national park — all 2,564 square miles of it — encompasses three spectacular resorts, each boasting terrain as diverse as the surrounding peaks.
The vibrant village of approximately 7,500 residents curls up beneath Mount Rundle like a grizzly cub sleeping upon a bed of native whitebark pine needles. Established as a tourist destination after three railroad men discovered hot springs there in 1883, Banff has more street cred than a prefab ski village. The Banff Centre is North America’s most dynamic alpine cultural campus and offers scores of aesthetic and intellectual activities, including film presentations, literary readings and gallery exhibitions every month. Many premieres emerge from within the Leighton Artists’ Colony’s celebrated roster of artists and educators.
The cultural offerings no doubt add significantly to the area’s allure, but Banff National Park is about world-class skiing. Banff native Paul Stutz was still in preschool when, as a 4-year-old, he first trundled down Mount Norquay’s “Lone Pine,” a 1,300-foot-long, 40-degree slope that stood as North America’s steepest inbound run for decades. “I cried the first time,” says the Canadian Olympic Team hopeful, now 30. “But my tears turned to laughter on my second run, and I couldn’t wait to go down the bumps again and again after that.”
What the modest Stutz doesn’t reveal is that he already was quite familiar with Lone Pine, among the first ski runs designated a “double-black diamond,” because his parents let him loose upon a less-intimidating run when he was 18 months old. Twenty-eight years later, the dual American-Canadian citizen is the 2013 North American slalom ski champion.
“Every weekend growing up was spent on Norquay, and I still train there whenever possible,” says Stutz, who won four of six gold medals in the Canadian Junior Championships when he was 14. “But I’m certain the versatility of the three mountains combined with the quality of the snow and weather is why I’m successful today.”