Winter Wonderland in Alberta

Western Canada started out as a summer holiday destination, drawing travelers from around the world with its majestic mountains and Caribbean-blue lakes. But when Calgary played host to the Winter Olympics in 1988 the region had a chance to show off some of its snowy attractions. Whether you’re a hardcore skier or a family looking for adventures such as ice skating, sleigh riding, and snowshoeing, Banff National Park will exceed your winter holiday expectations.

405 Spray Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1J4, Canada
This hotel is on our list of The 10 Best Hotels in Canada.

Set in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Banff National Park, the year-round Fairmont Banff Springs was the brainchild of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. On arrival at Banff, the tourism visionary made the canny observation, “Since we can’t export the scenery, we’ll have to import the tourists;” thus, he set about building a string of great railway hotels across Canada. The original wooden hotel that opened here in 1888 burned down in 1926, but was replaced two years later with the grander castle-meets-baronial-Scottish-hall structure that exists today. The public lobby spaces are vast, and there are countless nooks to curl up in with a book where guests will remain undisturbed. With its signature stone walls, turrets, and winding staircases, Van Horne’s gambit paid off: The Fairmont Banff Springs feels for all the world like an elegant and ancient castle, albeit one with all the modern conveniences.

Rooms in the main building come with quirky period details such as chandeliers and crown moldings, while those in the Stanley Thompson Wing (the old staff quarters) are more spacious and a solid bet for families—who will also enjoy the kids’ club packed with activities such as campouts, science projects, and arts and crafts. The hotel also has 11 different restaurants, cafés, and bars, with the choices so diverse—from sushi, fondue, and Italian to Canadian steakhouse and southern U.S. barbecue—that guests are issued a food guide upon check-in to help them make the most of the hotel’s offerings. Of course, there are also a wide array of activities to help round out your time between meals, from skiing and rounds on the resort’s 27-hole championship golf course to downtime in the expansive Willow Stream Spa, which features indoor and outdoor whirlpools, a European-style mineral pool, and 23 rooms for therapeutic treatments.
1 Sunshine access Road
Most people travel to Canada in the winter to ski the famous big resorts like Whistler and Lake Louise. But 20 minutes from downtown Banff is a little “hill"—as the Canadians like to call their mountains—called Sunshine Village. The resort, located on the continental divide of the Canadian Rockies, spans more than 3,300 acres and has three mountains to explore. I visited in mid-March (locals say March conditions are often best) and we had perfect powder. The resort stays open through late May for those looking to extend their ski season. The ski-in, ski-out Sunshine Mountain Lodge is a perfect base for those who want to get first chair in the morning. Rooms have great views of the surrounding mountains and loft-style rooms with Murphy beds are perfect for couples or families. I liked the lodge’s unique offerings such as hot tub bingo night and new yoga and ski retreats. The mountain has terrain for all levels. Serious skiers and riders will want to go off-piste and experience Delirium Dive. A check-in gate ensures skiers and riders are equipped with a beacon and safety gear before they tackle the Dive. On Lookout Mountain, you’re likely to find powder stashes on some of the steep tree runs such as Little Angel, and Horot’s Revenge. And don’t miss the frozen waterfall on the way down the Waterfall run off the Wawa chair.
111 Lake Louise Dr, Lake Louise, AB T0L 1E0, Canada
One of Canada’s most iconic hotels, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is cradled by the Rocky Mountains, its grand, castle-like structure surrounded by towering peaks and the pristine, protected wilderness of Banff National Park. The hotel was founded in 1890 by Cornelius Van Horne, the general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, who envisioned creating a refuge for “the outdoor adventurer and alpinist.” What began as a one-story log cabin ended up helping to kick-start tourism in the Canadian Rockies, launch the Canadian mountaineering scene, and draw a host of notable names to the region, from Marilyn Monroe to Queen Elizabeth II.

Today, guests arrive in a grand lobby outfitted with imposing chandeliers and sweeping staircases. Common areas are decorated with old-timey photos from the hotel’s past, while the 552 spacious rooms and suites are all about showcasing views of the stunning turquoise lake and snowcapped Victoria Glacier. There are plenty of activities to enjoy year-round, from canoeing, hiking, fishing, rafting, and horseback riding in warmer weather, to skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and snowmobiling in the winter. In between, savor everything from European alpine dishes, authentic Italian fare, and Canadian comfort food to a large selection of bourbons and whiskeys at the seven dining outlets, or head to the spa and health club for a pampering treatment or dip in the indoor heated pool.
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
When you enter Banff National Park, you are immediately struck by its vastness. In the winter, the mountains tower above with their snow-covered peaks and the snowy pines go on like an endless, seemingly impenetrable sea. During my visit to Lake Louise, we were lucky enough to have waist-deep powder, which meant one of the only ways to explore the park was by snowshoe. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers day and night snowshoe tours from its lakeside cabin, which is stocked with a variety of styles of old-school wooden snowshoes. Our group opted for modern versions since we wanted to hike up steep trails into the park.

Our guide Mike set the pace, pointing out animal tracks of hare and squirrel along the way. Most people stroll around the lake in snowshoes but hiking up the mountain, cutting through the deep powder proved to be quite a workout. A little over an hour into our hike, we reached a clearing and Mike let us wind our own way down through the trees, gliding downhill in the powder. He even urged us to “huck” off jumps and land in the pillowy powder below. Throughout our two hours we didn’t see another person. I love snowboarding on the big mountains, but there’s something special about being alone in the middle of the park on a blue sky, powder day.
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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks