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Banff Mt Norquay in the Eastern Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada, is the third and smallest ski resort on the Big 3 tri-pass that includes Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, and is just minutes from Banff centre, making it very much a 'local' hill.


Overview

Although small in size, Mt Norquay ski resort packs a considerable punch on the piste and its middling star ratings are more a reflection of quantity than quality. The first ski hill to be created in Western Canada, in 1926, Austrian, Swiss and German engineers working in the area were among the early pioneers.

Today, sitting a mere 4km from Banff town centre, it's regarded very much as a 'local' hill, the place where Banff residents learn to ski, and that's underscored by the fact that you can buy hourly ski-passes here.

Ski area

Just a glance at the percentages should tell you that Mount Norquay is not a ski hill to be taken lightly, with 44% of its terrain classified as black diamond and double black, and just 20% deemed as suitable for beginners.

It's used as a training hill by Olympic and World Cup skiers, and many of its short, sharp blues off the Mystic Express chair, such as Illusion and Knight Flight, would be black diamonds on any other hill. And the super-fast Black Magic black diamond is the steepest groomed pitch on the tri-pass and one of the steepest groomed runs in Canada.

That said, despite the pleasing lack of crowds during the week, a day or two here, at most, would satisfy most skiers. Still, it's great for a warm-up day or when the weather is poor.

The beginners' terrain, is off the Cascade and Spirit lifts, but while there may not be much of it, anyone looking to progress their skiing would do well to ski with an instructor and clock up run after run, with minimal lift time. This is also the only hill in the Banff-Lake Louise area to offer night skiing (Fri-Sat) - and that extends to the resort's terrain park.

All of Norquay's 28 runs fan off from five chairs which all start from the base area. The resort's signature double black diamond run, Lone Pine, is reached via the North American chair which serves an exclusive black/double black area, and the other expert terrain is accessed if you turn left off the top of Mystic Express.

In common with other Canadian resorts, Mount Norquay also offers a free mountain host service. Just turn up at 10am or 1.30pm and there'll be a volunteer host ready to show you round the hill.

Off the slopes/apres-ski

In-resort apres is minimal - there's just the Lone Pine Pub and Restaurant at the Cascade base lodge, and with no accommodation on the hill, in common with all national park resorts in the Rockies (except Sunshine), you'll need to head into Banff itself to continue your revels. Banff is a lively town with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants, even an art museum, and don't miss the Indian Trading Station (complete with totem pole) for Native American souvenirs.

Families

As well as a good ski school, the main attraction for families is Mt Norquay's excellent tube park. Riding giant inflatable tyres down a series of slopes will keep younger kids happy for hours. There is also a sightseeing gondola, which rides past the now disused ski jump ramp, up to the Cliff House, a former tea room, where the views over Banff and the Rockies are breathtaking. There are also a number of snowshoe walks.
// HIGHLIGHTS //
Apres Ski
6
Families
8
Lift System
6
Off the slopes
6
Off-piste
4
Resort Charm
6
Ski Area
6
Vertical drop
503m
Altitude range
1636-2133m
Ski area
16
Parks
1
Resort height
1636m
Summit
2133m
Airport
Calgary
Train station
Banff
beginner
20%
intermediate
36%
expert
44%