Situated 60km north-west of the regional resort town of Banff, Lake Louise is the largest of the Big3 ski resorts in Banff National Park and is one of the leading year-round tourist destinations in the Canadian Rockies. The Big3 group also includes the separate ski areas of Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay, all are covered by a common full-area lift pass and all are served by connecting bus services.
There are two resort village clusters at Lake Louise: the larger of the two is just off the Trans-Canada 'Icefields Parkway' Highway, around the site of the original Lake Louise railway station, about 2km from the slopes; the other is a further 3km away and focused around the renowned Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel, sited by the lake itself.
The lake is mostly frozen over during the mid-winter months, but the beautiful blue-green expanse of crystal clear water is revealed during the milder spring months and is an awe-inspiring sight, surrounded by a stunning backdrop of glacially striated massifs.
The villages contain a fair selection of restaurants and bars, most of them in the larger hotel complexes, plus there are a couple of grocery stores and a small shopping mall; a free shuttle-bus service connects the villages, the various hotels and lodgings, and the ski area.
NB: mid-winter temperatures in this region are extremely low, top-quality technical ski wear is necessary; and although the resort caters very well for families, those with small children are best advised to visit during the warmer spring months.
One of the prime features of the ski area at Lake Louise is that the layout of the ski lifts and slopes has been designed to provide at least one run of each classification (novice, intermediate, and advanced) from every major lift, so mixed ability groups and families can explore the area together. On clear days, the views in all directions across some of the many peaks and glaciers of Banff National Park are breathtaking.
The ski area is spread over three well-connected principal sectors: the Front-Side South Face directly above the base area, on the slopes of Mount Whitehorn and Saddleback; the Back-Side Powder Bowls on the far side of these peaks; plus the pretty Larch Area on a spur to the south-east on the slopes of Lipalian Mountain.
Over two-thirds of the slopes are forested and there are well over a hundred named runs covering a good mix of descents of all categories, plus there are acres of ungroomed in-bounds and off-piste terrain; the Back-Side Powder Bowls in particular are a major draw for advanced skiers and snowboarders and are renowned for the quality of their dry & light powder following fresh snowfalls.
Lake Louise also boasts the largest terrain park in North America, located in the 'Juniper Jungle' area just above the base area, featuring a wide range of boxes, rails, jumps, hips, spines, logs, and a wall ride.
The resort has an excellent beginners' zone and a dedicated children's area, with easy access to wide & gentle progression pistes on the sheltered wooded slopes closest to the base area; childcare facilities are available in a separate dedicated day-lodge nearby. The impressive huge log-built main day-lodge complex houses a couple of bars and cafés and a selection of restaurants, alongside equipment hire and retail shops.
Off the slopes and apres ski
People come from all over the world throughout all four seasons to visit Lake Louise to view the breathtaking landscapes of Banff National Park, and it is of course hauntingly beautiful in the winter months, so although there’s not a wide choice of off-slope activities in Lake Louise the big scenery more than makes up for any lack of other attractions and distractions.
A romantic way of viewing the area is to take a horse-drawn sleigh ride along the shore of the lake; dog-sled excursions are also available along the route of the summer access road, which is closed during the winter months. Ice skating is usually available on a small rink in front of the Chateau Lake Louise Hotel, and is also possible on some of the nearby smaller frozen lakes.
The principal alternative daytime activity up at the ski area is guided snowshoe treks, either sticking to the flat wooded trails next to the area's cross-country ski circuit or hiking up to one of the local peaks (pedestrian access tickets are also available for the gondola lift).
Day trips to the lively regional town of Banff are popular, as are excursions along the Icefields Parkway scenic drive to Jasper.
Apres ski at the base-area Kokanee Kabin is fairly lively for a couple of hours around closing time at the ski area, especially at the weekends; there are also a handful of saloon-style bars and diner-bars down in the village areas at Lake Louise, the Glacier Saloon at the Chateau Lake Louise offers occasional live music and dancing, but nightlife in Lake Louise is generally very low-key.
For a more active and animated night out try the torchlight descent and 'apres-ski' evening event up at the ski area. Alternatively, with transport, you could head for the brighter lights of lively downtown Banff, 60km away by road.