A wide-open snowshoeing trek at Banff's Sunshine Village (photo: Paul Zizka/Banff and Lake Louise Tourism)

Why These Western Canadian Ski Resorts are Super for Non-Skiers

By Andrew Penner

If variety is the spice of life, then the most notable western Canadian ski resorts are truly living it up. Skiing is, for obvious reasons, the most popular pastime at a ski hill. But there is plenty of momentum when it comes to other snow sports. Snowshoeing, skating, tobogganing, ice climbing and tubing are all fair game.

“About 40 percent of people who visit Big White are not skiers or boarders,” says Nikki Wiart, communications specialist at the popular Kelowna-area ski resort. “Even though they won’t hit the slopes, they still want some outdoor action.”

That’s why Big White and other major ski resorts are increasingly catering to non-skiing patrons. And they’re getting more and more creative in how they do it. “At the end of the day, it’s all about ‘mountain time,’” says Matt Mosteller, senior vice-president for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. “Now, more than ever, people want fresh air in their faces, beautiful natural landscapes and activities that offer those benefits.”

There’s a reason this Kelowna, B.C. resort is regarded as one of the most family-friendly in Canada. To see why, corral your group and head to the Happy Valley Adventure Park.

A sprawling snow-and-ice playground at the base of the mountain, it has no shortage of thrilling activities for kids and energetic adults alike. If you feel your Spidey senses tingling, strap on a harness, secure your crampons, grab your ice axes and see if you can summit one of the coolest human-made ice towers in Canada. Though the gnarly, nearly 20-metre-tall column looks intimidating, there are plenty of routes of varying difficulty to the top. Climbers can rent any needed gear—and get top-notch tips and support from trained attendants.

Following your ascent (and descent), you can then go dogsledding, ice skating, tubing, mini snowmobiling, fat biking and cross-country skiing. Cap a very busy day with a cup of hot chocolate and a horse-drawn sleigh ride with the family.

Smiling couple behind sled dogs in a wintry forest
Dogsledding at Big White

Sunshine’s gondola whisks resort goers to a snow-filled world unlike anywhere else in Canada. Once at the mid-mountain village, hop on the Angel Express chairlift to the viewing platform near the top of Lookout Mountain, which comes by its name honestly. You’ll be awed by the jaw-dropping 360-degree view of the surrounding range, including Mount Assiniboine, the Matterhorn of the Rockies. True, skiers staying at the 84-room Sunshine Mountain Lodge get first dibs on a powder day. That’s incentive enough to reserve a ski-in-ski-out room at this alpine retreat. But the gorgeous mountain views are available to everyone.

Due to COVID-19, some activities at these resorts may be restricted or closed, so check ahead before your trip

You don’t even need skis to feast on Sunshine’s legendary powder. Simply grab a pair of snowshoes (readily available for lodge guests) and pounce into the thick snowpack. Just like the skiing, the snowshoeing up at Sunshine can be off the charts.

Of course, if you really want to live life in the slow lane, you can curl up by the fireplace with a book or go for a soak in the huge outdoor hot tub. Most guests will be out skiing, so you may get these cozy spaces to yourself!

Hop on the magic carpet to the top of the tube park, plop yourself in the porthole—you know, the middle of the tube—and get ready for the ride of your life! Or, better yet, link together with three or four fellow tubers, get a little spin-o-rama going from the attendant, and enjoy a crazy descent that will make the tilt-a-whirl seem like child’s play!

Mt. Norquay Ski Resort is Banff’s home base for high-adrenaline winter hijinks and its eight-lane tube park—Alberta’s largest—has become one of the town’s most popular attractions. It’s perfect for families, groups and skiers who only need a handful of runs (but are craving a little more fun before the day is done).

“Tubing is about as easy as it gets,” says Simon Moffatt, marketing manager at Norquay. “Other than the tube, there’s no equipment. No lessons required. And it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The speeds can actually get pretty intense, so you want to make sure your toque fits snug!”

There aren’t many winter experiences more breathtaking than a saunter through the surrealistically icy depths of Maligne Canyon. Just north of the Jasper townsite, the deepest canyon in the Canadian Rockies features waterfalls, bridges, spectacular ice formations and some of the most impressive water-carved landforms you’ll ever see.

While the uncrowded atmosphere at Jasper’s Marmot Basin is a huge draw for skiers—and the mountain’s many green and blue runs make it a great place to learn—Jasper remains excellent for those who abstain from the downhill action, and a guided hike through Maligne Canyon is certainly an itinerary highlight. Included winter boots, ice cleats and helmets make the three-hour tour an even more convenient option.

If you’d rather slip than grip, both Pyramid Lake and Lac Beauvert—near the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge—have well-maintained skating ovals and ice rinks. Head over at dusk for a romantic glide beneath the star-flecked sky.

three young girls waving on snow tubes with mountains in background
Tubing at Mt. Norquay (photo: Paul Zizka)

Although synonymous with dreamy downhill skiing (the backside bowls are epic!), Lake Louise, thanks to its lofty elevation, is a powder-filled playground for lovers of many different outdoor pursuits.

Snowshoeing through the pristine pines that encase idyllic Lake Louise is definitely a bucket-list adventure for powder lovers. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers snowshoe rentals and guided tours along some of the prettiest trails in the Canadian Rockies. After your tour, enjoy afternoon tea and view the awesome ice sculptures that surround the hotel.

Super slopes for beginner skiers and snowboarders in Alberta

In the evening (if you’ve still got some energy left), go for leisurely skate on what may be Canada’s most famous lake. And, of course, sip a hot chocolate and cozy up to the crackling fire.

The gentle beginner slopes and popular ski schools make this area arguably the best place to learn to ski in the Rockies. But fat biking the valley trails near the base of Nakiska is a welcome respite from the high-speed action of this busy family-friendly resort.

The added flotation and traction of extra-wide tires make fat biking an activity that’s suitable for all cycling skill levels. And the single and double-track trails in and around the Kananaskis Village are about as sweet as they come. A peaceful pedal to the spectacular frozen Troll Falls is the ultimate way to kick-start your amateur fat biking career.

Regardless of your chosen activity, a visit to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa is a must. With hot pools, cold plunges and saunas, you’ll love every blissful second of the soothing experience.

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