Gliding through fresh powder, inhaling crisp mountain air and soaking in epic views from the top of a peak are par for the course at the world-famous ski resorts in Alberta, Canada. It’s no wonder the Rocky Mountains attract adventure seekers from around the world, even luring Europeans away from their own grand ranges to tackle our scenic and sometimes challenging trails.
But let’s be honest. As fun as a day of making fresh tracks is, many of us unapologetically look forward to the après-ski part even more. There’s just something about kicking off your heavy boots after hours of tackling moguls and black diamond runs, and gathering around a roaring fireplace sharing stories and drinks with family and friends. With that in mind, here are some of the best spots to sip and ski in Alberta’s Bow Valley.
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Ski at: Lake Louise Ski Resort
It’s safe to say Lake Louise is one of the world’s most scenic ski resorts—and that’s coming from someone who’s enjoyed a ski vacation in the Swiss Alps. Sprawled over 4,200 skiable acres, its varied terrain not only has 145 runs for every skill level, but seems to deliver yet another spectacular viewpoint at every turn.
With two chair lifts just steps away from the charming timber lodge, it’s easy to get a quick start to the day and head up to the more challenging runs on the front side of the mountain (or stick around the bunny hill—no judgement here!). Lake Louise has 10 lifts including a gondola and the six-person Top of the World Express, which means that no matter how busy it looks in the parking lot you’re sure to find plenty of untouched trails throughout the resort.
READ MORE: Alberta’s best ski resorts
Wide-open runs spread over multiple mountain ranges, moguls, hidden pathways that wind through trees, and trails lasting for up to eight kilometres are just some of the offerings at Lake Louise—even the most frequent visitors admit they haven’t explored it all! Fortunately even those who don’t consider themselves powder hounds can still enjoy the scenic spots without having to worry about navigating back down, as there are a number of lookout points served by gondolas and chairlifts that will safely shuttle visitors back down.
Up for a challenge? Don’t skip the aptly-named Top of the World on the back side of the mountain, which is the perfect spot to snap a selfie thanks to its unbelievable vantage point overlooking a range of imposing glaciers. Then, head to the tip of Mt. Whitehorn, where you’ll hit heights of nearly nine-thousand feet before dropping down into a bowl with snow so deep you’d think you were suddenly heli-skiing.
Sip at: Kuma Yama Sushi Restaurant
Sake and sushi may not be a traditional après-ski combination in the Rockies, but Kuma Yama has proven to be a popular spot since opening in Lake Louise’s Lodge at Ten Peaks. The spacious, sun-drenched interior is a welcome change from the typical dark pubs frequented by ski bums, yet still offers creature comforts like fireplaces and views of the hill.
Signature cocktails include the very-Canadian Sake Caesar and the fruity White Mountain (sake, peach schnapps, lime juice). Alternatively, try their Japanese spin on a Bloody Mary which sees the addition of wasabi, or the Green Tea-ni which is a fun combination of vodka, cointreau, chilled green tea, simple syrup and lemon.
To continue the party back in the village of Lake Louise, head to the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise which hosts the Glacier Saloon. Resembling something out of the Wild West (complete with real saloon doors, natch), the wood-panelled bar serves up the usual favourites along with filling fare such as BBQ ribs, fried pickles and a poutine skillet. Because you can’t come to Canada and not try poutine!
What do smoked air dried buffalo, prosciutto, gouda, game pate, smoked pepper duck and elk salami have in common? They’re all found on the savoury Rocky Mountain Charcuterie Platter. As the house specialty of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts properties, you’ll find it on the menu at hotels including Banff’s Buffalo Mountain Lodge in Banff, and rustic Deer Lodge in Lake Louise.
Served up with a side of mustard melons, cranberry relish and olives, the platter is a fantastic way to sample the game meats Alberta is famous for, such as bison and elk which are raised on CRMR’s own ranch. Better yet, you can tuck into the charcuterie in front of a roaring fireplace in Deer Lodge’s Lady Agnes Room, while enjoying what just might be the coziest après-ski experience of your life.
Ski at: Sunshine Village
With a season that usually kicks off in early November and runs all the way until May, Sunshine Village just 15 minutes west of Banff is rightfully one of Canada’s most popular ski spots. The resort’s 3,300 skiable acres are spread out over three different mountains, while a dozen lifts shuttle skiers and snowboarders to scenic trails that suit all skill levels.
Sunshine Village’s varied terrain means there’s something for everyone, such as the wide-open green runs off the Wolverine Chair, blue runs that navigate through moguls and snow-covered forests, or the extreme Delirium Dive and Wild West trails where carrying a shovel and avalanche transceiver are mandatory. There’s even one that crosses over into neighbouring British Columbia, before turning back into Alberta.
The resort also has a claim to fame that proves exceptionally popular on bitterly cold days—Teepee Town, Canada’s only heated chair lift. The European-designed lift features orange bubble covers that keep out the wind, while heated seats and footrests make the experience heading up the hill into a first class experience. It also gives new meaning to the phrase “hot buns!”
Sip at: Mad Trappers
You don’t have to leave the hill to kick off happy hour, thanks to Mad Trappers Grill & BBQ which is conveniently located on Mount Standish nestled between the day lodge and hotel. Busy all hours of the day and well into the evening, Mad Trappers is an unpretentious, authentic spot where fast friends are easily made over a pint of Kokanee.
Beer’s not your thing? Well, how about champagne? Every spring, Mad Trappers’ patio is transformed into the Veuve Clicquot Champagne and Charcuterie Snow Bar, which is as amazing as it sounds. Each weekend from mid-April until the end of May, you can indulge in French champagne and west coast oysters, while enjoying the fresh air and soaking in the sunshine. Could après-ski possibly get any better than that?
Spend enough time in bars in the Bow Valley, and you’ll soon notice a bottle branded with iconic Mount Rundle that seems to pop up just about everywhere. That bottle comes from Park Distillery, the Alberta company that distills their spirits with glacier water straight from the surrounding Rockies, and puts the whole process on display in their hip restaurant in the heart of Banff.
Voted as one of Canada’s top new restaurants in Canada when it opened in 2015, Park Distillery’s campfire-inspired cuisine pairs well with their rye and vodkas, making it one of the town’s most popular pit stops for the après-ski crowd. The best way to get into the spirit of the place is to order one of their Housemade Booze Flights, which lets you taste all five of their liquors in one sitting. Bartenders are happy to explain the distilling process as you sample rye as well as classic, vanilla, espresso and chili vodkas, which are the perfect way to start off the evening.
There aren’t many things more satisfying than devouring a juicy cheeseburger after a long day on the ski hill, so it’s no wonder The Eddie burger bar in Banff seems to always be lined up out the door. For years, the tiny restaurant has served up the likes of angus beef or elk patties on fresh-baked brioche buns, which are sure to satisfy any craving.
It’s also the perfect spot for a post-ski sip, thanks to happy hour specials and their famous High Octane Milkshakes. What’s better than a milkshake? A milkshake with booze! If you’re looking to really kick it up a notch, try one of their cocktails like the Trashcan, a concoction popular with lifties thanks to its combo of Red Bull, Long Island mix and blue curaçao, which is guaranteed to keep the party going all night long.
Ski at: Mt. Norquay
While it’s drastically smaller than its “Big 3” counterparts, Mt. Norquay is still a crowd favourite when it comes to Alberta’s best ski hills. Not only is it the closest one to Banff (just a five minute drive from town), but it’s also incredibly scenic and has phenomenal views of the surrounding ranges. Norquay is also relatively budget friendly, thanks to monthly specials with passes as low as 90 cents (!!) as well as the option to buy hourly tickets—perfect for those late risers.
Offering 60 runs spread over nearly 200 acres, Mt. Norquay is ideal for beginner and intermediate riders, as it doesn’t have much in the way of hazards or black diamonds. Those who love to hurtle down the hill at full speed will especially love Norquay, as most trails are also well-groomed and wide open.
Even those who don’t enjoy skiing or snowboarding can enjoy a day at the resort, by taking advantage of activities like winter sightseeing from a lookout point more than two-thousand metres high, or hitting the slopes on an inner tube. Snow tubing with a T-bar that shuttles you up so you don’t have to do any sort of work? Sign me up!
Sip at: Nourish Bistro
Admittedly a vegetarian restaurant isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of après-ski spots, but there’s just something about Nourish Bistro’s hippie vibe that converts even the most stubborn carnivores. The restaurant’s farm to table concept inspires dishes like the Mac & Squeeze (their take on macaroni and cheese, which is served in a smoked paprika sauce), and King Kong Noodles which includes spinach, quinoa and roasted vegetables in a coconut chili peanut sauce. Both are so delicious and beautifully presented that you’ll quickly forget there’s no meat in them.
And if you’re just looking for a post-ski sip, well, the bar delivers there too. Serving up ciders, beer and cocktails with names like Guy on a Buffalo and Danger Is My Middle Name, your group could spend all evening at Nourish just trying to make your way through the list one by one. In the mood for something different? Try the Sailor Jerry punch, a delightfully sweet cocktail mixed from spiced rum, melon liqueur, creme de banane and tropical fruit juice that will transport you from the Rocky Mountains to the beaches of the Caribbean in just one sip.
Bear Street Tavern
Come for the pizza…stay for the shot-ski. Bear Street Tavern has long been a popular stop, thanks to its incredible thin-crust pizzas drizzled with honey and chili oil which will leave you craving more all the way back to Calgary. But the real reason it makes the list of best après-ski spots in the Rockies? Its shot ski, which allows you and your buds to toast to a great day on the hill together, before tipping the ski back and drinking whatever shot you chose in perfect unison.
The new kid in town is High Rollers, and ducking down off of Banff Avenue into this cool bowling alley is a great way to keep the fun going long after you leave the ski hill.
The venue is soaked in neon lights, offering both bocce and bowling lanes along with “booze that helps you bowl.” Think Beer League cocktails (spiced rum, orange juice, strawberries and beer), The Pins Cup (Pimms, gin, orange, cucumber and gingerly) and the Park Chili Margarita—made with vodka from Park Distillery, of course.
High Rollers also serves up late-night favourites including pizzas, nachos and burgers, ensuring your après-ski pit stop continues long into the night.
What are your favourite ski resorts or après-ski spots in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains? Please share in the comments below!
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Globe Guide sipped and skied in partnership with Travel Alberta.