Nuts and Bolts: The heart of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, the adjacent Banff and Jasper National Parks make up an impossibly beautiful ecosystem featuring peaks, glaciers, forests, and wild residents, such as caribou, bighorn sheep, gray wolves, and grizzly bears.
These national parks are also home to their fair share of powder hounds drawn to the quartet of resorts within the parks: Marmot Basin (www.skimarmot.com) in Jasper and Lake Louise (www.skilouise.com), Mount Norquay (www.banffnorquay.com), and Sunshine Village in Banff. Marmot offers a series of bowls in one of Canada's resorts, plus the longest chairlift in the Canadian Rockies. Steeped in legend, Lake Louise is the largest of the four, with 4,200 skiable acres, with a series of bowls with green, blue, and black routes down. Lake Louise also has unique features like the Rock Garden, a rockslide-turned-slope that's something of a natural terrain park. Mount Norquay is closest to the town of Banff, the oldest in the Canadian Rockies (est. 1926), and the smallest, at 190 acres. (Don't let that number fool you: There is some very challenging terrain here.) Finally, Sunshine Village offers vast open bowls that are perfect for intermediates as well as the expert-oriented Goat's Eye Mountain, and Banff's only ski-in, ski-out lodging.
Each park has a tourist-oriented town of the same name (Jasper in Jasper and Banff in Banff) with a nice range of lodgings for every budget, as well as restaurants, souvenir shops, and nightlife -- especially Banff, where you'll find a microbrewery and a bar called the Dancing Sasquatch. There's also lodging and dining in the dinky town of Lake Louise, a short drive from Lake Louise the ski resort.
I recommend putting together a ski safari of sorts that includes the incomparable drive from Jasper to Banff on the Icefields Parkway, one of North America's most scenic roads. This area is jammed in the summer by tourists gawking at glaciers, peaks, and wildlife, but in ski season, it's a target of many a blizzard and therefore often empty. Bring your camera -- and your snow chains.
What's New: Last season, Marmot Basin debuted the Canadian Mountain Express, a.k.a. the CRE (its 1,955 vertical feet are the most in the Canadian Rockies). Marmot has another new lift coming on line for the 2011-12 season. Ski and snowboard cross tracks opened this season at both Mount Norquay and Lake Louise.
Best Ski Deals and Ski Packages: The ski deal to beat is at Lake Louise, where the newly renovated Great Divide Lodge (formerly the Wapta Lake Lodge and the West Louise Lodge) sat shuttered for two years but was born anew this season as a true skier's lodge: comfortable, functional, and friendly. The midweek specials are unbeatable: C$79 per person based on double occupancy nets you a room, a lift ticket, and breakfast. (That's only C$3 more than the walk-up rate for a lift ticket.) On the weekends, it's C$99 per person.
There is an unbeatable family package at Mount Norquay: C$129 gets a family of four a half-day of skiing, a half-day of tubing, rentals, and hot chocolate. Ski-and-stay packages at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, the only ski-in, ski-out property in Banff, start around C$150 per person, with plenty of free activities when the gondola's not running.
You'll find even better deals staying in the town of Banff, ranging from budget (the SameSun offers two nights of hostel accommodations and a lift ticket for C$133) to the luxury (the majestic Banff Springs Hotel, built in 1888, has ski-and-stay packages starting at C$339). Another place to save: the last-minute deals page at the Banff Lodging Co.'s website.
Quotable: "We don't have million-dollar condos -- we have million-dollar views!" -- Sandy Best, director of public relations at Lake Louise Mountain Resort
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Winter Sport Forum.