Thursday, January 27, 2022

Ski and Play at Mount Norquay in Banff

My family, like most, tends to get stuck in the "familiar" where we ski at the same resort(s) every winter, and we look to the same tried and true adventures when we want to plan a family fun day from Calgary.

This winter I challenge you to visit a new ski hill, or if you don't ski, to try something new (even for a day.)

Skiing at beautiful Mount Norquay in Banff

We love skiing and playing close to Calgary in Kananaskis, but this winter we've been heading out to Banff and Lake Louise more than normal to shake things up a bit. After all, we can't easily hop on a plane to go somewhere exotic, so now more than ever, it's fun to visit new places close to home.

One of our recent adventure days took us to Mount Norquay, a ski hill we hadn't visited (in winter) in close to five years. We spent a day at Mt. Norquay last summer trying out the epic Via Ferrata course as a family, but it was high time we returned in winter.

The Mt. Norquay Tube Park is a fun winter adventure for all ages!

Everything you need to know about Visiting Mt. Norquay this Winter 

First of all, know that for the 2021-22 winter season, Mount Norquay has decided to implement the Province of Alberta’s Restriction Exemption Program (REP) across all facilities at Mt Norquay.

"The REP program requires those 12 years and over who are visiting us to show proof of vaccination, along with government-issued identification for those who are 18 years or older. An Alberta Government-approved, privately paid negative rapid test taken within 72 hours will also be accepted." - Visit the Mt. Norquay website for more information.

Masks are also required inside all buildings at Norquay. They do not have to be worn outside, but it would be considerate to wear your mask if sharing a chairlift with others outside your family.

Norquay is working hard to keep your family safe this winter

What to expect when you first arrive at Norquay for the day:

  • First, allow yourself time for "unexpected delays" when driving to Banff in winter. We were slowed down by an accident and two snow plows on the highway which delayed our arrival time. The road up to Mt. Norquay from the highway can also be slow going if it has recently snowed or the road is icy.

  • When you arrive, find a parking spot (I recommend arriving by 8:30am to get a good spot) and get dressed/ready to go at your vehicle. Alternately, if you have young children, there is a skier drop off area where you can quickly pull into for unloading skis and gear.

    We personally love using the skier drop off zone at ski resorts. We unload our skis, and then I go into the lodge with my son, the two of us carrying our ski boots, helmets, and a duffel bag of clothing/gear, while my husband parks and comes in to join us. 

    I also saw many families who had brought sleds with them which I imagine were useful for carrying gear (and small kids) into the day lodge. The sleds were all left outside and nobody seemed to be bothering them.

  • Have your proof of vaccination and your ID handy! You'll have to show both before you can approach the ski lodge. There is a table set up just past the skier drop off area, and you'll have to show your documentation there. 

    Note, you'll have to show your documentation again should you decide to go back to the parking lot for any reason so try to minimalize how many times you enter the resort property.

  • When you arrive at the main base area, proceed to guest services to buy your lift tickets (or buy ahead of time to save time) and then go into the day lodge to get ready to go.

    Norquay has a fabulous day lodge equipped with many racks where you can store your bags and your lunch. You can store your shoes there too if you want to put your boots on inside. (And shout out to Norquay who has the best day lodge set up I've seen at a local ski resort!)

  • Chairlifts start running at 9am and we always try to be in line ready to go for fresh corduroy or first powder if it's snowed overnight. Novice skiers will find the beginner learning area and the Cascade Chair right in front of the day lodge.

    For intermediate/advanced skiers, I recommend warming up on the Spirit or Mystic Chair for a few laps before progressing to the North American Chair (where you'll only find black runs and no grooming.)

    And to get to the Mystic Chair, it's easiest to go up the Spirit Chair first, traversing over to avoid the short climb between the two chairs.

    See a map of the resort here.

There are racks like this in the day lodge for storing your bags, lunch, and shoes

Using the Day Lodge:

The day lodge is set up with individual tables for those purchasing snacks or lunch from the cafeteria. There's also a large eating room for those who've brought their own lunch on the same main floor.

The lodge is also well set up with microwaves and hot water for those families who've brought their own food.

Pro tip: Kids in lessons take a break from 11:30 - 12:30 so the lodge will be the busiest at that time! If you can go in early at 11am for lunch you'll find it much quieter. Alternately you could wait until 12:30 but we found the staff needed a good half hour or more to get the place cleaned up after the lunch rush so don't expect to find a clean table until at least 1:00.

Inside the day lodge at Mount Norquay 

The large lunch room for those who've brought their own lunch

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding at Mt. Norquay

Norquay for beginner skiers:

Norquay has a beginner learning area serviced by a magic carpet, along with a beginner chair, the Cascade Chair, where you can rest secure that your kids will never accidentally end up on a black run or get tired half way down the run and end up in a fit of tears on the ground. 

The Cascade Chair also provides access to the terrain park so youth may want to spend hours lapping this short chairlift if they enjoy park fun.

Once you've graduated from the Cascade Chair, proceed to the Spirit Chair and get off at the mid-station. From the mid-way point on this chair, everything is green and you'll be able to play around on nice short little runs.

There's also a green traverse off the top of the Spirit Chair if you accidentally go to the top. It will take you back to the Cascade Chair.

Know that there are discounted magic carpet rates.

Children 5 and under are FREE on all chairlifts with the purchase of an adult lift ticket.

And if you need a lesson or two, check out the Snow School programs at Mount Norquay. There's something for all ages and abilities. 

Skiing the terrain park under the Cascade Chair

Norquay for intermediate skiers:

If you're able to ski everything from the mid-point down on the Spirit Chair, try taking it to the top where you can try number 36, Abracadabra. It starts out blue at the top and then turns green halfway down. This run is generally groomed overnight and is a good run to lap a few times before progressing to the Mystic Chair.

The Mystic Chair accesses blue intermediate runs, many of them groomed. There are a few black runs as well if you want to see what a "Norquay black" feels like before moving on to the "Big Chair!."

I wish I could tell you which my favourites were, but uncharacteristically of me, I didn't pay attention to the signs as I skied down the runs. I guess that means they were all good and I flagged nothing in my mind as a "do not repeat."

There are also ungroomed runs off Mystic if you enjoy bumps and more playful terrain.

Pro tip: The Mystic Chair rarely has lines so if you're finding that the Spirit Chair is busy, just head on to Mystic and stay there. 

Enjoying first groomer laps off the Mystic Chair

You'll spend a lot of time on the Mystic Chair if you like groomed intermediate runs

Norquay for expert skiers:

Advanced skiers will want to head to the North American Chair or the "Big Chair" where you'll find steep lines, bumps, and all the views! I wasn't able to visit this chair, but my boys enjoyed this chairlift.

Know that nothing is groomed, there is no "easy way down," and the chairlift doesn't take scared skiers back down again if you chicken out at the top.

The easiest way to reach this chairlift is to traverse over from the top of the Cascade Chair.

Skiing the fluffy ungroomed stuff off the North American Chair

Mount Norquay also offers discounted afternoon skiing, special rates for "last hour skiing," and night skiing. Visit their website for more information on prices

And final pro tip: Norquay is busier on Saturdays, so try to time your visit for Sunday.

Enjoying the steep terrain off the Big Chair

Visiting the Mt. Norquay Tube Park 

If skiing isn't your thing or you want a fabulous multi-sport day, check out the Mount Norquay Tube Park:
"Tubing is a great family activity, for adults and kids from 4 years and up. (Must also be a minimum of 42 inches.) Our tube lanes are long (longest in Alberta!), fast, and offer a real thrill with no special skills required." - Read more here.

This was only our second time visiting the Norquay tube park but we had a blast and I love how gentle tubing is on the body. I'm recovering from a couple of injuries and there's no way I'm going to fly down a hill on a regular sled. I'd end up in the hospital for sure! Tube parks are designed though to keep everybody safe and contained in their own lane, in their tube, and free of crashes! 

When we were at the park we saw entire families out playing together with little ones as young as 4 years old sliding together with their parents or even grandparents. Everybody has to use their own tube, but you can go down in gigantic groups of 4-6 tubes at a time and it's a blast when you're all screaming and laughing together.

As with the ski hill, proof of vaccination is required to use the tube park and reservations are highly recommended this year. You can make a reservation on the Norquay website.

There are three sessions per day that you can sign up for if you want to visit the tube park:

- Morning session (10am - 12:30pm) - which is perfect if you want to take advantage of the discounted afternoon skiing

- Afternoon session (1:30 - 4:00pm) - Perfect for families driving out from Calgary and not wanting an early start

- Evening session (5:00 - 7:30pm Fridays and Saturdays) - Ideal if you want to spend the day skiing

For more information visit the Norquay website at the links above where you'll get info on pricing as well.

To save a few bucks, you can also get discounted Tubing tickets from Costco. Buy your tickets and then sign up on the Norquay website.

Tubing is an exhilarating activity for the whole family!

Norquay has the longest tubing lanes in Alberta!

Plan a Ski Getaway with a Stay in Banff

Mount Norquay offers free shuttle service from Banff with pick up service from many of the hotels around town. Leave your vehicle safe and secure at your hotel and enjoy being dropped off right in front of the day lodge without having to find parking at the ski hill.

We recently stayed at the Caribou Lodge & Spa, conveniently located on Banff Avenue. We were able to ski all day and then after checking into our hotel, could walk downtown for dinner (because clearly we needed more exercise after skiing.) Seriously though, it's hard to find parking in Banff, so if you can stay right on Banff Avenue in a hotel that has complimentary parking, you're golden! Add a hotel with a hot tub (we all need one of those after skiing,) and you're beyond golden.

If you want to plan a ski weekend, I recommend checking out the Banff Lodging Company. We've stayed at several of their properties and never had a bad experience. They have several hotels right on Banff Avenue downtown, or if you want a condo with a kitchen and separate bedrooms, there are a few fabulous properties up on Tunnel Mountain that we love.

You can also check out the lodging specials for Norquay here. 

And if you're looking for a fun Easter getaway, Norquay is hosting a giant Easter Egg Hunt on April 17th with chocolate eggs hidden all over the ski hill! Sign me up! 

Stay overnight in Banff with a free shuttle to the ski hill!

Returning to Mt. Norquay in Summer 

If you have youth over the age of 12, you'll want to return in the future to try out one of the guided climbing routes on the Norquay Via Ferrata.

You can read more here:

Read: The Ultimate Family Bonding Experience on the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata, Banff

Epic Adventure on the Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata 

Disclaimer: Our recent Norquay day was hosted by the resort. As always, all opinions and words are my own. We have also received hosted accommodations from the Banff Lodging Company.

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