In spite of ourselves, winter is fast approaching and so is ski season! For those of you who love snow sports, here is a guide to help you save money on a ski trip to Western Canada.
Ski trip - The plane
The closest international airport to Whistler is Vancouver International Airport (YVR), a 2-hour drive from the village. In winter, the Montreal-Vancouver route is operated by two airlines:
- Air Canada
- Lynx Air
If you book well in advance, you can find a round-trip ticket for just $180 in January with Lynx Air. Please note, however, that prices with this airline do not include checked baggage or even carry-on baggage.
During busy periods like the holiday season, prices tend to hover around $600 for a round trip.
From Banff, the nearest airport is Calgary (YYC), a 1.5-hour drive away. Flights between Montreal and Calgary are operated by :
- Air Canada
- Lynx Air
It’s also possible to get very low-cost tickets with Lynx Air, at around $160 round-trip.
With competition from ultra-low-cost carriers strong in recent years, Air Canada’s flights are also much cheaper than before. Round-trip tickets on direct flights are available for $300.
Handling of sport equipment
Another important consideration for those who wish to bring their own skis or board is the cost of transporting the sports equipment.
On Air Canada‘s side, skis and snowboards are considered as regular baggage. A boot bag is also permitted and exempt from the baggage allowance when carried with skis or a board. You can bring them in free of charge if you are a holder of certain Aeroplan credit cards. All the details can be found on this page.
For WestJet, the policy is similar: ski equipment is considered as one regular checked bag and standard rates apply. WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard holders are also entitled to a free first checked bag.
Finally, for Lynx Air, skis and snowboards are considered as regular checked baggage, and no oversized baggage surcharges apply. Baggage fees depend on many factors, including flight distance. Details can be found here.
Ski trip - Lift tickets
Skiing in the Rockies is great. The snow conditions are exceptional and the mountains are much bigger than in Quebec. However, lift tickets can cost a small fortune if purchased on the same day!
A day ticket to Whistler Blackcomb costs $269 + tax when purchased on site, so take the time to book online before your visit.
Every year, there is a pre-sale of passes on the Whistler Blackcomb website. The biggest savings are made before the season starts and by buying multi-day tickets.
At first glance, there are a ton of different passes to Whistler Blackcomb and it’s easy to get lost.
The Edge Card is the least expensive pass, but is reserved for Canadians and residents of Washington State. This pass is on sale from the end of the previous season until early December of the current season. Available for 2, 5 or 10 days of skiing, with or withoutblackout dates.
Check the blackout periods carefully, and don’t take a Restricted pass if you plan to ski on those days. The ski days are not necessarily consecutive and can be used throughout the season.
If you missed the presale and the Edge Card is no longer available, the next best option is the Whistler Blackcomb Day Pass.
Avoid buying single lift tickets, unless you’re at the last minute and it’s the last option left. Prices vary by day, from $192 to $282.
Here is a summary table of lift ticket prices for Whistler Blackcomb:
|Edge Card – Restricted||Edge Card||Day Pass – Restricted||Day Pass|
Amounts are in Canadian dollars, per ski day and include taxes.
One lift ticket gives you access to all the skiable terrain on Whistler Mountain, Blackcomb Mountain and the Peak 2 Peak gondola linking the two peaks.
Fortunately, rates for Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise are much simpler! There are no pre-sales and there are no savings to be made by buying for several days. Tickets for Banff Sunshine range from $127 per day per adult, while Lake Louise tickets range from $125 to $155, depending on the date.
For an additional 20 dollars per day, there is also the Ski Big 3 pass. This pass provides access to Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mt Norquay. This last station is much smaller than the other two, and not as exceptional.
Ski trip - Accommodation
Hotel expenses will represent the largest part of your budget. You have two options: stay on the ski resort itself or stay in a town away from the mountain. The earlier you book, the more choices you will have and the better prices you will get.
In Banff Sunshine Resort, the only ski-in ski-out option is the Sunshine Mountain Lodge. Rooms for two start at over $350 a night and can go up to $600 for a loft suite.
The other accommodations are located in the village of Banff, a few minutes from the resort. Expect to pay at least $120 a night for a 3-star hotel.
For Lake Louise Ski Resort, there is no ski-in ski-out option, nor is there a facility at the base of the mountain. The closest accommodations to the resort are in the village of Lake Louise.
For a luxurious stay, the five-star Fairmont Château Lake Louise boasts an exceptional lakeside location. Fairmont hotels are part of the Accor Live Limitless loyalty program. Expect to pay around $500 per night in normal times, and almost double that during busy periods (holiday season or spring break).
My best tip for saving money on accommodation in Banff: book a hotel in the town of Canmore.
There’s a huge choice, and prices are much more reasonable than on the mountain or in Banff village. However, you’ll need a car to get there. Canmore is 30 minutes from Banff Sunshine Resort and one hour from Lake Louise Resort.
Rooms at the Westin are slightly more expensive. Count on between 60,000 and 80,000 Bonvoy points per night.
Like Banff, there are much cheaper options outside the resort. It is possible to stay in Squamish or Pemberton to save on accommodation.
A car will be required as the town of Squamish is 50 minutes from Whistler, while Pemberton is 30 minutes away. Rooms are at least $400 a night at the resort, versus $150 in Squamish or Pemberton.
Ski trip - Equipment rental
If you don’t bring your own equipment, you will have to rent it on site. In Whistler, an on-site rental of complete intermediate equipment will cost you close to $100 per day!
The best way to save money is to rent equipment off the mountain at a sports store. Full equipment rentals are at most $45 per day, and you save if you take several days.
Rentals in Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise are also less expensive than in Whistler. Expect to pay around $75 a day for a rental on the mountain, or $55 a day at a sports store in Banff Village.
Ski trip - Transportation
Although the future of the AIR MILES program has been uncertain over the past year, renting a car is still a great way to use your Dream Miles.
For example, a one-week rental at the Vancouver airport for a mid-size car costs 3,850 Dream Miles. That same rental paid in cash would be $711, or a valuation of 18. 5¢ per mile!
In my opinion, having a car makes things much smoother on a ski trip. However, if you prefer not to drive, there are organized transportation options to get to Whistler or Banff:
- SkyLynx offers direct bus service between Vancouver airport and Whistler for $42 return.
- Shuttles between the Calgary airport and Banff are more expensive: expect to pay around $150 for a round trip.
Banff National Park is magnificent, even in winter! If you want to spend a day without skiing, there are many activities to choose from.
My favorites are skating on Lake Louise (you can rent skates at the Fairmont Hotel for $23), Banff’s Upper Hot Springs($16.50 per adult) and the short hike to Peyto Lake. Unfortunately, the road to Moraine Lake is closed during winter.
Near Whistler, there’s the Sea to Sky Gondola ($66) in Squamish, which offers grandiose views of the region’s mountains.
A ski trip with points requires a lot of preparation. In short, book early and diversify the points and miles in your wallet. With Aeroplan points for airfare, Marriott Bonvoy points for accommodations, AIR MILES Dreams miles for the car and flexible points for other expenses, you’ll have a memorable trip at a great price. Enjoy the slopes!