Winter has arrived and so has the 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. My advice focuses on the most popular ski stations: Whistler Blackcomb, Banff Sunshine Village and Lake Louise Ski Resort. Let’s take a closer look at how points and a few tips can help you reduce your bill.
The closest international airport to Whistler is Vancouver International Airport (YVR), a 2-hour drive from the village. During the winter season, the Montreal-Vancouver route is operated by three airlines: Air Canada, Air Transat and Flair Airlines.
If you book far enough in advance, you can find a round trip ticket for as little as $120 in January with Flair. But beware, Flair’s prices do not include checked baggage or even carry-on baggage. During busy periods such as the holidays and spring break, prices revolve more around $500 for a round trip. Aeroplan points prices are dynamically priced, but it is possible to find direct flight tickets for as little as 16,600 points.
From Banff, the closest airport is Calgary (YYC), which is an hour and a half away by car. Flights between Montreal and Calgary are operated by Air Canada, WestJet and Flair Airlines. It is also possible to get very low cost tickets with Flair, around $140 round trip. Because the competition is fierce, Air Canada’s flights are also much cheaper than before. Round trip tickets with direct flights can be found for $300.
You can also apply for the WestJet World Elite RBC MasterCard to earn up to $450 in WestJet dollars. You would have enough dollars to cover a round trip to Calgary for 2 people.
Transportation of 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 Flair Airlines, sports equipment is a regular checked bag. It will cost you between $44 and $79 plus taxes for your first bag.
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 the same day! A day ticket to Whistler Blackcomb is $234 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 and it’s easy to get lost. The Edge Card is the least expensive pass, but it is only available to Canadians and is only on sale from the end of the season until early December. It is available for 2, 5 or 10 days of skiing, with or without blackout dates.
Be sure to check the target dates and do not 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 are last minute and have a remaining option.
Here is a summary table of lift ticket prices for Whistler Blackcomb:
|Edge Card – Restricted||Edge Card||Day Pass||Regular ticket|
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 that connects the two peaks.
Fortunately, the 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. Banff Sunshine tickets are $127 per day per adult and Lake Louise tickets are $129.
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. Mt Norquay is a very small resort in the same area that is not worth visiting in my opinion.
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 $300 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. Count on a minimum of $150 per 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 5-star Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise hotel boasts an exceptional lakeside location. Fairmount hotels are part of the Accor Live Limitless loyalty program. The cheapest room is $582 with taxes and fees, or about $425 or 21,250 Reward points.
My best tip for saving money on accommodation in Banff: book a hotel in the town of Canmore. There is a lot of choice and the prices are much more reasonable than on the mountain or in Banff Village, especially during the holidays and spring break. 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 around 70,000 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 a minimum of $400 per night at the resort versus $150 at Squamish or Pemberton.
If you don’t bring your own equipment, you will have to rent it on site. In Whistler, an on-site rental of a full set of intermediate level 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 rent for several days.
Rentals in Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise are also less expensive than in Whistler. Expect to pay about $75 per day for a rental on the mountain or $55 per day at a sports store in Banff Village.
Although the AIR MILES program has lost some feathers recently, 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 model costs 3850 Dream Miles. That same rental paid in cash would be $711, or a valuation of 18.5 cents 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 Whistler or Banff. SkyLynx offers direct service from Vancouver airport to Whistler for $37 round trip. Shuttles between the Calgary airport and Banff are more expensive: count on nearly $150 for a round trip.
One last detail: parking. It is free at the Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise resorts. In Whistler, it is free in some places, but these lots fill up very quickly in the morning. The lots near the village and the mountain are not free: between $8 and $14 per day. Don’t forget to pay at the terminal or you will be fined for sure, I speak from experience…
Banff National Park is beautiful, 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 Fairmount Hotel for $23), Banff’s Upper Hot Springs ($9.25 per adult) and the short hike to Peyto Lake. Unfortunately, the road to Moraine Lake is closed in winter. Near Whistler, there is the Sea to Sky Gondola ($62) in Squamish that offers a great view of the mountains in the area.
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 great trip at a cheaper price.