Photo: Jason Dziver
Where to Stay
The Fairmont hotel chain's properties—Banff Springs (closest to Calgary), Chateau Lake Louise (40 minutes west of Banff), and Jasper Park Lodge (about three hours north of Lake Louise)—are generous with amenities: down duvets, high-thread-count cotton sheets, plush bathrobes. At Banff Springs, I adore the heated indoor-outdoor mineral pool, where you can unkink your muscles while snowflakes fall on your hair. From Jasper Park Lodge's heated outdoor pool, you can catch views of Mount Edith Cavell through breaks in the rising steam, then snuggle up in your 1940s log-cabin-style room (imagine Frank Lloyd Wright meets Paul Bunyan). Best of all, these hotels appeal to everyone in my family. They're kid- (and dog-) friendly, which means I never spend a meal shushing my theatrical daughter or have to scold my boys for racing down a stone-arched hall. And they're so spectacularly sited that my 75-year-old mother can enjoy the magnificent landscape without stepping outside, though the paths are clear enough for her to enjoy frequent strolls. (Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, 800-441-1414.)
Admittedly, there's a certain corporate slickness to the Fairmont hotels. A few hundred yards from Lake Louise, the cozy Deer Lodge (800-661-1595) offers an authentic dose of quaint rusticity; 25 miles west, the secluded cabins of Emerald Lake Lodge (above) (800-663-6336) provide something priceless: silence. I've never spent the night at the posh and chummy Post Hotel & Spa (800-661-1586), but I've been dazzled by the perfectly seasoned bison tartare, scallops, and milk-white halibut at its restaurant.
Where (Else) to Eat
Early risers in Jasper face a dilemma: first tracks on the slopes or a warm raspberry-and-white-chocolate scone at the Bear's Paw bakery (780-852-3233)? Miss the day's batch and you'll have to settle for chocolate cream cake or an addictive "monster cookie," studded with everything from M&Ms to oatmeal. I have a soft spot for the Walliser Stube at Chateau Lake Louise, a Swiss-style, wood-paneled pub where I had dinner at the bar every night on that first, single-girl trip: savory onion soup and a glass of red wine. More recently, my family has filled up on their cheese fondue for dinner, followed by…chocolate fondue for dessert. My favorite restaurant in the area is The Bison in Banff (403-762-5550). Smoked bison is paired with butter lettuce in one delectable salad, and spicy lamb merguez is coated with an organic corn flour batter for their delicious take on corn dogs.
Where to Ski
Lake Louise Mountain is huge—four faces, 4,000 acres—and never very crowded; my kids rave about the ski school (SkiLouise.com). The mountain closest to Banff, Norquay, is so intimidating that I've never dared ski there, but nearby Sunshine Village is a treasure. You wind up a long, steep road from the highway, then take a gondola up another 1,750 feet to the base. Sunshine's slopes have the deepest snow in the Banff area—30 feet on average—the latest into the year (typically through May), and the rolling, sugary terrain looks like it was lifted from one of those old Claymation holiday TV specials (SkiBanff.com).