Every winter, hundreds of skiers and snowboarders head to Canada on a year out, and Banff is one of the most popular destinations.
Lucy Flynn spent her gap year in Banff on our 11 week ski instructor course and tells us what makes it the ultimate venue for a gap year shred fest.
It’s a real adventure
I can safely say that my 11 week ski instructor course in Banff was the best experience of my life so far. Before the course, I was doing my A levels and applying for university. I’d applied for a deferred place so that I could enjoy a stress-free gap year, safe in the knowledge that everything would be sorted when I returned.
I decided to join Nonstop in Canada, primarily because I love to ski, but also because I wanted to do something completely different with my gap year; something that I’d never get to do in my normal life; something that would be a huge amount of fun and a real adventure.
Banff delivered on all fronts: great nightlife, skiing across three resorts, and a big group of like-minded travellers.
Banff delivered on all fronts: great nightlife, skiing across three resorts, and a big group of like-minded travellers. I got to push my skiing, come out with some awesome qualifications, and live an action-packed mountain life for three epic months. All in all, a true adventure.
Making friends is easy
I went out to Banff with my best friend Emily, who was also doing the Nonstop course. Having Emily there made turning up at the airport much less daunting, but I could have done it alone too. In fact, most other people were travelling solo.
Meeting the other Nonstoppers in the bar at airport, you could feel the excitement building already. For many people, including myself, this was the furthest they’d ever travelled and longest time they had spent away from home. We were all desperate to get on the slopes.
Arriving in Banff, you really get a sense of how welcoming everyone is, and how easy it is to make friends. Everyone around town is super friendly, and there are many people on gap years, ski seasons or just on an adventure, so there’s a great vibe about the place.
Arriving in Banff, you really get a sense of how welcoming everyone is, and how easy it is to make friends.
You’ll discover a new home
Becoming rooted into a place is what sets apart a true travel experience, and you won’t feel like a tourist in Banff for long. This lively mountain town has a knack of taking you under its wing and making you feel at home. The first day on the course was spent walking around town, getting ski passes and finding out where everything was.
I remember thinking, ‘how will I ever know my way around this place?!’ But within about two weeks it all felt so familiar, and I was extremely comfortable in our national park surroundings – even now, I can visualise the lantern-lit streets as if I’d lived there for years. After three weeks we were all calling this new place ‘home’.
Our digs for the season was central accommodation in Banff, complete with our own private hang-out room in the basement, where we received tech talks, got our yoga on, and hosted parties before nights out in town. Add a bubbling a hot tub to the mix, which turned into a ‘skier soup’ after most days on the hill, and we had the ultimate set up. We lived together, ate together, skied together and partied together. Home away from home.
The skiing is incredible
The skiing in Banff is varied and expansive, with three resorts on your doorstep to pick and choose from – Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Mount Norquay. With so much terrain to explore, you’ve got everything you need to push yourself. On the Nonstop program in Banff, you get to experience it all and more. The back bowls of Lake Louise, the gladed trees at Sunshine, and the steeps at Norquay.
With so much terrain to explore, you’ve got everything you need to push yourself.
You can’t talk about Banff without mentioning the freestyle scene. Whether you’re a seasoned park rat or just learning to catch air, the progressive terrain parks will serve up day after day of epic shred time, and possibly a few bruises.
One highlight that really stands out was when we went cat skiing. We went to Fortress Mountain, an abandoned ski hill about an hour and a half outside Banff. With one cat full of snowboarders and another full of skiers, we drove up and down the mountain all day, skiing wide, untouched powder fields. I spent a lot of time digging myself out of hip deep powder and shaking off my snow-covered goggles, but it was so much fun.
Everyone’s up for a laugh
There’s never a dull moment in Banff, and everyone is up for a laugh. The vibe was perfectly encapsulated on the last official coaching day of the program, when our entire Nonstop troop donned fancy dress and descended on the mountain in one united group.
Everyone had made a real effort, with superheroes, M&Ms and a boarding bride in a full wedding dress making up our vibrant ensemble. People gathered around us wherever we stopped. It really was quite impressive.
The off snow fun is fantastic
We had as much fun off the snow as we did on it. From the fabled nightlife to the exploration opportunities, Banff is truly in all-rounder.
A renowned party town, the social scene was epic and you’d always have friends to venture into town with. From pre-drinks in the common room to pool competitions at the local watering holes, our evenings were full of fun. I’ll always remember the kick-off party just a few days after we arrived, which set the tone for the rest of the season. We had an amazing time, and everyone really bonded.
Nonstop laid adventure on a plate with the MORE program. We got to throw ourselves into mountain life, with activities and trips each week to suit every type of explorer. Trips to powder-rich resorts, dog sledding, cheering on the Calgary Flames, or just exploring the national park.
My Banff gap year experience was incredible, and those three months went by so quickly – I suppose that’s a true sign that I was having a really good time. If you’ve just finished you’re A levels and are looking for adventure, fun, friends and a qualification to show for your efforts, Banff is the best place for a gap year ski season.
We look forward to speaking with you.