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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Skiing Banff Sunshine - Alberta, Canada

Most people celebrate their 30th birthday with family and friends at a nice restaurant, or a gathering of sorts with those you love.  Maybe the bold book a weekend getaway or a nice trip somewhere warm.  I on the other hand planned a week long trip to Alberta, Canada to ring in 30 dog sledding, skiing, and snow shoeing through Banff National Park.  

As crazy as it sounds, I booked a trip to Northern Canada in February when temperatures consistently stayed in the negatives and single digits - and not celsius.  There is nothing wrong with celebrating at home and a trip to the Caribbean always sounds good.  But when you want something unique, within your budget, and to explore a beautiful place in the off season (less crowds, cheaper), you head to Canada in February.

In true KW style, the itinerary was packed and my first full day in Canada was spent on a ski mountain.  Jet lagged and on 5 hours of sleep but none the less, out on the mountain.  The alarm went off at 7am and it was a quick shower and coffee before loading up the car.  We heading downtown to the Adventure Hub on Main Street to pick up my lift tickets, stopped at the Visitors Center to pick up a National Park Pass, and Wildflour for (another) coffee and breakfast sandwich.  By 9:15 we were on the road for the 15-20 minute drive to Banff Sunshine to spend the day skiing in the sunshine fresh snow.

I was so happy to be back in the mountains, with views of snow covered peaks and winding snowy canyon roads.  Living in Salt Lake City for 2 years, I got used to that amazing view of snowy peaks visible from everywhere and anywhere.  A part of me felt at home with the towering rockies crossing the landscape as I pulled my skis an gear out of my rental car and geared up for a day of skiing the rockies.  

Sunshine Village is located within Banff National Park and is a quick 20 minutes drive from downtown Banff.  If you don't have a rental car, there are ski shuttles that bring you from the downtown area to all three ski resorts (a perk of buying the Ski Big 3 Pass).  Banff Sunshine brags to have Canada's best snow and hottest chair.  For the week I was in Canada, I had to agree.  My first runs of the day were through fluffy untouched powder on a quiet mountain on  a Wednesday.  When the winds were howling and the temperatures dropping, we stuck to the orange bubble lift, Canada's only heated chair lift with a bubble wind barrier cover.  Best snow and hottest chair indeed. 

  • Banff sunshine is made up of three mountains: Goat Eye's Mountain, Lookout Mountain and Mount Standish
  • Sunshine covers 3,358 acres, with 145+ runs and 3,514 vertical feet. 
  • You can actually ski two provinces in one run, British Columbia and Alberta
  • Base Elevation: 1,660 meters (5,440 feet)
  • Peak Elevation:  2,730 meters (8,954 feet)
  • Sunshine’s seven-month season stretches from early November until late May – the longest non-glacial ski season in Canada. 
  • Sunshine can receive up to nine metres (30 feet) of snow in a season and the Village’s altitude of 7,200 feet ensures the snow stays light and dry.
  • The world-renowned resort features more than 3,300 acres of skiable terrain, ranging from gentle beginner runs all the way up to extreme big mountain runs. 
  • Sunshine’s very own Delirium Dive has been named one of the 10 top off-piste destinations in the world.
  • Banff Sunshine was awarded “Best View from the Best Off-Piste Run” by Ski Canada magazine.
  • Lifts include, 1 high speed 8 passenger gondola, 8 high speed/quad chairlifts, 1 bubble heated high speed quad, and two surface lifts. 

A big reason I chose Banff was the chance to ski three great resorts at one awesome price.  The price of lift tickets is sky rocketing out of control and a ski trip to somewhere like Jackson Hole or Vail will cost you a pretty penny.  But with the SkiBig3 pass, and the strength of the American dollar right now (1$ CAD = $1.27 US), this was a steal of a deal for big resort skiing.  Buy a Ski Big 3 pass here

Saturday pass:  $113 CAD
Ski Big 3 three day pass: Valid 3 of 5 days starting 2/14  price increase for the holiday weekend (Family/Presidents Day) - 3 days of skiing all taxes and fees) $251.37 US ($318.62 CAD) a person or $85 a day 

While visiting the Whyte museum, we learned of the treacherous bus journey from the mountain road to the village.  This gondola leaving the parking area heading 4.6 km to skiable areas from the  base to the village area takes care of this. The gondola takes people from the parking lot to Goat's Eye mountain in 10 minutes and to the upper Village area in 18 minutes.  

Fun Fact:  Sunshine was featured on The Amazing Race.  In the final 13th leg of this race, the three remaining teams took taxicabs from the Calgary International Airport to Banff’s Sunshine Village. After riding the gondola to the base of Lookout Mountain, the contestants donned snowshoes before making the approximate 2,000 vertical foot hike to the top ridge of the Great Divide (elevation 8,900 feet).

My impressions of the mountain were gushing right rom the start.  The views were amazing and the openness was breathtaking.  Big open bowls, so much area to ski, and that perfect dry powder.  We showed up at the resort at 10 after a jet lagged morning and still managed to find fresh snow and first tracks in many spots.  Throughout the day it snowed lightly which was great for the snow but bad for the lighting.  Some flat lighting had our heads spinning for a bit making it so hard to see the contours in the snow and terrain, but the open terrain and powder snow was a lovely retreat from icey New England slopes.  The lifts were fast, the mountain felt huge, yet easy to navigate, and relatively painless to get across the three mountains.  Best yet, on a Wednesday before a long weekend, the mountain was absolutely empty.  You could tell they were equipped to deal with large crowds but during my visit, there were no lift lines and we had several runs to ourselves.  This was the warmer of the three ski days we had and proper layering ensured we stayed warm in single digits.  Banff Sunshine make it in the Top 3 spots for ski resorts but Jackson Hole in Wyoming still has my heart. 

The views.  Did I talk about the views yet?  It was an overcast day with the snow falling but the 360 views on this mountain was spectacular.  Everything was so open and the views never ending.  Skiing with amazing views of the Canadian Rockies was a great experience, one for the ski books.  

When we needed a break, we snuck into Mad Trappers Lodge to grab a bite to eat and a pint.  When I asked a local fan at the mountain about eating options, he said Banff Sunshine didn't really have much in the way of good food.  He recommended Mad Trappers lodge for the authentic ski lunch experience and we headed there for sandwiches and beer.  It was dark and loud but certainly had the ski pub atmosphere.  The food was good (not great, not bad) and we were happy to get away from the bitter Canada cold. Two beers, two sandwiches with fries, tax and tip cost around $40.   

After skiing for a few more hours, we headed down the gondola to the base for an apri ski beer.  Instead of taking the gondola down you can ski a trail to the base however, we have been burned from a "run home" ski run before and decided to play it safe at the end of a long day and take the gondola down. 

A Granville Island Brewing IPA after a long day of skiing was the perfect apri ski refreshment.  Warm bar and tired legs are the perfect way to end any day on the mountain.  Banff Sunshine had high reviews in our books for the wide open spaces, amazing views, three mountains, and easy access.  There was a lack of tree skiing but loved the variety of runs, the challenge of some, and the fresh snow we found. The bubble heated chair is the perfect way to ride out the cold windy days that Canada experiences.  Best snow, hottest chair, and an awesome day of skiing.  


  1. So beautiful there! Thanks for sharing because I'll never go anywhere that cold!

    1. It is gorgeous! And you would like it in the summer! Until then, stick to Florida from November to April ;) it was cooooold

  2. What a beautiful place to visit, Katie. I'd love to go there someday, if I could.

    1. Absolutely gorgeous Joe, you would love it! Make sure you read my snowshoeing post I published today :)


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