10th February 2016 | James Cove, Sunshine Village, Banff, Canada
Last modified on May 12th, 2020
PlanetSKI has been in the Canadian resort of Sunshine Village for a few days. It is one of our favourite resorts in Canada. Why?
There are certainly bigger resorts in the Canadian Rockies – Whistler and Sun Peaks spring immediately to mind.
There are ones with better reputations for steep powder skiing – Kicking Horse, Red and Revelstoke are contenders.
For the many people that come to Banff, the main town of the area, Lake Louise is the resort of choice for some.
But Sunshine Village does it for me.
It feels authentic Canada and Banff is about my favourite ski town.
It is 20 minutes or so on the bus from downtown Banff to Sunshine and then a gondola ride up.
There are three different areas – each with its own distinct terrain.
For gentler slopes try Mt Standish, for high speed cruising there is Lookout Mountain while the steeps are at Goat’s Eye Mountain.
Now I should immediately declare an interest as my 21-year old son, Alex, is working the season as a ski instructor.
In between his lessons I had THE best of times with him this week so, for me, it is hard not to love the place.
And no I couldn’t keep up with him.
Alex mentioned last winter that he wanted to spend a couple of years after Uni working as a ski instructor and would prefer something a bit different from the Alps.
“That’s easy, I know exaclty what I would do if I was 21 again. I’d go and live in Banff and work in Sunshine Village,” I said without a moment’s hesitation. “The town is great, I have heard nothing but good things about the local ski school and you will have the time of your life.”
So he did.
And he is.
I have been to the area a few times in the past.
Last winter it was on a road trip.
While the season before it was on a visit to Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay.
For me it is the variety of terrain that does it.
If you want huge linked ski areas then don’t bother with most of the resorts in North America – they are tiny by European standards.
But size is not everything – in fact the opposite in my view. I like variety, atmosphere and interesting ski runs.
From the gentle green rollers off the Angel chairlft to the black diamond runs of The Shoulder and Bushwakers.
There is plenty of tree skiing and an abundance of moguls.
And there is Delirium Dive.
Sadly this time round it was closed but we almost dropped in with the ski patrol.
And instead we hit the steeps – see here for that article.
The Dive is a great run but it should not be exaggerated – there are many areas like this in the resorts of Europe.
It is perhaps similar to the backside of Mont Fort in Verbier – but then Verbier also has Tortin, Gentiannes, the Vallon Derby and a host of off piste runs from Stairway to Heaven to the Bec de Rosses.
You can spend all day off piste in a few areas in the Alps – you can’t in Sunshine or pretty much anywhere else in North America.
But that is not the point.
The Dive is the steepest lift accessed area in Canada – perhaps North America.
Another aspect I like is the value for money at the moment.
“This winter the exchange rate works very favourably for our British visitors and coupled with the great snow we have had this winter there has been a significant increase in people from the UK,” said Sinead Hanna from the Sunshine Village tourist office.
Now if you like gourmet food and flashy mountain restaurants then Sunshine Village will disappoint.
But I don’t and I can’t see the point in eating Michelin starred food on a ski day.
I would always rather being skiing and food for me is simply fuel.
This place does not look much from the outside.
Perhaps the most charitable description of the inside is ‘functionall’.
But it does it for me.
I had a very pleasant burger on a quick lunchstop while lapping the steeps of Goat’s Eye.
I got chatting to the chef cooking it, Dan. Not surprisingly he is an Australian – not surprising because the resort is full of Aussies who work as lifties, instructors and cooks.
He certainly made a good burger.
Others inside were simply picnicing on food they had brought in a back-pack.
I was surrounded by what I call ‘real skiers’.
But fear not you can eat well if you want.
Treat yourself at the Chimney Corner Lounge where the food is of European alpine standards.
This season the resort has a new 4-man detachable chairlift with heated seat and orange hoods.
They criss-cross the resort of the Alps, but this is the first such lift for Canada as we reported when it opened.
I caught it with a couple of middle-aged men who had never been on such a lift – they were like excitable schoolboys playing with a new toy.
They needed an explanation as to why their bottoms were becoming warm.
Sunshine Village doesn’t have any snowmaking – it doesn’t need it.
It receives plentiful amounts of the natural stuff and, due to its altitude and cold temperatures, it stays till the end of May.
The resort collects it with ‘snow farming’ as it gets windy.
“The marketing people could just as easily have called it Storm Mountain as Sunshine Village, such is its reputation for high winds,” said a fellow ski writer. “It gets very windy in the resort.”
On my trip it was all too evident earlier in the week.
And then there is the scenery – there is no-where quite like the Canadian Rockies.
I am often asked what my favourite resort is (BTW its Zermatt) and what I think of such and such a resort.
I always reply that my choice is just what I prefer and there are many factors most of which are highly subjective.
What works for me proably doesn’t work for many others.
Sunshine Village may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine.
“We have had a double digit increase in the number of British skiers and snowboarders booking direclty with us from last winter and that is a healthy increase,” said Sarah Pearson from Banff’s tourist office to me as we chatted.
It seems I am not the only one.
James was on a private visit to the resort and he stayed at the Caribou Lodge on Banff Avenue; see here for further details.
For more information about Sunshine Village then see its web site here.
Elsewhere on PlanetSKI you may have seen that James is about to start a 12-day RV road trip round a few resorts in British Columbia.
He starts at Vancouver where he is meeting fellow ski writer and good friend (at present), Alf Alderson.
They are then heading to Sun Peaks, Red, Whitewater, Nelson, Revelstoke and Kicking Horse – it should be quite a trip.
James will be posting as he goes along so do check back and join the ride.