Spring Skiing at Banff Sunshine Village: Until May 22, 2023!
By Cathie Arquilla
I blink my eyes open and see the chairlift drift past my window. It’s 8:30 am, and our plan was to get out there for first lift. But no matter, once outside, we’re only five yards from the lift, and with skies on, it will take us about 10 seconds to get there. And there is no line.
Once our butts are in the chair, we’re up, up, and away to ski Banff Sunshine Village in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
Banff Sunshine Village Ski Resort, known to locals as Sunshine, has an elevation of 7200 feet.
You take a gondola 3.2 miles up from the parking lot to get to the Village. From the Village, lifts fan out like starfish fingers in seven different directions.
You are in a bowl surrounded by the most breathtaking mountains. Called “The Island In the Sky” by some. Skiing at Sunshine feels like you’ve been dropped on earth in the middle of the Rockies to connect with the grandeur of these mountains and the planet in every way.
Visually, it’s 360 degrees of colossal snow-capped mountains. There are no roads, highways, condos, homes, or buildings that you can see. It’s all just mountains and no two are alike. As you get to know the Resort, by day three, you have your favorites.
Then there is the air. That swift, cool air pumps through your heart and lungs to wake up your endorphins. Now you want to yell or sing as you swish down runs surrounded by these bad-ass but friendly-at-the-same-time, astounding mountains.
Banff is a Ski Resort in a National Park
Will it stay this way? Yes, Sunshine is in Banff National Park. (You must show a park pass to get to the base parking lot.) So development is minimal and needs government approval. The Sunshine Lodge is the only ski-in / ski-out hotel in Banff.
The terrain at Sunshine is beginner friendly but advanced enough for those who want it, and the grooming is exceptional.
I appreciated how the runs were well-marked with stakes when one blended into another; you knew which way to go, avoiding the embarrassing and terrifying predicament of going down a run you are unprepared for… on so many levels!
With 12 lifts, including the magic carpet and the gondola, there is plenty of skiing. And guess what? It lasts until May 22nd.
Spring skiing at Sunshine is the move! While other US resorts are approaching their last days, Sunshine still has a month or more to go.
The snow is reliably excellent. It’s the soft, dry sort that has something to do with precipitation and the position of the resort, science says. I asked Calgary and Banff resident skiers, and they say Sunshine has the best snow anywhere in Banff National Park. (Or just anywhere.)
From groomers to steeps
The Goat’s Eye Express Quad delivers steeps, not congested, and you could lap it all day. Standish and Strawberry are great for morning groomers.
As the snow softens later in the morning, anything goes. Angel Express and Tee Pee Town have terrific inclines for an adrenaline rush. The Tee Pee Town lift also works if you’re chilly. The seats are heated, and there is a windshield guard.
Like paint color names, run names are often evocative. At Sunshine, there are 137 trails to explore with names like; Shaken Not Stirred, Virgins, The Big Woody, and Cleavage. As you might assume, these are black diamond runs and quite descriptive. As for blue runs, there is Strawberry Face, Snowsnake, and Bounty’s Bowl. Smooth cruising, green runs, sound like it, with Meadow Park, Forget Me Not, and Green Run!
Sunshine Villages’ Founder’s Story
American railroad executive William Van Horne founded tourism in Banff at the turn of the 20th century. After holding several high-level executive positions in America, he was appointed general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Railway) and initiated the creation of luxury hotels along the CP Railway line. Historic Banff Springs was one of those hotels, and Banff was born.
In the early development of Banff, “High Alpine Camping” became the fashion for nature enthusiasts. Tourists traveled long distances by
railroad to experience the awe-inspiring Rockies. Banff Sunshine Village opened its Summer Lodge in 1928 in response to the trend. In the 30s and 40s, skiing pioneers took to the mountains and meadows, mostly ascending (barely) with t-bars and rope tows.
Eventually, several more ski resorts began opening around Banff. At the same time, the US was also experiencing a boom in skiing in the mid-1960s and 1970s. And that is when Sunshine increased its operation exponentially.
Considered the founder and grandfather of Sunshine to this day, Ralph Thomas Scurfield, a tycoon in the Alberta home-building industry, was looking to diversify his portfolio. As an avid outdoorsman and skier, Sunshine Village seemed a great fit. So he bought it in 1981.
It was just one of many holdings, including owning the Ice hockey team, the Calgary Flames.
Tragically, Ralph T. was killed in an avalanche while heli-skiing in his late 50s. Leaving his 27-year-old son Ralph D. Scurfield with the business of running Sunshine.
It was a relatively low-key operation at the time with plenty of challenges. After Ralph D’s leadership team walked out saying, “You’re too young to know what you don’t know,” Ralph D. was galvanized to transform the mountain into what it is today– a world-class ski resort.
That meant installing high-speed quad lifts and welcoming snowboarders from the get-go, among other innovations. Sunshine remains a family-run resort, and Ralph D. is still the CEO.
These days at Sunshine
“The family’s mission is to serve the community,” says Director of Brand & Communications Kendra Scurfield.
“It starts with serving skiers and snowboarders. Everyone is welcome at Sunshine. It’s a great mountain for families, with daycare, kid lessons, etcetera, but we also have a lot of programs and activities for older skiers.”
Kendra is proud that Sunshine serves the community by resourcing from hyper-local vendors and artists. The artwork in the hotel rooms and Lodge is the result of an art initiative Sunshine ran in partnership with the Whyte Museum in Banff.
Our room had photographs, watercolors, and oils, all with the theme of the Canadian Rockies or ski culture. They were charming, and once we skied for a few days– recognizable!
Sunshine also uses high-quality Canadian vendors, including Monogram Coffee Roasters. The Canadians take their coffee seriously, and Monigram caters to coffee connoisseurs and ice hockey moms alike. Skiers? Well, they need Joe to make tracks.
The Resort’s Impressive Sustainability Stats
The Resort also has impressive creds when it comes to sustainability. For example, Sunshine uses 4 million gallons of water per year. For perspective, the average resort uses 200 million, and a downtown city hotel uses 100 million.
Sunshine vibes and bars
You’ll hear a lot of Brit and Aussie accents while skiing Sunshine. Commonwealth passport holders benefit from 2-year work visas until they are 30.
I spoke to two snowboard instructors at the Java Lift Bar about their work and life in Banff. Will, a snowboard instructor from London, enjoys teaching kids best. He favors the bump runs from the Standish chair.
Our local became Mad Trappers for a midday libation and Superbowl-worthy snacks. Since it was established in 1928, the vibe is yesteryear’s fur trappers lodge turned cozy pub. The energy is hyped and uber-friendly. The outdoor patio bar serves up barbeque and craft beers too.
I noticed about eight 60-something-year-old women ski-boot stomping into the Lodge just after the last lift. Apparently, Sunshine skiing is an annual thing for them. They were ribbing one of their mates about something embarrassing (a red lace bra in a tree?).
We ran into them again later at Sunshine’s fine dining restaurant, The Eagles Nest. Apparently, that was too quiet for them, so they headed for something more lively, probably Trappers, maybe Chimney Corner.
All three restaurants are open for lodgers and skiers. But keep in mind, if you’re not staying at the Lodge, you have to head down to the parking lot via skis or the gondola. The gondola stops at 5 pm daily, with the exception of Friday, when it runs until 10 pm.
Ski Big Three
Staying at Sunshine with all those trails at your toes is a perfect way to enjoy all the fun of skiing without all the schlepping. However, staying in Banff and accessing Sunshine from there has its advantages.
For one, you can experience Banff, its bars, restaurant, shopping, hiking, museums, and galleries. AND you can Ski The Big Three.
This ski pass includes Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt. Norquay. Shuttles operate from Banff hotels to these three resorts. The IKON pass has these same resorts, and they call it The Best of Banff, “Ski Big Three.”
With a home base in Banff, it’s easy for non-skiers or boarders to find ways to enjoy themselves. And with over 100 restaurants, you’ve upped your dining options like moguls on a mile-long run.
Banff or Bust List
Drinks at Banff Ave. Brewing Company
Have drinks at Banff Ave. Brewing under the heaters on the outside balcony. Seeing tourists capture selfies in the middle of Banff Ave. with the iconic Mount Rundle behind them is fun.
Block Kitchen + Bar
The global menu emphasizes Asian flavors, and the cocktails are crazy creative! SNOW Magazine Editor Leslie Woit referred me to this tiny restaurant that doesn’t take reservations but is worth a wait. It was a departure from Modern American cuisine that can be so ubiquitous in a ski town.
Coming from New York or anywhere in the eastern US, I recommend exploring Calgary, Canada’s fourth largest tourist destination, before heading to Banff.
Let’s call it avant-ski! Limber up with outdoor ice skating or try ice biking. Visit WinSport, a world-class, year-round sports facility founded during the 1988 Calgary Olympics. It is still considered one of Canada’s largest ski and snowboard schools, featuring a halfpipe and terrain park.
If you want something more low-key avant-ski, explore Calgary’s exploding culinary scene.
Inside Le Germain, Hotel Calgary is Charcut Roast House restaurant. Stay at the hotel for its convenient downtown location and its Canadian-friendly and accommodating staff. Eat at Charcut for the food! Don’t be dissuaded by it being a hotel restaurant.
Connie DeSousa and John Jackson are the creators/owners/chefs of Charcut. They riff on Alberta’s cattle farming glory with house-butchered meats that include locally raised beef. Start with the charcuterie platter.
Fortuna’s Row is billed as being Contemporary Latin American. The interior of this restaurant is so vibey you almost (almost) forget how creative and tasty the food is. With their open kitchen, all five of your sense are roused. Have cocktails!
From the menu, “Let Us Feed You. Let Chef Mikko Tamarra and our team guide your dining experience at Fortuna’s Row. Entire table participation is required.”
Calgary’s Chinatown is worth a visit, and Great Taste for lunch is, well, great! It’s an all-about-the-food place; authentic, not too expensive, and fresh. Our waitress was so cheerful she should have been on a pogo stick.
They have pictures of everything on the menu, so you can’t go wrong. The House Special Salad is fantastic. See the menu picture for details.
Cocktail adventures at Cannibale
In Calgary’s Bridgeland neighborhood, a bar called Cannibale feels local and cozy. Yet, they have super adventuresome cocktails you might see in a much more showy place.
Local Craftmanship: Visit the Alberta Boot Company and step up your Western Style game.
Often I’ve heard people say that their cowboy boots are so comfortable; they could wear them all day. And cowboys (and girls) really do, right? Why? Because the cork in the insole of the boot provides cushion and literally molds to your foot.
The steel shank in the instep provides longevity and resilience. It helps the boot keep its shape and also adjusts to your arch. I learned this and so much more by touring the Alberta Boot Company factory store.
Calgary’s food, music, and fashion speak to the Canadian West. The Alberta Company romances this culture with a modern flair. The retail environment provides a banquet for trying on boots with a view of the factory. It also doubles as an event space with a working bar and a classic shoe shine station.
This store has a boot for you, from exotic leathers like alligators, pythons, and stingrays (legally sourced) to understated classics.
Saddle up for fun and get your tickets to the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth!
Calgary is home to the Calgary Stampede, which transforms the city into a fun-for-all rodeo town for two weeks in the summer. The Alberta Boot Co. is the official boot sponsor of this event, known as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
This year marks the Stampede’s 111th year of barrel racing, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc, and bareback.
What better way to channel your inner Annie Oakly than getting some boots and some tickets? The next Calgary Stampede will take place on July 7-16, 2023.
From urban to alpine, springtime in Alberta
Calgary, combined with Banff and skiing Sunshine, is an ideal spring skiing getaway. Soak up Alberta culture in Calgary while getting your last licks of the ski season in at Sunshine.
To see and experience the Canadian Rockies is a gift for any nature lover. To ski there, well, that is just heaven.