Family Travel: Three Perfect Days in Banff National Park
posted by: Amber Johnson
As I drive 20 minutes from Banff to Sunshine Village, the outlook is bright (forgive the pun). I first fell in love with skiing at this 3,300-acre resort that stretches across three sprawling mountains along the Continental Divide. Ranging from gentle beginner runs off Strawberry Chair all the way up to extreme terrain like Delirium Dive, Sunshine is named one of the 10 top off-piste destinations in the world.
The Sunshine Village Gondola whisks me from the parking lot to the base, where I meet my guide Lindsay. A balmy breeze follows us up Continental Divide Express to Lookout Mountain where we soar above treeline while skiing in Alberta and B.C. on one run while marveling at the unobstructed views of the surrounding peaks.
I realize my memories are not just of the scenery but of freezing my butt off while enjoying them. Next year, Sunshine will be replacing the Teepee Town lift (notoriously cold and windy) with a quad that has orange bubble covers and heated seats. Popular in Europe but an anomaly in North America, my childhood self would have appreciated a toasty tush.
I approach Wawa quad chair where I: 1) Skied my first intermediate run down Tin Can Alley’s beautifully gladed terrain. 2) Learned to swear when my dad left me in his dust.
The T-bar of yesteryear has been replaced by an efficient loading conveyer. When it’s our turn to load, I nervously lean forward on the gate, it opens, spits us on the conveyer belt and I momentarily revert to my younger cursing self. We are transported forward like bottle of milk in a grocery store, the chair swoops around and we’re airborne. By our second time around, I’m a conveyer convert.
Lindsay and I take a quick tour of well-appointed Sunshine Mountain Lodge, Banff National Park’s only ski-in ski-out property. She observes “with the Canadian dollar so low ($1 CAN=$0.80 US), American are essentially getting a 20 percent discount when they vacation in Canada.” We eat a hearty lunch at the Chimney Corner Lounge and I vow that next time I’ll be brave enough to order the Alberta Beef Dip in Yorkshire pudding.
With an annual dump of 30 feet, Sunshine Village doesn’t make its own snow and normally capitalizes on its innovative “snow farming” techniques but like many resorts in the West, it’s been a lean snow year. (Murphy’s Law: it snowed 23 cm shortly after I left). We spend the afternoon on Goat Eye Mountain and thankfully, the sun softens the snow and the conditions completely transform beneath my skis.
At the end of the day, skiers and riders may either take the gondola back down but I opt for a stroll down memory lane down ski-out “Banff Avenue” where my tired, wobbly legs propel me all the way to my car.
Following a 50-minute drive to Lake Louise, I check in to historic Deer Lodge, an easy stroll from the legendary lake. Built in 1923 as a teahouse, 71-room Deer Lodge was completely renovated, restored and winterized in 1985. I opt to skip out on the rooftop hot tub views and eat.
Unlike Banff, which is bursting with lodging and restaurants, options are more limited in purposefully remote Lake Louise. I’m elated with my classic Canadian dining experience at the historic Lake Louise Railway Station and Restaurant, a carefully restored piece of history overlooking an opulent ‘Roaring Twenties’ dining car.
Day 3. I wake up in mourning with the realization I will be skiing my final SkiBig3 Resort. I’m incrementally working my way up in size