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Family Travel: Three Perfect Days in Banff National Park

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Day 2.

sunshineselfAs 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The T-bar of yesteryear has been replaced by an efficient loading conveyer.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.

Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photo

Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photo

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.

Historic Deer Lodge

Historic Deer Lodge

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

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson March 24, 2015

    I grew up skiing Norquay. I highly recommend the Via Verreta in the summer–a very cool mountaineering experience but you don’t need mountaineering experience to do it.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson March 24, 2015

    Joelle-Via Feratta sounds awesome! Everyone was talking about it and many summer dates are already sold out. I looked into it for kids and they need to be 12 so we’re putting it on our bucket list for a few years from now.

    For those interested, you don’t have to have climbing experience to do the Via Feratta which has fixed anchoring system of cables, ladders and a suspension bridge.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson March 24, 2015

    If you want a great backcountry skiing or snowshoeing experience, I’d highly recommend hiking back into Shadow Lake Lodge. Skiing to Skoki Lodge at Lake Louise is another favorite and it is top-rated!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson March 24, 2015

    My dad did a daytrip to Skoki Lodge and said it was amazing but next time, he wants to overnight there. I looked at pictures and it’s awesome.