With one of the longest ski seasons in North America, Alberta‘s Sunshine Village ski resort stops running its chairlifts the third week of May. That’s a full two months after winter officially ends, allowing skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts plenty of time to get their cold-weather sports fixes before the wildflowers begin blooming on the mountains in summer.
Sunshine Village sits at 7,000 feet above sea level in Banff National Park, which means dry conditions produce snow that is generally light, fluffy, and powdery. Plus, there’s a ton of it—actually tons of it: More than 30 feet of snow falls annually here in the Canadian Rockies. And it sticks around. For a long time.
I experienced Sunshine Village’s epic snow conditions on a particularly wintry day in mid-March. The resort is surrounded by an abundance of panoramic, rugged mountain views, but most of those peaks were clouded over when I strapped on a pair of rental skis for a morning of exploring the resort’s three peaks. Though it was a Sunday, my ski host and I waited in few lift lines. The ski area is so vast—3,300 acres of skiable terrain—that crowds are minimal, even on a “crowded” day.
Viewfinder Tip: Sunshine Village’s ski season culminates with the festive Slush Cup, when the brave (or crazy) ski or ride into a pond of ice-cold water while wearing wacky outfits. Don’t miss it!
I loved the variety of trails. We skied a wide-open (windy!), exposed terrain on Goat’s Eye Mountain, dubbed the Sunshine Coast. I had fun on the intermediate Tincan Alley off the Wawa Quad Chair, where we skirted the trees to seek the best powder. And we lapped the short trails off the Wolverine Express Quad since the chairlift wait-time was so short. For the powder uninitiated, snowcats groom the easiest way down from each lift, while daredevils can tackle the extreme Delirium Dive and Wild West freeride zones (only when conditions are deemed safe enough to open this off-piste terrain). It’s so extreme, skiers and riders are required to carry avalanche beacons, probes, and shovels here.
What makes Sunshine Village even more extraordinary is its ski-in/ski-out accommodations—the only such lodging in Banff National Park. In fact, I didn’t realize quite how special Sunshine Mountain Lodge was until I arrived to the ski area. This Banff hotel isn’t at the base of the mountain; instead, you take an 18-minute gondola ride up from the day-skier parking lot to what is, in effect, the ski area’s “second base.” My loft room at Sunshine Mountain Lodge was literally a stone’s throw from the Mount Standish Express Quad. This means lodge guests are the first skiers and riders taking turns on the mountain each morning, since day skiers have to take the gondola up from the true parking-lot base first. The start of a ski day doesn’t get any better than landing the first chair!
Rooms in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge west wing have a clean, modern, Scandinavian aesthetic. My loft room—with three beds, and two bathrooms—was ideal for families. I appreciated the gas fireplace for warming up after a day in the elements, small balcony overlooking the ski area, and 2-story picture window that let in a bunch of natural light once the snow finally stopped falling on my second day.
Bushwhacking on a snowshoe adventure
Skiing isn’t the only sport I enjoyed at Sunshine Village. Through an association with White Mountain Adventures, visitors can traipse through pristine snow on a guided snowshoe tour that begins with short chair-lift ride to the top of Mount Standish. Here, my friendly, knowledgeable guide and I ducked the rope to exit the confines of the ski area and started walking. Within minutes of leaving “civilization,” I felt as if I were in deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies backcountry, as my trusty guide broke trail in at least a foot of fresh snow. We made our way through the occasional patch of trees, and frolicked, laughed, and slid down powdery snowbanks to wide-open space that is a lake in the summer months. Looping back to the ski area took us a total of about two hours. I highly recommend a snowshoe tour at Sunshine Village, not only for its awesome aerobic activity (what a workout!), but also its access to beautiful mountain wilderness you simply don’t experience on the ski hills.
Finally, Sunshine Village and Sunshine Mountain Lodge offer ideal options for après-ski fun. The perfect topper to a day spent outdoors is tangy Swiss fondue and a cold local microwbrew, devoured in the casual Chimney Corner Lounge. This post-skiing celebration is even better if you can secure a spot on a couch next to the large stone fireplace. After filling up on melted cheese and crusty bread, don a bathing suit to relax in Banff’s largest outdoor hot tub. The circular soaking area seats 28, so you’ll find plenty of space to soothe sore muscles after a day on the slopes and admire the mountain views—that is, if another Canadian Rockies snowstorm isn’t on its way!
Where do you like to ski in Canada?