Banff & Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort Review

After finishing a season at Mt Ruapehu in the north island of New Zealand, I decided that I wasn't quite finished with snow yet and moved over to Banff and did a season at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard resort - a true powder lover’s dream!

Banff

Banff is a spectacular fairytale town and should be on everyone’s “places to visit” bucket list. Even if you’re not a seasoned skier, it’s still a great place to have a holiday.

Banff is located in the heart of Alberta in Canada's Banff National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage Site,  it is given this title because of it's exceptional natural beauty, which attracts millions of visitors every year.

It's a short one hour drive to get you from Calgary International Airport to Banff and a good place to base yourself in if you want to be central to the 3 local ski areas.

Banff oozes mountain town charm and is set up to cater for many tourists.  With many shops, restaurants, bars, raging nightlife, hot springs, dog sledding, and various lakes to ice skate on, there’s plenty to do!

Visiting the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel is a must do, it's an iconic tourist attraction and known as "the castle in the rockies", they offer great high tea and accommodation, and the hotel itself is stunning.

Actually, pretty much everywhere you look in Banff is picturesque, and often, you might run into a wild friend, such as deer, or elk, or even a moose!  Banff is defintely a place where you want to have your camera handy.

I also  suggest doing the Banff Gondola Mountaintop Experience, as you'll take in some of the best views that Canada has to offer!

When staying in the region, in terms of towns to base yourself in; you have the choice of Banff or Canmore. If you want to put it into kiwi terms, Banff is similar to Queenstown and the town of Canmore (20 mins south of Banff) is similar to Wanaka.

Both of them are great destinations to base yourself in if you want to visit any of the 3 local ski hills; Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay. As I have spent the majority of my time at Sunshine Village and in Banff, my review will be based around it. For more information on Banff vs. Canmore and where to stay check out TripAdvisor.

Banff is a great place for all sorts of people, from families, to couples, to my demographic... 20 and 30 something's who want to play in the snow all day and party all night. There really is something for everyone - it's a true holiday destination.

In relation to Banff and it's promixity to the ski areas, Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort is a 30 minute drive away, Lake Louise SKi Resort is a 45 minute drive and Mt. Norquay, the smallest of the three hills, is a 15 minute drive away. If you want to see a map of the coordinates, click on the highlighted ski areas links in the text.

Sunshine Village offer a return bus service which picks you up from various locations in Banff and takes you to the ski hill. It is $15 for a round trip, or if you have a Tri-area lift ticket, the service is free!

Sunshine Village

Sunshine Village is about a 30 minute drive from Banff. And 90 minutes from Calgary International Airport. The ski area is made up of 3 different mountains, Mt. Standish, Lookout Mountain and Goat’s Eye Mountain.

There are 12 lifts which provide you with a variety of terrain to suit all ability levels. The terrain is 20% beginner, 55% intermediate and 25% advanced and expert terrain.

 

Once arriving at the Sunshine Village car park and base area, also known as the Borgeau, you then have to catch a Gondola which takes you up to the main village area. The gondola ride is around 20 minutes long and is a smooth ride of anticipation and impatience. There is a mid-station drop off where you can access Goat’s Eye Mountain and the terrain off of the Goat’s Eye, Wolverine and Jack Rabbit Chairlifts.

Going to the top of the gondola station provides you with access to the whole mountain and it’s an easy run to get you from that part of the mountain down to goat’s eye (tip: snowboarders need to keep up their speed when on Banff Avenue and going from the main day lodge area to Jack Rabbit chair.)

Located at the top of the Gondola provides you with access to most of the lifts and many of their main facilities; the old sunshine lodge, the day lodge, mad trapper’s bar, restaurants and the famous ski-in, ski-out Sunshine mountain lodge which also has a great hot tub!  

There are also many staff accommodation buildings on the hill which you’ll see snow-loving seasonaires popping in and out of.

The champagne snow at sunshine is glorious, and there is a reason why it is so famous. It's such a snow-sure mountain that you can count on there to be a powder day, the season I was there it was a powder day every other day! I liken it to skiing or snowboarding on candy floss or flour, soft, powdery, and dry – the stuff dreams are made of!

Seriously, it’s so dry you can’t even make a snow ball with it.

There is enough terrain at sunshine to keep you entertained, lots of places of explore and easily accessible backcountry. Cue: Delirium Dive, and The Wild West. The Virgin Chutes is also a favourite spot for instructors. Whether you’re searching for powder, wanting to enjoy some fun runs with the littles ones or enjoy the incredible scenery - you will not be disappointed.

Their ski school offers great programs and all the instructors are awesome people. Sunshine is known for having one of the most highly qualified ski schools in the country. When coming from NZ or Australia, you've got to learn how to ski or ride in powder, it's totally different to how you would ski at home. Once you've got the hang of powder, they can provide you with some great tips on how to refine your technique and secret places to visit to get fresh lines.

The Great Divide Chair on Lookout Mountain provides access to acres of open bowls on the border on Alberta and British Columbia, and the panoramic views are out of this world.

No matter where you look when you’re on the hill, you’re surrounded by incredible scenery. Make sure you take a fully charged camera because you’ll want to take loads of photos.

A couple of my favourite runs are eagle creek and the waterfall, so go and have some fun!

Do it!

Travelling, doing a season, and living in another country does wonders for a person. I highly recommend doing it.

You get the opportunity to meet some of the coolest people around, whilst also improving on your skiing/riding at the same time! Canadians are such awesome people - and really, so nice!  Canada provided me with some of the most breath taking views I have ever seen, epic road trips and some new friends that I’ll keep for life. These beautiful memories will stay with me forever and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

Tips

When to go
January, generally is the coldest time of year and no matter how much you prepare yourself for it, I don't think you're ever quite prepared enough. -33 degrees celcius is something you shouldn't ever have to go through!

March and April are a great time to visit and very snow-sure.

Going for more than 3 days?
If you are planning on skiing or riding at Sunshine for more than 3 days, look at investing in a Sunshine Marmot Card. Your 1st, 4th, and 7th visits are free and you can  use it at Jasper's Marmot Basin ski resort as well. You also get further discounts on your lift tickets on days when you're not going for free! More info here.

Getting there
If you're not hiring a car while you're in the area, the Banff Airporter is a great shuttle service which has regular shuttles taking people to and from the airport to Calgary and Banff. BanffAirporter.com

Ice Skating Spots
There are many local lakes and areas you can ice skate on in winter, here are a few:

Vermillion Lakes
Lake Minnewanka
Johnson Lake
Two Jack Lake
Fairmont Banff Springs

Where to eat
If you are visiting Banff on your birthday, go to the Eddie Burger - free cheeseburger on your birthday.

taximike is a great guide to where to eat, specials in town and more. The site is visually awful but has really helpful information - I used it a lot when living in Banff.

Browse the Food Specials page to see which restaurants offer food specials on specific days of the week, I was a regular at the Elk and Oarsman on Tuesdays for their great $7 Steak Sandwich Tuesdays!

The Banff Ave Brewing Co. does delicious craft beer, and 2-4-1 appetisers on Fridays! I could go on forever about all the cheap food specials but taximike.com has it summed up pretty well.

Like to party?
If you like to party, Sunday night is the day to go out and have some fun!

The locals call it Sunday Funday. Go to The Dancing Sasquatch and order a time machine, delicous and dangerous! Banff is known for it's great nightlife and is a popular party destination for local Calgarians.

Some great Bars and Clubs:

  • The Dancing Sasquatch - Order a Time Machine
  • Aurora Night Club - Usually has a good line up of great DJs
  • Hoodoo Lounge
  • Banff Ave Brew Pub - Awesome Craft Beer, 2-for-1 appetisers on Fridays
  • Devil's Gap - Known for having some of the cheapest drinks in town
  • The Pump n' Tap - They generally will play various international sports on their screens so if you're looking to see who's playing the game, check in with them first.
  • Magpie & Stump and Cantina - Good mexican food, Order their signature cocktail, a "bulldog"
  • Eddie Burger - Order their signature drink, an "eddie trash can"
  • Mel's Sports Bar - They have free popcorn and cheap wings on Fridays.