One word “friendly” sums up Banff’s Sunshine Village ski resort, but do not be fooled by thinking that all its slopes are flattering even to the lazy skier. There is a good spread of runs to keep the interest of all skills within a mixed abilities party across three mountains, all within the UNESCO World Heritage Site - Banff National Park. Cruise to your heart’s content through tree lined trails, take the lifts to the top of Lookout Mountain for some more demanding slopes, or tackle the ‘Double Diamond Blacks’ on Goat’s Eye Mountain.
Those who are not dedicated to downhill skiing will find Sunshine Village a real treat as the back trails are in stunning totally unspoilt scenery of the grand scale. There is just so much out there it is astounding. In talking to seasoned Chalet girls, they ranked these back trails as best they had experienced.
On the most popular but not too crowded slopes, which come under the “friendly” category, there is the option of a bit of chilli in there with some blind un-pisted drops. They are short but rough, steep and surprisingly quite challenging. Looking back up the slopes you wonder what all the fuss was about until you tackle another or move on to the more demanding Delirium Dive. Whatever your skiing choices; the slopes and lifts were pleasantly uncrowded.
At the centre of the bowl around which you ski is a small, ski-in, ski-out purpose-built resort. If staying next to the slopes, the best choice of accommodation is the Sunshine Mountain Lodge with suites that are not only spacious but also have great views. The non-skier would sometimes be happy just to sit and watch the world go by. However, if the budget does not stretch to the more spacious suites the rooms are fine.
There is a small but good selection of bars and eateries effectively on the doorstep. For people looking for wider interests outside skiing, it might be a bit limiting for a week, in which case staying in Banff is a good option; there is a shuttle to and fro included in the price of the lift pass which covers the three local resorts. From Banff to Sunshine Village it is about a 20 minutes’ ride, the views are pleasant so it is no hardship. Some people mentioned the long lift ride to reach the village; overall, surely very few people have a shorter commute. If you have hired a car (as is now usual everywhere, we had to fight over the bill) you can usually park fairly near the Sunshine Village access lift.
We chose to stay in Banff at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, a truly massive hotel. Despite its size it was welcoming, had character and everything anyone could wish for apart from a short walk to reception, it was that big. A gauge of its size is that during their busiest season – summer – they have 1,000 staff working there. I always swim ten lengths of a pool after skiing, the Fairmont pool was a shock – my swim was a marathon, it too was massive.
The town centre was a strip in the style of cowboy films and like Innsbruck it has a big mountain at the end of the main street. There are masses of bars and restaurants, plus enough shops to supply all your needs and more including Banff Ski Hub where we rented our kit. In recent years the quality of rental kit and service has improved beyond measure; here was a leading example where they were very relaxed whilst being highly professional. Banff also has natural hot springs; the more lively skiers might like to check out the popular Wild Bill’s Saloon for their après ski activities.
Normally we seek out restaurants with exciting, innovative menus but that was not really what Banff was about; good wholesome food at every turn at readily affordable prices.
We all have different ideas on what makes a great holiday, skiing is one in which there there are more variables than most holiday options. Looking at it from a young family point of view, Sunshine Village has the right combinations. That could also be the same for those who wish to explore the back trails and see nature at its best whilst they might also like a bit more varied nightlife in Banff town.
Many skiers have an appetite for ever more slopes, pistes and off-piste challenges, so that combining Sunshine Village with Lake Louise in a two-centre trip would be a great combination. Lake Louise is some 45 minutes drive from Banff. A part of the appeal of this area is the ski passes which cover the three neighbouring resorts; Sunshine village, Lake Louise which is the largest and Norquay which is the smallest.