Louise and I regularly argue about our favourite Ski resorts near Banff. Louise grew up in Banff and always passionately argues in favour of Lake Louise. For me, it will always be Sunshine Village Ski Resort.
When I first visited Banff way back in 2012, I spent 13 weeks at Sunshine Village taking the level 2 CSIA Ski Instructor course. I skied Sunshine virtually every day, so to say that I have some experience there is a bit of an understatement!
In the hundreds of hours we’ve spent at Sunshine, we’ve uncovered countless hidden gems and features, and now, after all these years, I can say with confidence that there’s no other resort that I know or love more.
I’m absolutely head over heels for the place and hopefully after reading this post, you’ll you’ll be inspired to go and experience my home turf for yourself!
But first, some stats!
Sunshine Village Stats
- Vertical: 3,514 feet/1,070 metres.
- Base elevation: 5,440 feet/1,658 metres.
- Top elevation: 8,954 feet/2,730 metres.
- Skiable area: 3,358 acres.
- Number of lifts: 12 Lifts.
- Terrain breakdown: • 20% Beginner. • 55% Intermediate. • 25% Expert.
- Cost of Adult Day ticket: $127 + GST (i.e. $133)
15 Reasons to love Sunshine Village Ski Resort
The Tree Runs
Unlike many European resorts, as long as you’re within bounds in Canadian Resorts, everything is fair game (By that I mean 1. You’re still insured, and 2. Search and Rescue will come and find you).
That means as soon as you leave the groomed runs at Sunshine Village, there are some amazing tree runs to explore.
And while typically pine forests are quite dense, Sunshine has put some serious work into creating beautiful glades that even relatively inexperienced skiers can enjoy.
Runs like Big Woody and Goat Chicken Glade have nicely spaced tree runs that’ll keep you coming back for more!
Unique Freeride Zones
Aside from the incredible groomed slopes and tree runs, Sunshine Village also has special freeride zones; Delirium Dive and Wild West.
These are both advanced slopes with backcountry conditions and hundreds of feet of vertical. Both runs have chutes, steep drops and ungodly amounts of snow.
Avalanche Gear Required
To even access these areas, you’ll need avalanche gear. Not only is it a good idea for your personal safety, but you can’t actually pass through the entry gates without an active avalanche transceiver.
This means two amazing benefits;
1. You’re forced to bring all your safety gear with you (note. please don’t just rent the gear, learn how to use it with an Avalanche Safety Course – AST1)
2. Most people don’t have the right equipment for this, so you can probably count the number of people you’ll run into on one hand.
The terrain in the Dive and Wild West is unforgettable (and unforgiving), but the literal barrier to entry will wean out most of the crowds and give you an isolated backcountry feel like no other.
If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can actually rent avalanche gear from Banff for between $30 and $50 per day.
You can also rent from Wilson Sports in Lake Louise for $19 per day (probe, transceiver and shovel).
Plenty of Advanced Terrain
Even if you’re not sure you want to commit to Delirium Dive just yet, there’s still an abundance of advanced black and double black runs at Sunshine.
My favourite runs are the chutes at the top of Goats Eye Mountain. Off the top of the chairlift, turn right and hike up and around the corner.
There are a number of great chutes here, ranging from “oh that wasn’t too difficult” to “oh no, I need to change my underwear”… How difficult the chutes are generally depends on the quality of the snow.
If it hasn’t snowed in a while, I tend to avoid the chutes, as the snow can get quite crusty and challenging.
Aside from the chutes, there are dozens of enjoyable, advanced runs off the side of virtually every groomed run.
Mt. Standish has a number of runs like this that you can lap over and over again, and because it’s a relatively small mountain, you can dip your toe into the advanced terrain for short bursts rather than having to dive into several hundred, terrifying metres of vertical immediately.
It almost goes without saying, but the snow at Sunshine Village is unbelievable; both in quantity and quality.
On average, Sunshine Village records around 9m (30ft) of snow per year. It absolutely pukes it down, and believe me, it’s not the dense, wet snow you get in some parts of the world.
Our snow is low density, fluffy and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before!
Sunshine has plenty of incredible runs within bounds, but it’s also famous for having a few secret backcountry runs that you can access right from the chairlifts.
If you’re a local, you’ll probably spend most of your time hiking off the side of Wawa chair into Side Door or Back Door.
These are two incredible backcountry rollercoaster rides that follow a snowy creek back to the Wolverine chairlift.
It’s a great way to cross over to Goats eye from the upper mountain, without having to take the boring, flat traverse.
Look for the wooden door frames to nowhere off to the right of the Wawa chairlift.
Do not attempt these unless you can find someone that’s already done them before and can show you the way.
Two more things to note:
- You’ll have to leave the ski resort boundary. Nobody is going to come and save you if you get into trouble and your insurance might not cover you if you get injured. Know what you’re getting into. There are plenty of trees and hazards on this route so it’s not for beginners. Also, avoid this route if it hasn’t snowed in a while, the tight river creek can get very gnarly and icy in marginal conditions
- You have to walk/hike to get to these routes. Be prepared to take your skis/board off and get sweaty
Plenty of Easy Terrain
I’ve been waxing lyrical about all the advanced terrain, but Sunshine is also a fantastic resort for beginners.
As I mentioned earlier, this is where I spent my season learning to become a ski instructor, and there is no better place in the Rockies (aside from maybe Nakiska) for beginners to learn how to ski (or snowboard).
Head to the Strawberry or Mt. Standish, Jack Rabbit or Wolverine chairlifts and you’ll find plenty of easy green and blue runs for beginners.
The other great thing about Sunshine is that most of the beginner runs (on the upper mountain) lead back to main lodge. Meaning it’s easy to take a quick time out when you start to get tired.
It’s not like the French Alps where you can suddenly find yourself exhausted, alone and three villages over.
Heated Chair Lifts
To anyone from Europe, yes, I know this is something we’ve had for decades, but until recently Canada had a grand total of ZERO heated chairlifts.
Finally, a few years ago Sunshine Village finally installed Canada’s first heated lift; the heated Teepee town LX lift.
It turned a notoriously windy, precarious and tortuous two person chairlift ride into the best new chairlift in Canada.
Just another reason why I love sunshine!
Part of the Mountain Collective
In case you haven’t heard, the Mountain Collective Ski Pass is an incredible new way to experience a variety of ski resorts around the world for a HUGE discount.
When you buy a Mountain Collective Pass, you get 2 days at 18 ski resorts around the world (36 days of skiing). There are resorts in Canada, USA, Chile, New Zealand, Japan, France and Australia.
At only $449 USD for adults, you’re looking at $12.50USD per day if you manage to use all 36 days. That is RIDICULOUS considering most ski resorts are well over $100 per day normally.
In case you haven’t already figured it out yet, Sunshine Village is one of the resorts in the Mountain Collective ski pass, so if you came to the area you could easily bang out 2 days at Sunshine for next to nothing!
You also have the nearby Revelstoke and Lake Louise Ski Resorts on the collective pass, meaning you can easily ski 6 days here at a huge discount.
We did the math, and even if you bought the pass and only skied those 6 days, you’d still save almost $150USD compared to if you only bought day passes.
Absolute no brainer. (Tickets for the 2019/2020 season are no longer available, but you can sign up for alerts about the 2020/2021 ticket release)
The 5km Ski Out
Even without talking about the ski resort itself, Sunshine Village has an amazing ski out that runs from the Gondola middle station, all the way down to the parking lot.
It’s 5km of high speed fun, and the perfect way to end any day up on the ski hill.
Of course, you can also take the gondola back down again if you’re already spent, but I can personally never resist one last opportunity to get in a couple more turns.
By the way, the ski out is designated as a slow skiing zone, so unless it’s super quiet, it can be a slalom of beginner skiers. Please be careful and only ski fast if it’s safe to do so.
Plenty of Exciting Features
Sunshine just isn’t like your typical ski resort. The topography is a wide bowl with plenty of hidden gems, cornices, cliffs, trees and drops.
On any given mountain, you can be cruising down a green run and with a quick turn you’ll suddenly be hucking it off an awesome natural kicker into a soft powder cushion below.
It’s seriously heaven for all abilities.
One of my favourite runs in the world is the nicely secluded Eagle Creek run on Goatseye . The first part takes you down a wiggly, high speed tree slalom course, until suddenly a cliff appears out of nowhere!
If you’re feeling ambitious, this is a great place to drop in, and potentially get a face full of powder. If not, there’s an easy trail around the edge.
Cliff or not, it’s one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve ever found anywhere in the world.
If you’ve ever skied in Europe, you’ll know that crowds can make or break your experience. Dodging a field of unpredictable beginner skiers intent on scraping away all the good snow is every skiers nightmare.
Fortunately, the Canadian Rockies have a fraction of the crowds that Europe draws. Dodging crowds is rarely, if ever, an issue here, so be warned that it might forever ruin European skiing for you!
If you ski on a weekday and lap some of the quieter runs, you might literally go an entire day without seeing another soul. Seriously, for someone that grew up on the slopes of the French Alps, this is a breath of fresh air.
The Terrain Parks
One of the other perks of Sunshine Village is that they put a huge effort into creating several absolutely mind blowing terrain parks each year.
These are perfectly designed for absolute beginners to slowly progress to bigger and scarier tricks.
(For the uninitiated, a terrain park is where you’ll find all the big jumps, rails and boxes.)
There are 4 Terrain Parks!
Sunshine Village actually has 4 terrain parks, ranging from tiny jumps and rails all the way to XXXL kickers that could send you flying over a house.
Of course, tricks aren’t for everyone, but this is where I took my Park Instructor level 1 course, and this might be a great option for anyone looking to safely learn how to get into tricks.
Our instructor was an ex X games competitor, who safely showed us how to throw 360’s, hit jumps properly , ski backwards and ride rails and boxes.
By the way, if you’re going to get into tricks, I’d really recommend investing in some body armour and a helmet.
One of the best things about Sunshine Village is that it’s also open in the summer for hiking! In fact, the gondola keeps running, so rather than trudging up the mountain, you can save your legs and instead float up to Banff’s best alpine meadow; Sunshine Meadows.
At Sunshine Meadows, there’s so much to explore and so many great views. Alpine meadows are also a very popular place for Grizzly bears to hang out, so bring your binoculars and bear spray!
You’ll also find the hotel and restaurants to be open as well, meaning you can leave the trail mix at home!
Ski in/Ski out ski resorts aren’t hugely common in Canada, particularly in Alberta. Sunshine Village, however, does have a hotel located right on the ski hill.
In fact, Sunshine Mountain Lodge is pretty much the only hotel in Alberta that you can literally ski into.
And once you’re up there, you don’t have to focus entirely on skiing. Sunshine Mountain Lodge actually has one of Canada’s largest outdoor hot pools, not to mention some fantastic saunas.
On some evenings you can even head up the slopes after dark and go tobogganing. If you’re lucky you might even catch the Northern Lights out on the slopes!
A little Isolated though?
Maybe a little. The only downside at Sunshine Mountain Lodge is that aside from Friday nights where the hotel offers trips into town, you are literally stuck up on the mountain in the evenings.
With that being said, I know that all I want to do after a long day on the slopes is grab a beer and fall face down into bed – which is no problem at Sunshine Mountain Lodge.
If you want to check out Banff’s only Ski-in/Ski Out experience, you can check the rates and availability here.
The Slush Cup
The Sunshine Village Slush Cup is an annual contest held at Sunshine Village to mark the end of the ski season.
Held just as the snow begins to melt and get a little “slushy”, the contest involves competitors trying to skim across a freezing cold pool of water on skis or a snowboard.
Most competitors dress up in ridiculous costumes, and inevitably, almost all end up being catapulted, head first, into Banff’s best outdoor ice bath.
It’s a ‘boozy party’ kind of day on the hill, and any time we’ve been up there it’s always been no end of laughs.
Planning Your Trip to Sunshine Village Ski Resort
Getting to Sunshine Village Ski Resort
Sunshine Village takes about 20 minutes to reach from Banff by car. If you’re not staying on the hill, you’ll have to either drive yourself or take a shuttle bus.
Free Shuttle Bus
There are 7 shuttle buses that head to Sunshine Village each day from the town of Banff, leaving from various hotels and bus stops. These buses run between 7.35am and 11.50am each day, depending on which stop you’re taking.
There are also 7 buses returning from the hill each day that run between 12.30pm and 6.30pm.
The Sunshine Village shuttle bus is free if you have a Sunshine Village lift pass or a Ski Big 3 lift pass. To find the best time that works for you, please consult this bus schedule.
This season, the shuttle bus runs from December 16th to April 19 2020.
Saturday to Thursday: 8am to 5.30pm
Friday: 8am to 10.30pm (hence being able to visit town on Fridays!)
First chair lift begins at 9am though!
How Much do Sunshine Village Lift Tickets Cost?
- Adults: $127 + GST (CAD)
- Youth (13-17): $99 + GST (CAD)
- Child (6-12): $49 + GST (CAD)
- Infant (0-5): Free
- Seniors: $99 + GST (CAD)
Where can I buy Lift Tickets?
If you have a Mountain Collective pass, the best thing to do is head to the Ski Big 3 store in Banff (next to McDonalds on Banff Avenue).
They can give you a straight to lift pass that allows you to walk straight up to the gondola when you arrive at Sunshine Village. It also means you can do the same at Lake Louise too!
Otherwise, you can either buy a lift ticket when you arrive from one of the kiosks, or if you have time and a membership, head to Costco where you can buy super cheap tickets!
Ski Lessons With the Snow School
As a past graduate of the Sunshine Village ski school, I can personally vouch for the amazing quality of the ski school instructors. They’re all highly experienced, fantastic skiers who should be able to teach anyone a thing or two to improve their form.
Whether you just need a guide to show you the best spots, or an instructor to work on your style, there are plenty of options.
Half day group lessons start at $149 for adults (13+), full days cost $179.
A full day of one on one private lessons costs $699.
There are plenty of other options available too which you can find out about here
Where Should I Rent my Ski Equipment for Sunshine Village
For ski and snowboard rentals, you can either rent on the hill once you arrive (check rates and options here), or you can rent from the town of Banff before you head to the hill (Ultimate is a good place to rent in Banff, or you can get your skis fitted in your hotel room with Black Tie Ski Rentals).
Adult ski rentals can cost up to around $70 per day, with greater discounts for longer rental periods.
Where to Stay?
The most obvious choice would be to stay at Sunshine Mountain Lodge while you’re skiing at Sunshine Village, but if you want to stay a little closer to the action, we’d recommend staying in the town of Banff.
Where to eat at Sunshine Village?
There are plenty of good food options at Sunshine Village, most of which are located in the main lodge or the Sunshine Mountain Lodge
The Alpine Grill
There are a few good options for food at Sunshine Village, but I mostly eat in the main canteen in the lodge (The Alpine Grill). They have a really good variety of options including pho, pizza, pasta, soups and burgers, and none of them are astronomically expensive.
For example, beef pho was $18, which is maybe only slightly higher than you’d usually pay.
I used to regularly grab breakfast here too during my season. My personal favourite was the breakfast burrito!
Chimney Corner is probably my next favourite place to eat while I’m on the hill. It’s a bit quieter and you’ll have a chance to escape the crowds in a slightly fancier setting. You actually have a table here, rather than having to fight over a space in the Alpine Grill free-for-all seating area.
Last time I ate here we all had good burgers and a delicious hearty soup. Definitely can recommend but it’s worth making a reservation or heading in early to get on the wait list if you’re planning to visit.
Mad Trappers is a smokehouse/pub located in a separate building just below the Strawberry Chairlift. It’s where you go if you want good meat and beer after a long day on the hill. It has a much more casual atmosphere and is also where you’ll find the snow school check-in.
I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m a huge fan of Sunshine Village. Whereas some of the other local mountains can be really terrible without great snow, Sunshine is always a great option in any conditions.
It’s always exciting with plenty to explore, and I highly, highly recommend you visit!