Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hello Wheels! Success Strategies for Pedaling into another Bike Season

The snow is melting and we've put our skis away for another season. In their place, the bikes have come out and we're transitioning to spending our days on wheels.

Success Strategies for Pedaling into another Bike Season

Snow's gone, bikes are out! 
I'll add a disclaimer up front that this story is not really targeted at those of you who enjoy year-round biking. We don't live in a warm climate, and we spend our winter months on skis. We don't have fat bikes for riding on snow, and I'm the only member of my family with any real interest in cold-weather biking.

Year-round bike commuters may also wonder why I've referred to a biking "season" but honestly, we live far out in the suburbs, and my son has a 2 minute walk to school. Biking to work/school just isn't possible for my husband, or necessary for my son. We use bikes purely for recreation in this family, and they have a season. (A season that is just beginning and that will end once snow falls next November.)

For those of you who also embrace a biking "season" please read on, and I hope you'll benefit from some of the strategies my family is using as we pedal into spring.

This kid is very happy to be back at the skateparks with his bike

Success Strategies for Pedaling into another Bike Season

1. Start Close to Home 

Start with short rides close to home before you pack the bikes up for a big road trip. This way you can make necessary tune-ups that you may not have realized were an issue before getting out on the trails. You can take bikes into a local repair shop for any adjustments needed, and you can get replacement parts if something isn't working well.

Our first ride of the season was a short loop around a local park

2. Make First Rides FUN 

Now is not the time to hit the trails for a marathon 4-hour ride. Get out for short introductory rides, cycle to a neighborhood playground, visit an ice-cream store, or spend some time at your local skate or bike park.

The key is to remind the kids how much fun biking is after months spent playing in the snow, skiing, and sliding instead of riding.

Bike parks are a fun way to get back in the saddle

3. Go Over ALL the Safety Rules Again 

You know the fear that kids will forget everything over the 2-month summer break from school? Well, imagine a 5-month break and I'm sure there are a few things you'll need to re-introduce for the fresh new season - such as a good solid reminder to ride on the right side of the path!!

They do remember that you ride on the right side of the pathway, right?? Especially on a steep hill!

Basic rules you'll want to go over on your first rides:

  • Riding on the right side of the pathway or road

  • Passing on the left (while leaving plenty of space to avoid colisions)

  • Using your bell when passing or approaching people from behind

  • Getting off to the side of the pathway when taking breaks!! (I fear my son will never master this one.)

  • Leaving enough space between yourself and other riders in your group (lest somebody brake suddenly.)

And those are just a few suggestions to get you started. You'll have other rules  to go over if you ride on actual roads as well.

We all need a reminder in not blocking the entire pathway while riding

4. Focus on Endurance, Strength, and Muscle Training 

We love mountain biking on single track trails, but first bike rides are less about "excitement" and more about conditioning.
Pavement is easiest for training rides

When you get started for the season, you just need to ride and log some serious miles so that your butt gets used to sitting on a bike seat again (I'm still sore after my last ride 3 days ago.)

Hill training is also very important early in the season, and it's much easier to do this on pavement than it is on a dirt or gravel mountain bike trail.

Kids will need to practice using their gears again, will need to work on stamina and endurance, and will need to get those legs back in shape.

One of my biggest suggestions here is to choose rolling trails so that you'll get to practice a variety of terrain from climbing to descending hills. Whatever you do, don't choose a trail that requires relentless climbing for long periods of time. That will do nothing to remind the kids that biking is fun.

Hill training is an important part of early season rides

5. Transition to Dirt and Mountain Biking 

Once the kids are comfortable on their bikes again, are using their gears and brakes with confidence, and are successfully climbing a few good hills, it's time to get out on the mountain bike trails again.

We had to drive 3 hours to find dry mountain bike trails last weekend but we wanted to warm up on familiar trails we enjoyed last summer.

Back on the trails again 

A few tips for transitioning to mountain biking:

  • Visit a local bike park. The kids will learn many of the skills they need for the trails  by first mastering a pump track or series of dirt jumps. (And if you're in Calgary, I hear that the Canmore Bike Park is dry and ready to go for the season.)

  • Start with last year's favourite trails. It helps to start on trails you are already familiar with as you start riding after a big break. For us, this meant visiting the Columbia Valley for a weekend of riding (where the trails are dry and in excellent shape!) - Read more about biking in the Columbia Valley here.

  • Invest in lessons. I've registered my son in mountain bike lessons at our local ski hill for the last two years in spring. And as a bonus, the summer chairlift isn't running yet to access the downhill trails, so the kids have to bike UP the hill before they can ride down (hill training victory) - and the teacher gets to listen to the whining instead of you, the parent! 

Starting off on easy familiar trails 

And, the big question: What are we riding this season?

Noah and I both have new bikes this season. I finally upgraded to a full suspension bike (A Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt) and Noah is riding a Zulu Four from Prevelo Bikes.

You can read all about the Zulu Four here

Our new Zulu Four from Prevelo Bikes 

As of the moment, the Zulu Four is sold out on the Prevelo website but there will be new stock arriving shortly with FREE shipping to Canada if you order off the website.

Success and confidence on the Zulu Four 
In the meantime you can check out the full collection of Prevelo Bikes from run bikes to pedal bikes (14 inch up to 24 inch.)

Prevelo manufactures two lines of bikes (the Alpha series and the Zulu series.)  The Alpha series does not have disc brakes and is a more affordable (but still high quality) bike for the recreational rider who isn't planning on doing a lot of aggressive mountain biking.

First Thoughts on our new Zulu Four: I am not a technical person when it comes to bikes, so I look at performance when I'm evaluating a bike and how well it works. From what I can see so far, Noah is confident on his new bike, is shifting well between gears, is climbing steep hills with success in his lowest gear, and is able to do small jumps at the skate and bike parks we've visited. He is showing no fear in his riding, and has transitioned seamlessly to the new bike.

We're also loving how light the bike is, weighing in at a very light 25.7 lbs. This is definitely contributing to Noah's success with climbing hills this season.

I will continue to provide performance reviews of the Zulu Four over the season as an Ambassador for Prevelo Bikes.

Having fun with our new Prevelo Bike 

Recommended Spring Reading

The Best Family Bike Trails in the Columbia Valley, BC

Kids on Wheels - Pump Tracks and Bike Parks

The Best Spring Bike Rides in Kananaskis 

Spring is here and the bikes are out! 

Friday, April 20, 2018

A Local's Guide to Exploring the Best of Banff and Jasper - Updated 2024

We have some amazing attractions and sites right on our doorstep that many of us locals pass over because we think "it's too busy, too expensive, too crowded, or just flat out too touristy."

Local's Guide to Exploring the Best of Banff and Jasper (Banff Gondola, Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection)

I'm with you on avoiding overcrowded tourist attractions, but  as a local, you can still enjoy all of the iconic adventures in our national parks - without the crowds. (Or, perhaps in a fresh new way that's unique and fitting of a local explorer.) And, I can save you money with a few local tips as well.

Below are ten of my family's favourite attractions and sites in the mountain parks of Banff and Jasper. Each one is very popular with tourists, but equally enjoyable as a local.

Glacier Adventure, Columbia Icefields 

Local's Guide to Exploring the Best of Banff and Jasper 

1. Ride The Banff Gondola 

My son has ridden up the gondola in Banff too many times to count. Somehow though, it never gets old and he would jump at the chance to ride the gondola yet again (over pretty much anything else I could promise him in Banff.)

Kids love gondolas, and my son loves running up the boardwalk to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Adults will love the views from the top of the gondola, and I love that I can buy a good cup of coffee on top of a mountain.

Everybody loves the Banff Gondola, young or old

Local Tips:

  • Visit in the morning or evening to avoid the crowds.

  • Look for free child passes when you purchase an adult pass.

  • Always visit in the off-season.

  • Hike up, and ride down for a discounted gondola ticket. Visit the website for more info.

For full information, visit the Banff Gondola website

Hike to the top of the Banff Gondola and ride down for a fun family day trip

2. Take a Boat Cruise on Lake Minnewanka in Banff

Families love the Banff Lake Cruise on scenic Lake Minnewanka. Check out their awesome family tour below for a day trip everybody will enjoy.

"Hop aboard our Lake Minnewanka treasure hunt, complete with thrilling tales of local characters, mysterious lake monsters and much, much more. This 60-minute, highly interactive tour is specially made for kids between 6 and 12 years old and is led by an expert guide and captain. Kids receive a complimentary journal and a cool treat with their ticket. Plus, families receive one free kids’ admission for every adult ticket purchased."

Banff Lake Cruise (photo: Pursuit, Banff Jasper Collection)

Local Tips for Exploring the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road:

  • Take the short hike to Stewart Canyon along the shoreline (3km round trip) and you'll escape 80% of the visitors that never make it past the boat dock.

  • Spring and autumn will always be less busy. The Lake Cruise opens for the season in May and runs through early October.

  • As with everything, sunrise and sunset will be your best friend. (Don't go in the middle of the day and expect to have the lake to yourself.)

Visit the Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise website to reserve tickets and find more information.

Our first visit to Lake Minnewanka 

3. Hike Johnston Canyon in Banff 

I am convinced there are billboards across the world telling people to come hike Johnston Canyon. This shouldn't deter you from experiencing one of Banff's most beautiful hikes for yourself though. It's one of the few hikes where you can see two big waterfalls in under 3 km one way, and you get to walk through a tunnel to see the first falls.

The first waterfalls at Johnston Canyon with the cave

Local Tips:

The Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon
  • May or June are great months to hike this trail. After that, wait until late September.

  • Pack breakfast with you and go first thing in the morning if you have to hike this trail in the summer. Eat a picnic breakfast at the first or second falls and enjoy hiking out while everybody else is just arriving at the parking lot.

    Alternately, go in the evening after dinner (It's a short hike.) You could even pack dinner with you for the trail.

  • Go out Friday or Saturday evening and hike in to Larry's Camp backcountry campground (JO 9,) 9 kilometres up the trail past the falls and the Ink Pots.  (Find information on backcountry camping permits here.)

    Spend a night and hike out the next morning.

Read more about the hike here on the Ten Adventures website..

And you can also check out this story from a spring hike we enjoyed at Johnston Canyon: The Most Popular Hike in Banff - Without the Crowds

The Johnston Canyon catwalks 

4. Spend a Day at Lake Louise

It never fails to amaze me how busy Lake Louise can get in the summer (and how many people will be content to take their photos without ever venturing beyond the crowds in front of the lake.) Take a hike beyond the lakeshore and you'll leave 60% of the other visitors behind. Start hiking uphill and you'll leave another 20% behind. Avoid the teahouses and you've lost all but 10% of the other visitors.

Looking over to Lake Louise from the top of the ski resort (with gondola access in the summer)

Local Tips:

  • Don't bother trying to park at Lake Louise between the months of July and September. Take a shuttle bus and save yourself the headache of trying to arrive before 8am. (and even that might be too late in summer.)

  • Spend the night so you can get up to the lake super early in the morning or so you can go up in the evening instead (when you'll find plenty of parking and fewer crowds.)

    You have two affordable options for lodging. You can either camp, or you can stay at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre (a joint venture between Hostelling International and the Alpine Club of Canada.)

    Read about overnight stays at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre here. (The story has a ski focus but the information is still relevant for summer.)

  • Get in and out quickly. Park (or take a shuttle bus) and then hit the trail! Our favourite way to escape the crowds (with awesome views) is to hike up to Saddleback Pass. From the pass you can also climb Mount Fairview or Saddle Mountain.

    Read about our hike up Mount Fairview here.

    Read: First Summits - Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise
Mount Fairview Summit, Lake Louise 

  • As mentioned already, visit in the evening. The parking lot will be relatively empty and you'll have a much quieter experience if you want the classic photos standing in front of the lake.

  • Bring your own boat or inflatable paddleboard! Even if you have to rent in Calgary or Banff for the day, you'll spend $100 per hour to rent a canoe at Lake Louise (which is crazy.) And you can use your own boat on any lake in Banff National Park!

    Make sure you don't go mid day though, trying to carry a canoe through the crowds! Go in the evening when it won't feel as if there are hundreds of other boats on the water with you. You wouldn't find parking anywhere near the lake as well in the daytime.

  • Go in May or June, or wait until October. (September is still very busy.)

  • There's plenty of parking at the Lake Louise Ski Resort! Park here and take a shuttle to the lake. Then you can also ride the gondola up the mountain for great views over to Lake Louise.

  • Have to hike to one of the teahouses? Go up first thing in the morning or in the evening with a picnic breakfast or dinner to eat on the trail.

Read more on the Banff and Lake Louise Tourism website.

Paddling across Lake Louise (bring your own stand up paddleboard)

5. Spend a Day at Moraine Lake in Banff

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are premier destinations when visiting the Canadian Rockies and access has never been easier thanks to the affordable and easy-to-book Parks Canada shuttle bus system. One ticket gets you access to both lakes for an entire day with free parking and transfers between the two lakes. And you won't have to arrive at 4am this year if you want to visit Moraine Lake to hike!

Access for Moraine Lake:

New in 2023 - The Moraine Lake Road will be closed to personal vehicles year round.

Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, and commercial buses will be permitted from June to mid-October.

Visit both Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in the same day. Reserve your shuttle ticket online and park your vehicle at the Park and Ride, located at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. (See shuttle fees here.)

Reservations can be made online starting in April with additional seats released in a rolling window, at 8am two days prior to departure day.

Read more about booking shuttle bus tickets on the Parks Canada website. 

Views of the emerald colored lake from the top of the rock pile beside the lake

Local Tips:

Once you're at Moraine Lake, escape the bulk of the crowds by heading off for a day hike. The trail to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass is the busiest. For a quieter hike visit the Consolation Lakes Valley or Eiffel Lakes Valley.

Read more about hiking at Moraine Lake here on the Parks Canada website. 

And for an EPIC day hike, traverse one-way from Moraine Lake to Lake Louise over Sentinel Pass and Saddleback Pass. 

  • Visit Moraine Lake before the road opens to shuttle bus service in the spring by bicycle! You can ride up to the lake and visit this famous tourist site without the crowds. It's a climb to the lake, but a very fast ride back down! The return ride is ~ 25 km. 

  • Visit first thing in the morning on one of the earliest shuttle busses you can take for a much more quiet experience. Mid day will be the busiest time.

  • Visit late afternoon after the tourists have started to leave for the day. Just make sure you catch one of the last return busses back to Lake Louise.

  • Bring your own inflatable stand up paddleboard on the bus to save yourself $$$ by not having to rent an overpriced canoe at the lake.

  • Make sure you visit late September if you want to see the golden larch trees up in Larch Valley. They peak around the third week of September.

Visit Moraine Lake late September to see the golden larch trees

6. Go Exploring along the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper

The Icefields Parkway connects the Village of Lake Louise with the Town of Jasper in the north. It is one of the most beautiful highways in the world and it's recommended you try to drive it on a clear sunny day (if you have a choice or flexibility with your plans.) 

Expect snow on the Icefields Parkway through late spring

You can read all about the Icefields Parkway here (with hikes to enjoy along the way.) 

You can also find information on the Travel Alberta website (with a great list of places to stop along your drive for the best photos.) 

Also, the Banff National Park website has a fabulous list with points of interest.

And finally, check out this new story:

Peyto Lake on the Icefields Parkway

Local Tips: 

  • Hike around the backside of Herbert Lake (hiking clockwise from the parking lot) and you'll find a very old historic diving board perched on a pile of rocks. It's super fun to jump off of. (and the water isn't as cold as you'd expect.)

  • Leave the crowds behind at Bow Lake and hike to the Bow Glacier Falls (4.6 km one way)

  • Escape the masses at Peyto Lake with a hike to the Bow Summit Lookout (2.9 km one way.) And, the photo above of Peyto Lake was not taken from the tourist platform. It was taken from the short little interpretive hike you'll find leading off from the platform.(Follow it left from the platform as if hiking in the direction of Lake Louise)
Bow Summit Lookout (Bow Lake in the background)

  • Drive the highway early in the morning or in the evening (less crowds of course.)

  • Visit before July or after September

  • Camp along the Icefields Parkway. (Note that the campgrounds don't take reservations so you'll want an early start in the day to get a spot as people clear out from the night before.)

  • Spend a night at the Glacier View Inn right at the Columbia Icefields Centre (more on that in the next paragraph.) It will allow you to enjoy this amazing landscape first thing in the morning, or in the evening without the crowds.

  • For a great hike, head up the Parker Ridge Trail (2.7 km one way) or the Wilcox Pass trail (4 km one way.) These are our two favourite hikes on the Icefields Parkway. 

Wilcox Pass, Columbia Icefields (Athabasca Glacier in the background)

7. Take a Columbia Icefields Glacier Adventure 

This is one of those adventures that most local families will quickly dismiss as being "touristy" or "too expensive." I highly encourage you to reconsider though for a few reasons:

This is a chance for your kids to walk on a real glacier with no risk of falling in a crevasse (a giant crack in the ice that's often covered up with snow, and often deep enough to cause serious injury or worse if you fall in.)

And unless your family plans on taking up mountaineering as a hobby (and you have the training to take the kids out on a glacier walk,) this is probably the only way your children will ever get to walk on a glacier.

Take the kids for a glacier tour on the Athabasca Glacier

Glaciers are melting. (rapidly melting.) Take the opportunity to explore nearby glaciers now because the next generation might not have many left to experience.

The Columbia Icefield is one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. And while you won't be on the icefield itself, you'll be walking on the Athabasca Glacier which comes off of the icefield.

In this tour you get to travel on a gigantic ice explorer bus (a highlight for the kids by itself) onto a sheet of ice that's 10 000 years old.

Finish your tour with a fun walk on the glass-floored, cliff edged, Glacier Skywalk  (with great views over to Mount Athabasca and the Icefields Centre.)

Ride a large ice explorer bus onto the glacier

Read more about the Glacier Adventure here on the Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection website.

And, check out my story about our day trip to the Columbia Icefields here: Day Trip to the Columbia Icefields Centre to Walk on a Glacier. 

Glacier Skywalk with Mount Athabasca in the background

Local Tips:

  • Don't wait until summer. Go now! The Icefields Centre opens in April and the Glacier Adventure starts running early spring for the season. (And by visiting in spring, you'll avoid the majority of the summer traffic.)

  • Save 10% when you book in advance.

  • Save your trip for fall if you want the experience of walking on bare ice without any snow covering it.

  • Save money with combo packages. The Ultimate Explorer package for example allows you to experience the Banff Gondola, Lake Cruise, and the Glacier Adventure. (Something you'll want to keep in mind if you have friends or family visiting from out of town this summer.)

  • Spend the night at the Glacier View Inn (located on the 3rd floor of the Icefields Centre) and be first to board a bus for the Glacier Adventure the next morning. You'll also enjoy exploring the area in the evening without any of the daytime crowds.

    And if you're spending the night, make sure you have at least one meal at the new restaurant, Altitude. It has amazing food along with incredible views of the glacier.

Glacier Skywalk (Photo: Pursuit, Banff Jasper Collection)

8. Take a Boat Cruise on Maligne Lake in Jasper

I was skeptical of this tour when we boarded the boat to Spirit Island because I was expecting a quick pass by of the famed iconic island, everybody fighting for deck space for photos, and no opportunities to get off the boat at the island.

I was completely blown away when I realized there was a dock right beside Spirit Island and that you got a good half hour to get off the tour boat, and to take as many photos as you wanted of the beautiful island.

Spirit Island from the Jasper Maligne Lake Cruise

And while you can't actually step foot on Spirit Island as it's a sacred spot to the local indigenous people, you still get very close to the island without having to spend two days paddling your own boat  to get out there.

Maligne Lake Boat Cruise, Jasper 

Local Tips:

  • The lake cruise opens late May, and you'll find it easier to get a reservation if you visit before summer starts. Otherwise, save your trip for fall (open through early October.)

  • Make a reservation in advance. If you don't, there's a good chance you won't get on the boat. And it's a long drive out to Maligne Lake from the Town of Jasper (a beautiful drive, but very long if you've promised the kids something you can't deliver.)

  • Make the most of the trip out to Maligne Lake with a short hike along the lakeshore trail. The Mary Schaffer Loop is an easy 3.2 km loop. Read about all of the hiking options in the area here.

  • Combine your trip with a stop at Maligne Canyon (featured in the next paragraph)

For more information, visit the website for the Maligne Lake Cruise.

Iconic Spirit Island in Maligne Lake, Jasper 

9. Go Hiking in Maligne Canyon, Jasper

I've hiked this trail countless times with my family and my best tip here is to arrive early (or later in the afternoon/evening.) This is Jasper's version of Johnston Canyon and you don't want to be stuck hiking this narrow canyon trail in the middle of the day during July or August. (I'm not sure you'd even get into the parking lot.)

While this hike is very popular, it's still worthwhile to stop en route to Maligne Lake and kids love running up and down the stairs along the top of the canyon. They'll also be fascinated by all of the waterfalls you'll see from the bridges.

Hiking the Maligne Canyon Trail in Jasper

Local Tips:

Bridge over Maligne Canyon 
  • Go early or late in the day. Avoid mid-day hikes in Maligne Canyon

  • Combine the hike with a trip out to Maligne Lake. It takes an hour to drive to the lake from town, and you'll pass right by Maligne Canyon en route.

  • Spring and fall are ideal times to visit the canyon. Go in May and enjoy a peaceful experience. October is another one of my favourite times to enjoy this hike.

  • Hike to the 6th bridge and you'll leave the majority of people behind after the 3rd bridge. There's a separate parking lot at the 6th bridge if you want to hike the trail one direction with a car shuttle.

    If you only have one vehicle, send one adult back for the car and have them drive down to the 6th bridge parking lot to meet you and the kids. - note you want to start at the 1st bridge and hike down to the 6th bridge. It's less than 4 km one way from 1st to 6th bridge.

  • Finish your hike with a snack on the outdoor patio of the Maligne Canyon Restaurant near the 1st bridge (which would be a great way to end the outing if you hiked all the way to the 6th bridge and back.)

Read more about the hike here.

One of the many waterfalls in Maligne Canyon

10. Ride the Jasper Sky Tram 

The Jasper Sky Tram is one of the best ways to climb a mountain in Jasper without too much effort. Once you arrive at the upper terminal you can enjoy a gorgeous alpine hike up to the summit of Whistlers Mountain in a short 1.2 km distance (one way.)

One of my favourite photos along the hike up Whistlers Mountain

My son made it to the summit when he was 4 years old and it was a great adventure for our family. We're hoping to go back this summer while we're in Jasper.

This is also a tour that's worth every penny for the views you'll get on your hike to the summit of Whistlers Mountain.

Switzerland or Jasper? Hard to tell as you hike the Summit Trail at the Jasper Sky Tram

Local Tips:

  • As with everything, go early in the day to avoid the crowds.

  • Families can save money with a family package (actually quite reasonable for an attraction of this quality and experience)

Summit games at the Jasper Sky Tram 

Resources and Additional Reading

Family Guide to Banff National Park - Top 10  Places to Explore with the Kids 

Top Ten Things for Families to do in Banff

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to Do in Jasper 

Where to Camp in the National Parks of Alberta 

Day Trip to the Columbia Icefields Centre to Walk on a Glacier

A Family Guide to the BEST Adventures on the Icefields Parkway (Lake Louise to Jasper)

Iconic Adventures across the Canadian Rockies (photo: Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection) 

Disclaimer: This story was not sponsored and all words/opinions are my own. My family has received complimentary tickets to many of the attractions featured over the past several years.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Sunshine Village Ski Resort and Mountain Lodge Experience

If you've ever skied at Sunshine Village Resort in Banff, you've probably wondered what it would be like to end your day with an overnight stay on the hill. The Sunshine Mountain Lodge is located steps away from the Standish Chair and allows you to be first on the mountain in the morning.

Mornings are glorious at Sunshine Village 
We just spent two days skiing at Sunshine Village with an overnight stay at the Lodge as a family. What I can tell you in a nutshell (before you read the rest of my story,) is that the lodge experience is very family-friendly, there are great casual dining options on the hill for families, and there's a giant outdoor hot tub located right beside the Standish Chair (that you've probably never noticed before.)

Sunshine Mountain Lodge, Ski in/out Accommodations at Sunshine Village Ski Resort

I'll break this story down into two parts: The Sunshine Village Family Ski Experience, and the Sunshine Mountain Lodge Family Experience.

The Sunshine Village Ski Experience

Sunshine Village Family Ski Experience

Background history: My son is 9, and has been downhill skiing for 6 years now, we live an hour from the Sunshine Village Ski Resort in Banff, and we'd always enjoyed Sunshine Village as a ski hill in the pre-kid days. Somehow though, this was our very first family visit to Sunshine!

Kids Play: Junior Terrain Park at Sunshine Village (top of Wolverine Chair)

We'd honestly put off visiting Sunshine because I wasn't sure how great a resort it would be as a family. I remembered it being big (which could be intimidating with young kids,) and remembered having to arrive super early to find parking and ride the gondola up in the morning.

I quickly discovered that I'd been wrong, and Sunshine Village is actually a fabulous hill for families! (especially if you're able to stay overnight!)

Every child's favourite run at Sunshine! (Find it off Banff Ave. between Jackrabbit and Goat's Eye)

Our Favourite Things about Sunshine Village for Families 

1. Kids love the gondola ride in the morning! Even if you have to arrive early, do it for the fun gondola ride. And you can always park in Banff to catch a free shuttle bus up (allowing you to avoid the parking hassle and giving you a nice easy drop off right in front of the gondola station!)

Note with the shuttle busses, it is recommended that you purchase your lift ticket in advance, something you can do online. It is not necessary though and all guests can jump on a shuttle bus for free.

The scenic gondola ride that starts every day

2. The mountain doesn't have to feel big. Kids love the short fun runs off the Jackrabbit and Wolverine Chairs. Start here and get comfortable with the hill (and save some of the bigger terrain for later.)

Runs to watch for: Roller coaster, a fun narrow bumpy run through the trees that all children love (off Banff Ave. between Jackrabbit and Goat's Eye,) and Kid's Play (off the top of Wolverine.) Kid's Play has a fun junior-sized terrain park your children will love.

Roller Coaster, a guaranteed favourite run for the kids

Once you've warmed up in the Jackrabbit and Wolverine area, I really enjoyed the short intermediate runs off the Wawa Chair. There's a very easy green run off Wawa too, "Meadow Park."

My son's favourite run off Wawa was "Waterfall" which I've been told is popular with kids who can ski a bit of steep terrain.

Alternately as another option to Wawa, there is some great beginner terrain off the Strawberry and Standish Chairlifts. "Dell Valley" is a kid favourite off Strawberry (with a wide gully that resembles a natural half pipe) as is "Creek Run" off Standish. And for a great intermediate run, my son liked the little bumps on "Little Bunkers" off Standish.

Fresh powder on Little Bunkers

Next up, I love the Goat's Eye area of the mountain (with its own gondola station.) You could spend hours here and feel like you were at a smaller mountain resort (where every run ends up right back at the one main chairlift and Goat's Eye Gardens day lodge.) And while there are no true "beginner" runs here, "Sunshine Coast"  is an easy blue traverse that honestly feels like a green run.

Skiing down under the Goat's Eye Chairlift

Secret run off Goat's Eye to find: Eagle Creek - a fun narrow winding run through the forest that kids will love. It's rated black but it's quite easy and is usually groomed. (And it's never so narrow that you'll feel as if you're on a luge track.) I loved it because I felt like I'd left the busy resort and had found a cross-country ski trail off in the woods somewhere. - And if your kids are confident in trees, try dropping into the canyon off Eagle Creek. It's quite the "adventure."

Dropping down Eagle Creek in the Goat's Eye Ski Area

To summarize, there are many small areas to call your own at Sunshine rather than trying to focus on conquering the whole mountain. And once you're ready for the "big terrain" and wide open bowls, you can then head up the Angel, Teepee Town, or Great Divide Chairlifts for the complete "Sunshine Experience."

Views off the Great Divide Chairlift at Sunshine 

And if you make it up Angel, Teepee Town, or the Great Divide, look for the terrain parks that you'll find off the main Green Run. My son loved the jumps in the Springhill Terrain Park.

Playing in one of the terrain parks off the Angel Chairlift 

3. Variety of Day Lodges, Food, and "Rest Areas." You know the ski resort that has one crowded day lodge with nothing to offer beyond basic cafeteria food? Well, that's certainly not Sunshine!

There is a cozy day lodge at the base of the Goat's Eye Ski area (with its own gondola station if you want to leave a backpack here with your lunch on the way up in the morning,) there's another day lodge (with several eating options) at the main village, and then you have other options inside the Sunshine Mountain Lodge (open to day users as well as overnight guests.)

Gourmet food options in the Sunshine Village Day Lodge

Packing your own lunch - Leave a backpack at either the Goat's Eye Gardens Lodge or on the second level of the main day lodge in the upper village. There are microwaves in both lodges along with hot water taps, and drinking water.

Affordable but tasty food (and family-friendly)
Buying lunch on the hill - There are so many options here! You'll find basic cafeteria fare in both day lodges, a separate burger restaurant on the main floor of the village lodge, and then an outside bbq with patio tables in front of the main day lodge. There's also a patio outside the Goat's Eye Gardens lodge where you can buy food and drinks.

For "fancier food" there are also several tasty options in the main day lodge cafeteria on the second floor which include Pho, Curry, and Shawarma stations.

Wanting a sit down meal with table service at the hill - Either pop in to the Mad Trapper's Saloon (which is family-friendly and serves basic pub food,) climb up to the third floor of the main day lodge to the Lookout Kitchen and Bar, or visit the Chimney Corner inside the Sunshine Mountain Lodge for a more "upscale dining experience." - just don't go right at noon and expect to get a table without a bit of a wait.

Needing a coffee - You'll find a coffee shop on the first floor of the main day lodge and in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge lobby. You can also order a cup of coffee and have a seat beside the gorgeous fireplace at the Chimney Corner in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge (my choice for a mid-afternoon rest break.)

Fireside dining in the Chimney Corner, Sunshine Mountain Lodge

4. The chairlifts were easy to load with kids. We were at another resort recently where my son nearly fell off countless chairlifts. The seats were too high, too slippery, the chairs too fast, too sudden...

The chairlifts at Sunshine impressed us with their ease of loading and unloading. And we only had one pole mishap while unloading over the entire day (a small miracle for us!)

My son also loved the uniqueness of two of the chairs. Visit Teepee Town and you'll discover Canada's only heated chairlift (with bubble covers to keep the wind out!) There's also a neat conveyor belt type magic carpet that helps with loading on the Wawa Chair.

Bubble Chairs on Teepee Town at Sunshine Village

5. The ski out at the end of the day is a lot of fun. If you start at the very top of the mountain off the Great Divide Chair and ski all the way down to the parking lot at the Gondola base, you'll have skied 8 kilometres. Alternately, start from the Village and ski down to the bottom in a 5 kilometre descent. My son enjoyed the long easy ski down on Banff Ave and it was a fun way to end the day.

Enjoying the 8 km ski out from the top of the mountain down Banff Ave. 

Extra Tips for Navigating Sunshine Village as a Family 

  • Arrive early. The Gondola starts running at 8am and you'll find plenty of parking at this time. You could even have breakfast at the village to make it easier to get out of the house.

  •  Stay a little bit later and enjoy a quiet gondola ride down, or a peaceful ski out minus the end of day crowds. The gondola runs until 5:30pm (and until 10pm on Fridays.) And until you ride or ski down, enjoy a plate of nachos and a beverage at Mad Trapper's.

    Note if you plan to ski down, the Jackrabbit chairlift is open a half-hour longer than other chairlifts, until 4:30 pm (winter hours) and 5:00 pm (spring hours) and you'll need to use it to access the lower part of Banff Ave. Other chairlifts close at 4:00 pm (winter hours) and 4:30 pm (spring hours). Gondola hours remain the same in winter and spring. Read more about the mountain hours here.

  • Bring your own lunch! You'll find everything you need in both lodges including microwaves and hot water taps. And you'll save a lot of money. Save your money for snacks, coffee, and maybe an end of day apres-ski treat. (Really the nachos at Mad Trapper's are awesome!)

  • The Sunshine Village Ski School is amazing! My son spent three hours in a private lesson in the morning and skied runs off every single chairlift in that time. He got a private tour of the resort, got shown all the best runs for kids, and had a blast! Just look at the smiles on his instructor's face and on his face below. And while my son was in ski school, my husband and I got to ski by ourselves for 3 glorious hours!! 

To learn more, visit the Sunshine Village Resort website.

Ski School at Sunshine Village is AWESOME! 

Sunshine Mountain Lodge Family Experience

I had a LOT of questions about staying overnight at Sunshine Mountain Lodge before our trip. The website was actually really helpful, but here is our experience below (written out in timeline form.) I hope it will help other families plan out their overnight stay at Sunshine.

Mount Assiniboine as seen from the Sunshine Village Ski Resort

Saturday Morning (Drive out to Sunshine, Check in, Gondola Ride, and Ski Prep)

We left Calgary around 7:00 am (crazy early, I know) with the intent of arriving at Sunshine by 8:15 am. This would give us 45 minutes to check in to the hotel, drop off our bags, park, ride the gondola up to the village, and get ready to ski for 9am.

When we arrived at the Sunshine Village Gondola Base, we proceeded straight to the Creekside Lodge where there was parking right in front for overnight guests wanting to check in and drop off luggage.

We dropped our skis off in front of the lodge (ready to take up the gondola,) gave our overnight bags to the front desk clerk (they were transported by gondola up to the village for us while we were skiing,) and made sure we had everything we needed for our day of skiing (knowing we wouldn't see our overnight stuff until later in the day.)

I drove the car back to the special parking area for lodge guests, we boarded the gondola with our lift tickets to ski for two days, and we were up in the Village ready to ski by 9am.

Follow this link for more information on the check in process.

The whole check in process was extremely efficient and easy. We'd also packed very light with just two checked bags for Sunshine to take up for us. (More on packing later)

Efficient check ins allow you to be on the hill skiing by 9am 

Our Saturday Ski Day 

We were ready for our first run by 9am so quickly headed for the Wawa Chair because our son needed to be ready for his ski lesson by 9:30. We dropped him off, and then my husband and I took off to enjoy 3 hours of solo skiing. (And it was glorious.)

Enjoying some solo adult ski time at Sunshine Village

We had lunch at the Chimney Corner Restaurant in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge and then continued skiing until around 3:30pm. At this point we were able to check in to our room, lock up our skis in our own private ski locker on the main floor of the lodge, and then hit the hot tub before dinner.

No shortage of kids enjoying the outdoor hot tub at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge

Dinner, Tobogganing, and Sleep 

We chose to have dinner at the Mad Trapper's Saloon, an affordable option for families on the hill. We then participated in the Saturday evening activity for lodge guests which was tobogganing - down a run on the ski hill! The lodge gave us wooden sleds to use and we had fun trying to steer them down the steep snowy run.

After tobogganing, we headed to the Chimney Corner Fireside Lounge for a couple glasses of wine (the finest cranberry juice for the boy,) and then proceeded to crash in our beds by 9pm (the wild party animals we are.) Seriously, we were exhausted and we knew we still had another ski day ahead of us.

Evening tobogganing at Sunshine Village

Sunday Morning and Check Out 

Our son woke up at 5am (seriously, who does that?) so breakfast couldn't come soon enough. Thankfully the Chimney Corner Restaurant was open by 7:30 so we headed there when it opened for their breakfast buffet. (And while it was maybe more than we needed for a simple breakfast, the food was really good.)

The check out process was super easy in that we left our bags packed up in our room, returned our keys, retrieved our skis from our locker, and left to go ski. (walking all of 10 steps to reach the nearest chairlift.)

First tracks Sunday morning at Sunshine

Sunday Skiing and Check Out

It snowed 7cm overnight so we were greeted with glorious powder conditions Sunday morning. We were on the Strawberry Chair before 9am (I think it must have opened about 10 minutes early) and we enjoyed a few very peaceful runs with other lodge guests before the day visitors started showing up.

We skied hard until about 2pm, stopping only to have lunch in the main Village cafeteria before we decided to call it a day and ski down to the gondola base. My legs were done by this point, but my boys took the Great Divide Chair to the very top of the mountain so they could enjoy the full 8km ski descent down.

Arriving at the Village, we retrieved our overnight bags from the Creekside Lodge, (our bags were taken from our room and brought down by gondola for us sometime during the day) and we brought our car right up to the lodge for easy loading of skis and gear. We packed up and were back in the city in time to get groceries for the week and complete a few Sunday chores.

Skiing down from the top of the mountain Sunday afternoon 

The Easiest Ski In/Out Experience Ever

Sunday mornings are normally a little stressful at a ski hill as you try to pack everything up in your hotel suite, clean out the fridge after making breakfast, carry everything down to the parkade, retrieve skis, and check out - all by 9am for first chairlifts.

At Sunshine though, we didn't have to cook breakfast, we had no bags or luggage to take care of (the resort did everything for us,) and we didn't have a car to load up.

And if you've ever stayed at a hotel "near" a ski hill, this was far from that experience. The closest chairlift was a 10 step walk from the lodge front door. Really, you could have skied out the door of the hotel.

First Turns Sunday morning in fresh powder 

Rooms at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge 

We had a simple room in the main lodge with one queen sized bed and a sofa made up into a bed for our son. It was small but completely sufficient for the three of us. And we hardly spent any time in our room anyway.

Follow this link to see the full assortment of rooms.

Our comfortable little suite at Sunshine Mountain Lodge

Tips on Packing for an Overnight Trip at Sunshine Mountain Lodge 

This is where I had the most questions before our visit. Below are the notes I made while at the resort so that I'd remember a few things for next time.

  • Yes, you can bring a small amount of alcohol with you. Bring beer cans for the hot tub (allowed or not, everybody was drinking cans of beer in the pool,) and bring your own wine or drinks of choice for your hotel room. (We spent $40 on two glasses of wine at the lodge.)

  • You'll want to bring a duffel bag for shoes to use while at the lodge. My husband brought a big pair of Sorel winter boots with him for the tobogganing, but had no indoor shoes for the restaurants. He ended up walking around the hotel in his socks most of the time. I meanwhile had packed my winter boots and a small pair of indoor shoes.

  • Make sure you have casual jackets for running between buildings. My son skis in a one-piece snow suit and had to wear the liner out of my ski jacket when we went over to Mad Trapper's for dinner (in a different building from the hotel.)

  • Next time I'd bring some cards or a couple of games to play in front of the fireplace in the Chimney Corner Lounge.

  • The rooms have slippers and bath robes (for adults) but children may want sandals for walking to the hot tub. We also brought a hooded towel for our son to use while running to and from the pool.

  • Bring a day pack with you to leave in one of the day lodges while skiing. We didn't but I was wishing I had. In it you can pack snacks, water bottles, and even a change of clothes if you have young kids who might have a bathroom emergency on the hill

  • I'd possibly consider bringing a soft cooler pack with us next time. This would allow us to bring our own food for all snacks and lunches on the hill (saving money on expensive ski hill cafeteria food.)
Slopeside Hot tubs let you roll in the snow right beside the chairlift 

Other Tips for Families Staying at the Lodge 

You can save money on breakfast if you don't want a big buffet by just waiting for the cafeteria in the day lodge to open (it opens at 8am,) or by grabbing a smaller breakfast at the coffee bar in the hotel lobby (which also opens at 8.)

And if you also have an early bird in the family who wakes up way too early, consider skiing down to the bottom of the gondola for breakfast at the First Tracks Cafe (which opens at 7:30am.) By doing this, you'll enjoy a glorious ski down the mountain with nobody else on Banff Ave. and you'll still get back up to the Village for first chairlifts.

Note that if you ski down before the Jackrabbit chairlift opens, you'll have a bit of skate skiing to do between the base of the JR chair and the Goat's Eye chair. (My husband did it though and said it was completely doable.)

Skiing down Waterfall to the Village below 

Finally, know that the Lodge is open for summer visits as well! I think it would be beautiful to stay up at Sunshine in the summer.

To read more about Summer at Sunshine Village, check out the following story: Sunshine Village in Summer (Premier Lift Accessed Hiking in Banff National Park) 

Summer at Sunshine Village Resort 

For more information, please visit the Sunshine Mountain Lodge website. Also, please know that lift passes for skiing are not included with your stay at the lodge. You must add your skiing onto your overnight package. This is good news though if you have a family member who doesn't want to ski. Their gondola ticket would be included with their stay, and you only pay for the people who want to ski.

Also, if you have a seasons pass for Sunshine Village, you will receive a discount on your overnight stay at the Lodge.

Disclaimer: We received a media rate to stay at the lodge and enjoyed complimentary skiing while at the lodge. As always, all words and opinions are my own.