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. 

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