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What’s Better? Lake Louise or Sunshine Village for Skiing

One weekend I skied two of the three downhill ski resorts in Banff National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) – Lake Louise one day and Sunshine Village the next. It had been over 30 years since I’d last skied at either of them – so it felt like the first time all over again.

Temperatures both days in the morning were in the -17°C range (1°F) – and that was at the base without the wind-chill factored in. I have to say that I was less than enthusiastic about skiing either day. But with my son visiting from Toronto with the express intention of skiing I persevered.

Seven Amazing Alberta Ski Resorts
Looking towards Mount Temple from Lake Louise Ski Resort

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Lake Louise or Sunshine Village for skiing??

I’d ski Lake Louise again in a heartbeat. I’m a bit biased because the sun came out and I stayed reasonably warm. There are a lot more trees at Lake Louise so it’s easier to get in the shelter of the wind.

All three of us liked the layout of the mountain better than Sunshine and found that the terrain was more interesting too. There are long mogul runs and back bowls for the expert skier. The novice and intermediate skier can choose the other 70% of the terrain, including a long 8 kilometre run.

Views from the gondola at Lake Louise
Views from the gondola at Lake Louise

Sunshine Valley Ski Resort

The Sunshine Valley ski area requires a long gondola ride from the parking lot before you can even begin to ski. You have the choice of getting off at Goat’s Eye Mountain or continuing to the main base area and Sunshine Village.

Goat’s Eye Mountain offers a mixture of intermediate and expert terrain – much of which is above treeline. It’s beautiful when the sun is shining and the wind isn’t blowing but on the day we were there it was really windy and making your way down the upper slopes in flat light was a challenge.

At the top of the Standish Chairlift at Sunshine
At the top of the Standish Chairlift at Sunshine Village Ski Resort

The reality at Sunshine Village was that the only lift that offered some respite from the wind was the Wawa Quad chair – a lift that was slow, repeatedly stopped and offered uninteresting terrain.

The Continental Divide Express would offer fantastic views and lovely open skiing on a clear day but on the day we were there it was more a matter of surviving the ride to the top – one of those experiences when you think only of hot showers and hot tubs the whole way up.

Skiing in British Columbia is actually something you can do on the way down from this lift. I need to look at a map because it never makes sense to me – but you do pass for a very short time through BC. 

A beautiful hotel on the mountain at Sunshine

Sunshine Village does have a beautiful lodge – Sunshine Mountain Lodge, with a fantastic outdoor hot tub. In December they often offer really good rates. I do love the lodge – and have stayed here twice. You can book it right here too.

Great location for a lodge at Sunshine
Great location for a lodge at Sunshine
Room in the lodge at Sunshine Village Ski Resort
What a room in the lodge at Sunshine Village Ski Resort looks like

Snowshoeing from the top of the Standish Chair

From the lodge it’s possible to take a half day off from skiing and go on a truly beautiful guided snowshoe trip. The snowshoeing gets you into terrain most people never see in the winter.

The beautiful landscape you see on a Sunshine snowshoeing outing
The beautiful landscape you experience on a Sunshine snowshoeing outing

The day lodges at Lake Louise and Sunshine Village

The day lodges at Lake Louise are much nicer than at Sunshine though they both pale compare to those at Whistler – where I’m used to skiing. Seating at the lodges at Sunshine Village will take you back to middle school and high school cafeteria days. Very uncomfortable!!!

And the lodge at Goat’s Eye Express at Sunshine looked like it had been the scene of a food fight battle by the end of the day. Not quite the Rocky Mountain experience I was looking for. Both resorts offer limited menu selections compared to just about anything I’ve skied in Colorado and definitely compared to Whistler. I find this surprising since they are trying to lure domestic and international skiers.

It isn’t entirely a fair comparison since it was a sunnier day at Lake Louise but overall I still preferred the layout of the hill, the length of the runs (longer) and the setting of Lake Louise over Sunshine Village. Sunshine Village seems to cater to the Calgary crowd and plenty of families were up enjoying (enduring) the day. From all of one day’s experience I’d say that Lake Louise has an older, more international clientele.

Lodging is nearby for both ski resorts. Banff is only about a 20 minute drive from Sunshine Village.

There are several places with a 5-15 minute drive that you can stay at in Lake Louise, including the Post Hotel – a Relais and Chateau property. The drive from Calgary to the Lake Louise ski hill is about 20 minutes longer than the drive to Sunshine – though once you’re at the base you can immediately begin skiing.

Both resorts have practically the same lift ticket prices. You can buy a Lake Louise Plus Card that gives you three free ski days or a Ski Big 3 card which gives you deals at Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay – along with savings of 50% at Mountain Collective resorts like Mt. Revelstoke.

A beautiful mogul run on the backside of the Lake Louise Ski Resort
A beautiful mogul run on the backside of the Lake Louise Ski Resort

Options on where to stay in Banff in Lake Louise

In Banff, I can personally recommend stays in the following hotels. All are located within walking distance of the main strip save for the lovely Buffalo Mountain Lodge. The Moose Hotel, The Fox Hotel and Suites and the Mount Royal Hotel are all solid choices. For the castle experience check out the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

In the Lake Louise area, check out Baker Creek Mountain Resort. Up at the lake, you can splurge at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. In the village check out the Lake Louise Inn. The HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre would also be a great choice if you’re after a hostel.  

Further reading on skiing in western Canada

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. I am a local who lives in Calgary. The skiing at the two resorts is what I would call complimentary. They both offer varying terrain with the best snow always at Sunshine. Dropping in for one days worth of skiing at either resort means you never get to learn the hill, and where the sweet spots are located. There is plenty of challenging terrain at both locations, and Delerium Dive or the Wildwest offer superior big mountain skiing at Sunshine. If you live in Alberta, you put up with the wild weather. We have had an unseasonably warm winter with severe winds this year, it has been totally bizarre. We are used to skiing in weather at -25 to -20, that isn’t particularly cold for here, so most locals would find you just unprepared. Bring plenty of layers if you want to enjoy the skiing.

    With regards to on hill lodges, most people fail to realize that skiing is in the National Park, and can not comprehend how difficult it is to develop or make improvements to hotels/day lodges without undergoing strict environmental reviews by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, so improvements are always very slow to come by.

    Almost all the locals would like to see Sunshine improve that daylodge, and Parks Canada will not give permission to Sunshine to build a daylodge at Goats Eye Mountain, you are lucky we have even a trailer lodge there, so development is always slow. Unlike Whistler which can develop as it pleases, without considering environmental effects, etc.

    I love them both but Sunshine is my favorite for consistent snow conditions, awesome lessons and varied terrain.

    Boo ya

    1. @Erika Complimentary is probably a good way to describe the ski resorts. I have to say though that as I get older I have zero desire to downhill ski when it’s really cold – cross-county, absolutely as I want to keep moving.
      You have made some good points re the lodges but I still really didn’t like the feel of the Sunshine Lodges and can’t imagine international visitors being very impressed. Great if you have kids and you live in Calgary – which I understand is where the bulk of the skiers are coming from. Would only consider skiing Sunshine on a bright sunny day. If it’s a grey day with flat light I’d take Lake Louise – and overall I’m still with Lake Louise.
      But that’s OK. There are lots of happy Sunshine skiers. Now about Norquay or Nakiska??

    2. You’re not a local you live in Calgary! A local is a person like me who has lived in Lake Louise for 15 years…… So why don’t you go ride COP and stfu

      1. @Marco Nice comment – great to say that when you’re anonymous isn’t it. You have a rather narrow view of what a local means- and you could stand to learn some manners. Opinions are just that – opinions and we are all entitled to voice them in a respectful manner.

    3. completely agree… i love both mountains, am incredibly grateful for access to your glorious country’s skiing, which i think this area stretching sunshine to red mountain cannot be beaten (you can keep whistler, sun peaks, big white… i’ll take louise, revy, red, panorama or kicking horse any day!)… also, the environmental impacts and limitations are real, and i’m ok with that.
      as an australian visiting here, i feel so welcome, fortunate, and genuinely in awe… things haven’t changed much in 20 years, and i’m grateful for that. louise is almost exactly the same as it was last time i was here (including an instructor, pat, who’s been here for 24 years!), and it’s still wonderful, memorable, and worth returning to.

  2. That powder looks attractive even to a non-skier. Im impressed that you did them both. Wonder why Lake Louise attracts the more mature and international crowd?

    1. @Marcia Sunshine is that much closer to Calgary so for families it’s easier to get to. Lake Louise has some lovely hotels including the Relais & Chateau Post Hotel and that certainly attracts a different clientele.

      1. So whats the better of the 2 for scenery. This coming Feb 2015 well be my first time in the mountains for skiing.
        Might do 2 mountains or whatever in the one week im there.
        Any opinions? Which is better etc.

      2. Lake Louise is my choice for skiing & it’s mainly because of the layout which in my opinion, offers much more than any other mountain in Alberta.

        I also ski Marmot @ Jasper but it doesn’t compare at all to what Lake Louise has to offer.

        Yes, I know they’re are people who will disagree but this is my opinion on what ski hills I would choose. Haven’t skied Fernie yet but I understand it’s great in March with plenty of snow.

        1. @Mike I am planning to ski Marmot for the first time in February and am really looking forward to it – as much for the scenery as anything else.
          I have skied Fernie many times and it’s great if it’s not raining – the biggest problem I think the resort faces.

  3. I agree with Erica that they are complimentary. I’ve skied both for about 20 years, here’s my opinion.
    The front side of Louise is more often than not a treacherous sheet of ice. It gets too much sun, not quite enough snow, and gets warmer than Sunshine due to the lower altitude. The back side has some amazing terrain, especially off the Summit Platter lift. The Paradise chair has some nice moguls and some fun trees if you know where to go. I find Larch overrated (flat light, icy, runs seem to be oddly angled) unless you hit the glades off tower 12 or have nice snow in the rock garden. The Hidden Bowl is really nice when it dumps. Like any place, if you know where to go, it is great.

    Sunshine is a weird mountain for sure. The runs off Angel always seem to have a lot of flat spots so snowboarders beware. (not a big deal for skiers with poles). They also tend to go downhill at an odd angle so you never really feel like you are moving in a straight line. Goat’s Eye has fantastic glade skiing and some of the best double-black runs I have skied anywhere. True, the top is a windy area but it is a small price to pay to ski Hell’s Kitchen or Goat Glades. Stampede and those other runs on the side have knee-deep powder quite often and are rarely skied out as long as it has snowed fairly recently. Sunshine also has the extreme runs that require avalanche gear – and they are superb!

    In just a few words, I’d say Sunshine usually has better snow isn’t nearly as icy, and has better advanced terrain. Louise has more varied terrain, longer runs, and is more snowboard friendly.

    As far as the lodges are concerned, I don’t go to ski hills for the lodges — even when vacationing. I go to ski! (and Erica is spot-on about not being able to build in the national parks)

    You asked about Norquay and Nakiska…I think Nakiska is a great family hill and great for ski racers. It is not a good hill for pretty much anyone else. Norquay is a gem if there is snow but they get a lot less than Sunshine and Louise so you have to pick your day carefully. Norquay also has one of my favourite mogul runs anywhere.

    What all of these hills have is that super dry, fluffy snow that you just don’t get west of Revelstoke. Whistler is a lovely hill but my experience with the snow has been anywhere from heavy to cement-like, though it is always plentiful! (Same with Mt Baker and even Fernie and Whitefish)

    I urge you to give Castle a try if you haven’t already done so. Terrible lifts but when it gets a dump, there are few better places to be. Face shots on every run!

    My personal favourite hill is Revelstoke. Kicking Horse is likely second. Too bad the drive to Revy is so long.

    1. @Mike Thanks for your great comment. I have actually been thinking of Castle & Kicking Horse this year as we have yet to make it there. I love Fernie when the conditions are right but hate how much it rains there. Agree that Lake Louise can get extremely icy but think it’s location is beautiful. Trying Sunshine again next week after a hiatus of several years and hoping this time I can see as last time it was so cloudy that once you got high on the mountain you lost all sense of balance with nothing but white. Haven’t tried Nakiska and I’m afraid I’m not a double black person so I don’t like the bumps at Norquay though could see the appeal for mogul lovers especially on Twoonie Tuesdays.

  4. Wow! This was an awesome article with some great discussion afterwards. Thank you for posting this. My partner and I are coming up in March of 2016 (first time!) and staying in Canmore. We have three days to enjoy Banff, but have had trouble deciding on which resort gets one day and which gets two. We are both advanced skiers, but lack significant powder experience as we are from Vermont. We are beyond excited for above tree skiing and are hoping we get a day or two in the white room! Anyways, would you be able to give us a suggestion or additional links about which resort would offer better terrain? Thank you so much, can’t wait to get out there!

    1. @Kane My honest opinion is Lake Louise is the better one – nut I’d wait till you’re on the ground and make the call based on snow conditions. I did love staying up at the hotel at Sunshine Village last year. That’s a treat.

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