Last 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.
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 lots more trees at Lake Louise so it’s easier to get in the shelter of the wind. We 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.
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.
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. In fact years ago the chairlift ride up the Continental Divide Express took me for the first time into the province of British Columbia.
Both resorts have practically the same lift ticket prices.
The 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. It also has a great onsite hotel with well appointed rooms and a fabulous outdoor hot tub. There are several places with a 5-15 minute drive that you can stay at in Lake Louise, including the Relais and Chateau Post Hotel 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.
If you’ve been to one of these ski resorts which one do you prefer and why?