May 22nd, 6 months, since the last Banff based ski hill closed for the 2016/17 season. That doesn’t sound very long to someone who comes for a ski holiday once a year, but to those of us who live and work in Banff over the Winter and ski 3-4 times a week, when the season is over it feels like an eternity to wait for the next Winter.
It’s always a fun but expensive time leading up to the ski season. Firstly, you need to purchase your season’s pass and can either choose to go for just 1 mountain at around $1000 or go for The Big 3 pass which is a staggering $1600. Suffice to say it’s a quiet time of year in town for the bars and restaurants as everyone is broke for a few weeks after purchasing their passes.
Any newcomers doing the season ahead also need to get all the gear which can be very expensive, but we are lucky enough to have the Banff, Canmore and Calgary ski swaps where you can buy second hand gear for a lot less. Once you are all kitted up and have your pass, doing a whole season can be relatively cheap per day as compared to coming for a week’s holiday.
This year Mount Norquay opened on Saturday the 4th of November, the first ski hill in Canada to open its gates to the public. I went up for a few runs on the Sunday, but they only had one of their shorter lifts open, so we didn’t stay for long. Lake Louise opened on the 7th and Sunshine Village on the 8th.
The sun coming through the clouds above Strawberry Express
On the 8th on November I was awake at 5:30am, like a child at Christmas, I was so excited for Sunshine’s opening day and lay awake until my alarm went off at 7:30.
Normally I get the free ski shuttle from the Fairmont Hotel but on that morning, I got a lift with my flatmate and his friends. I think everyone from Banff who had the day off or was starting work later was heading up to Sunshine Village.
After a 20-minute gondola ride I was back in the surrounds of Standish, Lookout and Goat’s Eye Mountains. It felt like I’d never left and many of the people I spoke to on the various chairlifts I rode that morning said the same.
Looking out over Sunshine Village and Wawa chair.
I started my day doing a few runs on Strawberry Express which is Sunshine’s beginner chair. It has a few greens and gentle blues to get your ski legs back after a long time away from the slopes. From the top of the chairlift you get an amazing view over towards Sunshine Meadows and the peaks surrounding Mount Assiniboine as well as Lookout Mountain where Angel, Teepee Town LX and the Divide chairs rise up into the clouds.
Moving on to Wawa, a more intermediate chair with long, wide blue runs and a few technical blacks I felt like I truly got my technique back as I powered down the hill executing short sharp turns over the beautifully groomed runs. I did about 7 runs off Wawa in the bright sunshine before heading down the mountain to the lower chairs.
Jackrabbit and Wolverine chairs are on the lower part of Goat’s Eye Mountain and have a variety of runs off them. I did a few of my favourite short black runs off Jackrabbit before cruising down the blues and blacks off Wolverine.
The crunching sounds of the snow being pushed aside by my skis, the whoosh of the chilly air on my face and the almost bluebird day was just what I was hoping for and Sunshine always delivers.
Jackrabbit chair and one of my favorite Black Runs.
By midday I was really starting to feel the burn so returned to the Gondola mid station and headed home.
Sunshine Village, like Coronet Peak in my native New Zealand has a special place in my heart. I have skied 14 different resorts in Canada, New Zealand, France, Switzerland and Bulgaria but Sunshine has the best snow of them all.
I know the mountain so well and spent so much time there last season. It’s a mountain with something for everyone and the staff are always so happy and friendly. My boyfriend learnt to ski there and one of my best friends even got married there.
I wonder what exciting things will happen at Banff Sunshine Village this ski season.