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Delirium Dive, Sunshine Mountain’s most extreme ski run, is not for the faint of heart. Photo: Dan Leeth
The lodge’s gondola is one of the world’s fastest. Photo: Jenna Scatena
The new wing’s modern design adds a plush touch to Banff’s rustic mountain culture. Photo: Richard Hallman
A guestroom in Sunshine Mountain Lodge’s new wing. Photo: Josh Robertson
Go North | Canadian Rockies: Ski, sleep, repeat
Go for: Perfect powder and a deluxe new wing at Banff National Park’s best ski resort.
Jenna Scatena | October 21, 2011
There’s no road connecting the base of Sunshine Mountain to the boutique ski lodge 2,500 feet up. Instead, a gondola whisks you above the pines as you watch skiers zip down the slopes below. Craggy, snow-covered peaks surround you. A drove of mountain sheep ascends the hill beside you. Fifteen minutes later, you’ve reached the summit and Sunshine Mountain Lodge, a woodsy chalet in Banff National Park connected to 107 ski runs. There are other resorts in the park, but Sunshine is the only ski-in, ski-out option—no long drives, no sitting in traffic. Life here is as simple as sleep and ski. You don’t want to have to share this.
Fortunately, you really don’t have to. Despite the resort’s popularity, its slopes feel like your own; rush hour at the lifts means a one-minute wait, if that. Plus, the resort boasts the longest ski season in North America, mid-November through May. (When Tahoe is turning to slush, Sunshine is hosting a ski party.) Book a room in the new wing—with walls and fireplaces constructed from local pine and limestone—for the 27-foot floor-to-ceiling windows with grandiose views. Ski lockers sit directly below, so you can wake, throw on your skis, and be the first to cut through the freshly groomed snow.
From atop the highest slope, Lookout Mountain—at 8,900 feet, the crest of the Continental Divide— jet down a five-mile run (yes, five miles), dropping nonstop from a world of white peaks into treeline, all the way to the base. Kamikazes can tackle Delirium Dive, one of the steepest double blacks in the Rockies. Jack Rabbit glides beginners through alpine meadows at a comfortable pace. Trailblazers have easy access to the “off-road” ski area: 2,560 square miles of pristine backcountry west of the lodge.
When you tire of the powder (or when your legs do), head to the outdoor hot pool or to the resort’s Mad Trappers Saloon, named after a 93-year-old Saskatchewan cowboy who still braves double blacks. Here, guests and ski guides share war stories, and chances are, an old-timer will get your ear. These Clint Eastwood types rattle off tales of encounters with bears and avalanche rescue missions and the region’s pioneering ski days, then interrupt themselves with “but that’s another story for another time.” They know you’ll be back.
In-town eats and drinks
Banff (pop. 6,700), a quintessential mountain town, has a surprisingly sophisticated culinary scene. At Maple Leaf, preparations of local wild game like air-dried bison, elk sausage, and duck confit show off the area’s expertise with charcuterie. (Complement dinner with wine from the Okanagan Valley, B.C.’s up-and-coming wine region.) The new Banff Ave. Brewing Co. ($13 gets you six five-ounce beers) is a local hangout where the malty charcoal flavors of the darker-than-Guinness black pilsner are best washed down with a seasonal ale. (Warning: The gondola stops running at 5:30 p.m., except on Fridays, when it runs until 10:30.)