When you overnight at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, you can make first tracks in the morning. Or, if you wake up late, like me, and barely manage to get out of your room by the 11am checkout time, you’ll discover that you can still get a breakfast croissant at Java Lift. With enjoyable midday temps.Added bonus to sitting outside? The mochas here come with marshmallows.With the lift for Mount Standish just ten steps away, it seemed like a natural choice for the first run of the day. At the summit of Mount Standish, the clear view of the BC Rockies made our mission clear: it was a bluebird day to ride the provincial border.Turns out there’s a lift for that.As you ride up, you cross into British Columbia — the Beautiful, as their license plates say.Two towers later, you’re safely back in Wild Rose Country.These are our Alps: the Canadian Rockies.Without the drive to the hill or the gondola ride to the lifts, a half day felt like a full day. It also felt like it deserved a few beers, which, as you know, are my favorite thing to imbibe at Trappers Saloon. Or outside Trappers Saloon. A relaxing ride down Banff Avenue (a green run, although downloading on the gondola was also an option) would reunite us with our luggage at the base lodge. And with the massive snowstorms lately, the skiing should be just as satisfying right through closing day on May 19.
After a day on the slopes, should you choose to forgo your option to go home and stay at a Sunshine Mountain Lodge fantasy suite (apologies to both The Bachelor and the Lodge) … first you tub, then you dine. The hotel claims they have the largest outdoor hot tub in Banff, but I would go even further and say it’s probably the biggest in the province. With the admirable masonry of the high stone walls to block the wind, bring a brew (in a can, not glass) and sink in.After you towel off and slip into something less waterproof, there are several dining options to choose from. If you’re feeling rowdy, you can walk 20 steps from the hotel to Trappers. You can enjoy casual fare inside the Lodge at the Chimney Corner Lounge and Sports Bar. Or you can upscale your evening to the more formal Eagle’s Nest Dining Room, where the chef will start you off with an amuse bouche. We split the Caesar Salad on the excellent advice of our excellent server (Aussie, of course, like almost all the staff here), because it would have been too much for one person, if you’re intent on several courses. It had just the right amount of dressing (over-saucing is a constant dining concern for me) and an added touch of crisped pancetta.This is my Pained Blogger look as I take a shot of the Dreaded Food Porn. Normally I try to avoid it. There’s nothing I hate more than whipping out my camera during a meal. It’s just so rude! Plus my Venison Osso Bucco (incredibly tender and tasty) and Risotto is getting cold. But at the Eagle’s Nest Dining Room, the food takes center stage. Except for the lovely log beams, the room itself is not the ultimate in ambience. It doesn’t detract from the experience because the service and the food, which are top-notch, are what it’s all about. Except for when you desire a dining photo that doesn’t scream Food Blog 101.For dessert, we decided on a change of scenery, and our waitress kindly accommodated. This is when I realized the Chimney Corner Lounge is called that for a reason. The focal point of this classic ski-lodge lounge is the enormous chimney. Another intimate sitting area with a separate fireplace sprang from the same rocked-in chimney to our right. I was going to check out the other sides to see if there were even more fireplaces, but then I got too comfy, sated with the most incredible piece of chocolate cake. It could be the walnuts that made it so delicious. Or perhaps the vanilla creme on the side. I was also dazzled by the spotlight illuminating the deer so perfectly. Please excuse the lack of full reportage of the chimney situation.
Time to roll on back to our room to get a good night’s sleep for the ski out tomorrow.
After drooling over it all day from the chairlift, we finally got to see the inside of our premier room in the new West Wing (important info to remember if you book, since the main lodge rooms aren’t as new). In case you need it, there’s also a queen Murphy bed efficiently hidden beside the sitting area. The bedding was super-comfortable on the main bed.I’d call the bathroom decor rustic modern… … with products that stressed that the hotel is eco-boutique luxury lodging. Hard to tell with the slightly wack perspective going on here, but the item on the right is lip balm. Nice touch since Banff is possibly even drier than Calgary, which seems to have the driest climate in North America. Even nicer, not pictured, is the HUMIDIFIER THAT COMES WITH THE ROOM. Had to do all caps there because I believe every hotel in Alberta should offer this, but usually they don’t. Buen trabajo, Sunshine Mountain Lodge!The Lodge offers ski lockers but we didn’t quite make it there. Hopefully we won’t get in trouble once these photos go up. Look how careful we were not to scratch anything, SML! Especially those lovely heated floors.View from Room 105.You can also see the main part of the lodge with the restaurants. The hot tub is hidden below the stone wall…… which poses the challenging apres-ski question of the day: hot tub first? Or cheese plate by the fire? The fromage was just too tempting. But one small quibble as I nibble: the super-eco gas fireplace had a timer that automatically turned it off after ten minutes. I agree it should have an auto shut-off at some point, but how about twenty?
Sunshine Mountain Lodge is the only ski-in, ski-out accommodation in Banff National Park. The easy button starts from the moment you pull up to the base lodge, bypassing all the day visitors who’ve parked a mile away.Inside, there’s a comfy sitting area to organize your luggage. Yes, the leopard-print suitcase is mine. Changing rooms and restrooms are just around the corner. Once you check in at the counter, leave all your bags behind. They will be whisked up to your room at the Lodge.You’ll be smiling on the gondola because the only thing you need to worry about now is your snowboard or skis. However, FYI, you won’t be smiling if you attempt to check in to the hotel after the gondola shuts down at 5pm, since it’s the only way to get up to the Lodge. Don’t be late! Unless it’s a Friday, when you have until 10pm.After the 13-minute gondie ride, you’ll arrive at the heart of Sunshine Village. This is where the lifts to the ski runs are, and Mad Trapper’s Saloon, one of my fave mountain lunch stops in the world. The food there isn’t mind-blowing, but damn it tastes good when washed down with a Corona in the middle of a ski-day. If you’re not totally mesmerized by the magic of the unicorn eye on my Gnu base, you’ll see Sunshine Mountain Lodge behind me.Looking back from the Strawberry high-speed quad, you can see the Lodge is truly nestled in the Canadian Rockies, at 7200 feet.The Standish Lift goes right by the new West Wing of the hotel. From the chair you can see right into the two-story loft rooms, so I’d advise holding back on naked streaking up and down the stairs until the lifts close at 4pm.For Kendra Sonia, whose family bought the resort in 1981, Sunshine Village was her playpen growing up. She showed us some of her favorite runs, while kindly going slow enough so I could keep up. The Village is actually three mountains with 12 lifts and more than 3300 acres of skiable terrain. Riding with Kendra made me realize how much of the resort I hadn’t seen before, even though I’ve been here several times.Kendra even gave me some tips, which gave me the confidence to take the chair up Goat’s Eye for the first time. I offer photographic proof of my arrival to an elevation of 9200 feet.Just when my thighs and calves were starting to tremble, it was finally time to begin the apres. Next up, Room 105.
On Day 2 of our romantic retreat to Banff, it was beautiful — and almost unbearably cold. Suddenly, admiring the view from Room 1108 at Buffalo Mountain Lodge…… ,with its lofty timber ceiling, seemed more important than going snowboarding. Definitely more romantic. But you can only stare at the ceiling for so long. What’s a winter trip to Banff without a trip to the skihill? Even if it’s -18 Celsius at the base, not counting windchill? Surely there’s something romantic about facing frigid adversity together.At Sunshine Village, this snowboarder sucks back some nicotine to face the day. However, in keeping with the gondola theme of Banff Romance, I’m going to recommend heading into the building on the left. Located ten steps from the gondola, the base lodge has super-hot coffee and a nice selection of muffins and sandwiches. Which works out well, because the gondola ride is the perfect length to enjoy a coffee and a muffin.After the gondola, we opted to get on the Angel Express quad, which sails past the Bra Tree. Note to self: stock up on colorful skivvies before Valentine’s Day.It was a good day to be a panda. That suit had to offer some extra protection against the extreme cold.A sign helpfully reminds skiers that there are other, warmer places in the world. But it was time for Romantic Activity #4: Snowboarding. So I took a few runs in the name of love. Care to join us, Bono?With the lack of fresh snow recently, I was surprised to find the groomers weren’t icy at all. Even still, the ridiculously cold temperatures drove us inside after just a few runs. In the Day Lodge, I tried to re-hydrate, but the cashier wanted me to pay 25 cents for the paper cup. I didn’t have a quarter. I didn’t see any water fountains. The cashier took a hard line on my lack of coinage and refused to give me the tap water. Is that even legal?
Skiers paying $85 to ski Sunshine Village should have a free water option. Put out some jugs and plastic glasses, Sunshine.
A few days after this was posted, Sunshine’s Director of Sales & Marketing emailed me to say: “We have since followed up with our staff to remind this is NOT our policy.”
With a bad taste left in my mouth from the Day Lodge (literally!) we chose Mad Trappers for lunch (pictured above). Located in a classic old log-cabin near four lifts, it’s a wonderful place to get a beer and contemplate your next run. Even while you’re still wearing your jacket and toque. Because on a day like this one, there’s just no point taking it off.A few wisps of clouds marred my perfect view of the Rockies. Better stop taking photos and start riding. Because no matter what the temperature may be, any day spent on a snowboard is a good day!Back at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, even the roaring fire in the lobby lounge, with alcohol in close proximity, couldn’t keep me from…… Romantic Activity #5: Winter Hot Tubbing. The nice thing about this one is Buffalo Mountain Lodge has the hooks for your towels and robes inside a little room just steps from the tub. Very important when the temperature is still plunging.After a day facing the elements, the last thing we wanted to do was fight them to find dinner. Luckily the Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant at the lodge, allowing us to dine under beams untainted by nails. (Really! It’s an old-fashioned construction thing.) To start, we nibbled on the Charcuterie Board, a Banff bonanza of Elk Salami, Smoked Buffalo, Smoked Peppered Duck Breast and Wild Boar Pâté (to die for), among other things. For my entree, I had the rack of lamb, cooked just the way I like it, medium rare. Nice, but not mind-blowing. Next time I think I’ll try the Northern Caribou. The seared medallions of meat are a house specialty.
Of the three ski resorts in Banff, Sunshine is my favorite. Although since I’ve only been to Lake Louise twice and I’ve never skied Norquay, I have to admit I’m not really qualified to make this statement. But isn’t that the beauty of having a blog? The gondola takes you from the parking lot to the base of three hills. But at the end of the day, there’s more than enough snow to ride Banff Ave trail back to your car. In fact, today’s a huge powder day.Even though the clouds are obscuring the mega magnificent view usually to be had up here, Cookie’s got me covered. In Alberta, the sun always comes out at some point.Mix it up at the top of Mount Standish Express high speed quad. Do a few turns in British Columbia.Here comes the sun – I see some semblance of a shadow. And a white gourd — no, wait, that’s my Helli Hansen ski jacket. I am not down with this non-svelte silhouette. I gotta get a new jacket. But I’ve been saying that for years. Just avert your eyes and look at the B-Pro instead. Mmm… Gnu… Or that view of the Rockies! Meanwhile, you might notice there’s not much of a downward grade on this particular stretch of snow. At Sunshine, it’s good to bring a skier along so you can catch a ride by hanging onto one of their poles when you hit a flat spot. There’s a few of them here.Here’s another view to look out for at Mad Trapper’s Saloon. Just don’t let it startle you as you tilt your head up to take a swig of that midday beer. Built in 1928 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, you have to stop by this log cabin for lunch. Trappers makes a mean burger and it’s old-school ski vibe all the way. On the final day of the season (May 20 this year), the balcony is the best place to watch the Slush Cup. I didn’t fall! I was taking a break… … to take this photo. I can’t get enough of these Skittle-colored gondies. Luckily there’s still a month and a half left in the season. Next up: apres ski.