Over my university break week, a few friends and I headed to Banff, Alberta; our first time being and skiing out west! Three of us arrived on a Tuesday, with the other friend arriving on Thursday, before we all departed that Sunday. After having wanted to visit the Canadian Rockies since I was 9 (one decade ago!), this trip was a ‘bucket list’ type of experience for me! Fortunately, the week we chose benefited from some of the best snow conditions of the year, as 50-80cm (depending on the location), had fallen on the region two days before we landed, giving what the locals said were good conditions after a long snow drought. Unfortunately, extreme cold temperatures followed the snow, meaning that for three out of our 4 ski days, temperatures were in the -20s, 30s, and even 40s once the wind chill was factored in…
Despite the high prices of skiing out west, we were fortunate enough to have pre -bought special discount cards for both Lake Louise and Sunshine Village (the resorts where we spent two ski days each at), making the cost of skiing come to roughly 100$ per day, a figure cheaper than many east coast resorts!
On our first day, we decided to ski at Sunshine Village, a ski area known for its exceptional snow and high alpine environment/elevation, only a 20 minute free shuttle ride away from the town of Banff, where we stayed. 3 of the 4 in the group decided to bring our equipment over from Ottawa, as the cost of checked baggage ended up being cheaper than rentals every day, not to mention the fact that our equipment was familiar to us. After spending the previous arrival day exploring the beautiful town of Banff whilst exhausted with our 6am flight and adjustment to mountain time, we were eager to get on our skis. We arrived at Sunshine village to find that their lifts would be delayed by one hour due to the cold, so after waiting for an hour, we boarded the gondola for a 16-minute ride to the ‘base area’.
After a frigid ride, we were told the unfortunate news that only three of the smallest chairlifts at the resort were currently open, due to the extreme cold (-40) and poor visibility.
It was only until 3pm that two of the larger chairlifts opened, but more on that to come. A trail map showing the open lifts will be displayed below (keep in mind that the two large lifts in the upper right of the map did not open until 3pm):
We decided to start our day on the Wawa chair, a short, fixed grip quad chairlift, and despite being well-layered, we immediately started to freeze due to the long line that had formed beneath the chair, causing many lift stoppages. These stoppages doubled the 7 minute ride time, making for some extremely uncomfortable conditions. To make matters worse, my goggles started to malfunction. Despite having been treated with an anti fog cloth, the breath vapours from my heavy balaclava, in addition to the frozen fog in the air, led to condensation that instantly froze, rendering my goggles unusable for the majority of the runs. This meant that I had to constantly blow hot air on my eyes to prevent them from freezing! Nevertheless, we braved the cold and enjoyed a few runs on Wawa chair, enjoying amazing turns in soft snow, with some significant powder stashed in the trees.
After a warmup break, we headed to the Strawberry express lift, servicing mostly flat beginner terrain.
By 11:30, the Standish express chair (seen in the upper image) had started to spin, which was good news as the terrain serviced by that lift was much more interesting than what we had been skiing previously that day!
We did a few runs down the standish express, enjoying its steeper, mogulled terrain, which made for some challenging turns. Additionally, there were some stashes of powder to be found.
After taking a break for some (extremely expensive but tasty) lunch in the lodge, we headed back to the frigid cold, alternating between the Wawa and Standish chairs.
By 3pm, we were glad to see that the Angel express, a lift servicing 1200 vertical feet of upper mountain terrain, was open! Despite it being a long a cold ride, we were eager to ski some long groomers and steeper terrain, in addition to accessing the resort’s most famous chairlift.
This still image from my friend’s GoPro footage shows me enjoying a nice carve on what would usually be a steep and icy pitch in the east. However, I was eerily amazed that I was skiing on actually groomed SNOW!
We then headed to the above-mentioned chairlift, the TeepeeTown LX, Canada’s first and only heated bubble chairlift, which felt amazing on a day with terrible weather conditions! We ended up skiing the above black run, ecstasy, until this amazing lift closed at 4pm!
We then boarded the gondola for the long ride down, as we did not want to attempt the 15 minute long ski out run due to the cold!
Despite it being a frigid day with cold faces and eyes (the hand and toe warmers luckily meant that my hands and feet were not too frozen), we still had an amazing time on what I would consider the ‘worst’ of our 4 days of skiing!
We ended the day with a stroll through downtown Banff, and a nice bowl of much-needed pasta food from an Italian restaurant! The following three reports of skiing are to come!