Sunshine Village, Banff
Rugged Rockies, kind Canadians and powder snow so light it seems as though you’re floating when you ski or board it. Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada is a dream location for everyone, newbie to expert, looking for something other than The Alps. With Sunshine Village as its champagne powder epicentre. “We soar through the forest, between the trees, while the light powder flies around our ears.”
I am atop of what inhabitants of the Canadian Rocky Mountains call a slope. This wall of powder with an average percentage of 50% carries the illustrious name Stampede. Next to me is Kendra a former competitive Big Mountain rider. I can ski quite decently, if I may say so myself, but this is a descent that leaves you in awe. “Is this even possible?”, I ask a little squeakily, but of course, that squeaking sound from my mouth is due to the Canadian cold affecting my throat. “Yeah, sure,” Kendra says, and she throws the front of his skis at a straight edge down the slope. Graciously, she descends in a cloud of powdery snow, beautifully lit up by the sunlight. A few dozen metres below she stops. “Are you coming?!”
The powdery snow is light, turning takes way less effort here compared to the deep snow in the Alps
I dive down as well. The powdery snow is light, turning takes way less effort here compared to the deep snow in The Alps. The slope is exhilaratingly steep, but I still manage to keep grip. I stop next to Kendra, panting. “You’re doing a good job,” she says, “But let me give you a few tips to take on the rest even easier.” I nod. “Do you have a bike? When you descend, keep your hands and your ski poles as though you were holding the steer of your bicycle. That way, your body centres precisely above your centre of gravity, making it easier to keep check of your posture, making sure it’s not too far back. Otherwise, you would make speed, and you lose control.
The slope is exhilaratingly steep, but I still manage to keep grip
That control is what it’s all about with these kinds of descends. That’s why you have to brake properly in every corner. Make sure that when you make a turn, the tips of your skis actually turn upwards towards the top of the mountain. That way, you break more firmly. Try again?”
It’s quite something. I have been skiing off-piste for years, but with these two seemingly simple tips, I take the slope properly twice. Love it!
I am in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Banff was founded in 1883, making it the oldest national park of Canada and the fourth oldest national park in the world. Yellowstone in the United States was a few years earlier, being established in 1872. Three construction workers from the Canadian Pacific Railway provided Banff with the status of national park. The men were laying tracks when they discovered a cave with hot springs. When Sir William Cornelius Van Horn, the president of the Canadian Pacific Railways, heard of the natural wonder, he hoped on the first available train and journeyed west. Upon arrival in what is now Banff National Park, Van Horn exclaimed, “If I can’t export the scenery, I’ll import the tourists.” Nowadays, those hot springs are still one of the most popular attractions in the park.
Big lakes, steep mountaintops alternated by glowing and flowing ones. Glaciers, vast ski resorts, icy planes, tundra, bears, moose. In Banff you find it all in abound abundance
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are breath-taking, and Banff is the heart of these Canadian Rockies, located on the border between the provinces Alberta and British Columbia. Big lakes, steep mountaintops alternated by glowing and flowing ones. Glaciers, vast ski resorts, icy planes, tundra, bears, moose. You find it all in abound abundance.
In Banff, covering an area of 6.641 square kilometres, you feel like a pioneer. Only the prairie schooner and the muddy road have changed into a roaring 4×4 and a clean highway. The breath-taking view is untarnished and untouched. Not hard to believe it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area lies about a ninety-minute drive from the airport of Calgary. KLM flies here daily. The flight to Calgary takes about 10 hours from Amsterdam. Seems long, but KLM’s inflight entertainment system makes time fly as fast as the aeroplane itself.
Along the Trans Canada Highway, you pass a few Wild-West-like villages. Okay, they hadn’t invented neon lights back then
Along the Trans-Canada Highway, you pass a few Wild-West-like villages. Okay, they hadn’t invented neon lights back then, but when you can ignore those, you find yourself in long lost times.
Banff, the town itself, is a real Canadian village. Nothing compared to a place in The Alps, but we didn’t come here for that. We’re here for a different winter sports adventure. And I am incredibly curious about that magic snow they call champagne powder around here. Legend has it, the best snow in the entire world. Light, intangible. The dream of anyone who ever dares to go off-piste.
The Canadian Pacific Railway provided Banff with the status of national park, when the men laying tracks discovered a cave with hot springs
Sunshine Village is by far the best ski-resort in the proximity of Banff. It’s situated at a stone’s throw from Banff. From Banff, you can reach the skiing area for free by taking a very frequent shuttle bus. The waiting times at the lifts are surprisingly short. Guests can freely use the ski guides. Try that in The Alps. They take little groups of skiers with the same skill level into the area. The perfect way to get to know the famous Canadian champagne powder snow.
In Sunshine Village, you can go skiing or boarding from early November to the end of May. In Canada, they do not count the slopes in winter sports areas in kilometres, but in hectares. Our guide Kendra explains, “At Sunshine, you can ski anywhere! Our team patrols the entire scope of our boundary.”
That’s what makes the snow of the Canadian Rockies so iconic: Champagne powder is drier and airier than regular snow
Sunshine Village is no less than 1335 hectares, or 13,35 square kilometres. The resort is stretched out over three mountains; Goats Eye Mountain, The Eagles and Lookout Mountain. 20% of the descents are suitable for beginners, 55% is average and 25% is extremely advanced.
The air is fresh, the snow is natural. We’re carving with speed as we enjoy the mountain vistas. We are on our way to Delirium Drive, one of the steepest descents in the world. We soar through the forest, between the trees, while the light powder flies around our ears. Meanwhile, you can encounter moose, deer, wolves, bighorn sheep, goats, various rodents and even grizzly bears. Weren’t it for a fact, of course, that grizzlies hibernate.
We glide over beautifully prepared slopes, rolling all at once with large decline. It is lovely calm on the slopes. When we arrive at Delirium Drive, we check our beacons and make the 200 m hike to the summit.
We soar through the forest, between trees, while light powder flies around our ears
What makes the snow of the Canadian Rockies so iconic? Champagne powder is drier and airier than regular snow. There is very little water in the powder. The snow in this area comes about at great heights where it is very cold, making it dry and light, not moist and heavy.
At the summit, Kendra dives in and I follow her. Skiing blissfully into Delirium. The powder snow melts in my nose and on my warm skin. Lightly jumping, we dance down, leaving behind us perfect eights. Banff National Park totally rocks, that’s my conclusion. And that powder? I still dream of it every night.
How to get there:
To get there, you first jump on a plane to Calgary. From Calgary, it’s an hour and a half drive to Sunshine Village. The drive is no punishment, but a true joy because you drive the beautiful Trans-Canada Highway, leaving you with the feeling of being in the Wild West, with amazing views of the Rocky Mountains.
Length of slopes: 200km, of which 22% beginners and 78% advanced.
Number of ski lifts: 29
Number of descents: 274
Longest descent: 8 km
There are three fun parks in the area.
Costs ski pass (3 areas, 6 days): 450 Canadian dollars, around € 320,-.