For much of November, I was bogged down writing about what this upcoming ski season in Canada is going to be like. Finally, I got to experience it first hand. Three truly fantastic ski days later, I can attest epic ski days are indeed possible – even with all the restrictions. Here’s how to hack into a brilliant ski day during COVID-19.
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Sunshine Village Resort
As snowboarders, we’re pretty loyal to Banff’s Sunshine Village Resort. I’ve got nothing bad to say about the other ski resorts in Alberta. Being in the Rockies, you’ll find great terrain and snow pretty much everywhere. But when you live as close to the slopes as I do, it makes sense to get a season pass or at least one of those cards – like the Sunshine Super Card so you can get discounts.
Some resorts have eliminated walk up ticket sales, so you have to buy online in advance. If you’re just looking for a single lift ticket, you can still buy them in person at Sunshine. Still it’s better to buy online. If you get a mobile ticket (visit: store.skibanff.com) you’ll save $10 off the regular windows ticket price.
Normally we don’t ski too early in the season, but the snow in Banff has been crazy good since the end of November. In fact, I don’t remember it EVER being so plentiful so early.
You’ll find nicely groomed trails on all the open runs, but there are plentiful powder stashes, too. For a snowboarder this is pure gold. I felt like I was floating down the runs at Wawa and Wolverine. Sunshine Coast on Goat’s Eye mountain was even better.
Normally I’m not a black diamond skier, but when there’s that much powder it’s waaaay easier. My favourite run off the Wolverine lift (on Goat’s Eye Mountain) was to cut through the Terrain Park (loads of powder beside the rails), then finish off on Goat Chicken Gully – a Black Diamond.
When to go
When to visit the mountain and when to visit certain runs is the MOST IMPORTANT BIT. Despite it being blasted on social media, folks are still showing up around 9 am hoping to get a full ski day in. This is nuts – especially on weekends. The line up for the gondola can be over an hour long because they’re only loading parties who travelled to the resort together.
Once the parking lot at Sunshine Village is full, they’re at capacity. But there is away around this. Show up later. The earliest I would arrive would be at 11 am, but you’ll score rock star parking if you leave it till 12:30. Someone is always leaving at noon after burning out their legs on first tracks. We’ve consistently snagged prime parking spots and zero lines at the gondola when showing up at noon.
Gondola windows are now kept open. I thought I’d be freezing, but I wasn’t. It’s not like those things are heated anyway. My tip is to get off at Goats Eye Mountain and to ski there until 1:30 or 2pm on weekends.
Where to ski at Sunshine Village
Most folks head straight up to the Village. They ski Angel, Wawa, Standish or the beginner Strawberry Chair all morning. Then they have lunch at the Village, before doing a final few hours on Goats Eye, then the ski run out.
That’s all fine and good, but EVERYBODY does that. When it’s a crowded weekend or over the holidays, you’ve got to zig when everybody’s zagging.
So on a busy day, get off at Goat’s Eye. Ski there for as long as you can in the morning and early afternoon. You’ll find plenty of blue and green runs and the lift lines won’t be as long.
If we ever get back to opening up restaurants this season, you’ll want to aim for a late lunch – after 1pm, but 1:30 is actually ideal. We either take the Gondola up to the Village or get there via the Tee Pee Town chairlift.
This is the best lift on mountain. It’s a hella fast quad and has this plastic orange bubble you can lower to block out any wind. Anyway, Tee Pee Town gets you to the Village, where you have more dining options (more on that below) and uncrowded afternoon lifts.
Angel, the high speed quad in the Village with green, blue and black runs off of it is DEAD after 2pm – even on most weekends. It’s crazy. Great Divide is another high speed quad off the Village (get there from Angel) that’ll have you doing laps.
The busiest lift in the Village in the afternoon seems to be Wawa. That’s because it leads to Goat’s Eye Mountain and the ski out. Weirdly, most folks only hit it a few times before moving onto Goat’s Eye. If you keep lapping it, you’ll be hitting the chairlift from a different angle that has less people in it. It’s totally do-able – the longest we waited might have been five-minutes max. And after 3pm, this lift is also super quiet.
So you know how to navigate the mountain on busy (weekend) days. Come mid-week and the mountain is yours (not over the Christmas holidays though….). We tested this on a December Friday when Calgary schools were out. My Canmore neighbour warned us in advance. He’d already been on the highway and said there was an insane amount of traffic headed for the mountains.
Still, we forged ahead and… nothing. We arrived late morning, easily got parking in the first lot and there was a shuttle bus waiting for us (not that we needed it). It wasn’t busy at all. Sure, it was probably slighter busier than a random Tuesday, but nothing to be concerned about. We’ll be hitting the slopes every PD day from now on.
Face coverings are required at every ski resort in Canada. This an easy one because your neck warmer or buff will suffice. But… neck warmers slide. The lifties are constantly reminding hosers to pull theirs up. While buffs stay put better, they are quite thin, so on a chilly day, you may want to double up as I’ve been doing.
I recommend also bringing a regular indoor face mask. It’s just easier and more comfortable to hit the restroom wearing a dry, less cumbersome mask. And if you get into a restaurant, you’ll want to air or dry out your buff or neck warmer.
How to save money
Consider getting a Midweek Season Pass that’ll grant you access to the slopes Monday to Thursday at a discount. Afternoon Season Passes give you daily access from noon until the last chair. If you’re coming just for the day, check out their Midweek Mobile Lift Tickets and Afternoon Lift Tickets. Remember, you’ll score $10 off the regular window ticket price with the purchase of a Mobile Lift Ticket.
Tips to remember
- Map out your day
- Hit the eateries either early or late or bring your own (and picnic inside their massive tents)
- Bring an extra mask
- Work backwards and ski where others aren’t
- Consider booking into on-mountain accommodation. This way you’ll have a warm space whenever you want it and can order room service.