Exploring Banff – Part I

If you like to chase the sun when you ski, the Sunshine Village is your kind of place. With 3,300 of skiable acres for all skier levels, Sunshine has three faces — Mount Standish, Goat’s Eye, and Lookout Mountain — that offer all the good things a skier who loves blue bird days looks for in a ski resort. Plus, Banff offers a vibrant, eclectic downtown that rounds out this must-visit ski area, which also offers a smaller ski resort, Mt. Norquay, for those who like to mix things up.

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Florida ski club members, don’t miss this breathtaking area. Plan to register for the February 25-March 4, 2017, ski trip that includes 4 nights in Banff and 3 nights in Lake Louise. Based on a site inspection that the trip leaders attended, this first part of the two-part series offers highlights and insight on what to expect on the trip. Click here for Part II, which reviews Lake Louise.

Are we There Yet?

I won’t try and sugar coat it. Getting from Florida to Banff means a full day of travel. But I look at travel days as a great way to immerse into a great novel, catch up on movies, and just chill. In this case, the travel is SO well worth it, and you gain two hours because of the time difference, which means an early morning flight gets you to Calgary by early afternoon.

Upon arriving in Calgary and heading to customs I spotted the NEXUS lines, which looked tempting since they resembled Global Entry kiosks. However, upon making an inquiry to a security officer, I learned they are a no go unless you have NEXUS membership, which Global Entry in and of itself does not include. So, I had to proceed to the standard line with the masses. Wah wah. It took about 45 minutes or so to get through the line, which wasn’t horrible.

With customs cleared, it was time for the next leg of the journey – a 1.5 hour ride from the airport to Banff. I joined up with the other Florida ski club trip leaders and we headed west. The ride was surprising, with the first half looking something more like Kansas than the Canadian Rockies. We drove through mile after mile of prairie land, new housing developments, and even a CostCo before finally finding ourselves surrounded by majestic mountains and trees. Now, that’s what I expected to see!

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Fairmont Banff Springs

Checking Into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

fairmontOnce in Banff, we zig-zagged our way through the charming town, eventually went over a small bridge, and then veered left toward the Fairmont Banff Springs. As we drove along a tree-lined avenue, I could see the magical castle-like top of the hotel looming above the treeline. When we arrived, I could swear it was something straight out of Harry Potter. It wouldn’t have surprised me to see flying broomsticks pass in front of the stone facade.

The Banff Springs hotel dates back to the late 1880s as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels. Originally a Canadian Pacific hotel, the Banff Springs caught fire in 1926 and was rebuilt and reopened in 1929. Today the hotel, which became a Fairmont in 1999, has 768 guest rooms, a 27-hole golf course, 12 seasonal restaurants, up to 1,200 employees, and an incredible history. It’s like a city within itself!

room.jpgGetting to Know the Rooms

The standard room for the trip is the Fairmont Room, which is well appointed. We learned that every room is different than the next, which adds to the character of the property. While one may have a larger bathroom, another may have a larger closet. One may have an arched doorway, and another a bay window with sitting bench. There is no true guarantee on which one you will ultimately be assigned, but they are all beautiful and have the creature comforts to make you feel pampered. There is a Keurig machine with plenty of pods to warm the bones before hitting the slopes, water bottles delivered at turndown to rehydrate, and spa-like amenities. Just take note that this hotel was not originally built for skiers, so there are no extra hooks or coat racks for jackets.

It’s Cocktail Hour!

After we checked into our rooms, we all agreed we needed to unwind with a glass of wine. Off we went to the Rundle Lounge. In case you’re interested, I will digress for a moment. Rundlestone is the beautiful stone adorning the exterior of the hotel. The stone was named by the masons who originally quarried it from the base of Mount Rundle, which is one of the large mountains visible from the hotel. Honestly, when you are there, you have to examine the stonework. It is truly outstanding. Anyhow, the Lounge is part of the larger Rundle Hall, which also has a second floor that offers afternoon tea. The Rundle Lounge has a warm, cozy feel to it that will make it a great apres ski meeting point.

Later that evening we gathered in the Oak Room for dinner, which has storybook windows that open wide to take in the mountain views. The circular drive visible through the windows is actually the original entrance of the hotel, which is on the backside of the property. Mount Rundle can also be seen in the distance beyond the drive. Believe it or not, this photo was taken at about 7:30 p.m. Because of the northern geographic location, the days are long as you near summer. But that certainly won’t be an issue during ski season, when the days shorten significantly!

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Vantage Points

Regardless of what window you are standing in front of at the hotel, you are bound to have an impressive view of the mountains or the Spray or Bow Rivers down below the hotel. The River of No Return, a film from the 1950s that starred Marilyn Monroe, was filmed here.

Ghost Stories

As a ghost story lover, I particularly liked the stories of the ghost bride and Sam the Bellman. As the story of the ghost bride goes, she either caught her heel in the hem of her dress or it caught on the flames of the candles lining the stairway and she stumbled down the stairs to her death. Over the years, guests have claimed to see an apparition in a white dress or have heard music playing.

The other story is about Sam the Bellman, who had died of a heart attack in the 1970s and was found in an elevator. Apparently, a guest in the 1980s pointed to a picture of Sam and insisted that he had taken her bags to her room. Despite the hotel keeping meticulous records that identified which bellmen delivered bags to each room, there was no record of anyone taking bags to this guest’s room.

So if you believe in ghosts, you have as good of a chance to spot one here as anywhere, not to mention there are parts of the hotel that are somewhat akin to the hotel used in Stephen King’s, The Shining.

2016-05-03 18.45.58Hotel Dining

As a wine lover, I was pleased to see that the hotel has a wine store with local Canadian selections. It features daily tastings, though sadly I did not have a chance to indulge during this short visit. There is also a wine bar, Grapes, that offers charcuterie boards that can be paired with fine wines. This venue is a great option for a light evening meal or snack.

For those nights when you want a more hearty meal and don’t want to venture off the property, the hotel offers several dining options. For steaks, there is the Chop House. For Italian, Castello Ristorante is your place, and for sushi, check out Samurai.

In scoping out the breakfast options, we all agreed that the Castle Pantry is the most cost effective way to have a lighter breakfast before hitting the ski slopes. You can find a la carte items like quiche, hard boiled eggs, pastries, and oatmeal. A full breakfast buffet is also available at the Bow Valley Grill. Or, you can wait until you hit the ski slopes.

Apres Ski – Lederhosen are Optional

We particularly liked the Waldhaus, which is a Bavarian-style pub that also has a full restaurant on the upper floor. Although it is part of the Fairmont, it is detached from the main building. The views from the outside terrace of the pub are stunning. I almost expected to see bears ambling across the stream. Oh, and the beer is good, too! This is another perfect apres ski gathering spot.

 

Exploring Downtown Banff

If skiing is not your thing, or you simply want to take a day off, downtown Banff offers plenty of shopping, dining, and other apres ski spots. Wild Bills, Banff Ave. Brewing Co, Rose and Crown, Elk and Oarsman Pub, and the Maple Leaf are just a few. The town is a short 15-minute walk from the hotel, which is beautiful during warmer weather months when you can stroll alongside the Bow River and enjoy watching the rapids. Or, for a mere $2 (Canadian) you can hop on the ROAM bus that picks up right in front of the Banff Springs hotel and drops you conveniently on the main drag of town. I suspect this will be our go-to mode of transportation during the ski trip.

And, Finally, Sunshine Village Ski Resort

Getting There

sunshineSunshine Village Ski Resort is located 20 minutes west of Banff. A local shuttle picks up in front of the hotel and is free with your ski lift ticket. You can choose from seven shuttle times starting at 7:40 and leaving every 40 minutes until 11:30 a.m. When your ski legs have nothing left but to take you to an apres ski cocktail, you have five return options between 12:15 and 6:30 p.m. (info based on 2015 schedule). The hotel offers ski valet service so no need to schlep your equipment up or down the stairs each day. It will be carted to and from the storage area when you’re ready to use or store your equipment.

2016-05-03 21.45.13Know the Slopes

Offering 12 lifts, Sunshine Village sits on the Continental Divide so you can ski two provinces on a single run (take the Great Divide Express).

2016-05-03 21.45.18We had no time to ski the slopes on this trip, but we at least were able to ride the Standish Express and learn more about the three mountain faces from our guides, Bryce and Steve. By the way, I think we all agreed exiting a lift wearing sneakers is probably harder than skiing a black diamond!

Speaking of, expert skiers will appreciate Goat’s Eye Mountain with its double black diamond runs, and if you are even more daring, you can consider the two off-piste ski areas, Delirium Dive and the Wild West. Delirium Dive has been named one of the top 10 off-piste areas in the world. For those like me not quite ready for extreme skiing, there are plenty of blue and green runs on all three mountain faces. And, if you are a skier who wants to get in as many runs as possible, you can even ski back to the base rather than take the gondola. The Jack Rabbit Quad connects you to a long winding green run that lets you savor those last few moments on the snow before boarding the shuttle back to the hotel.

Ride the Teepee Town LX Express

Sunshine Village is the only ski resort in Canada to have a heated chairlift (as our very capable models are showing off below). The seats are heated, and the orange dome encloses the heat inside the chair.

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wifi.jpgFind Your Way

I was pleased to hear that Sunshine’s ski patrol is available on the mountain to give you the lay of the land. As mountain ambassadors, they have years of experience with the terrain and will even accompany you up the chair lift to point you in the right direction. And, staying in touch with your friends as you traverse the mountain is simplified by on-mountain WIFI!

To see trail maps, read more about the mountain and all it has to offer  visit the Sunshine Village website.

 

All of the information and pictures in this story are from the site inspection trip on May 3-6, 2016.

 


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