GCSA Sunshine Village
Our time in Canada was coming to an end. It was Friday morning and the AirBnB was booked to Sunday. But between the insane cold and the realization that it was near impossible to make it in one go from Field to Lakewood after a day of snowboarding, we decided to leave a day early. Friday would be our last full day of snowboarding, then we’d do the first half of the drive on Saturday, sleep somewhere on the way, then continue to Colorado on Sunday.
Where to go? We decided to brave the cold and go to Sunshine Village. We sort of needed to try it, once: it was as famous as Lake Louise, always mentioned in the same breath as the other, and we probably wouldn’t get a chance to see it again, maybe ever.
We woke up early and checked the phones. It wasn’t looking good and windchills of up to -40 were forecast. Fun fact: -40 is the only temperature that is the same on the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales. And it’s almost infinitely unpleasant.
We headed out. Same deal as the day before: the car started, but was almost unbearably cold. We drove off, fortunately to better road conditions. By the time we were in Lake Louise, we felt fine. Then we drove on, the hour it takes to follow the Bow River. Eventually, a sign said we should drive off and we followed one of those little roads to a parking lot.
Coming from the giant lot at Lake Louise, this thing seemed puny. Worse, there was no obvious overflow lot. I was glad we were there early, because I don’t know what we would have done if the lot had been full (especially at the temperatures). We got out and ready, but – boom! – we were missing a pair of boots. I had asked Tim to get them when we left, he forgot, and now I was in Sunshine Village without boots.
I was fuming like an idiot, thinking we’d have to drive back to Field, wasting 3 hours. Then Tim said, “Can’t we just rent a pair?” and I felt dumb (but happy). We booked a rental, but had to pick up the boots at the top. They had lockers on top, they said.
So we got into the gondola and rode up. We had a couple from New York in there that heard we were from Colorado, and they asked us about places to go. I was glad for the distraction, because the gondola ride is insanely long – I think a half hour. It’s absolutely breathtaking, suspended as it is in a narrow valley that even requires a sharp turn at one point.
We rode past Goat’s Eye Lodge, whose lifts were still closed because of the cold, and hit the main lodge.
Now, while Lake Louise sounds posh, Sunshine Village makes a living off it. There are two lodges on top, and somehow it feels like the second one was simply built because the first one was not luxurious enough. The second one, correspondingly, is the very definition of posh.
We sat down and had hot drinks and a pastry, trying to get our mind in snowboarding mode. I walked over to the rental hut and got the boots, which seemed at first to be painful. They turned out to be better than fine, and eclipsed the freaky expensive ones I had with me, Flow double boas that are a giant pain to put on and take off, and offer no benefit on the mountain over these.
The layout of Sunshine Village is unusual, which the long gondola ride already hinted at. There are two base areas: Goat’s Eye, with the corresponding lift that goes up the eponymous mountain (home to all sorts of steeps and dangerous rides, according to locals), and the main lodge, from which an array of four lifts fanned out. There are some additional lift: Wolverine gets you from Goat’s Eye to the main village and would have been a good choice on a cold, windy day like that. The famous Continental Divide chair had bragging rights because it straddled both the divide and the coterminous border between British Columbia and Alberta (something probably more significant to a Canadian than to us). Finally, the savior of my day, a bubble lift that was essentially parallel to the left-most base lift. This one had the enormous advantage of having protective bubbles around each chair, so that you were not exposed to the cold all the way.
We tried ourselves on the median lift, Mount Standish. It was billed to access black runs, but it was mostly greenish. The snow was nice – compacted by wind, but otherwise soft. The problem was the cold. It was so bitter, I could feel my lips freezing on the way up and the way down. By the end of the day, I had a chill burn that took weeks to heal.
We tried our best and then headed to the (expensive) lodge. But despite the cold, the mountain looked beautiful, and it was sunny. We took the lift up the main mountain, Angel, but the ride was absolutely unbearable. Part of it was that what looked like the summit was just a ledge, and the last section of the ride was particularly windy, particularly cold, and particularly unexpected. By the time we got off, Tim was done for the day, and I didn’t know what to do.
But then I figured out I should at least try the bubble lift, Tee Pee Town. I took the runs down that way and found, to my delight, that I could ride amazing snow all the way and make it down, only to have a very pleasant ride up again.
I continued doing this single lift for the entire afternoon, reconnecting with Tim at the appointed time. He had actually gotten out of the lodge on his own, continuing loops on the lower lift we had tried before.
We were absolutely in love with Sunshine Village. It’s an amazing resort with great runs for everyone. There are super steep rides that scare anyone, but also mellow green runs that are not absolutely flat.
The only downside is the eternal gondola ride, paired with another drive down the mountain road. If you can stay at the mountaintop lodge, I highly recommend.