“Trapper” Jerry Kernen, the 93-year-old local legend who’s been skiing Sunshine Village for the past three decades, simply tips his alligator-tooth cowboy hat and heads downhill when he’s hailed near the bottom of the Banff resort’s revamped Strawberry chairlift.
Behind him, the soaring windows of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge’s new west wing reflect the brilliant remnants of the afternoon.
This moment of contrast encapsulates the changes at Sunshine, as well as at Marmot Basin in Jasper, during the 2011 ski season. Together, the two Rocky Mountain resorts have seen more than $50 million in new development in the last decade, all while complying with strict Parks Canada regulations that favour conservation over expansion.
Indeed, Sunshine’s limited on-hill accommodations prevent what spokesman Doug Firby calls “mountain sprawl.” Most of Canada’s large ski areas — Whistler, Big White, Mont Tremblant and the like — are located outside of protected areas and have been able to grow aggressively, adding condos, hotels, shopping plazas and other amenities.
Sunshine, however, offers just one large day lodge, the aforementioned 84-room boutique hotel, and a single saloon — Mad Trapper’s, named after Kernen — once skiers step off the 4.3-kilometre-long gondola ride that connects the parking area to the resort’s nine chairlifts and 3,000-plus acres of skiable terrain. Fact is, for overnight guests seeking rows of souvenir shops and non-stop nightlife, Sunshine won’t fit the bill.
It’s the “Champagne powder” and jaw-dropping national park scenery that keeps Kernen and millions of other skiers and snowboarders coming back, Firby says. “There’s nowhere in the world that has this snow, these views, and we don’t make you wait in lift lines. It’s not a sea of condos up here, so it never gets too crowded.”
From the top of Mount Standish, the smallest of Sunshine’s three peaks, the panorama seems little touched by the hands of man. To the west, beyond a sea of alpine meadows, looms 3,620-metre Mount Assiniboine, which straddles the Great Divide separating North America’s continental watersheds. To the east, the valley cradling the resort winds toward Goat’s Eye Mountain, which nearly doubled Sunshine’s size when it opened to skiers in 1995. Lookout Mountain soars into the clear northern sky, providing access to the legendary Delirium Dive extreme-skiing area and a 15-acre terrain park.
Read the rest of the story in the Toronto Star
WHERE TO STAY
With its full-service Grotto Spa and locally-sourced Evergreen Restaurant – both of which can be enjoyed for free with enough Marriott Rewards points – the luxurious Delta Hotels Banff Royal Canadian Lodge is the ideal place to ease tired muscles and refuel after a day at Sunshine Village.