How to have the best Christmas at Sunshine

Sunshine Village is a great place to ski over Christmas, whether you are coming just for the day or a visit of several days. Christmas is also among Sunshine’s busiest times of the year. In my role as SnowHost on the hill, one of my jobs is to help you have the best possible day up on the hill, every day you come. So in the spirit of Christmas, I offer this guide as to how to have a fantastic Christmas on at Sunshine.

1: Pick your days

If you can’t ride every day of the full holiday season (and you should, but not everyone can), there are much better days to come than others. I’ve been keeping records of my ski days since the late 1990’s and from this database, I can prove the following:

  • Christmas eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (the 24th, 25th and 26th) are always pretty quiet on the hill. These are great days to come to the hill. It always amazed me that this was the case, but it seems that folks (with kids, especially) stay home on Christmas eve and Christmas Day. I guess it’s the Boxing day sales that hold the crowds back then. So come on up riding those three days, and you’ll be impressed how quiet it is. Not only that, but Santa runs around on those days, too (he does rest on Boxing day, though).
  • December 27th the crowds arrive. My data tells me that the 27th is one of the busiest days of the year, certainly from the perspective of parking. It stays that way until December 30th, with crowds reducing each day up till the 30th. But expect it to be busy these 4 days.
  • New Year’s Eve and especially New Year’s Day there’s a noticeable drop in the crowds. Folks gearing up for (and recovering from) the parties, I assume, plus the football fans who want to sit and watch TV and not ride on New Years Day. In addition, folks joining us for the holidays are getting tired, or tend to fly/drive home starting then, so the crowd thins significantly.
2: Get here early on the busy days
It will make a ton of difference if you are planning on riding on the 27th-30th to get to Sunshine EARLY. Be in the parking lot by 9, or better, be there by 8:45. If you can’t arrive until 11:00 those days, I advise you park in Banff and take the shuttle bus in. Arrive late and you’re on a parking shuttle anyway, so the bus from Banff is just a hair longer.
3: Ride on the busy days to avoid the crowds
If you are coming on the busy days, there’s a way to maximize your vert and make it feel like the crowd is less than it really is.
  • Start you day riding Goat’s Eye and Wolverine. Stay there until noon. You get a shorter gondola ride in the morning, no chair line ups until 11. Yes, you’re in the morning shadows, but you will get a lot of riding in before lunch. Getting tired from the long runs on the Goat? Wolverine is your saviour.
  • Ride down the ski out to Creekside for lunch. Because crowds are always small down there even on busy days, and the food is awesome, it’s a nice place to have lunch. The ski out is also really fun when there’s no one on it.
  • Ride the upper mountain (especially Divide) after lunch, as the crowd is heading down to Goat’s Eye.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Trapper’s, the Chimney Corner, the Lookout, the Alpine Grill and the Burger Bar. But you will find crowds on a busy day at all of those, but not at Creekside. You can also get season’s pass and Sunshine Card discounts on food at Creekside.
And another idea: when you get to Creekside, why not drop off your board(s) for a quick wax job while you’re having lunch? The repair desk, inside the rental shop exit, can usually turn them around in an hour while you eat. If it’s cold, the snow get really sticky — unless you have the right wax.
4: Take a lesson
Many of our Christmas guests don’t get to ride that often. The better you can ride, the more you will enjoy your day — and it’s tough to get better if you don’t ride that often. Sunshine has a great ski and snowboard school and wonderful instructors. Their lessons are as short as 1 hr tune ups, or as long as multiple day programs. Big crowds on the hill don’t necessarily mean crowded lessons, and lessons always skip any lift lines. Take a lesson, no matter your level of skill. You’ll ride better for it. Ask about lessons on arrival at the ski and snowboard school desk on the 2nd floor of the Creekside building.
5: Ride where the crowds aren’t
Once you have taken some lessons, and can solidly handle dark blue runs (like Scapegoat, or Piste Blue) and light black runs (like Rolling Thunder, Ecstasy or Jerry’s Run) kick it up a notch and challenge yourself with the runs on the mountain that are always crowd free, like:
  • Upper Standish Face, which is the entire face above Jerry’s Run. Follow the lift down a few towers then drop down.
  • Laryx, which is the last run before the boundary fence leading from the top of Standish to the top of Strawberry or the base of Divide. Very steep, but under skied.
  • The whole Boutry’s Bowl face anywhere skier’s right off Strawberry. Under utilized powder in easy trees.
  • Bye Bye Bowl. If you’re worried about it, ski half way down South Divide and then cut left. You can see Bye Bye Bowl easily from the ridge above Piste Noir/Piste Blue/Red 90. Not recommended on a foggy day.
  • Paris Basin. A bit of a skating grunt from Wawa, worse since they stopped building the Paris Traverse. Always keeps powder, especially so the further right you go, and the grind along the traverse keeps the crowd way down. Caution: the exit takes you to either Waterfall (a narrow, steep bump run) or Birdcage (a wider, steep bump run).
  • Packers and Pilgrims, dropping into the base of TeePee chair. Now that TeePee chair is heated and has bubbles, it gets busy on colder and windy days, and more traffic generally heads down the Barner’s Bowl accesses. But Pilgrams in particular is world class quiet, and even though it is a green run, it’s a sweet trail down through the forest.
  • Everyone loves the Bunkers on Standish. But stay farther left and ride Borderline and Creek Run. They may be green, but they also hide powder stashes, and many people don’t ride them.
  • Depending on conditions and what’s open, the best part of Goat’s Eye that I wrote about here and here. Just watch the entrances!
All of these will keep you away from crowds on the hill even if you find the lift lineups. Follow this advice, and your Christmas at Sunshine will be a merry one!