Words by Amanda Timm
Have you ever seen a spaceship type contraption rocketing down the ski hill at light speed? I’m Amanda and that’s me. I grew up skiing at SkiBig3 resorts from the young age of two. But in 2011 I had a freak accident that left me paralyzed from the chest down. I then had the special honour of coming back to SkiBig3 resorts just 10 months after suffering my spinal cord injury and relearning to ski, but this time in a sit-ski with the help of Rocky Mountain Adaptive,
While there can be a lot of barriers to accessing winter sports as a sit skier, this guide will help you navigate the SkiBig3 resorts more easily. Plus, for those new to the sport or in need of gear, we’ve even included tips on how to get started. Here’s what you need to know about getting around the SkiBig3 resorts from a sit skier’s perspective.
Gear and Lessons
Rocky Mountain Adaptive is based out of Banff Sunshine Village and it will change your life. Whether it’s the first time you’ve ever tried an adaptive sport or you’re a pro ready to take it to the next level, they are there to help. From one-on-one first time lessons to elite race coaching, Rocky Mountain Adaptive has any equipment you need to get outside. This is key – if you’re travelling or don’t own any equipment yourself, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying all SkiBig3 resorts. They will set you up with equipment suited to your needs and make sure you know how to use it. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying fresh mountain air (and pow shots) on your face!
SkiBig3 Lift Tickets
SkiBig3 lift tickets provide direct-to-lift access to all three ski resorts in Banff National Park – Banff Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt. Norquay. If you’re visiting the destination from out of town, getting your lift tickets is easy. By ordering three or more days in advance, your lift tickets will be ready for pick-up at your hotel’s check-in desk or concierge upon arrival and will reduce the need to navigate to on-mountain ticket windows. You can also head to the SkiBig3 Adventure Hub on Banff Avenue to purchase or pick-up tickets in the town.
BANFF SUNSHINE VILLAGE
Getting to Sunshine
Sunshine Village is by far the most accessible fully prepared resort for any need you might have. As soon as you drive up, you drive past the main parking lot right up to the side of the base lodge where you can find accessible parking spots. From there, as you enter the lodge you can find an elevator that can bring you to locker rooms, the ticket counter, accessible washrooms, and any snacks you might need to keep you fueled for the day. Once fueled and ticketed, it’s time for the gondola. Sunshine Village gondola is used to every accessible need there is, as soon as you roll up, the staff are very open about asking your needs. You can ask for the gondola to be stopped, slowed or full speed ahead, they will then help make sure your equipment is loaded/unloaded if you’re bringing your own. The same goes for any lifts you might have once your up and skiing.
There are two lodges you can use while skiing at Sunshine Village. The main Lookout Lodge in the village is ramped and ready to go. Downstairs you can find washroom facilities, dining, and gift shops. Unfortunately, you cannot get upstairs, but if you brought your lunch you are more than welcome to eat in the main downstairs dining area. Goat’s Eye Lodge can be more tricky. Later in the season it usually has a flat entry to get in because the snow builds up. However, in the early season there are a few steps to get in. There is also a step to get into the washrooms. Sunshine Mountain Lodge also holds a couple of hidden areas to eat which people often overlook. You can also find accessible washrooms in Sunshine Mountain Lodge. Getting over to Sunshine Mountain Lodge itself can be tricky, though. Lastly, the all famous Mad Trappers Smokehouse in the main village. This lovely Smokehouse is full of steps but during the Spring Series concerts, they have a massive fenced off area with music and chairs. This is the most ideal time to enjoy a nice beer in the sun.
- Lookout Lodge in the village doesn’t seem far from the top of the gondola, but wheeling through deep snow on a powder day can be very difficult. Try to use any amenities you
may need at the base lodge before heading up on the gondola. At lunch, get someone to push your chair over to the lodge so you can ski over and get into your chair there.
- The mid-station gondola only has a ramp on the uphill side. If you wanted to get off halfway up or get back to the top from mid-station, it’s straightforward. But if you wanted to take the gondola down from the mid-station, you have to ride the gondola back up and then down.
- When you’re ready to leave, you have the choice of taking the ski-out or taking the gondola down. If you want to take the ski out and are worried about getting your chair down the hill, don’t be! Just ask the lifties to send your chair down to the bottom or the mid-station and your chair will be waiting for you when you get there.
- Fourth, just avoid Goat’s Eye Lodge, it’s a hassle.
Getting to Norquay
Norquay is always a lovely surprise because any day you go, it never seems busy. As you drive up, drive straight towards the lodge, in front of the lodge by the trees you can find accessible parking spots. Norquay is amazing because you can either get ready right at your car or roll 20 feet up the ramp into the Cascade lodge. There are ramps everywhere at Norquay, there are ramps at both ends of the ticket office building and a ramp going to the rental shop. Norquay being smaller makes it very easy to get around by either wheeling or sliding from building to building and remember Norquay has the best views of Banff.
On the main floor of the Cascade Lodge, you can find everything you need. There are accessible washroom facilities, food for purchase, plenty of space to bring your own lunch. There is even a little shop carrying every winter accessory you need in case you forget anything. While the Lone Pine pub is upstairs, unfortunately, there is no elevator to get up there. However, you can order off the menu and ask them to bring food down for you.
- If you’re heading up to the hill in the morning, be sure to stop at Juniper Bistro which is right at the turnoff for Norquay. It has the best breakfast in the Bow Valley and it’s on the way to the ski hill!
- Night skiing at Mt. Norquay is amazing! It’s the only hill that has lights at night so you can continue skiing after dark. If you’ve never skied at night, it’s a must. There is only one lift running and it’s a blast!
LAKE LOUISE SKI RESORT
Getting to Lake Louise
Driving up to Lake Louise Ski Resort, you can find accessible parking by heading past the Lodge of Ten Peaks, past the drop-off zone, and past the electric car parking where you will see accessible parking beside the fence. This is the perfect location because there is a marked stairless route that directs you to the main floors of both the Whiskey Jack Lodge and Lodge of the Ten Peaks. You can find lift tickets, accessible washrooms and dining amenities on the top floor of these lodges.
There are also tickets and retail stores that are found on the bottom level of the Whiskey Jack Lodge, however, the only stairless way to get here is by going around to the front of the lodge (the side that faces the lifts) and accessing from the bottom. Because this snowy adventure can be more difficult and time-consuming, I suggest just using the main floor. The best part about Lake Louise Ski Resort is car-to-lift access. Once you have your tickets and are ready to ski, go back to your car and get right into your sit-ski from your car. To get to the lifts all you have to do is ski down the small hill and you’re ready to go!
Aside from Whiskey Jack Lodge and the Lodge of the Ten Peaks at the base of the mountain, there is also Kokanee Kabin which does have a few steps going up to the patio. The best time of year to enjoy the Kokanee Kabin is in Spring when the patio expands to the snow and you can grab a lawn chair, a beverage, and enjoy the warmer weather. Halfway up the mountain on the front side, there is also the Whitehorn Lodge. This lodge has a flat entry and washrooms but if you’re like me and require a wheelchair, it’s not easy to bring as you then have to ski down with it. The same situation goes for the Temple Lodge on the backside. It’s easy to get in, get to washrooms, and get food, but getting a chair there is more difficult.
- If you are like me and require a wheelchair, stick to the lodges at the base of the mountain. They can be a little tricky to navigate because there are multiple places to eat but sometimes there are multiple stairs in your way. All staff are amazing though and you can order food and ask them to bring it down the stairs for you to eat in a different accessible location.
- As a sit-skier, gondolas are harder to manage than a simple chairlift. You don’t need to worry that you are missing out by not taking the gondola, you can reach all terrain at Lake Louise by taking chairlifts, it’s just more scenic of a route to take chairlifts rather than the gondola.
So there you have it, folks! If you’re a sit skier, have a sit skier in your life, or are considering trying it out, SkiBig3 should be on your winter bucket list. Need assistance sourcing accessible accommodation in Banff and Lake Louise? The vacation specialists at SkiBig3 can help to source and book the perfect lodging and room configuration for your individual needs, give them a call at 1-844-754-2443.