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Banff Sunshine Ski Village Set to Open and History

Wax your skis because ski season is about to start in the Canadian Rockies for resort goers.

Banff’s Sunshine Village has posted an Facebook event page saying they’ll be open for business on Nov. 9.

The ski resort has been getting skiffs of snow over the past few weeks with more accumulation over the past 48 hours.


The first explorer that passed through the Sunshine area was Governor George Simpson of Hudson’s Bay Company. His party passed through the area in 1841 seeking new quicker routes into the Columbia District. His diary noted “Hole in the Wall” Goat’s Eye mountain and he left a blaze in a tree that has since been preserved in the Banff Natural History Museum. The next significant exploration party was the Palliser Expedition in the late 1850s; Mount Borgeau, is named for one of its members.

Everything changed with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway and its arrival in Banff in the late 1880s. Bill Peyto may have been the first person to bring real tourists through the Sunshine area. The eccentric Peyto was a trapper and prospector. He was also a competent guide, as his rugged life gave him the skills required to face the often harsh realities of nature. In the 1890s Peyto would guide tourists through the Sunshine Meadows to the base of Mount Assiniboine, the highest peak in the Southern Continental Ranges of the Canadian Rockies.

Some of the first recorded skiing in the Rockies was by Scandinavian axemen employed by the CPR on construction crews near Silver City (once a mining town at the base of Castle Mountain), who reportedly use handmade skis for hunting and to aid in their work.

By the 1920s, Sunshine Meadows had become a popular camping site. Pat Brewster, the youngest son of dairyman John Brewster, was the first to regularly bring tourists for overnight camping at Sunshine Meadows. This area was nicknamed Tee Pee Town on account of the many tents that overnight campers would set there. Upon reaching the top of the Tee Pee Town chair lift today, one is looking over the same Sunshine Meadows that were busy with campers those many decades earlier.

In 1928, the Canadian Pacific Railway built a log cabin lodge for the use of The Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies, a club of horse enthusiasts who were sponsored by the tourist friendly railway. This cabin was certainly not the first lodge built in the region (Bill Peyto’s cabin near Simpson’s pass was built more than 30 years earlier), but it is now the oldest building at Sunshine Village and is known as the Old Sunshine Lodge. Housing Mad Trapper’s Saloon and Bruno’s Bistro, the OSL is situated at the timberline above what was then known as Wheeler’s Flats and just below a vast expanse of high alpine meadows.

In March 1929, Cliff White and Cyril Paris, two local extreme sports enthusiasts, created a plan to use the CPR cabin as an overnight point in their ski trek over the great divide. Unfortunately they could not find the cabin that night and were forced to sleep in a dug-out in the snow. Upon waking in the morning they discovered that they had only just missed the CPR cabin. These two men were the first to ski what is now known as Sunshine Village.

In 1934 Jim and Pat Brewster leased the cabin from the CPR and began offering ski vacations. They bought the lodge in 1936. In 1939 they hired Swiss guide Bruno Engler as the first ski instructor. In 1941 a rope tow was built. The Brewster’s owned the area until 1951 when it was sold to George Encil, who also owned nearby Mt. Norquay. He added “Village” to the name and made numerous improvements including the addition of a “Ski-Kuli” lift.

In 1961 the resort was purchased by local Banff businessman Cliff White, Jr. and his wife Bev. Their vision has shaped the resort. Partnering with Power Corporation Resorts, they built the Sunshine Inn (now Sunshine Mountain Lodge), the Daylodge and opened up the slopes of the Continental (Great) Divide Chairlift. He ushered in the modern era with the opening of the first gondola, which replaced bus access to the ski area, in 1980,

In 1981, the resort was purchased by Ralph T. Scurfield of Calgary. Since his passing in 1985, his sons, Ralph, Sergei, and John have run the resort and made many improvements, including modern high-speed lifts and the opening of Goat’s Eye Mountain. The popular resort now hosts some 500,000 skiers and snowboarders annually over a ski season that stretches from early November to late May.