Alberta ski hill upgrades spurred by stiff competition

Several Alberta ski hills are renovating their resorts to improve the visitor experience and to try and keep up with competition.

'If you don't improve over time, you'll die'

Several buildings are renovated at Sunshine Village after this summer's flood. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Several Alberta ski hills are renovating their resorts to improve the visitor experience and to try and keep up with competition.

Both Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort spent millions of dollars this summer on upgrades.

Millions of dollars were spent purchasing new snowmaking and grooming machines at Lake Louise. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

"If you don't improve over time, you'll die. The world is not standing still," says Crosbie Cotton with the National Parks Ski Areas Association.

He says the biggest local competition is from hills in British Columbia and Montana.

A significant challenge is attracting skiers and snowboarders from outside of Canada. Cotton says the number of international visitors to the Banff National Park ski resorts is down 70 per cent over the last decade.

"Utah, Colorado — they're all competing very hard. Europe has had a few tough years, so it's really trying hard to get new visitors, there are resorts starting to emerge in the former east block countries, [like] Bulgaria. It's a really, really tough business," says Cotton.

Lake Louise gets $4M in upgrades

About $4 million was spent at Lake Louise Ski Resort to improve the slopes and amenities. 

Three new snow machines and groomers were purchased.

Several restaurants at Lake Louise were renovated this summer. (Kyle Bakx/CBC )

"It allows us to get more of the mountain ready for the customers sooner and quicker," says Dan Markham with Lake Louise.  "We can get more snow out so we're ready to go, more runs can open earlier in the season."

The restaurants in the Whitehorn Lodge and Temple Lodge were renovated, among other upgrades to services at the resort.

"I have the opportunity to travel around and ski a lot of different resorts," said Markham.  

"There is nothing I find personally more disheartening than going to a beautiful mountain resort and see fast food stores right in the middle of the resort or semi-trailers running down an interstate highway like many of them are in the United States." 

Sunshine Village recovers from flood damage

Many of the changes at Sunshine Village are a result damages from flooding in June. 

Several million dollars of damage was caused to the base area of the resort.

"It forced us to basically remodel buildings, replace signage, rebuild the parking lot, stairways everything," says Dave Riley, CEO of Sunshine Village.

"We spent four months doing that and we're really happy to be complete with all that work. We think the ski area looks great now."

Future improvements

Both ski hills are planning further upgrades. Officials with Lake Louise say they are putting together a five- and 10-year plan to improve and expand the resort.

Any day now Parks Canada will decide whether to allow a new three-storey, 3,300-cubic-metre lodge at Sunshine Village.

The lodge would replace several trailers on Goat's Eye.

"It's a beautiful building we've designed," says Riley.  

"In our permit, it calls for us to provide world-class facilities. I think Canadians really want their national park to be fantastic when they come visit, and part of that is the buildings and facilities."

Pictured above is the new lodge proposed for Sunshine Village. (Sunshine Village)


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