Interpretation and Education Strategy
The 2018 Site Guidelines direct Sunshine Village to develop an Interpretive and Education Strategy for winter and summer. This strategy is designed to inform and connect visitors to the natural, cultural, and historical features of the Resort, and its significance to the national park and to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Furthermore, the Long-range Plan is to be developed to ensure that all aspects of the Site Guidelines are realized and to give further details on the implementation of these guidelines.
The 2006 Ski Area Management Guidelines include the following principles to guide the preparation of Long-range Plans:
- Ski areas will contribute to a unique, memorable national park experience.
- Ski areas will promote public appreciation and understanding of the heritage values of the park and world heritage site and local conservation initiatives.
- Ski areas will be leaders in the application of environmental management, stewardship, and best practices.
Sunshine Village’s Interpretive and Education Strategy for winter and summer is molded from these guidelines, aimed at informing, educating, and connecting visitors to the ecological, cultural, and historical aspects of the resort. Sunshine Village’s intent is to inspire visitors to explore Banff National Park, while respecting the fragile environment and fascinating history of the area.
Sunshine Village’s strategy will address the following:
- A description of the key features of the area, and its significance in the context of the local ecosystem, the national park, the World Heritage Site and to Indigenous Peoples;
- Objectives for visitor education and engagement;
- Key themes, storylines and messages;
- Use of digital communication tactics including social media and website content;
- Use of non-personal (e.g., interpretive displays, print material, maps, signs, etc.) media to achieve objectives;
- Use of personal programming (e.g., orientation sessions, guided programs, etc.) to achieve objectives; and
- An evaluation program to determine the effectiveness of the strategy.
The strategy objectives contained within Parks Canada Management Plan align well with Sunshine Village’s vision. As a world-class ski area operator situated in an exceptional environment in Canada’s first and most popular national park, Sunshine Village has a unique opportunity to engage and educate visitors on the importance of alpine areas, the protection of flora and fauna, climate change, and the historical use and cultural values associated with the land we occupy. Sunshine Village is committed to the development of year-round interpretive and educational opportunities that compliment both Canadian national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site values.
Sunshine Village’s Interpretive and Education Strategy is guided by the following resources:
- Parks Canada Ski Area Management Guidelines
- Sunshine Village Ski Resort Site Guidelines for Development and Use (2018)
- UNESCO World Heritage Sustainable Tourism Toolkit
- Visitor engagement and feedback through Web Comments, TripAdvisor, and guest research.
The strategy is an integral component to the broader 2018 Site Guidelines. It not only defines what the objectives and key messages are in regard to visitor education and engagement but outlines how Sunshine Village can realize key goals of interpretative and educational opportunities both indoor and outdoor, year-round.
The key goals of this strategy include:
- Enhanced winter season interpretation exhibits and programs.
- Improving both the summer and winter guest experiences by adding increased information relating to historical and cultural / Indigenous perspectives.
Sunshine Village’s Interpretive and Education Strategy is emergent. The strategy begins by informing the Ski Area’s long-range planning and will evolve as components enter the implementation period. The strategy will adapt in response to emerging awareness of conservation priorities, engagement with key stakeholders such as Indigenous Peoples, and evaluative visitor research. The strategy will be reviewed and updated as required to support Parks Canada’s public education and awareness goals.
Sunshine Village Ski Area is located on the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies within Banff National Park in Alberta, and Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia. Both parks are listed within Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage site. The Resort operates within an alpine valley formed by the three mountains: Mount Standish, Lookout Mountain, and Goat's Eye Mountain. The diverse terrain includes Delirium Dive, named one of the top ten off-piste destinations in the world.
Family ownership and stewardship is at the heart of Sunshine Village’s history, from the first ski vacation offered by the Brewster family in the 1930’s to today’s leadership by the Scurfield family. Historically, prior to European contact, the area that is now Banff National Park, including the Ski Area, was home to many Indigenous Peoples, including the Stoney Nakoda, Ktunaxa, Tsuut'ina, Kainaiwa, Piikani, Siksika, and Plains Cree. Indigenous Peoples utilized the area to hunt, trade, travel, survey, and practice culture. Sunshine Village strives to recognize the Indigenous Peoples of Treaty 7 territory as the original stewards of the land.
Development from early ski operations into today’s iconic status as a world-class ski area is a much-celebrated story of ski pioneers, traditional alpinists, and modern athletes.
In the winter, Sunshine Village enjoys a seven-month long ski season from early November until late May, the longest non-glacial ski season in Canada, with an average of nine meters (30 feet) of snow annually.
The summer operating season provides visitor access to the Sunshine Meadows, a fragile alpine terrain situated at 2,300 meters (7,500 feet) where an extensive array of wildflowers bloom in July and August and the larch trees turn golden yellow in September.
Protecting the pristine alpine environment and the education of visitors are two key values that underpin the moral fabric of Sunshine Village’s history while striving to present and celebrate mountain culture. During summer operations, Sunshine Village shares the cultural history and natural biology of the area through thorough interpretative displays set up in the Interpretive Centre at the Centennial Day Lodge. During the winter months, the Resort utilizes local volunteers in their Snow Host program. These Snow Hosts act as guides around the mountain, greeting guests as they arrive to Bourgeau and answering questions outside the ticket windows, at the bus drop off areas, and outside the Centennial Day Lodge in the Village. Further, the Snow Hosts offer free, guided tours, which are a popular way for guests to learn the ski terrain available at the Resort. The guided tours also include educational and interpretive content.
As stewardship of this land has changed hands over time, careful consideration and planning has been undertaken to balance the development of the resort and increased visitation with the protection of this beautiful ecosystem.
Current Programming - Summer Visitor Experience:
Recognizing the early importance of an interpretative and education strategy, Sunshine Village, in partnership with White Mountain Adventures, a local outdoor adventure company, began offering guided hiking tours and educational experiences to visitors of the Resort during the summer.
After nearly three decades of a successful partnership with White Mountain Adventures, Banff Sunshine took over summer operations at the resort in 2016, developing a comprehensive interpretive program at the Centennial Day Lodge, while employing approximately fifteen Trail Hosts in the summer season. Trail Hosts offer guided hikes of the Sunshine Meadows and provide a vast amount of information on the history and ecology of the area.
Access to the Meadows transitioned from passenger vehicles operated by White Mountain Adventures to the existing 8- passenger gondola operated by Sunshine Village. The Resort is proud to offer visitors the highest lift-accessed sightseeing elevation in the Banff and Lake Louise area with 360-degree views of iconic Canadian Rocky Mountains, access to three pristine alpine lakes and a network of established hiking trails.
As most of the summer land use is located in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. BC Parks, along with Parks Canada conduct regular monitoring of the hiking operation and interpretive information, providing feedback to Sunshine Village. This trail monitoring assists Sunshine Village to ensure that summer operations at the resort do not interfere with the natural ecosystem.
Current Programming – Winter Visitor Experience:
During the winter season, Sunshine Village retains 60 volunteer Snow Hosts managed by two supervisory staff. The Snow Hosts greet and answer questions for all guests, as well as provide tours around the mountain. Many of these volunteers are locals to the Bow Valley and are able to provide information on the mountains, the history of the area, the background behind the lift names, as well as introduce guests to terrain around the mountain.
Sunshine Village works closely with Parks Canada to ensure that the winter sports operation has minimal impact on our environment. Guests have the opportunity to learn about these practices as well as the history of the mountain on the “Explore” page of the Banff Sunshine website.
Sunshine Village strives to offer authentic visitor experiences that encourage people to enjoy the resort without negatively impacting its ecological integrity, using observation, interaction, and education as a means of providing that protection. Experience indicates that education and environmental monitoring are critical forms of protection for the Resort’s terrain both in summer and winter.
Visitor Trends, Use and Expectations:
During the summer operational months, Sunshine Village’s visitors are mostly comprised of international, destination travellers although some regional and local visitation occurs. During winter operations, the visitors include a more equal mixture of local, regional and destination visitors.
Banff National Park and BC Parks are experiencing increased number of visitors annually, especially during the summer. Average visitation at the Resort for the 2017 summer was 33,000 guests . The 2018 and 2019 summer at Sunshine Village hosted 53,000 guests and 63,000 guests, respectively. Summer operations were suspended during 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and lack of destination travel due to border closures. Winter visitation has averaged approximately 550,000 visitors for the past several years.
The demographics of the summer and winter visitor are similar. About 1/3rd of the visitors are families. Visitors are split roughly equally between male and female. The greatest age segment is from 25 to 34. The majority of visitors are active enthusiasts who enjoy sport in the outdoors, winter or summer.
The current design capacity of Sunshine Village in the winter season is 6500 Skiers-at-one-time (SAOT), although the 2018 Site Guidelines contemplates increasing this number to 8500 SAOT. Summer visitation is expected to level off prospectively as there are no changes proposed for summer use in this Long-Range Plan. Winter visitation is expected to grow over the next five years but stay within the limits contained in the 2018 Site Guidelines.
Objectives and Key Messages:
Sunshine Village is committed to preserving and celebrating Canada’s natural and cultural heritage, working not only in accordance with the guidelines issued by Parks Canada, but striving to be a global model for multi-season sustainable tourism. Our objective is to enhance our current interpretive and educational resources, allowing guests to further engage and learn about Sunshine Village. Our key messages will focus on the history of the area, as well as communicate information about the ecology and environment surrounding the Ski Area.
Past, present, and future land stewardship:
‘History is an open slate, but to become part of it your story has to be told.’ Recognize and celebrate our history of land stewardship from the traditional Indigenous use of the area for travel and trade routes, to the guiding of tourists by Bill Peyto, to the first ski vacations offered by the Brewster family, through to the current owners and stewards, the Scurfield family. Indigenous groups will assist with the creation of this programming.
Protect your park: This second theme flows from the first - now that our visitors are educated about the past and present stewards of the Resort, we can educate them on how they play a part in the future protection of this special place. This theme incorporates environmental protection, personal and corporate responsibility, and conservation initiatives.
We all belong here: A strong theme currently underpinning the Resort’s interpretive program is a ‘sense of place’ whereby the Trail and Snow Hosts educate visitors on what they see before them, from the mountains, the wildlife, to the wildflowers. This can be broadened to impart an understanding that we all belong in this special place - the people, flora, and fauna. This theme speaks to co-existing and survival of ecosystems.
Future Program Concept and Message Delivery:
Sunshine Village is in an area with very important ecological and historical resources. It is important to emphasize these resources so that our guests can respect, understand, and gain a greater appreciation for the landscape and history that the Ski Area is immersed in.
Sunshine Village is committed to offering the most accurate and informative information to visitors of Banff National Park. In the past, the Resort has collected data from Parks Canada resources, as well as knowledgeable interpretive guides, who formed the basis for our current summer and winter programing. We will continue to use these resources, while also involving local Indigenous groups to help us deliver a robust, year-round interpretative program, with a greater emphasis on cultural history. A focus on the unique location between Banff National Park and Assiniboine Provincial Park will be emphasized, with a stress on the importance of sustainability.
The Banff National Park Management Plan outlines a vision, key strategies and objectives which will help inform the Sunshine Village Interpretation and Education Strategy. In particular, Key Strategy 2: True-To-Place Experiences will be incorporated into the communication and education initiatives outlined in this strategy:
National Parks provide exceptional opportunities for Canadians to develop a sense of connection to their natural and cultural heritage. The opportunity to be immersed in nature, history and diverse cultures while surrounded by true wilderness mountain landscapes is truly distinctive. Maintaining the authenticity and quality of this experience while ensuring that visitors understand its uniqueness is central to Parks Canada’s mandate. Visitor opportunities will be characterized by sustainability and responsiveness to diverse visitor needs and expectations. Activities and communications will be designed to advance understanding and stewardship of natural and cultural resources, encouraging all to share the responsibility of conserving these special places for future generations.
Messages will be communicated through several different platforms, including digital communication, non-personal media, and personal programming.
Sunshine Village provides informative and engaging daily social media posts through Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok, and has acquired hundreds of thousands of fans through these social media sites. Currently, the Resort’s social media presence in the summer and winter is utilized to further educate the public on the history and natural beauty of the Ski Area. During the summer, communication is used to educate guests on what to expect when visiting the area, as well as introducing native plants and animals. During the winter season, Sunshine Village stresses the importance of avalanche safety and awareness through social media posts, as well as events such as Avalanche Awareness week.
These social media platforms can be utilized to promote the Resort’s personal programming, encouraging visitors to gain a greater understanding of the area by booking a Hosted Trail Tour in the summer, or joining a Snow Host Tour in the winter.
Banff Sunshine currently has two webpages dedicated to the history of Sunshine and the environment under the ‘Explore’ section of the skibanff.com site. As part of this Interpretive and Education Strategy, the history of Resort’s webpage will be expanded to include more detail on the history of the resort, in line with the first key theme of past, present, and future land stewardship. Our summer website will also be updated to include a history of Sunshine Meadows.
The environment webpage of the skibanff.com site will also be expanded to include relevant flora and fauna that our visitors may encounter during the winter season. Our summer website, banffsunshinemeadows.com, will also be updated to include greater ecological and preservation information under the ‘Information’ section of the website.
In the summer operating season Sunshine Village has a temporary Interpretive Center located on the ground floor of the Centennial Day Lodge, which is transitioned back to a food and beverage outlet for the winter ski season. The Interpretive Center contains a series of educational panels and interactive displays that tell the unique story of survival in this eco-region and how plants and animals have adapted so that they can live and propagate from one short summer season to the next.
The Center is staffed every day during operational hours. These staff answer questions, give directions, and tell stories about Sunshine Meadows, all with the underlying key messages of staying on the trails, not feeding wildlife, and not touching flowers or other vegetation.
Currently, the Sunshine Mountain Lodge is home to a variety of watercolor art from local artists. This artwork can be viewed during all operational seasons by visitors and displays local scenery from the Ski Area during the different seasons through the year. Our intent is to add plaques to each painting, allowing guests to learn about the artwork, the artist who completed it, and the significance of the area portrayed in each piece.
The Sunshine Meadows interpretive displays were updated in 2018/2019 through a joint interpretive media renewal project by Parks Canada, BC Parks and Sunshine Village. This project consisted of creating 15 display panels which are now located throughout the meadows in the Sunshine Village leasehold, as well as in the adjacent land and trail networks, which are the responsibility of BC Parks and Parks Canada. Each sign has a hand painted watercolor picture, created by a local artist, as well as informative text, which was written by a professional copywriter, who has a background in interpretive writing in the Rocky Mountains. The overall goal of this project was to enhance the visitor experience in Sunshine Meadows, while minimizing the visual impact on the surrounding areas. The details for each sign were collaboratively discussed between all parties, ensuring that the themes within the displays covered many areas, including, cultural heritage, peak identifiers and information regarding the flora and fauna found in the area.
Sunshine Village has identified the need for additional interpretative displays for both summer and winter operations, in both a self-serving capacity to our visitors wishing to educate themselves, and as a supplemental tool for our personal programming. Additional year-round interpretive displays will be accessible to guests in common areas throughout the resort. These displays will allow all abilities to gain hands-on and engaging information.
The displays will be reviewed under the following categories:
• Indigenous history and their connection to the area.
• Information panel about A.O Wheeler’s cabin near the base of Tee Pee Town.
• TeePee Town chair lift explaining the moniker in reference to the 1920’s overnight campers.
• Base area explaining who Mount Bourgeau is named after.
• Looking out at Simpson Pass re George Simpson, referencing previous name of Shuswap Pass, an important cultural trade route with the Stoney in the lower Bow Valley.
• A description of the Great Divide.
• Peak identifiers for the top of Angel and Goat’s Eye lifts.
• A panel that speaks to the difference between the Alpine and Sub-Alpine Eco-Regions.
Flora & Fauna:
• Information about wildlife that you might see evidence of in winter, and others that are hibernating beneath the snow we ski on.
At the heart of Sunshine Village’s interpretive and education strategy is the Resort’s comprehensive interpretive program employing approximately 15 Trail Hosts in the summer season and 60 volunteer Snow Hosts managed by two supervisory staff in the winter season.
Summer Visitor Experience:
The main attraction for tourism to the Resort in the summer is our natural environment and our guided programs. Guests also visit the Resort to enjoy a less crowded and authentic experience in Banff National Park compared to many other ski destinations in the North America.
During the summer operating season, Sunshine Village offers visitors to Sunshine Meadows the opportunity to enjoy a Guided Hike with trained and experienced Trail Hosts, four times a day in one- and two-hour formats:
• One-hour interpretive hikes usually ride the Standish Chair Lift and walk the Standish Viewing Deck Loop, returning by riding back down the chair lift.
• The two-hour Interpretive hike will ride the Standish chair lift and continue past the Standish Viewing Deck, returning along the Rock Isle Road.
For overnight guests at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge, a free one-hour interpretive hike is available from 8am through to 9pm daily.
In all interpretive hikes, guests can expect to learn about the flora and fauna in the unique eco-region at Sunshine Meadows based on the things they see or hear that day, as well as information related to human history and culture, and the geological history of the Rocky Mountains.
The Sunshine Village interpretive staff are hired based on experience and knowledge of the area. To ensure that these staff are well informed, the Resort puts an emphasis on continued education.
Stationed at the reception desk inside the Interpretive Centre, staff greet and interact with visitors, making sure they know where to go and what to do to best appreciate the experience of Sunshine Meadows. These staff members assist guests in understanding the various static and interactive displays and book guided hikes and lift tickets.
Orientation at the Gondola
Up to three trail hosts are stationed at the top of the gondola where they welcome guests as they disembark and provide information to help them get the best of the Sunshine Meadows experience and, most importantly, reiterate the three key messages of staying on the trails, not feeding wildlife, and not touching the flowers or other vegetation.
Every day, trail hosts are stationed at some of the more high-traffic areas in Sunshine Meadows. This task is referred to as a Point Duty.
Trail hosts conducting Point Duty need only to stand at their assigned location in uniform, and an endless stream of questions, comments, information exchanges and personal stories from guests ensues. The three key messages are woven into every interaction.
Typical Point Duties are assigned to the Standish Viewing Deck, Rock Isle Lake Viewpoint, and various other locations on the trails depending on the day.
A presence of staff on the trails is key to making sure guests are compliant with our three key messages, especially on busy days. Trail Hosts on Roaming Patrol will also conduct basic maintenance and pick-up any garbage left behind by guests.
Management of Bears and Other Large Carnivores
From time to time, a bear may walk through the trail system and even through the village itself. The trail hosts educate guests on the importance of bear safety, and what to do if they should encounter a bear.
Trail hosts are trained to clear the affected sections of trails and sequester guests in safe locations until the wildlife has moved on. This is done as a team effort in a coordinated response and all other on-trail duties are dropped while they manage these wildlife situations.
Winter Visitor Experience:
Guided Programs and Visitor Orientation:
During the winter season, Sunshine Village engages approximately 60 snow hosts on a volunteer basis to offer personal programming under our Interpretive and Education Strategy. The Snow Host Program began as a way to offer free guided tours of the mountain through the winter season. To this day, the free tours are a popular way for guests not only to learn their way around the mountain, but also to understand some of the cultural history and geography behind the Ski Area. The free mountain tour is offered daily at noon during the winter operating season, meeting in front of the Old Sunshine Lodge, ending at approximately 3pm and is open to all guests on a walk-in basis.
Training for these snow hosts includes a tour around the mountain, as well as an outline of guest expectations for the program. To further increase the knowledge of the snow hosts, they are sent an information booklet prior to starting work. This booklet includes in depth information on the geography, flora and fauna, and cultural history of the Ski Area. This valuable tool is used by the snow hosts daily to help educate visitors.
To further increase personal interpretive programming during the winter, Sunshine Village will station Snow Hosts at the top of popular lifts on the mountain. These Snow Hosts will be available to take photos, answer guest questions and provide educational information. Location examples for this programming includes the top of Standish and Divide Chairlifts on clear day, when many guests are enjoying the nice weather and beautiful alpine scenery.
To implement our strategy, we will need to go through several steps.
1. We have reached out to local Indigenous groups to put together our Interpretive displays and staff training programs. Collaborating with these groups will allow us to share their stories and history, thus enhancing visitor education.
2. Work with local guides and ecological experts to gain the information needed to complete our improved interpretive displays.
3. Continue to work with Parks Canada to ensure that we are implementing our strategies in an appropriate way under the 2018 Site Guidelines.
Our desired outcome for our enhanced interpretation and education program is to create a more diverse and informative program for our year-round operation. With a larger focus on the historical and cultural significance of the area, we hope that visitors leave Sunshine Village with a greater appreciation for this spectacular region.
Monitoring and Evaluation:
To determine the effectiveness of the Resort’s Interpretation and Education Strategy, the Resort will use guest feedback, surveys, and reference guest online reviews. The programs and products will be adjusted, as necessary, to ensure that visitors are getting the most from their experience at the Ski Area and that the communication is aligned with the objectives of the Banff National Park Management Plan. The Resort will also reach out to the local Indigenous groups and invite them to tour the Resort periodically to evaluate the information we share to honor their history and use. At the end of the summer and the end of the winter, an internal evaluation of “what we learned” will take place to develop plans for the following season.
 The Ski Area Management Guidelines, supra note 3. (Strategic environmental assessment public statement, 2006.)
 Parks Canada. “Interpretation and Education Strategy – Table of Contents.” Sunshine Village Ski Resort, 2020.
 Sanford, supra note 2.
 Sunshine Village Ski Resort. “Sunshine SnowHosts.” Banff Sunshine, https://www.skibanff.com/explore/sunshine-snowhosts.
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