Lake Louise in January

Old Sep 4th, 2005, 12:57 PM
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Lake Louise in January

I am planning my one year anniversary trip for January 4-9, 2006 in Lake Louise.

I'm from Texas and I've never seen real snow. I'm looking for surreal winter wonderland surroundings and Lake Louise sounds perfect with the mountains, glaciers, ice skating, snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiles, dogsledding, sleigh rides, etc.

In helping me with my itinerary, keep in mind that if I really enjoy the scenery of the area (which I'm sure I will), then I plan to return in the spring/summer one year. So, I can wait to do some things for that second trip. I'd like to focus this trip on winter activities and sights -- the things that I can't do or see during the summer months.

I already have flight arrangements (through AA) and hotel reservations (Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise - Deluxe Lakeview Room), so those issues are taken care of. (Great package deal on AA vacations makes this room only about $200 USD per night, which sounds like a great deal -- and is more than half off the Fairmont's website.) I've read the varying opinions of the hotel, but decided to chance it based on this price. When we return for the spring/summer trip, we'll probably stay somewhere else.

I have a few questions about my tentative itinerary as well as questions about openings and some simple things that people who have never seen snow generally have.

My tentative schedule:

Wed, Jan 4 - basically a travel day. Arrive in Calgary from DFW at 2:47. Pick up rental car and head to Lake Louise. Appears to be about a 2-2.5 hour drive if we don't stop anywhere and in decent conditions.

Questions:
1. What are my chances of having good or decent driving conditions on this route?
2. Are there any stops we should make (lookout points, sightseeing, shopping, supplies)? Keep in mind that if driving conditions aren't ideal, then I don't want to be driving too long after dark.

Thur, Jan 5 -
8:30- approx. 2:30 - Banff Snowmobile Tour (lunch and transportation from hotel included)

Back at the hotel, join in the ice skating party on the lake for about an hour.

4:00 - Take a sleigh ride with Brewster's (what would the light conditions be like at this time? glare from sun? near dusk?)

Dinner - not sure where yet (I've seen numeous postings about dining, so I'll refer to them in my planning and will post again if I have questions about dining.)

Lake Louise by Moonlight - not sure of the starting time of this 2-hour showshoe trek, so may have to take place prior to dinner. Does anyone know the starting time? Where this goes?

Fri, Jan 6 -
10:00-3:30 - The "Discover Snowboarding" class at either Sunshine Village or Lake Louise (plan to do the other on Sunday). Any recommendation as to which to do first?

Free time -- recommendations?

Dinner and maybe drinks later at Glacier Saloon.

Does anyone know where I can find a good map of Lake Louise? I'm interested in logistics, like -- how far is the Post Oak from Fairmont Chateau -- walking or driving distance?

Sat, Jan 7 -
8:30-12:30 - Guided trip to the Icefalls of Johnston Canyon

Quick lunch -- ideas? buy supplies earlier in the week for a picnic lunch?

1:30-4:30 - Snowshoeing Along the Great Divide -- Is it too much to do both this and Johnston Canyon in one day?

Dinner

8:00 - Night sleigh ride with Brewster -- Is it worth taking a night sleigh ride? What do you see?

Sun, Jan 8 -
10:00-3:30 -- Take the snowboarding class at whichever resort we didn't go to on Friday.

Free Time -- suggestions?

Dinner

Mon, Jan 9 - Another day primarily for traveling. Flight departs Calgary at 2:47, so I imagine we need to be there no later than noon-12:30, which means leave the hotel by 10:00 in good driving conditions.

I really wanted to go dogsledding, but don't seem to have time for it. Do you see somewhere that I should cut back to fit it in?

What about the Icefield Parkway? The tours don't seem to run during the winter. Is it worth taking a drive just part of the way and turning around and coming back? If so, where do you recommend the turning point be? Is it better to just wait until my spring/summer trip to see the Icefield Parkway?

Ok...for the stupid questions:
1. What items do I absolutely need to purchase rather than rent? (clothing, shoes, goggles, sunglasses, etc.)
2. What type of shoes do I need? Clothing?
3. Is leaving the snowboarding class early an option? advisable if I have another activity that I could fit in?
4. Can you ride a lift up and back down? Or do you have to ski down to get down?
5. Is there anything to do/see at either Sunshine Village or Lake Louise ski area before/after snowboarding lessons?
6. What all do I need to bring with me when I go for snowboarding lessons (rental equipment is provided -- I'm talking about practical things like chapstick, etc.)?

One more question:
Anyone familiar with landscape photography in this region -- any advise for great landscape photography here at this time of year (time of day, locations, lens types, etc.)?

Thanks!!
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Old Sep 4th, 2005, 04:12 PM
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Just an update...I think I've resolved the dogsledding/leaving ski school early issue. I've done a little more research on Lake Louise Mountain Resort and Sunshine Resort and found much greater reviews of Lake Louise, so I'm forgoing Sunshine.

On Friday Jan 6, plans are for 10:00-3:30 - full day Discover Snowboarding Class at Lake Louise

Still have free time to fill afterwards, but I'm tentatively filling that in with plans to watch the experienced snowboarders at the resort, (is there anything else to do at the ski resort after 3:30?), go back to the hotel and have hot chocolate and rest in the hot tub, etc...

Sunday, provided that Kingmik has a 9:00 or earlier dog sled tour, take the two hour tour. Then from 1:00-3:00, go back to Lake Louise Resort for a half-day snowboarding class.

Leaves the rest of the day free to do any last minute souvenir shopping and then go to our anniversary dinner (haven't decided where yet -- I'm on to planning meals next).

This plan still leaves the Icefields Parkway out of our plans. I haven't found anything that tells me that they are more spectacular in winter than any other time of the year, so I think that they will have to wait for our second trip.

Any advice / suggestions are welcome.
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Old Sep 4th, 2005, 05:02 PM
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Wow!! You are very well organized, and I’m sure that you will love your trip to Lake Louise.

To answer some of your questions –

1. Q: What are my chances of having good or decent driving conditions on this route? –Answer - actually they are quite good; the roads are normally in very good shape unless there is a snowstorm ongoing, and even then the snow tends to be swept off the highway by the winds and traffic, so the road surface is fairly clear. We have driven in winter many times, once even during a blizzard at night (just to give you a picture of what that looks like – you know how on Star Trek’s “warp drive” the stars race by but you can’t see anything else?? – well that’s how it looks during a blizzard at night, the snowflakes race by and all you see otherwise is black!!!! These conditions slow you down tremendously. If there is a blizzard I would recommend that you do not drive unless you have lots of experience driving in the snow. But the chances are that at the particular time you arrive and are driving to LL, it will be fine. It does not snow every day, and blizzards happen only a few times per season (November to April).
2. Q: Are there any stops we should make (lookout points, sightseeing, shopping, supplies)? Keep in mind that if driving conditions aren't ideal, then I don't want to be driving too long after dark. –Answer - It gets dark just after 4 p.m. (local time) at the beginning of January – you may want to drive straight to LL, check in, and have dinner at Chateau Lake Louise without stopping to avoid as much as possible driving in the dark. There are shops at Château Lake Louise, and in the Village down the hill from the Chateau.
3. Q: Lake Louise by Moonlight –Answer - you may not have this pleasure at the beginning of January – New Moon is on December 30th so a week later only first quarter, the moon will set early – but if the weather is nice snowshoeing under the brilliant stars of Orion, plus Saturn and Mars will be high in the sky (and maybe you’ll be lucky and see northern lights) – it should be lovely.
4. Q: Does anyone know where I can find a good map of Lake Louise? I'm interested in logistics, like -- how far is the Post Oak from Fairmont Chateau -- walking or driving distance? – Answer - There are lots of maps everywhere, try the National Parks Information Centre on Banff Avenue, or the Banff Den (bookstore), or the bookstore in LL Village, plus most shops have oodles of maps of Banff National Park and the Banff and Lake Louise areas, both topographical and your usual types of maps. :Gem Trek Publishers puts out “maps and guides in one” (noticeable by their yellow and blue colours), for various regions in the national parks – and these are everywhere. Your biggest problem won’t be finding a map. but choosing which one(s) to purchase!!
5. Q: Snowshoeing Along the Great Divide -- Is it too much to do both this and Johnston Canyon in one day? - Answer - depends how long each takes. Note that in early January daylight lasts only 7 to 8 hours, so that really limits the number of activities you can squeeze into each day (it’s the reverse in the summertime by the way – long long days and short nights).
6. Q: Night sleigh ride with Brewster -- Is it worth taking a night sleigh ride? What do you see? -Answer - the sleigh ride can be romantic, it takes you along LL lakeshore and back, you will see the mountains and lake because snow is very reflective (and white), and if you cuddle up with your honey it can be fun, depending on where you sit though, all you might see is the rear end of a horse (!!!) – but I thought it was fun anyway when we did it!!
7. Q: What about the Icefield Parkway? The tours don't seem to run during the winter. Is it worth taking a drive just part of the way and turning around and coming back? If so, where do you recommend the turning point be? Is it better to just wait until my spring/summer trip to see the Icefield Parkway? –Answer - this depends on the weather and whether you don’t mind just doing the drive part way then turning back. Most attractions will be closed. It will be difficult (if not impossible) to walk to Peyto Lake viewpoint, which wouldn’t be worth it anyway because the lake will be frozen over and covered with snow – all will be in a blanket of white – this is true of all lakes by the way. But if you have a sunny clear day – just driving for a bit (as far as Columbia Icefields which is 127 km or about 80 miles) to see the mountains in winter – the scenery will be spectacular – it will be worth it if you have the time. However, it will be difficult to stop anywhere (although the traffic will be so light that you shouldn’t have problems stopping at the side of the highway if you want to take pictures – just be sure to stop where there is good visibility for any other vehicles so that they see you a long way off).
8. Q: What items do I absolutely need to purchase rather than rent? (clothing, shoes, goggles, sunglasses, etc.) –Answer - bring your own personal items but you can purchase almost anything that you will need once you are in LL or Banff. In fact, even if you came empty handed you would be able to find everything that you need once you are in Banff/LL – Banff especially has many many shops with clothes and accessories, sporting goods, etc.
9. Q: What type of shoes do I need? Clothing? –Answer- very very warm!! It will be winter, so you need a warm parka, sweaters, gloves or mitts, hats to cover your ears, warm socks, fleece-lined jeans or pants (such as those that LL Bean sells) are advantageous: I always take long underwear (you can buy this in Banff or LL at the many sporting good stores; for us ladies there is always attractive silk long underwear that is actually quite sexy, (mine is black ;-)) and you may not make it out of your hotel room!!!). For “shoes” – ordinary shoes for those times that you will be eating at Chateau Lake Louise and not venturing outside, warm (not necessarily fashionable) winter boots for walking outside, winter hiking boots for more vigorous winter activities.
10. Q: Anyone familiar with landscape photography in this region -- any advice for great landscape photography here at this time of year (time of day, locations, lens types, etc.)? –Answer- it will be winter and there will be lots of snow which is very reflective, so you don’t need fast film (assuming you are using a 35mm SLR); I always use 100ASA (in addition to my digital). You will most likely be taking wide-angle shots (more than telephoto or macro), but take as many of your lenses as you can (you never know!!). The light in winter is usually very soft and subdued; the sun is low on the southern horizon even at midday. But you can get a lot of glare off the snow on clear days, and very harsh shadows as well. If you have a sunny and clear morning in Lake Louise get out there and take a picture of the lake with the glacier at the other end – when it is overcast, the glacier tends to “melt” into the sky in photos. Drive to the end of Vermillion Lakes (just outside of Banff townsite) at sunrise or just before sunset – you may get pretty colours on Mt. Rundle which will make great photos (afternoon is best because the sun will be shining at your back, more or less). And they often have ice sculptures just in front of Chateau Lake Louise, very effective to photograph at night when there are coloured lights spotlighting them.

Just read your second posting, and your question about an anniversary dinner - my hubby and I enjoyed a divine dinner at Post Hotel (in Lake Louise) for our 20th anniversary a few years ago - I have heard comments that the service is pretentious, but we did not find that. It could depend on the time of year - fewer people visit in the winter and the staff at that time may be different (fewer students) - and our anniversry is in the winter just like yours. Their menu is mouth-watering and their wine list is extensive; it is an upscale (expensive) dining room, perfect for dressing up a bit (the mountain parks tend to be very casual otherwise). I was impressed with Post Hotel because I have dietary concerns (for medical reasons) and they bent over backwards to provide me with a wonderful multi-course meal, including dessert. Another fine retaurant with a lovely mountain-cabin type ambience is the dining room at Buffalo Mountain Lodge (but in my opinion the food there isn't nearly as good as at the Post Hotel, we actaully had another anniversary dinner just a year ago at Buffalo Mountain lodge .

Enjoy your trip to the Canadian Rockies!!!
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Old Sep 17th, 2005, 03:39 PM
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Borealis...

Thanks so much for your long reply (and I do apologize for my ranting in another post).

I've worked on this itinerary some more (and I've done more research) and would like to see if anyone has any comments on this itinerary:

Day 1 (Wed)
Arrive in Calgary at 2:47. Pick up Avis rental car. Get some Canadian money from the ATM. Are they easy to find in this airport? Drive straight to Lake Louise. Check-in and explore the hotel (Fairmont) and immediate area. Walk to dinner at Deer Lodge.

Day 2 (Thurs)
- Breakfast at hotel
- 8:30-2:30 - Banff Snowmobile Tour (leaves from hotel at 8:30) - Lunch included
- Ice skate on lake upon return to hotel
- Sleigh ride on lake at about 4:00 (time for the sun to be out, but nearing sunset)
- Free time (maybe some souvenir shopping in Lake Louise village area - I read that there's a good place next to the Mountain Restaurant?)
- Dinner at Mountain Restaurant
- Free time

Day 3 (Fri)
- Back to Mountain Restaurant for breakfast
- Go to the Louise Ski area
- Snowboarding lesson from 10:00-3:30 (Lunch included)
- Free time at Ski area to watch experienced snowboarders and to do souvenir shopping
- Early dinner - either at Lake Louise Village Grill & Bar or at the Station Restaurant - preference??
- 7:00 - Snowshoeing tour called "Lake Louise by Moonlight" - "Secret spots and unique adventures await us in the woods after dark! And, if the skies are clear, our winter stars are some of the most beautiful and interesting you may ever see! Join our heritage guide for an unforgettable tour of the night. Binoculars and/or headlamps are included. This program will run for two hours and the distance varies depending on physical ability and snow pack. "
- Stop at the Glacier Saloon in the hotel for drinks, late night snack, and maybe some pool.

Note: Louise Ski resort has a Torchlight Dinner & Ski on Fridays. I don't know how to downhill ski and we aren't extremely social people, so it doesn't sound like an option for us. If anyone has another opinion, please advise....it sounds fun, but if it's not for us, then we'd probably be better off with the snowshoe tour.

Day 4 (Sat)
- Breakfast at hotel
- 8:30-12:30 - Guided tour of Icefalls of Johnston Canyon (leaves from hotel)- "Our day begins with a 30-minute drive to the trailhead located on the scenic Bow Valley Parkway. After donning special “ice cleats” we journey up to the Lower Falls. We continue our trek onward and upward with numerous photo opportunities until we arrive at the grotto of the spectacular Upper Falls. Transportation and ice cleats included."
- Quick lunch at hotel
- 1:30-4:30 - Snowshoeing tour "Along the Great Divide" - "After gearing up and having listening to a brief introduction on the basics, we will venture into the forest and look for signs of creatures that have adapted to the harsh winter conditions. Learn how to read the tracks of different animals and discover how they have adapted to survive the harsh conditions."
- A little time to head back to the room and dress for a nicer dinner at the Post Hotel
- 8:00 - Take the sleigh ride again, but this time at night.

Note: Brewster's has a "Cowboy Barbeque and Dance Barn" party on Saturdays. Again, we aren't extremely social and hubby doesn't like dancing -- especially line dancing -- so doesn't sound like a good option for us. Again, if anyone knows better than me, please advise.

Day 5 (Sun)
- Breakfast at Bill Peyto's Cafe at the Alpine Hostel
- 9:30-11:30 - Dog sled tour with Kingmik Dog Sleds
- VERY Quick lunch at hotel
- 12:00-1:30 - Cross-country skiing lessons at lakeside Nordic Stop
- 2:00-5:00 - Cross-country skiing tour
Does anyone know if we would basically repeating the Snowshow Along the Great Divide Tour by doing the cross-country skiing tour?
- Free time
- Anniversary dinner at Baker Creek Bistro

Day 6 (Mon)
- Breakfast at Laggan's Mountain Bakery & Deli or go back to either Bill Peyto's or Mountain Restaurant if we had a really good breakfast at one of them.
- Head back to the airport

Are the northern lights often viewable from here at this time of year?

Thanks!!
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Old Sep 17th, 2005, 08:42 PM
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Hello mrkindallas,

I'll answer as many questions as I can.

Yes, it's easy to find an ATM at Calgary Airport.

It usually takes about an hour to clear immigration and customs. Add to that a few minutes to get cash and pick up your rental car, and it might be 4.00 p.m. by the time you’re driving out of the airport complex. Expect it to take half an hour to get across Calgary, 1.5 hours to get from Calgary’s western city limits to Banff, and 50 minutes to get from Banff to Lake Louise. Sunset probably will take place 15 minutes beyond Calgary’s western city limits, well before you get to Banff. It’s a good highway, so driving it in the dark should not be too much of an issue. You’ll miss the mountain scenery, but you’ll see it on the way back to Banff and Calgary on your departure day.

Since you’ll probably exiting Calgary Airport just around the beginning of rush hour, there would be merit in avoiding 16th Avenue and using Country Hills Boulevard and Stoney Trail instead. Instructions are on my web site at:

http://groups.msn.com/CalgaryandCana...s/airport.msnw

Depending on how smoothly things go at the airport, you could reach Lake Louise between 6.30 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. Since the timing of your arrival necessarily is iffy, and it would be difficult to keep to a firm reservation time at Deer Lodge, I would follow Borealis’s suggestion of dining at Chateau Lake Louise on your first evening. The Chateau has at least five restaurants, all the way from a fine dining restaurant to a casual bistro. It’s bound to be able to accommodate you in at least one of its restaurants, more or less regardless of the time you arrive. In addition to that, you’ll have the option of choosing how formal or casual you want to be, depending on how tired you feel after your flight and long-ish drive.

If you’re adamant about walking to Deer Lodge for dinner, you might want to bring a flashlight from home, just to be on the safe side. I can’t remember if the path from the Chateau to Deer Lodge is lit when it’s dark outside. I suppose you know the trick of placing batteries backwards in a flashlight. Then if the flashlight gets jiggled during the journey and the switch is moved to the “on” position, it won’t actually turn on. Your batteries will be fresh when you reach your destination.

I am fond of Deer Lodge, so I suggest eating there on another evening. I recommend dining at Deer Lodge instead of the Mountain Restaurant.

Speaking of restaurants, I would rather dine at the Station Restaurant than at Lake Louise Village Grill & Bar.

I don’t see the point of doing the sleigh ride twice. I would do it once, at night. When you get to the end of the trail and look back at the lit up Chateau, it looks like a fairy castle.

More in next post ......
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Old Sep 17th, 2005, 08:47 PM
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If your flight home still will depart at 2.47 p.m. as you mentioned in your first post, I would suggest leaving Lake Louise at 8.45 a.m. I feel you need to allow the following amounts of time:

3 hours from Lake Louise to Calgary Airport

0.5 hours for contingencies

0.5 hours for lunch

2 hours for check in

6 hours total from Lake Louise to take off

If you follow my suggestion, you’ll reach the airport around 11.45 a.m. You could have lunch at the airport’s food court, where there is quite a decent selection. If you want to finish off your vacation with a nice lunch, you could use the restaurant in the Delta Calgary Airport Hotel, which is right inside the airport complex.

There are two problems with skipping lunch in the main part of the airport and waiting to pick up a snack at your departure gate. One is that the selection of food at the departure gates is underwhelming. The other is that the check in process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes. Not only do you check in and go through the usual airport screening, but you also clear U.S. immigration and customs at Calgary Airport. The benefit of that is that your flight is treated like a domestic flight when you land in the U.S. If you sail through the whole process and end up at your gate early, you’ll think I was making a fuss about nothing. However, if it takes you the full 90 minutes that it <b>could</b> take, you’ll be glad if you’ve taken my advice to eat before joining the line ups.

More .......
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Old Sep 17th, 2005, 08:51 PM
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Now I’m going to rush in where angels fear to tread and mention weather. Banff’s and Lake Louise’s temperatures are sufficiently similar that you can use Banff’s records for planning purposes. Notwithstanding your research and the probability that early January 2006 will have pretty decent winter weather, there is always the possibility that it will have foul winter weather. If you use the Weather Underground web site’s trip planner feature, you find that, over the last 6 years, Banff has experienced the following weather conditions between January 4th and January 9th:

Average daily high : 23 deg F

Average night time low : 10 deg F

Highest high : 39 deg F

Lowest low : - 41 deg F

You can probably snowboard and do a canyon ice walk down to about -15 deg F. Cross country skiing and snow shoeing use more energy and warm you up more, so you probably would be able to do them down to –20 deg F. The sleigh ride is a passive activity and, even with the blankets that they give you, you probably would not enjoy it much below about –5 deg F.

What worries me about your itinerary is that you’ve planned it almost down to the minute. You don’t seem to have made allowances for inclement weather and for the possibility of being forced to skip certain activities, or at least juggling them and doing them on different days.

Everything may go just fine for you, and I sure hope it does. However, I would bring a good book to read if I were you – just in case.

Happy anniversary, and hope you have a great trip.
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Old Sep 17th, 2005, 09:27 PM
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Thank you very much! That is a lot of useful information.

I will definitely cut out the first sleigh ride - it was really being jammed into that day anyway just because I didn't know whether day or night would be better.

We were really planning on a fairly late dinner (8:30ish) at Deer Lodge anyway, so that might still work. I like starting my vacation with something interesting, so after a long day of travel, a nice dinner in a nice setting sounds good to me.

I promised hubby that we'd eat at some places with &quot;normal&quot; food, too. He's more of a plain burgers, pizza, lasanga, chicken fried steak type of guy -- not too big on trying new things -- and definitely not big on things that try too hard to be fancy (vegetables in lasagna, etc.) so I try not to bombard him with new things every day. Thus, the Mountain Restaurant and Village Grill &amp; Bar. I think that we will go ahead with the Station Restaurant though rather than Village Grill &amp; Bar just for the ambience. We had to eat at McDonald's and Taco Bell when we went to Hawaii for our honeymoon just to comfort him...as far as I can tell, we won't have those distractions at Lake Louise, thank goodness!!

And...I know that it does seem planned down to the minute...but this is actually pretty leisurely for me...You should have seen my Hawaii itinerary!!! Of course, as happened in Hawaii, we ended up skipping things here and there because we were just too tired...or hubby was experiencing motion sickness from a boat ride...or we just enjoyed something so much and didn't leave in time to make it to the next stop. It just makes me feel better to have a plan that I'm happy with and know that there are contingencies.

I always pack a good book!! I know that there could be bad weather -- and a day of it wouldn't be too horrible -- I would just be sad to not be able to do any of my planned activities.

The temperatures that you report are perfectly fine with me...I hope for at least average weather while I'm there.

Thanks again for all the very useful info!!
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Old Sep 18th, 2005, 09:19 AM
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I recommend to contact your car rental company asap. Check with them about winter rental equipement (tires, chains). I know, that several rental companies do not allow chains in their contracts and I would not do this trip in a Car without chains or winter tires.

The major rental companies (AVIS, Hertz, National,...) have all-weather tires on their wheels and you can run into troubles in case of bad waether and icy road conditions.
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Old Sep 18th, 2005, 10:01 AM
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My reservation is with Avis...and I thought I read somewhere that all the major car rental agencies DO put winter tires on their vehicles???
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Old Sep 18th, 2005, 10:14 AM
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Just found what I was referring to...It does say that they use all-season tires, but goes on to make it sound as if snow chains aren't necessary for this route...I wouldn't know how to use them anyway.
We plan on really only driving from Calgary to Lake Louise on day 1, driving into Lake Louise Village on days 2, 3 and 4 for dinner, driving to Baker Creek for dinner on day 5, and driving from Lake Louise back to Calgary on day 6. All other transportation will be either by shuttle or part of a guided tour.
I am familiar with driving on ice, but not really snow. I've read that I should be careful for ice in intersections where it can build up, but as long as I stay on major roads that are well-maintained (which I understand these to be), then I should be fine unless there's a blizzard (in which case my flight probably isn't going anywhere anyway).
I do intend to purchase the insurance that they offer that completely covers the vehicle in case I wreck it.
Does anyone else recommend that I contact Avis about winter tires and/or snow chains? And if I did, I really wouldn't even know what to ask for...so some help there, please.
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Old Sep 18th, 2005, 02:41 PM
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We do fine in this part of the world (including the mountains) with all season radials <b>and</b> (very importantly) front wheel drive and ABS brakes. Our family vehicles are not 4 wheel drive, and we manage fine. But front wheel drive makes all the difference in the world. I can't imagine going back to a rear wheel drive vehicle again. Many vehicles around here in any case come equipped with front wheel drive and ABS brakes, but those are two points that I think are worth checking.

When road conditions are slippery, there is no substitute for slowing down, and I mean <b>really</b> slowing down. If road conditions are bad enough, there is no substitute for staying off the roads altogether. Come to think of it, if road conditions are that bad, the police will close the highway and not let anyone on it.

Highway closures happen only occasionaly. Such highway closures as do occur usually are on the British Columbia side of the Rockies, where there is more precipitation. The territory to the east of the Rockies (i.e., from the Rockies to Calgary) is in a rainshadow and gets relatively less precipitation.

I've lived in Calgary for most of the time since 1977. In all those years, I can remember just one occasion on which the TransCanada Highway (Hwy #1) was closed around Calgary, both to the east and west. The closure was not in winter when we tend to get light, fluffy snow. It was in spring when we got an uncharacteristically large dump of heavy, wet snow.

Also, when you drive in winter, but especially when you drive outside of cities, you should carry extra winter survival gear in the car. Here are two good web sites about that:

http://www.ocipep.gc.ca/info_pro/sel...nterdriv_e.asp

http://www.canadianrockies.net/howto...rivingfaq.html

Some of the items they mention on their recommended lists are a bit over the top for a drive from Calgary to Lake Louise, I feel. This is what we have in our vehicle when we go to a place like Lake Louise in winter:

* Lightweight, collapsible shovel

* Traction mats

* Warning light (our vehicles have built in hazard lights -- we don't carry extra orange cones or flares)

* Food (granola bars and such)

* Booster cables

* Maps

* Matches and a candle in a can

* Sand

* Roll of paper towels

* Warm clothing, boots, and sleeping bags

* Ice scraper / brush

* Windshield washer fluid (methyl hydrate)

* Power chord so that we can plug into an electric outlet and warm up our vehicle's block heater

* Flashlight

* Compass

* Pad of paper and pencil (ballpoint pen freezes and is no good for writing)

FYI, the fluid in pneumatic jacks freezes. Cars in this part of the world come equipped with mechanical jacks.

Hope that helps.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Old Sep 18th, 2005, 03:27 PM
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Mrkindallas, your rental car may come with some basic winter gear. For example, I'm pretty sure it'll come with a windshield scraper / brush. It also may come with a power chord and a booster cable. It would be worth checking just what does and does not come with the car.
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Old Sep 18th, 2005, 11:54 PM
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The problem with all car rental's is, that you do not give you a guarantee for a specific car, which means, that you cannot book a car with front wheel drive.

I can imagine, that the Trans Canada Highway from Calgary via Banff towards Lake Louise is in good driving conditions. But how are the conditions on the small road towards Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. I understood also, that you want to make side trips with your rental car during your vacation and the roads (winter conditions) might look different to the Trans Canada Highway.

I would feel safer, with optional chains in my car.

You should think about an alternative: Why not book one of the commercial hotel transfer bus trips from Calgary Airport towards all major hotels in Banff and Lake Louise. They will bring you towards Lake Louise and you do not have to car about winter driving conditions. I am sure, that you have a car rental option within Chateau Lake Louise and you can deceide more flexible on a day to day basis (considering the weather and road conditions), if you have the need to drive.

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Old Sep 19th, 2005, 04:41 AM
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mrkindallas: Although tom22 would feel safer with chains, for the driving that you will be doing, chains will be a case of overkill, especially as you are not planning to drive the Icefields Highway. I think you can be confident that the road to Chateau Lake Louise will be kept open and clear.

I would listen to judy, a local resident with long experience in winter driving conditions in that area. I have driven rental cars in winter in that part of the world, but would certainly not claim to have any comprehensive knowledge based on my experiences.

I don't think you should worry about not getting a car with front wheel drive as nearly all the cars which car rental companies use (even the big Buicks) are now front-wheel. If for some reason you should get a rear-wheel drive car (unless it is a BMW or Mercedes, for example), you can ask to have it changed.

You are right to be asking questions about these things, but I would not be unduly concerned. You will want to check road reports close to you date of departure and, of course, while you are in the area.

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Old Sep 19th, 2005, 05:11 AM
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Thank you all. I have educated myself a little on winter driving now, as well as the road conditions on an average day in this area, and I feel that we'll be able to manage with our rental just fine without chains.

The drive from Calgary to Lake Louise should be fine. Even if the smaller roads leading to the Fairmont and within town are not kept as clear, I think that I'll just slow down and be extremely careful for that short distance. I really don't think that it can be worse than driving on pure ice like we sometimes get in northern Texas (very slippery, no braking, very slow)...and it really seems to be a fairly short distance.

And as for the vehicle that I get through Avis, it will likely be front wheel drive, but now that I know the importance, I will make sure that's what I get...along with ABS if possible. And will purchase the insurance that covers complete destruction of their vehicle.

As I mentioned before, the vehicle is really only for transportation between the airport and the hotel and for going out to dinner. Sure, we could probably manage to use a shuttle and just not go out for dinner, but I always feel better knowing that I have access to a vehicle of my own if I were to need it, it only cost about $100 for the entire rental period...and while I have it, we might as well enjoy some of the dinner recommendations that other Fodorites have made. All other excursions will be by foot or shuttle.

I will definitely keep an eye on the road condition reports prior to departure and upon arrival.

Again, thank you all!
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Old Sep 19th, 2005, 09:48 PM
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Oh boy - I go away for a few days and come back to find all sorts of new information has been posted!!

(I was in Calgary over the past few days - hi Judy - and on our drive to Calgary saw - from a distance - that the Rockies have a blanket of white already - the mountaintops do anyway - might be a good winter for skiers).

Judy had given some excellent points, and I just wanted to add:

- your best piece of equipment when driving is a fully functional (meaning batteries are loaded) cell phone. Calgary to Banff to Lake Louise is really a very well-travelled part of Alberta, lots of traffic, but if you do break down for whatever reason it's an extra security feature to have a cell phone so that you can call for help.

- the best shopping for (expensive and interesting) souvenirs in Lake Louise is at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, but there are also a few shops at Samson Mall (in the &quot;village&quot. There you'll find a bookstore, a sportng goods store, a small grocery store, a gift shop, a photo shop etc., plus Laggans (bakery which serves breakfasts and lunch type food all day long).

- some restaurant recommendations especially for your husband mrkindallas: Saltlik, Melissa's Restaurant and Bar, The Keg Steakhouse and Bar, Coyotes Grill, Magpie and Stump (all are in Banff).

- and from the &quot;personal experience&quot; notebook: we live in Alberta and we travel to the mountains every winter, but we do not have chains or winter tires (we have all season tires), and I'm not even sure whether we have front or rear wheel drive on our present car, but we have never had any problems (even drove the Icefield Parkway). As a matter of fact, the roads in the big cities seem to be worse than the highways for ice, packed snow with ruts, and slippery sections. And we have never had any problem driving the road from Lake Louise Village to the Fairmont; it is a small road and winding in sections, so that even in summer it isn't meant to be driven at high speed. From my recollection it is usually well maintained, especially so for all the visitors.

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Old Dec 31st, 2005, 07:06 AM
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This trip is finally coming up and I have a few last minute questions.

1. What is the time at which you would decide to take the alternative route from the airport? I'm just wondering if we by chance make it through customs quickly, what should we use as a cutoff time for the normal route vs. alternative route. I'm not sure when rush hour would begin in Calgary on a Wednesday.

2. I already have an annual park pass. Do I need to go through a separate lane? Will it be obvious where I need to go?

3. On departure day, where do we go in the airport to get our proof of export stamps for the tax refund?

4. I've looked at the weather forecast for the next week and it appears to be warmer than I expected it to be in January. A possible high of 36 F one day!?!? Any updated weather-related advice for me?

Thanks!
Michaela
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Old Dec 31st, 2005, 09:19 AM
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Hello Michaela,

&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;What is the time at which you would decide to take the alternative route from the airport? I'm just wondering if we by chance make it through customs quickly, what should we use as a cutoff time for the normal route vs. alternative route. I'm not sure when rush hour would begin in Calgary on a Wednesday.&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;

Rush hour traffic starts building up around 4.00 p.m., but it gets worse around 5.00 p.m.

However, I've had occasion to use Country Hills Boulevard during rush hour a few times recently, and I found it slow. I really don't know that it was any better than 16th Avenue / TransCanada Highway during rush hour. So I'm starting to think that the route you use to get out of Calgary during rush hour is academic.

&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;I already have an annual park pass. Do I need to go through a separate lane? Will it be obvious where I need to go?&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;

Yes, there is a lane for vehicles that already have national park passes. My recollection is that it's well marked. For the record, however, it's the far right lane.

&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;On departure day, where do we go in the airport to get our proof of export stamps for the tax refund?&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;

The counter where you go to get your export stamp for the GST refund is on the departures level, opposite the airlines' check-in counters.

&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;I've looked at the weather forecast for the next week and it appears to be warmer than I expected it to be in January. A possible high of 36 F one day!?!? Any updated weather-related advice for me?&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;

Yes, we've been having unseasonably warm weather. But the weather around here sometimes does unexpected things. It would be prudent to come with proper winter clothing, regardless of how warm the weather forecast looks. Also, I would suggest you check the weather forecast again on the eve of your departure.

Hope you have a good trip.
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Old Dec 31st, 2005, 10:52 AM
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Postscript.

To avoid disappointment with respect to your federal GST refund, I hope you're aware of all the limitations.

You can claim a refund for the 7% GST on your hotel room. To make that claim, you do not need an export stamp.

Also be aware that you can claim a refund only on the GST that you've paid on the accommodation portion of your hotel bill. You cannot claim a refund on GST that you may have paid on phone calls, meals, room service, parking and any other services that your hotel provided. Your hotel bill will show two GST amounts -- one strictly for the accommodation portion of your bill and another for miscellaneous services.

You also will be charged a 4% Alberta tourism levy (formerly called hotel room tax) on your accommodation. It's a provincial rather than a federal tax, and it's not eligible for a refund.

Car rental, gasoline, meals, beverages, tobacco products, entertainment costs (ski lift tickets and the like), personal services (hair cuts, dry cleaning services, etc.) are not eligible for a GST refund.

Most durable goods that you export from Canada are eligible for the GST refund. To claim the GST refund on those goods, you do need to get the export stamp at the airport.

Each receipt that you submit for goods that you are exporting must be for a minimum of C$50 (before taxes). If you are making several small purchases, it pays to buy them in one store so that the cumulative price adds up to C$50.

All of the purchases for which you plan to claim a GST refund (both accommodation and goods that you're exporting) must come to a minimum of C$200 before taxes.

When you submit your claim, you must enclose original receipts. Photocopies and debit card receipts and credit card receipts are not acceptable.

Racks of tourist brochures usually include GST refund claim forms. Most of those forms are not issued by the Canadian government but by a private company that submits the GST refund claim on your behalf. Before it remits your refund to you, it skims a fee off the top. If you submit the claim form directly to the Canadian government, there is no processing fee, and you receive the full refund to which you are entitled. In order to submit the claim form independently, you can go to this web page and print it for yourself:

http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pbg/gf/gst176/gst176-03e.pdf

As a resident of Canada, I am not entitled to the GST refund. However, I've seen posters on travel discussion forms stating that they've received their refunds within 4 - 6 weeks of submitting them.

The refund is mailed to you by cheque (check), and it's denominated in the currency of your home country.
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