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Trip Report Trip report for Canmore, AB (near Banff)

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This is about travel to Canmore and Banff, but the primary purpose of the trip was skiing, so apologies to those not interested in the ski specific comments below:

Several years ago, DD3 broke a bone in a skiing mishap. That, coupled with some other travel priorities, put a hold on our usual annual ski vacation, which has always been in the US West. A year ago we agreed to plan a return to the slopes in 2012, and I was able to exchange a timeshare week elsewhere for a facility in Canmore, Alberta, minutes away from Banff, and within an hour’s drive of 3 ski areas. The 1st week in Jan was perfect timing for the daughters' university breaks, and to take advantage of the New Years Day federal holiday.

Traveling to Calgary involved long hours in small United regional jets, which was less than pleasant, made even more harsh by aged flight attendant and gate personnel who clearly were just punching time cards until retirement. We picked up a rental SUV, and found on the north side of Calgary a large outdoor mall with a very nice, but ironically titled, “California Thai” Restaurant, then off to the timeshare. Our room was very nice and well maintained, but we found that the facility advertised as a "resort" was hardly that. No onsite food service, maid service, towel or linen exchange, no activities, no transportation into the town 5 km away, no social hour. Limited front desk hours. Our room looked onto a view of the roof of the garage. They did have a nice heated pool, but that was that for amenities. Some resort.

The first night in Canmore, we found that all the usual restaurants were full with folks who had called ahead for reservations, limiting our options, so we found a nice pizza pub frequented mostly by locals, right in the middle of an ugly industrial area, appropriately called "The Pizza Construction Company." Bad Location, Excellent Pizza. Since all other normally mentating people avoid a blue collar pizza pub on NYE, the clientele was down so we had a lot of time to press the very friendly staff for local information. Then we strolled the town, where they were observing their annual town NYE celebration, with fireworks, on their town's large frozen pond. Not by the pond, ON the pond; the pond was so frozen the entire town could stand ON THE POND. First time I ever attended a party literally on ice.

Next day we rented snowshoes and proceeded to the amazingly beautiful Lake Louise, taking in a 8 km snowshoeing trek to the higher elevation Lake Agnes. ( A climb from 5700 feet to 7000 feet – hypoxia, anyone?) Stunningly beautiful in the winter time, with vistas over the whole Rocky Mtn range. Stopped by the Famous Fairmont Chateau Lousie Hotel there for some Hot Drinks and snacks. Lots of obviously well healed European clientele – fun to people watch.

For three of the next four days we skied at the Mt Norquay and Sunshine ski areas. For lunch we brought in picnic lunches, probably more nutritious and certainly less expensive than eating ski cafeteria food. We then alternated eating in the unit one night and out one night. Canmore has developed a regional reputation for fine dining, very well deserved. Three major restaurant experiences were the Tapas restaurant, where the absolute best Tapas I have ever experienced were found. We also ate the very good Sage Bistro which emphasizes locally grown or procured items on the menu, and the eclectic but locally cherished Crazyweed. with lots of fusion style dishes. Any one of these dinners would have turned an iffy vacation into a positive experience, but to have three such wonderful meals in one week made us feel like royalty.

Wednesday was our only bummer day, as we had to drop off DD1 at the Calgary airport so she could return to work. We noted on many websites that the city maintained a public rink right in front of their city hall, so after dropping off DD1 at the airport, we rented skates and proceeded downtown. However, the city had to close the rink down just as we arrived or some planned political event. We proceeded to a second public indoor rink where a city website said there would be some public skating, but it turns out that I confused the info on the website, so that the second location had public skating earlier than stated and we just missed that. We thus had to terminate our skating plans and returned the skates without refund. Such is the adventure of travel, some delightful pleasant surprises, some set back due to lack of info. Then it started to rain, not snow, rain. Rain can be a significant problem for a ski vacation, so we had to hope the rain at our elevation was NOT rain at the elevation of the slopes.

The next morning we looked up at the mountains and noted an interesting phenomenon after the clouds from the rain parted; all the mountains were green up to elevations about 1500 feet above us, then they became coated with white! Our rain was indeed snow on the slopes! We proceeded to the Sunshine Ski area, which on that one day could boast possibly the very best ski conditions to date of anywhere in the world for this otherwise poor ski season. For the first time in my life, I was able to come down advanced trails enjoying largely undisturbed powder, squealing with delight.

Also on Thursday, we also visited the town of Banff and the famous old castle-like Banff Springs Hotel. This is where the well healed would idle way their summers during the 20s and 30s by riding in on the then-luxurious Canadian Pacific Railway; the hotel was built by the railway to drive demand for its rail services. Anyway, a very spectacular jewel of a building rising up from a carpet of pines, it is a sight to behold and lovely to stroll around the grounds. The town likewise is very pretty in the winter with plenty of shopping opportunities, from tacky to international elite. Most of the staff in these establishments are not local, but are either older folks enjoying their second careers, or young transplants working for a while in Alberta before returning home, so the end result is a very unpretentious laid back friendly style with very little negative attitude. All were uniformly willing to drop what they were doing to engage in a conversation about their travels and offer tips on enjoying the area.

For the last day, DW and DD3 were tired of skiing and DD2 and I wanted to test some more advanced trails, so we parted company, me and DD2 returning to skiing and DW and DD3 trying out a 2 hour dog sledding venture. Yes, dog sledding. Quite pricey, but all participants said it was well worth the experience. One funny wrinkle came from the previously described weather that had made such good skiing had also caused significant avalanche risk, and the local authorities set off some planned avalanches, which then caused a problem with clearing the roads leading to the sledding facility. So, our intrepid sledders had to wait until 5 PM to start their scheduled 11 AM venture. This actually turned for the best as the venture then turned into night sledding, which normally would be a more expensive purchase, (no extra charge for us) as night sledding is actually is even more enjoyable, both for human and for dog. However, it only then allowed 8 hours upon their return to try to cram in a dinner, packing and sleep for our 3:45 am wake up to get back to YYC airport for the return home. Whew!

In summary, a trip to the Canadian Rockies should be on everyone’s to-do list, however, getting there is admittedly a pain, and I can offer no advice on the best plan for such travel. The recent Continental-United merger has only caused even poorer customer service from those lines and driving there involves a lot of time in a car seeing flat terrain. Even so, it is worth the effort.

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