A March 2004 trip
to Banff by harryharrison1956
Quote: This is my report of the holiday taken in Alberta in the winter of 2004. My accommodation was at Charlton Cedar Court in Banff. I skied Big 3, Nakiska, and Kicking Horse.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 9, 2004
Located just 15 km west of Banff
We boarded the Air Canada Airbus A330 for a 9 hour and 30 minute flight to Calgary. We were impressed by the generous seat pitch of 34 inches (BA is only 31 inches). Apparently Airbus has replaced Boeing 767 permanently on this route.
We were not impressed to find that only soft drinks and wine were free on all Air Canada flights while spirits are C$5 or US$4 for 50ml. I have never been charged for drinks on a national carrier before, only on charter flights.
Food was average, service was not up to usual standards, and if you wanted drinks outside of the occasional bar/meal service times, the only way to obtain it was to go and fetch your own as crew call buttons appeared to be ignored.
Films and audio were, according to my wife excellent. My seat audio buttons were not working and nobody seemed to be interested in fixing them, so that made the flight seem overly long.
We arrived in Calgary at 3:30pm local time and had no problems with customs or immigration and were met promptly by rep from Inghams, who was very good, but didn’t look old enough to travel unaccompanied.
We travelled to Banff on a 50-seater bus with two other clients. This is an advantage of taking the scheduled service, as we were told that the charter flight buses are always full.
The drive to Banff was 1 hour and 30 minutes. We went past Canada Olympic Park, which had bobsled runs and ski jumps, neither of which we observed in progress from the road. The journey consists of roughly 30 minutes of going through the city, 30 minutes going through flat farm land (cattle, not prairie), and 30 minutes going through mountains, which were very impressive on first observation.
We arrived at Charlton Cedar Court hotel on Banff Avenue at approximately 5pm. We were very impressed by this budget property, as we had a loft suite for two people that contained a lounge area with a fireplace, a TV, a miniature fridge, and a couch.
There was a bathroom with a bath/shower and lots of complimentary toiletries.
Upstairs there was a massive king-size bed (it was double the size of a UK king-size bed) and another TV.
On site there was a pool, steam room, and hot tub. It has no bar or dining room, but as it is next door to the Caribou lodge, which has the Keg restaurant and is a sister property to the Royal Canadian Lodge, which is about 100 yards away and contains the very exclusive fine dining Evergreen Restaurant, we did not consider this a problem.
After unpacking, we walked into the centre of Banff along Banff Avenue. We did not appreciate at first how long a walk this was (approximately 20 minutes), and as we had not previously visited Canada, we were unaware on how extremely cold we would be by the time we got there. It is not recommended to walk around Banff dressed only for a night out. A hat, gloves, and warm clothing should be worn every night, as temperatures drop significantly and quickly.
After walking for about 15 minutes and becoming very cold, we chose to abandon the journey into the centre for another night and went into the Ptarmigan Hotel’s restaurant called the Caramba. The hotel looks nothing like its alleged appearance in the Inghams’ brochure, as the picture they use must be 15 years old. It is now surrounded by other hotels, not the trees that appear in the picture.
The hotel’s reception seemed very pleasant, and the bar was lively, with people drinking cocktails, which were not too expensive (about £3.50).
The menu is a mixture of west coast and Mediterranean cuisine. Our one-course pasta meal with wine was perfectly cooked and an excellent value at C$50 for two.
Having endured near hypothermia again (the temperature was –5°C, mild for Banff-it’s impossible to imagine the –25°C temperatures they occasionally have) on the walk home, we turned in at about 10pm. Our bodies thought it was 6am.
We awoke at about 4am the next morning, as we were still jet-lagged, but dozed until about 7am, when we got up and wasted a few hours until 10:30am, when we ordered a taxi (not expensive -- C$7) to take us to the Banff Springs Hotel. Friends had recommended the ‘Sunday brunch’ in the ‘Grill restaurant’. We had reserved a table via e-mail from the UK. Reservations are necessary, as even in the winter off-season, it is always full. As we arrived early, we had a wander around the grounds and the hotel; it is simply fantastic, and the views from the rear of the hotel down the Bow River valley are stunning. In the restaurant, the food was just awesome; full breakfasts, a salad bar with cold meat and seafood, a bar with a selection of mussels, an omelette bar, a carving bar, and lots of different desserts and selections of cheeses. We stayed there for three hours, and the service was excellent -- we were never hurried, so outside, we were surprised to see a large queue of customers who had not made a reservation. Simply the best part of this whole experience was the amazing value – C$35 each. As we were extremely full, we chose to walk slowly back to our hotel. The Banff Springs (and the Rimrock Hotel, Banff’s other luxury property) are remote from all the other hotels, which are mostly on Banff Avenue. The walk took several hours, as it was a very pleasant day, and there were lots of shops that needed checking out for bargains and shops open on Sundays, and in March, there appeared to be lots of end-of-season sales in the sports shops, where prices were cheap due to the excellent exchange rate; however, the similar shopping chain outlets in Calgary are cheaper still.
No evening meal was necessary, as we were still digesting our large brunch, so we visited the Safeway store to buy some food and drink for the room but were surprised to discover that supermarkets sell everything but alcohol in North America.
Friends had recommended the Sunday brunch in the ‘Grill restaurant’. We had reserved a table via email from the UK. Reservations are necessary, as even in the winter off-season it is always full. As we had arrived early, we had a wander around the grounds and the hotel. It is simply fantastic-the views from the rear of the hotel down the Bow River Valley are stunning.
In the restaurant the food was just awesome: full breakfasts, a salad bar with cold meat and seafood, mussels, an omelet bar, and lots of different desserts and selections of cheeses. We stayed there for 3 hours. The service was excellent and we were never hurried, so we were surprised to see a large queue of customers who had not made a reservation. Simply the best part of this whole experience was the amazing value–C$35 each. We chose to walk slowly back to our hotel, as we were extremely full.
Banff Springs (and the Rimrock hotel-Banff’s other luxury property) are remote from all the other hotels, which are mostly on Banff Avenue. The walk took several hours, as it was a very pleasant day and there were lots of shops that needed checking out for bargains. Shops are open on Sundays, and in March there appeared to be lots of end-of-season sales in the sports shops and prices were cheap due to the excellent exchange rate. However, the similar shopping chains outlets in Calgary are cheaper still.
No evening meal was necessary, as we were still digesting our large brunch, so we visited the Safeway store to buy some food and drinks for the room, but were surprised to discover that supermarkets sell everything but alcohol in North America.
Unfortunately, as we approached Lake Louise, the weather turned for the worse, with snow flurries, low clouds, and a strong wind. This was not in the weather forecast. Canada has a 24-hour TV channel called the Weather Channel, but it was amazing how inaccurate their weather forecasting can be! We had not taken any of our really warm winter clothing, just fleeces and a light shell jacket, so we just turned and drove back to Banff to collect goggles, hats, and storm-proof jackets. This would have been very inconvenient on a shuttle bus, but was easy enough in a car. Afterwards we went up to Sunshine Village instead (same lift pass), a 20-minute drive from Banff.
Sunshine Village isn’t a village, just a gondola station with a couple of places for lunch and the Sunshine Village Hotel, the area’s only slope-side accommodation, which consists of several separate accommodation blocks of varying age, quality, and price. We didn’t stay there, but spoke to a couple from Edmonton who had stayed there for a weekend at least twice a year for the last 17 years. They described it as having an excellent camaraderie amongst its guests, particularly after the lifts shut down. There is no road to the hotel, so all luggage, food, and supplies go up on the gondola. The original road is now a trail called Banff Avenue, which runs from the village to the bottom gondola station, and is Sunshine’s only really long run. It is excellent if the snow conditions are good, but is prone to closure and can be very bare late in the season. As Sunshine has no snow-making capacity at all (slogans: "We don’t need it," "100% natural snow," and "It’s the snow") in warm weather and late in the season, I recommend taking the gondola back down, as they definitely "do need it!" on this low-altitude run!
Another few first impressions of Sunshine:
There are no really long runs–all the runs are about the same length as the chairlift you go up on. It seemed strange at first in that the pistes that do not go down between the trees are not defined the same as everywhere else I had previously skied. There is just one pole, not the usual two–one on either side, denoting the location of the piste and the general gradient, like green, blue, or black–and you can take any line you wish down the hills. Also, very few of the runs are "groomed," so even some green runs occasionally have (small) moguls. However, the snow quality was superb, by far the best I have ever encountered anywhere.
We had lunch in The Bistro on the second nd floor of the Day Lodge, as the cafeteria on the lower floor appeared to be very busy. We had excellent waiter service and a lovely lunch for under C$40, including tip. It was definitely worth the extra pound or two above the prices on the lower floor.
That night we dined at the local Irish pub The St James’ Gate, where the food was very good and reasonably priced. They had an excellent and huge nacho (very Irish) appetizer, liver/onions and beef stew, and beers for C$60.
So by adding the 45-minute drive to Lake Louise, the over 2-hour drive to Golden, the 15-minute delay while the road crew closed the road for "bridge repairs" near to Golden, and then the 20- to 25-minute drive up the very winding access road to the ski area (wouldn’t fancy that in snow/ice conditions), by the time we parked and walked to the ticket office, we arrived there about 11:55am.
At 12:30pm we could have purchased a half-day ticket, but we wanted to get up the mountain, as we had planned to eat lunch in the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant at the top of the gondola because we had heard that the views were stunning. They were. What was surprisingly stunning was the cost. We found it to be very reasonable-soups, sandwiches, and beers for two for less than C$40, which included a tip and the extra sales tax. This may have explained why I was surprised at the total cost of the two lift passes-the advertised price was C$53 each, but we had previously paid less in Alberta.
On the gondola to the top of the mountain, we were speaking to a local snowboarder chick, who incidentally was a lot better looking than her hometown of Golden, which may be a convenient base for Kicking Horse, but is not an attractive metropolis. My wife commented along the line’s of, "look at the size of those moguls on that black run," whereupon she said, "I don’t think that is a black, it’s a blue." We were stunned and said we had skied blacks at other resorts that were less steep and had no moguls at all, whereupon she informed us that this whole mountain is a black! The piste map shows blues and green runs, however, I would say that there is only one run which a 2nd-week beginner could attempt. It is called It’s a Ten (it is allegedly 10km long). There were very few other runs above the vertical height of the three old original chairlifts, which go up about one third of the total vertical length of the gondola, that an intermediate would be happy on. The It’s a Ten green is also very narrow in several places, so a timid 2nd-week beginner wouldn’t probably manage that either.
If this all sounds very negative, here are some remarks overheard in the gondola and restaurant (it is very difficult not to talk to other clients, as the gondola ride is so long–about 15 minute–that conversations always seemed to strike up).
"Awesome mountain! Wow, magic. Jeez, that’s the best!" said an American chap from Cleveland on his first visit.
"I just want to stay here forever," said his mate from Ohio.
" I never thought we would ski off piste in powder through trees, but you just have to," said my wife, a very timid intermediate (usually).
" I have never ridden anywhere else–I haven’t finished this mountain yet," said the local Golden girl.
"We mustn’t tell anybody else about this place, just in case it gets busy!" said a lady from Ontario.
The place was just like a live Warren Miller film set, as there were people constantly diving off cliffs in all directions.
Available soon, for all radical extreme skiing fans who have enough money, are new accommodation units being built at the gondola base. I don’t know how much they cost or whether they are timeshares or not. If they are timeshares, I would wait to see what they are going to do about the road up to the ski area, as I could see you wasting a couple of days of your timeshare week trying to get to the top of the hill after a significant storm.
As a total contrast to the day, we left Kicking Horse at 4pm and drove 15km further along Highway 1 towards Vancouver to visit a wolf sanctuary in Blaeberry Valley, B.C., where, for C$10, you get a very informative 20-minute briefing about the wolves in the sanctuary and an insight into how they live in the wild. You can also have your photos taken with some of the tame(r) older wolves. We loved it and thought it excellent value if you are nearby, but it is not worth driving from Banff just for this.
That evening, after returning to Banff, we ate at the Magpie and Stump restaurant. It was extremely busy. They served cocktails from old jam jars and had good food. The price was, again, reasonable. With two courses each, cocktails, a few beers, and a tip, it was C$120.
We had never visited the city before and were very unsure of the route into the centre; however, we made it into the heart of the business district near the Calgary Tower and managed to easily find somewhere to park.
The driving was helped enormously by the high level of tolerance shown at all times by the Canadians, something we were constantly pleasantly surprised by. This tolerance was everywhere, not just on the roads. The parking was helped by the expensive prices charged by the car parks, something we found expensive, and the Canadians must find exorbitant. They do, however,, appear to have a very efficient tram system, providing public transportation as an alternative.
There are several large(ish) shopping malls in the centre, rather than one huge one, and most are on the bottom few floors of skyscraper office buildings. It is very easy to become disoriented, because all the buildings and streets appear to be similar, and it is very difficult to get a bearing on the sun. In our case, it was doubly difficult, as the buildings were too high, and it was all cloud cover, so there was no sun.
Having looked around a few of the larger stores, it was apparent that Calgary is slightly cheaper than the tourist-oriented Banff, but nothing we saw was particularly a bargain compared to the UK, apart from garden furniture, which was very, very cheap. We didn’t think there would be enough room in our baggage for any, though.
Having located our car again and paid the parking fee of C$15 for just under four hours, we drove to the largest out-of-town mall, the ‘Chinook Center’, which has a large collection of mainly clothing and department stores. There were also a few large sports stores, which at this time of year had a lot of bargains on end-of-season ski wear and start-of-season golf equipment. Golf equipment seemed to be approximately half the UK price, and there was a very large proportion of left-handed equipment, compared to the UK.
On the drive back to Banff, the road seemed very busy, with a lot of city-dwellers heading out towards the National Park for the weekend. After a full day, we drove back to Banff and ate at the pseudo-English Pub ‘The Rose and Crown’. The food was a good value, with a few home favourites on the menu –- fish-and-chips and steak-and-kidney pie. Later in the evening, the pub became very busy; there was a band playing, and as it was Friday night, the locals were looking forward to the weekend, and a lot of tourists were having a final fling, as they were due to leave the following day.
To board the gondola, we had to queue for nearly 5 minutes, the nearest we came to a European-style wait all holiday; however, as the only Europeans that appeared to be in Banff were hundreds of Brits, the queue moved quickly and without any aggravation at all.
When we asked why it was so busy, we were told that it was the half-term break for Canadian schools, which explained why the road, pubs, and hotels in Banff had appeared so busy the day before. It was not obvious from the brochure prices that this would be the case. We usually avoid crowds and additional expenses by deliberately booking outside school holidays, and it is obvious from the prices when these are! I do think it would be advantageous if each country’s school holidays could be listed in brochures (and guide books!).
The pistes were very busy after one run back down to the village from the Angel Chair, which was not the greatest, as the sun had not yet had time to soften the snow. We skied the opposite mountain off the Wawa chair a few times, but again we had to queue for a couple of minutes, which we found strange, as we had not had to queue at all the previous week. However, everything being relative, we couldn’t begin to compare the queues to those we experienced in Italy and the Portes de Soleil.
The Day Lodge appeared really busy, so we skied down Banff Avenue to the bottom station. It had started snowing and we had left our goggles in the car, as it had been such a pleasant morning. We decided to ski down to collect our goggles and have lunch in the Creekside café at the gondola base, which was a big mistake, as the food and service was extremely poor. This was the only time in all of the 2 weeks in Canada that I would describe the service we received as poor.
After taking the gondola back up to the village area, we enjoyed the fresh snow and were impressed by the way things had altered slightly, now that the resort was busier than it had been the previous week. The lift operators were suddenly in evidence, organizing the queues into orderly lines and ensuring all chairs were fully utilized, whereas the week before, they were just the usual North American cheerful and sociable type.
My wife had picked up an excellent free guide called Dining in Banff (on the Internet at www.dininginbanff.com) when we were visiting the Hot Springs. There are free brochures and leaflets in all the hotels and tourist spots.
Reading this brochure, which has the menus of most of the restaurants in Banff (but no prices, just ballpark figures), we had been tempted by the prospect of Jamaican Shrimp with grilled Bananas–jumbo shrimp sautéed with banana liqueur and finished with a chili and garlic cream. I’m getting hungry just writing about it! This was an appetizer on the menu of the The Terrace restaurant inside the Banff Park Lodge (which looks nothing at all like its photo in the brochures!), so we decided to give it a try.
In a complete contrast to lunch, the food was excellent and the service was the best we experienced anywhere during the holiday.
Having had two jumbo shrimp appetizers, chateaubriand for two, two bottles of red wine (Canadian-it really is quite good), and liqueur coffee, the bill was a very excellent value at C$150.
As it was Saturday night, we should have gone onto a few bars and maybe a club to give a more varied report of Banff, but we don’t do bars or clubs at home, and as we had an early start the next day, we returned to the hotel.
On Sunday, in yet another highlight of the holiday, we decided to drive to Jasper and back. There were a few factors in this decision, the main one being that, as Saturday had been so busy, we thought that Sunday would be too. Also, the weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday was wall-to-wall sunshine, and Sunday’s was slightly cloudy, and we love skiing in the sunshine.
We set off early, as either nobody obeys the speed limits in Canada, or everybody knows of unmapped shortcuts between points of interest, because we had never managed to get within 25% of the alleged driving time alluded to in the tourist guides and leaflets.
When planning the holiday, we considered a two-center holiday in Banff and Jasper, so we were keen to see what we had missed. We were disappointed not to be able to stay at least one night (Inghams had an excursion available to do this, staying in the ‘Fairmont Chateau Jasper’ for a very reasonable C$160 each), but we could not spare the two days required to do this, as we had purchased lift tickets prior to arrival, and it would have meant having to leave a day outstanding on the ticket.
Multi-day, tri-area lift tickets should be bought for the minimum possible required period and then topped up with extra days, if required, as there is no financial incentive for buying more days. To get to Jasper, you drive north on Hwy 1 to Lake Louise and take a right onto Hwy 93; this road is famously known as the ‘Icefields Parkway’. All along this road, there are beautiful sights, and all are sign-posted with a picture of a pair of binoculars on a brown-coloured sign. It would be possible to write a whole report on just the sites you can visit on this road, depending on the weather conditions, time of year, and personal preference. I expect that the highlight of the journey would be different for everybody, and it may well change on another trip at another time. However, our highlights were, from south to north:
-The Crowfoot Glacier -Bow Glacier and Bow Lake
-Num-ti-Jah lodge (very reasonable, with two cups of coffee for C$3, rooms £50 per night, and full board) -Columbia Icefields
-The ‘Weeping Wall’
and -Athabasca falls.
As you approach Jasper, the ‘Marmot Basin ski area is visible on your left. It was at this point we began to realize we had made an excellent choice of taking the whole holiday based in Banff.
On arrival in the town of Jasper, we drove through the outskirts, past a few hotels and motels, shops, and the railway station; however, before we found the city center, we drove out the other side! Jasper isn’t big; in fact, it’s really very tiny. We visited every shop, had lunch, watched a couple of trains go through, one a passenger train -- the only one we saw all holiday -- and filled up with petrol. This took about 2.5 hours, and we started to drive back to Banff with the certain knowledge that we had made a great holiday choice, unsure of what else Jasper had to offer that would keep visitors occupied for much longer.
Some brochures offer rail transfers on two center holidays, and all involve Jasper as one of these centers. It is not possible to have a rail transfer from Banff during the winter months. ‘Via rail’ passenger trains ceased to service Banff around 15 years ago. Now it is only possible to visit Banff during the summer, using the ‘Rocky Mountaineer Railtours’. It is strange that Banff was originally only known as ‘siding 29’ by the Canadian Pacific Railroad; it is now the mainline, and it is Jasper that appears to be the siding.
We drove back down the same road to Banff, and we were getting a little tired of constant repeats of the one CD we had taken on holiday – it is as well to pack a few or buy some in Canada for approx. £8. There are no radio broadcasts on any frequency (nor mobile phone coverage) anywhere outside 20 miles of the larger towns, and even then, reception is patchy, due to the elevation of the mountains, which interferes with the signal. However, we arrived back before 7pm, so the total round-trip, including briefly taking in a few sights, was less than 12 hours.
We can only assume that our server on this occasion had taken our arrival as their sign to resign. However, as nobody else seemed to want to acknowledge our presence, we chose to leave and go somewhere else.
Service in Canada is normally so good in restaurants that I recommend this course of action whenever you feel you are not receiving the service you require. Banff is by no means full in winter, so there are plenty of alternatives. Occasionally, in the very best and most popular establishments, you may be asked to wait. We were asked to wait on a few occasions, but never for more than 5 minutes. I think it was a ploy to appear to be full, and by implication, en vogue.
On leaving the Italian restaurant and having no fallback plan; we walked along Banff Avenue, looking for an alternative destination for our Canadian dollars.
We decided to continue our hunt of ethnic dining opportunities. There is a huge selection, much more so than we experienced in Nevada when we visited there. On arrival, we had been offered a discount card by Inghams (most operators seem to have something similar in their brochures). This entitled us to a discount of 10% in The Silver Dragon, which is upstairs from the Sukiyaki House, a Japanese restaurant. We had studied both menus and decided that the Chinese option was our preferred choice. The Silver Dragon offered "excellent mountain views" from the front window. We didn’t see it, as we had not brought our binoculars–this restaurant is enormous! The service was excellent, but the food was only average. I can only assume that the Canadian perception of "spicy" is not the same as our local restaurants. We ordered "hot" this, "chili" that, and "spicy" another thing, but we were very disappointed at the lack of zing in what can only be described as bland-tasting dishes.
The prices were, again, very reasonable. Unfortunately, the lottery numbers in the fortune cookies failed to work on our return to the UK; they must have been the winning numbers for the Canadian lottery. However, C$80 was deposited in China rather than Italy that night.
In previous years we had been in the Alps during March and April, so we knew exactly what to do-we grabbed a fleece and sunglasses and jumped in the car. This weather must have been so unusual because the Canadians thought we were barmy since they were all dressed in layers, looking like they expected a blizzard.
For a change we decided to take the scenic route from Banff to Lake Louise. Just before the turn off Highway 1 for Sunshine Village is a sign for the Bow Valley Parkway Highway 1A. If you have your own car and the road conditions are similar to those in mid-summer (as they were on this occasion), I recommend this route if you are not in a massive hurry to be the first to scrape the ice–sorry, make "first tracks." It is something you would not be able to experience unless you have your own transport, as the transfer buses must use the trans Canada Highway due to weight restrictions on Highway 1A.
Upon arrival we were cursing the Canadian schools for having that week off again, as the car park was so much busier than in the previous week. It transpired that this was not just because of the extra patrons-Hollywood had come to town and a film company had taken over, almost literally. You couldn’t get near The Lodge of the Ten Peaks because of cameras and film equipment, and the car park was full of trailers for the stars, catering, and equipment, not of skiers vehicles.
We never discovered what was being filmed. There was a rumour that it was a soap opera, but we failed to recognize any of the actors. One day I may see myself on TV in the background and finally find out. It was all very exciting. I’m sure nothing like that ever happens at Glenshee!
The skiing was superb, if a little slushy in the afternoon. The bottom elevation of Lake Louise is similar to the bottom elevation of Sunshine’s gondola, so it is more prone to be initially icy, with slushy conditions late in the season or during kinks in the jet stream.
We had lunch at the Whitehorn Lodge, which has superb views, albeit preferably using a telescope, of the mountains, Lake Louise, and the Victoria Glacier.
Our dining choice that night was Melissa’s, a bar and restaurant opposite the Banff Park Lodge.
On the menu was a variety of typical Canadian fare: steak, fish, chicken, ribs, pasta, and pizza.
The restaurant is large, but was not full. We were given a table near the window, and I had a very pleasant meal. Unfortunately, my wife had to return her steak, as something had gone seriously wrong. It appeared perfectly cooked, but was tough, gristly, and inedible. Normally this would prompt a bad report of a restaurant, but we were very impressed with the prompt and professional manner in which this problem was dealt with. No charge was made for my wife’s meal, and she was offered, but declined because our meals would have become seriously unsynchronized, anything else from the menu that she wished. Upstairs there was a bar that appeared to be very popular.
We set off early to Sunshine, which was promising to live up to its name, to try and get a parking spot within walking distance of the gondola station. We arrived at the car park at about 9:10am and found a huge difference from when we arrived at 10:00am. We were up to the village and skiing by 9:30am, straight onto the Wawa chair for the morning sun, with excellent runs just using this chair, the Standish Express, and the Strawberry Chair. At around 11:30am, with the temperature even higher (22°C apparently), we took an early lunch break and sat down at the Sunshine Inn’s Chimney Terrace, which has to be the place to eat when the sun is shining, but there are only about 12 tables outside, so it is necessary to be quick. The food was fabulous and the service superb. It was also relatively cheap-C$50 for lunch for two, including three beers.
We spent the whole day on the mountain, and the conditions and snow were excellent.
In the evening we went to see our rep, who was Canadian. He hadn’t been skiing "because it was too warm." I suppose it depends on what you are used to.
In the evening we ate at a new Steakhouse The Saltlik, which has a very popular bar downstairs, a sidewalk patio area outside, and a large restaurant upstairs. On arrival you are met by a very glamorous female hostess and taken to your table-I would assume that some all-male groups might spend most of their evenings here! We were extremely impressed with the restaurant, the menu, the wine list, the food, and the staff. The menu and pricing is different than elsewhere in Banff in that you order and pay for your entrée, vegetables, and potatoes separately.
The portions are large and over the door on the way out is the slogan, "Live it, Love it, Like it," which is probably all you could do, as you will be very full.
Astoundingly, the jet stream had disappeared to its usual place overnight, and we awoke to heavy snowfall outside. We had decided that we were just going to do some shopping in the morning, so it wasn’t too inconvenient. There are lots of shops in Banff if you want souvenirs, sports equipment, and clothing; however, this isn’t the place where you would normally choose to spend a whole day shopping. At the end of the season there are, however, some bargains to be tracked down, and we managed to amuse ourselves until we were due to be picked up from our hotel at 3pm.
By 3:20pm we were becoming quite concerned that the trip had been postponed again and that we had not been informed, but our receptionist contacted the tour company to be told that, due to the weather conditions in the morning, they were running about a half hour late. She informed us that most pick-up times given by the tour companies were more like "best guess" rather than anything rigid.
We were collected at 3:45pm and taken by a minibus to Canmore and then up into the sills, past the ‘Nordic Ski Centre’ and several reservoirs to Spray Lake, where the National Park had permitted the company to operate. We forgave them for being slightly late, as the buses shuttle tourists up here four times a day, and I wouldn’t have tried to drive up that road. If it had been in Scotland, the police would have closed the road. It must have been even worse first thing in the morning when it was still snowing. En route we saw a wild moose, one of several different species of wildlife we saw, while on other days we observed deer, caribou, elk, big horn sheep, and a coyote.
We had a superb afternoon, and the weather conditions were fabulous, about 6 inches of fresh snow and just below freezing. The dogs loved pulling the sledge and the "musher" was very knowledgeable and loved her dogs. She told us that it was just about cold enough for the dogs, but that they prefer it to be about -20 to -30°C. She herself had spent most of the winter around Hudson Bay in temperatures of around -40°C. The previous day had practically been a summer holiday. You can get as involved as you wish with harnessing and driving the dogs, so it isn’t just an open-air bus ride. On uphill sections, if you are driving, it is expected that you help to push the sledge. I tried it, but it is not recommended for those with a weak heart or 60 cigarettes a day habit, as I quickly became breathless and struggled to recover at this altitude. At the end of the tour, you are encouraged to feed the dogs. Personally I can’t understand why they appeared so happy, as appetizing isn’t a word I would use to describe what they eat, but it must work. A skidoo follows with a full-time pooper scooper, which is a condition of their operating license.
That evening we had intended to eat at Johnny Ray’s, a Creole restaurant, but it was unusually busy. Apparently a group of 12 had just recently arrived. My wife, who isn’t a Creole fan, needed no other excuse than a 5-minute wait to suggest trying somewhere else. We walked back towards Banff Avenue and decided to try Earls, which has a varied menu and its own beers on tap. We had an enjoyable meal; nothing like what the huskies were having that night.
We enjoyed ourselves so much that we kept skiing until the lifts closed at 4:30pm before heading back to town. We were due to drop the hire car off at 5pm, but eventually arrived at 5:25pm to find the office shut, so we had to pay for an extra day, which made for an expensive last couple of runs.
For our last evening in Banff, we decided to stay next door to our hotel and eat in the Keg restaurant in the Caribou Hotel. We decided to go for a completely Canadian last meal. The predominant fare offered in Canada is steak, and the Keg is the most famous franchise in Canada. It is also almost guaranteed to be first class. All their steaks are top quality and a better value than in the UK. The Canadian wine was a perfect accompaniment. We decided to have a few pre-dinner drinks in the bar, which had a very hospitable ambience, but most of the atmosphere came from TVs showing nonstop sports.
At 2pm we were collected from our hotel in another 52-seat coach; however, it was much busier this time. There were 12 people, including the driver, and there were only nearly two and a half rows of seats to be had.
We were taken to the airport a different way once we approached Calgary, through housing estate after housing estate-called "new communities" in Canadian speak. Some of the houses were huge, very desirable, and relatively cheap compared to UK prices.
I am not sure that the rest of this account will be typical of most people’s experiences.
On TV and in all of the newspapers the previous day had been the news that Air Canada was in serious danger of collapse. They had been in voluntary bankruptcy for over a year and had been in talks with a major investor from Hong Kong; however, he had withdrawn his offer of investment due to a dispute with the Canadian unions over pension contributions. On the same day the financial results had been published and Air Canada had lost C$2 billion in the previous financial year. This had caused all sorts of speculation and theories about the future of Air Canada.With this in mind, I expect that the morale of the workforce may have been affected somewhat.
We arrived in the departure hall to find a queue stretching for over 100 yards and only three Air Canada check-in desks manned. This was to check in all of the Air Canada flights, not just the LHR. I assumed that this was not normal and that possibly much of the staff was sick.
Inghams luckily has a full-time representative at the airport, and he was able arrange for a senior supervisor to check the 11 of us in sneakily around the corner. What would have happened otherwise I do not know. My wife and I were allocated seats in different parts of the aircraft. Thankfully this was changed so that we had adjacent seats, as my wife is a very nervous flyer.
I recommend that rather than leaving it to the representative to reconfirm your return flight booking that you, for scheduled airlines at least, try to do it yourself, especially if you are in a large group, otherwise there will be little chance of sitting together. It is part of the online booking procedure on Air Canada to allocate a seat at the time of booking.
The flight departed 30 minutes late, and there was no explanation of why it was late. However, it must have been planned, as some of the passengers on our bus who booked at the last minute had the new departure time on their tickets.
The service on the flight was awful, the food was almost inedible, and nobody in the eight seats in our row ate more than a mouthful or two of the food.
What was really scary, though, was that the crew seemed to have no concern for the safety of the passengers, as no seatbelt check was done and one infant was asleep across his parent’s lap, with no seat belt on and both armrests up. I had heard the stewardess tell the mother about 20 minutes before we landed that she would have to wake up the child and sort the chairs and seatbelts, but she must have not subsequently checked because I observed him in the same position as the aircraft taxied onto stand.
This I can only assume was due to poor morale because the crew on the outbound leg had been extremely professional.
aberdeen, United Kingdom