on January 20, 2011
Banff Gondola is a cable car that takes up those unwilling or unable to walk up the Sulphur Mountain. The gondola takes four passengers in a small, enclosed car. The cable car climbs 698m to a level of 2,281m (almost 7,500 feet) and arrives at the Upper Terminal eight minutes after departure. The ride itself is rather spectacular, with increasingly awe-inspiring views opening before the eyes as the cable car travels up. It is, also, of course, possible, to climb up Sulphur Mountain (a steep but not particularly long climb, well maintained 5.3km path that takes about two hours one way in decent weather) and those who are only riding down, get the journey half price – or free if there is no cashier. It was too snowy and wet when we were in Banff to do it, especially with a four year old, but in the summer it's probably the best option, as the price of the ride is very high. For 2011, the adult price is 30 CAD, and the child price is 15 CAD return (under fives go free), plus taxes. This is a lot of money for a less-than-twenty minute ride (or rather, two eight minute ones), although of course you can see it as a price of getting up on top of a (smallish, by local standards) hill and spending some time there too.On top, there is a rather awful, concrete terminal, which, in addition to the gondola machinery, has the usual assortment of gift shops, canteen style cafe (not as expensive as expected, but food wasn't great) and a restaurant (which we didn't check).There is also a viewing deck, which is pretty good, with excellent vistas stretching all around and informative boards that point out the names of mountains and other landscape features. There are also little flags that point the direction and distance to the main world cities - we liked this feature as we could find both our origins in Edinburgh and our next destination in Sydney. The land around the terminal was covered in melting, slippery snow at the time of our visit, so we couldn't really explore it or walk anywhere far, but even a five minutes' stroll took us away from the crowd at the building and to more magnificent views. Normally, you can also take a boardwalk (called Banff Skywalk) along the summit ridge to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site of Canada, and the Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station. This was "closed for maintenance" when we were there (we had been told at the bottom, but it would have been nice if they offered a reduction in price as one of the main attractions of the summit was not functional). We spent an enjoyable couple of hours at the site (including the rides) and would recommend this attraction for anybody who doesn't have to scrimp every penny. It is, however, very expensive and as these things can add up incredibly quickly, not a must-see. Of the two cable cars we went on in the Rockies, the Jasper Tramway was overall better, so if you were to choose one of them, I would skip Banff gondola. On the other hand, the cars are nicer (and you can sit down) in Banff and for somebody who has never been in a cable car, the Banff one is a more interesting and a bit more exciting choice. You can always, of course, walk up the mountain and take a gondola back down.
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