Our first glimpse of the Rockies is from a quintessential Albertan vehicle, a large, four wheel drive pick-up truck, looking mostly new but with a long crack in the bottom of the windscreen and a few other chips dotted around it. In the UK, such a windscreen would fail a MOT test of road worthiness, but here everybody – and I mean everybody – drives with one. The grit that covers the roads in the winter makes chips, and cracks, inevitable.
We are driven from Calgary to a rural plot near Cochrane, where the Family live. The 'plot' is a bit of an understatement, as we are talking 100+ acres of woodland and pasture. The Family (who, sadly, belong to the Other Adult, not your writer) live in an oversized log house whose walnut flooring, walk-in wardrobes, basement gym, all en-suite bedrooms, burnished-copper fridge doors, granite worktops, huge windows and high ceilings bear very little relation to the romantic and primitive idea of a homestead. Mountain living it might be, as certified by a magazine for owners of such houses I spot near a squishy, gigantic leather sofa, but a "log cabin" it certainly ain't and for the next few days we wallow in New World luxury.
A freak snow fall (of which there is at least 40 inches over a couple of days – and that is in May!) results in some unexpected wintery play; the Older Child gets a chance to visit a Canadian school for a day (including a trip on a classic yellow bus); and we see some wildlife including herds of deer approaching the house and coyotes in the fields on the way to Calgary. After a few days' rest, though, we need to move on. The next couch-surf arranged, we set off for Canmore, a small town on the outskirts of the Banff National Park, a mecca for skiers, hikers and other mountain-lovers.
We get a lift from the Family, and as we drive nearer, the mountains become apparent.
The Rockies are staggeringly impressive. A person that has a tendency to overuse hyperbolic descriptions and exalted adjectives (like your reporter) will find themselves regretting earlier exclamations of wonder, because those mountains are really a Something Else: massive, heavy crags of gray rock, topped with snow, tearing through the sky above them. I always though that the "Rocky Mountains" designation was rather unimaginative, but it's actually perfectly descriptive. The Rockies are very rocky indeed and inspire open-mouthed awe even in the children who are generally unimpressed by the magnificence of the landscape.
Our hosts live in a house located in a new development, a few miles out of Canmore, and almost directly under the imposing massif of Three Sisters (the Older Child gets her sketch book for the first time in weeks and does a quick drawing as we wait for our hosts to come back from skiing).
The next day, we are lent a car (we are, actually, LENT A CAR!) as well as a National Park pass and as the day is beautifully sunny, we are off to Banff.