BANFF IS BREATHTAKING
By Bill Vanderford
After a day of snow ploughing down the bunny slopes at Norquay and Lake Louise, looking down the mountain at the beginning of a real ski run was terrifying! It had only been less than 24 hours that I had donned skis for the first time so naturally, I was questioning the sanity of my instructor when he suggested we attack this Banff mountain on a pair of skinny boards!
Though the actual ski run for beginners is only slightly steeper in places than the smooth and wide bunny slopes, one look over the side of this run and I was engulfed in what they call “mountain fear”. But as soon as a realized that I could still stop and turn in much the same way I had been taught all morning, and my confidence grew. By the end of the day, I was like everyone else enjoying the experience and the gorgeous views of one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Having never seen the Canadian Rockies during the winter season, I found the majesty of these snow covered mountains, amazing. And in this setting, the elegance and history of the famous Banff Springs Hotel stood like a spectacular mountain castle out of a medieval fairy tale. Indeed, when it opened in 1888, this impressive hotel was the world's largest and, catering to Victorian tourists who came to visit the area's hot springs, it was designed and furnished to resemble a Scottish castle at the urging of William Van Horne, General Manager of Canadian Pacific Railways. Today, it is known as "Canada's Castle in the Rockies," and remains Banff's signature property and an iconic Canadian hotel.
The Banff Springs is also the hub for those who want to ski Banff’s three famous ski venues at Lake Louise, Sunshine, and Norquay. A complete ski shop with the latest rental ski equipment is located inside the hotel, where you can arrange for daily passes and lift tickets for all venues, as well as reliable transportation to and from each area.
Banff National Park attracts roughly four million visitors each year and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Covering 6,641 square kilometers of mountains, forests, and lakes in the middle of a vast wilderness, the small communities of Banff and Lake Louise are the only townships inside the National Park and as such, they have a distinctive mountain lifestyle, a deep respect for the natural surroundings, and a local history that is as diverse as the people who live here. And, because all residents must reside in one of the two villages to own a home, everyone has a vested interest in helping to preserve the family qualities of the two communities.
Surrounded by mountains and wilderness, wildlife is on your doorstep - literally – and you’re just as likely to see a deer or elk roaming through Banff’s downtown core as you are parents pulling sleds piled with children. And because Banff is a popular visitor destination, it has both quality shops and restaurants. One of the best is the Waldhaus Restaurant, which is a Bavarian cottage-style building that was built in 1927 and overlooks the Spray River. The atmosphere is reminiscent of an old hunting cottage with dark, rich wood paneling, and a large fireplace. The menu consists of well prepared, authentic German and Swiss dishes. Another recommendation would be the the unobtrusive Castello Ristorante. This simple Italian eatery has unequalled service, mouth watering traditional dishes, and a great selection of wines.
The quiet hamlet of Lake Louise, also within Banff National Park, lies 50 minutes west of Banff township. Boating 4,200 skiable acres, it is one of the largest ski areas in North America. Here, you’ll find an abundance of gentle slopes and long cruising runs for novices and intermediate skiers, while experts can explore endless chutes, glades, gullies, and remote bowls in some of the Rockies' most challenging terrain.
Perhaps the biggest joy in this expanse of national park is that little has changed since it was first created in 1885. Named for Banffshire, Scotland, its natural hot springs brought in tourists from all around the world and while those springs have now given way to year round activities that include dog sledding in winter to horse-backriding in summer, it remains a pristine part of Canada. Animals have more rights than people, and those people remain committed to maintaining it as an awe-inspiring natural wonder of the world – especially when covered with pure, soft, powdered snow!
If You Go:
Banff National Park is in the province of Alberta, 90 miles west of Calgary via the Trans Canada Highway. The winter ski season usually begins in October and runs through to the end of April.
For more information, call toll-free at: (403) 762-2211.
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