After a day of “snow plowing” slowly down the “bunny slopes” at Banff and Lake Louise, looking down the mountain at the beginning of a real ski run was terrifying! Less than 24 hours earlier was the first time I had ever donned a pair of snow skis, so I naturally questioned the sanity of this decision by my instructor to attack this famous Banff Mountain on a pair of skinny boards!
Though the actual ski run for beginners is only slightly steeper in places than the wider training or “bunny” slopes, one can easily see that the sides of the run go straight down. Therefore, as my ski instructor had warned, I was engulfed by what they call “mountain fear!”
I quickly learned, however, that I could still make the turns or stop in the same way the wonderful instructors from the Banff and Lake Louise had taught me, and my confidence continued to grow. 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 was amazed by the majesty of the snow-covered mountains. Also, the elegance and history of the Banff Springs Hotel was like something out of a medieval fairy tale. This spectacular hotel was the world’s largest when it opened in 1888 to accommodate 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. The hotel, which is known as “Canada’s Castle in the Rockies,” remains as Banff’s signature property and is one of the most beautiful hotels in Canada.
This picturesque property 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 Banff Springs Hotel, and they can arrange daily passes and ski lift tickets for all venues with 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. The park is renowned as a protected paradise that encompasses 6641 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. These villages have a distinctive mountain lifestyle, a deep respect for the natural surroundings and a local history that is as diverse as the people who inhabit this area. All residents must reside in one of the two villages to own a home, which helps to preserve the family qualities of the two communities.
The town of Banff is in the province of Alberta in the southwestern corner of Banff National Park and 90 miles west of Calgary via the Trans Canada Highway. Because the town is surrounded by mountains and wilderness, the community must share its space with a variety of wildlife. Walking about the town, one is likely to see deer or elk at any time during the winter and spring months. Banff is also known for its shopping and excellent 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 authentic German and Swiss dishes.
The very quiet hamlet of Lake Louise is 50 minutes further west and is also within Banff National Park. Spectacular scenery is the norm at Lake Louise, and it boasts 4200 skiable acres, which makes it one of the largest ski areas in North America. The unique layout allows families and groups of varying abilities to ski together. Visitors will find beginner, intermediate and expert downhill runs from every chair lift. Beginners and intermediate skiers have access to an abundance of gentle slopes and long cruising runs, and experts can explore endless chutes, glades, gullies and remote bowls in some of the Rockies’ most challenging terrain.
Banff National Park was the first such park in Canada and only the third in the world when it was created in 1885. It was named for Banffshire, Scotland, and because of the natural hot springs, it brought in tourists from all around the world.
Though much has changed in the world since the beginning of the 20th century, little has changed in Banff because of the strict laws inherent with being in a national park. Therefore, developers with deep pockets have been kept out of this pristine part of Canada, and the animals have more rights than the people. As it has always been, Banff National Park is still a quiet, but absolutely awe inspiring natural wonder of the world…especially when covered with pure, soft, powdered snow!