Canada Road Trip, A First Time For…
Having spent a huge amount of time snowboarding in the French Alps and elsewhere in Europe, as well as in Colorado, last winter I decided that it was about time I experienced Canada for the first time. This was first on the list of many firsts for this trip – and as my other half had never been to Canada either, it was difficult for us to contain our excitement: the vast landscapes, the epic powder, the stunning hotels, the Canadian people, and the adventure that we were about to experience, let’s go now! We got everything booked up back in September and had to wait for what seemed like months before we could get on the flight, and get on the road in February.
Stage 1 of our trip involved a few days in Alberta, before driving over the border into British Columbia. Here are a few ‘firsts’ from our Canada Road Trip – part 1:
A first time for: flying into Calgary
Our flight arrived into Calgary in the late afternoon and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so we could see for miles around. Much, much bigger than I had anticipated, Calgary is a huge city that rises up out of the vast frozen plains, criss-crossed with dead straight roads and what we could only imagine were oil pipelines plotting out the landscape. Eventually, downtown Calgary (complete with its high-rise blocks) comes into view, and you realise you’re about to arrive in North America.
A first time for: driving a big automatic truck, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road
Ok, I admit, this was one of the things I was most excited about – a big truck to get around in! In the airport car park we found our space and discovered our carriage was to be a Nissan Pathfinder. Now a Pathfinder is one of the bigger trucks on the road in the UK, however as we soon discovered, this is nothing compared to so many of the massive wagons in Alberta and BC. Think 8 wheels, 4 skidoos (or should I say sleds), a double cabin, you name it. More wheels = greater status over here!
A first time for: The Fairmont Banff Springs
Truly grand in every way, we arrived at the Fairmont Banff Springs after just 1 hour 30 minutes driving from Calgary, thankfully a very straightforward journey as we hadn’t quite got to grips with our new friend the GPS.
The Fairmont Banff Springs towers above the town of Banff and is truly as impressive as you expect it to be. Two very pleasant doormen braved the cold of the February evening and helped us out of the truck and into the huge atrium with our bags. I could sense a large bed and a cosy room coming my way – but not before we checked out the hotel’s numerous drinking and dining options. We decided on the Rundle Lounge, which had just the right atmosphere for a sleepy but restorative bite to eat and a lovely chilled Canadian lager. Our room was way up on the 6th floor, with an enormous bed that I basically had to climb onto, a really charming old world feel, and incredible views from its three expansive windows. Sleep came easily that night.
A first time for: a 6:30 am hot tub
First morning jet lag meant an early start on day 1, so what better to do than check out the hot tub and pool at the Fairmont Banff Springs?
A swift cup of coffee was followed by a dip in the pool, a couple of token lengths, and a spell in the hot tub. At that early hour we thought we’d be on our own but there were one or two early risers putting in the laps before staring their day. It was however deserted in the outdoor pool, perhaps no surprise when it’s -30o outside! The pool is properly heated so you can actually go in during winter, if you’re brave enough. I looked at the entrance, caught sight of the icy handrails leading you in and for a fleeting moment I nearly went for it…
A first time for: Sunshine Village
We didn’t have very long in Banff so we wanted to make the most of our time there; Sunshine Village was our ski area of choice on day 1 as it’s a bigger area than the local Mount Norquay. A bus picks you up from outside the hotel, and there are several different pick up points around town which serve all the different properties, and it takes around 30 minutes to get up to Sunshine. The cost is included with your lift ticket.
Sunshine Village is extensive, with so many different kinds of terrain on offer. It was a beautiful sunny day and the runs were in pristine condition, groomed to perfection – ideal for warming up the legs after a long day of travelling the day before. Sunshine’s trail map has some handy information on where best to ski if you want to stay in the sun, and how to follow it around the mountain so you’re effectively bathed in sunlight for the whole day.
Although possibly not advisable on your first day on the mountain, Sunshine Village is home to Goat’s Eye Mountain, packed with double black diamond steeps, and Delirium Dive – a world renowned freeriding area which is a must in the right conditions (which were not today!). We looked from afar and only wished we could stay longer.
A first time for: breakfast at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Although we weren’t staying here, we couldn’t pass up breakfast at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise before a day on the mountain, which is where we drove to the following day.
Breakfast is probably my favourite meal of the day, whatever the setting, and I have to say this was one of the best I’ve ever experienced. As it was a buffet it was difficult to know quite when to stop – more poached eggs, even more coffee? Yes please! Not only was the food incredible, but the view from the Poppy Brasserie is impossible to beat, looking out over the iconic Lake Louise. A post breakfast walk on the frozen lake helped set up the rest of the day perfectly.
A first time for: Lake Louise ski resort
Another vast area, offering 4,200 skiable acres and wide open runs, a great pitch – steep in parts but not too steep and very easy to find your way around. We decided to go top to bottom for our first run of the day, and my word it is a long way down! You can completely understand why Lake Louise is home to the first world cup downhill ski race every season. That breakfast came in handy I can tell you!
The views from the top are quite incredible (as they are everywhere you go in this amazing region), and with another day of clear skies and bright sunshine the views were all the more awe-inspiring. A late lunch at the Lodge of Ten Peaks, a huge building constructed with logs sourced directly from the surrounding forest, and we had to hit the Trans Canada Highway for the next part of our Canada road trip.
The next stage was a drive into British Columbia, up and over Roger’s Pass and on to Revelstoke, where we were hoping the powder would abound…!
In short Alberta is a beautiful, awe-inspiring place with superb ski areas in close proximity to Calgary and easy to access. Banff is a fantastic town and reminded me a lot of Chamonix with its awesome scenery and vibrant town, whilst Lake Louise is a beautiful and more remote area where you feel incredibly close to the Canadian wilderness and are reminded of how small you are in the world!