Hiking Old Quarry Loop

Last Monday was a wonderful day, bright blue sky and lots of powdery snow following almost 2 whole days of solid snowfall. Too nice to sit indoors.

Layla and I decided to hike the Spray River Loop before I had to go to work at 3pm so after a Latte at home we headed off to the Banff Springs Golf Course where the Spray River East Trail starts.Spray LoopDue to a good 30cm of snow cover we were unable to locate the Spray River East Trailhead which I can see from the maps is just beyond the bridge behind the hotel, so we continued walking up the Golf Course road for about 200m and found the Mount Rundle Trailhead, this eventually joins the Spray River East Trail after a short walk around the fairway and up a steep incline around the side of Mount Rundle.1Once on the trail we saw the indentations of where the cross-country ski tracks are (the trail was groomed the day before but a further 10cm had fallen since then so the tracks were covered) so we stuck to the middle of the trail so as not to disturb them. Layla led the way in her trusty snow boots, I followed in my hiking boots.

 The trail is mostly long, flat straights through the forest but you and venture off at points to see the view across the river. The view doesn’t disappoint either! From where we were we could see the semi frozen Spray River heading North towards the Bow River below us, The Rimrock Hotel nested halfway up Sulphur mountain and the Banff Gondola rising above it to the summit facility and above that the bright blue cloudless sky. It is one of the best views I’ve seen in Banff and one of the least seen by the masses I assume.2During our hike we only saw a handful of cross country skiers, no other walkers or anyone fat biking and luckily no animals. When on these trails and its all quiet and peaceful you do wonder who or what may be looking at you. A woman and her dogs were chased down this very trail at the end of last Winter by Bear 148. (who has unfortunately since been shot by a hunter in BC) There are also Wolves and probably Cougars in this area as well, but we didn’t see or hear anything but the river meandering through the valley and the whoosh of the snow falling from the trees.3At about 12:30pm we came across a man cross country skiing and asked how far the bridge was and his reply was ‘about 4-5 km’ so we decided to turn around and take the Old Quarry Trail as we didn’t have time to do the whole Spray river Loop in just a couple of hours. So, we turned around and headed off on another trail down the ridge towards the river. This trail was steep and narrow, but we had magnificent views of the valley with the Banff Springs hotel and Mount Norquay in the distance. We passed a woman snowshoeing as we came down and wondered if we should have hired them as well. Headed over the bridge and up a steep incline to the Spray River West Trail.4As it turns out, the area beyond where we had cut onto the trail is for skiing only, so we wouldn’t have been able to hike the whole loop anyway.  The trail on the West side of the river winded through the trees and was flatter that the East. We passed 2 children and their Father skiing and chuckled as the little girl fell into the soft powder and then stared at us as we passed.5The trail ended at a car park just beyond the hotel and after walking back to my house we enjoyed another coffee and Maple Cookies. Yum!

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Grotto Canyon FAM Tour

Layla and I were lucky enough to get to do another FAM tour with Discover Banff Tours in mid December. This time it was Grotto Canyon.

Grotto Canyon is located just outside Canmore in Exshaw, an area made up of a number of plants and a small hamlet. 1The group was made up of around 25 of us and 2 guides, one of which also took us on the snowshoe tour of the Paint Pots.

We put on our snow cleats and walked through a stunted pine forest before coming to a viewpoint at the edge of the forest overlooking The Bow Valley. 23On entering the canyon the path changed from packed snow to ice and in places the ice wasn’t very thick. People’s feet were disappearing through the ice all over the place but thankfully the creek we were walking on was only 10cm or so deep.

Once deeper inside the canyon and more sheltered from the sun the creek became hard with layers of ice and footing was much stabler.  The canyon walls slowly became higher as we progressed and soon the walls rose high above us and trees clung onto the sides, the snow hanging off their branches.56At one point we were shown ancient pictographs on the canyon walls which were likely created by Hopi visitors from the Arizona region. The ochre used to paint the designs was most likely collected from the Paint Pots.811We stopped for lunch in a lovely area containing frozen waterfalls people were climbing. We ate Maple cookies, had hot Chocolates and watched the folks climbing, the squirrels foraging for food and took lots of photos. What a lovely spot for a break.10791213After our break we headed back through the canyon just as the sun came out and lit up the ice and the snow covered sides. It was just beautiful.1314

More info:

Who: DiscoverBanff Tours

Where: Grotto Canyon, Banff National Park

What: Hotel Pick up & Drop off, Ice cleats & hiking poles, refreshments

Difficulty: 4.2km, 100m elevation gain

Duration: 4 hours

Price: $74 Adult / $42 Child

 

 

 

Snowmobiling at Kicking Horse Mountain

Yep, you guessed it! Another FAM tour! This time it was a full day snowmobiling tour with Rocky Mountain Riders up at Kicking Horse Mountain in BC. I know I have been very spoilt with all these freebies but it really does make these tours so much easier to sell to our guests when they know you have done them yourself and they can hear the enthusiasm and excitement in your voice when you tell them about your experiences.

Rocky Mountain Riders is a tour and rental company based just outside of Golden, BC which is 1.5 hours drive from Banff on the Trans Canada Highway. In the Summer they rent out Cam-Am ATV’s, Side by Sides, and Master craft Wake Board and Surf Boats, while in Winter they rent Snowmobiles and run Snowmobile tours.

Fergus and I were collected from the Banff Springs Hotel at 8am and were the second to last pick-up before the minibus headed off in the darkness to Golden. We drifted in and out of sleep on the 2 hour journey before waking just as the bus climbed the 10km access road to Kicking Horse Ski Resort where the Snowmobile office is located.Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 11.03.35A map of the trail we took to Wiseman Lake

The group sighed our waivers, got kitted up and went to choose our vehicles for the day. Our lead guide Fin, a fellow Kiwi, from Wellington gave us instructions on how to drive our Snowmobiles and then ran through hand signals for stop, slow down, are you ok? etc. Within half an hour we were on our way.1Fin instructing us on hand signals2Getting ready to head off onto the trail

On the way out, we all went in one big group, I was close to the back, just in front of Fergus and at the beginning I found the Snowmobile easy to use, just accelerate on the right, break on the left and a kill switch for shutting down the engine. At the beginning the trail was quite narrow and steep but once we got out onto the trail proper we were able to accelerate on the long, if not a tad bumpy, straights. I thought I was doing quite well but after our first stop, Fergus went ahead of me, he knows how to ride a motorbike and is an excellent driver so that made sense. 3.jpgHappy as Larry with Fergus behind me

As we drove down the trail further, Fergus was getting further and further ahead to the point where I wasn’t able to see him anymore. The people behind me were just as far back and eventually I lost sight of them too, even on the straights. There were trails branching off left and right and I began to get a paranoid that I had lost everyone and gone down the wrong path somewhere. So I sped up.

Unfortunately I lost control, hit accelerate instead of brake and ran off the side of the trail and crashed with a thud into a mound of trees, dirt and snow. It all went down in slow motion and all the while I was thinking ‘how much is it going to sting me if I damage the Snowmobile?’  I was pretty shaken up and was visibly shaking, not something that happens to me often. I was sure I was going to have to give up and get taken back to the base. But by the time the group behind me, which thankfully included Rob, our driver and guide, caught up, I was feeling better. Rob made sure I was ok and proceeded to drag my Snowmobile out of the scrub and back onto the trail. After a quick inspection he assured me it was fine and said ‘people crash these things every day’ which made me feel a bit lees of a numpty.

We carried on and eventually met up with the rest of the group. When I told Fergus I had crashed he said he’d had wondered where I had disappeared to and hoped I hadn’t had a crash. From then on, he drove a bit slower and I could see him glancing behind as points to make sure I was still there. What a sweetie.

Once at the lunch stop, a bunch of us ventured out onto the frozen Wiseman Lake for some fun.  We hooned around on the lake doing donuts, racing each other and seeing how fast we could get our machines to go, it was a lot of fun!4Fergus about to take off over the lake2After a while we all headed back to the trail, parked our snowmobiles in a neat line and settled down by the fire to wait for out lunch. I started off with a selection of cold meats and cheeses before having a beef burger with cheese followed by some marshmallows. Chatted to some of the other guests who were from all over the place, Brazil, Australia (of course), Canada and Japan. I tried to warm up by the fire but it was snowing heavily and there was no covered areas so was pleased where we got on our way again as the snowmobiles had heated handlebars which was really nice.3A neat line of snowmobiles parked up for lunch4Enjoying our lunch and chatting to the other guests

I was right at the back this time as I didn’t want to slow anyone down, which was fine with me, I didn’t want to feel pressured to go too fast again.  Fergus was in the fast group ahead so I didn’t really see him at all on the return journey except catching a glimpse of his green jacket way ahead whenever we stopped.

The trail back was much the same, we drove past my crash site, then went deeper into the forest on a different trail for a while. This one was a little bit more technical which I liked, there were steeper inclines, thinner bridge crossings and a very bumpy path which meant you had to stand up to avoid bouncing around so much. It was hard on the legs.5At least I wasn’t the only one who managed to crash….6Taking selfies during one of our stops

Eventually we made it back to the base at Kicking Horse. My hands, legs and bum were sore and I could barely walk after parking my machine and heading back to the hut to return the gear I had borrowed. It was nice to put my own snow boots back on that had been sitting beside the fire all day.

As it had been snowing all day and the expectation was a further 15-20cm, Rob, our driver advised us that he was going to get the van quickly checked in Golden before heading out over the pass. It was also getting dark so it would be a long, cold trip back to Banff but Rob bought us all Tim Hortons on the way through Golden, that was so nice of him!

After quite a snowy and perilous journey back to Alberta, we stopped briefly in Lake Louise and then carried on to Banff where Fergus and I were dropped at the Banff Springs.

I’d give this tour a 8 out of 10. I really enjoyed it but crashing and the fact I wasn’t a very confident driver made it a bit difficult for me. The lunch was great but I would have preferred to go to a shelter to get out of the snow for a bit. The scenery was beautiful and the guides were all wonderful and made you feel comfortable and at ease. I’d definitely recommend anyone to try snowmobiling! Thanks Rocky Mountain Riders!

More info:

Who: Rocky Mountain Riders

Where: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Golden, BC

What: Hotel Pick up & Drop off, Helmets, boots, outerwear & snowmobile

Difficulty: Suitable for all skill levels

Duration: Full day (8.00 pick up from Banff)

Price: $255 per adult / $80 per child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk

Again, we were lucky enough to receive another FAM tour with Discover Banff Tours this week, to do their Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk.

You may have read my previous posts about doing Johnston Canyon in both Winter and Summer during the day, both were fantastic, so being able to do it at night with a guide was extra special and quite a different experience.

My colleague Layla, our friend Selena and I were collected from the town lot around 6:30 and piled into a minibus with about 12 other local girls from various hotels around Banff and Canmore. Some we had already met from other FAM tours both this year and last. Banff is a small town and you regularly run into people you have been on other excursions with which is really nice.

On the journey out to the Canyon, our guide, Denice told us about herself, the tour company and interestingly, on how unnatural light, such as mobile phones and street lights affects us humans and the wildlife around the world. It was a bit of a shock to see how nature and the human brain reacts to it. The last thing a lot of us do before bed is check our phones and this can affect sleeping, which I was aware of, but I didn’t know the reason why. Apparently this is due to phones giving off artificial blue light. Red light is a way of nature telling us that it’s time to sleep, that is why the last of the sun’s rays are red as it sets, and why doctors tell insomniacs to install a red light in their bedside lamps to fall asleep easier.

Once at the trail head, we were given Ice cleats (much easier to put on that snowshoes!)  and headlamps which we were able to keep.  We headed off into the night, past the resort and down the the Canyon. The 3 of us were eagerly chatting and catching up on each other’s adventures so were constantly behind the group, it was very icy in places and not being able to see too well made it slow going.1Heading down the icy path with our headlamps on.

Once into the Canyon proper and with the metal railing to guide us, we were able to shut off our headlamps to get the full effect of the night sky. Our guide had studied astronomy since 1995 so was well equipped to point out various constellations to us. I found it a bit baffling, it was hard to see where she was pointing at times and most of the time I wasn’t able to figure out what the constellations were, I just saw a bunch of stars, some brighter than others but no pattern. 1Walking on the steel catwalks attached to the Canyon wall.

Something to look into as I think it’s fascinating and she did mention NZ was one of the best places to see the stars as it has such low artificial light. What I did see was Meteorites shooting across the night sky, that night the Geminids meteor shower peaked and apparently as many as 120 meteors an hour could be seen. As we stood there looking up at the stars I saw a couple of bright lights shooting across the sky which I’ll never forget, I could have stared up at that sky for hours and at that point I wished I’d had a decent camera and a tripod instead of an iphone5. Still, its all in my memory.2I think the three of us wished we had better cameras….

On arrival at the lower falls we came across another tour group and stopped for Maple cookies (yum) and hot chocolates. We made our way through the small cave to get a better view of the falls but my camera made it look like a big blob.2I have better photos of this waterfall..

On the walk back we had the opportunity to turn off all of our headlamps and walk in the complete darkness which was eerie but mesmerising as well. The human eye is an amazing organ in that it so quickly adjusts to the darkness. The outlines of the trees and the rocky outcrops of the canyon edges meant we could walk along guided by only the starlight. 3It wasn’t that cold in the Canyon due to it being so sheltered, didn’t even need gloves!

As we neared the resort we turned our headlamps back on and continued over the bridge and back to the van where we handed in our cleats. The trip back to Banff was quiet apart from some us us discussing some of the silly questions we have had from some of our guests which was quite funny.

I’d give this tour a 7 out of 10. The walk is easy, not too strenuous and the ice cleats mean you shouldn’t fall over, it was very icy so you definitely need them. I think folks who have an interest in the constellations would get more out of it than I did in that sense.

Johnston Canyon is an activity anyone can do without a guide, day or night, Winter or Summer and plenty do. It is great to learn and be able to ask questions to a professional though.

More info:

Who: Discover Banff Tours

Where: Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park

What: Hotel Pick up & Drop off, Ice cleats& hiking poles, refreshments

Difficulty: 2.2km, 65m elevation gain

Duration: 2.5 hours

Price: $74 Adult / $42 Child

*1st photo is courtesy of Discover Banff Tours

 

 

Snowshoeing in Kootenay NP

In Early December I was lucky enough to be invited on a Snowshoeing FAM tour with Discover Banff Tours.

Discover Banff Tours is one of the most well-known tour operators in Banff and provide lots of exciting tours in and around Banff National Park. Starting in 1998, they specialise in small, personalised groups run by professional, local guides who have a passion for Banff and the National Park.

They are also involved in the Banff Ambassador Program, so almost every young traveller who comes to Banff to work, goes on their Discover Banff and its Wildlife tour when they first arrive as part of the programme.

We were collected from the town lot behind the Mount Royal Hotel at 9:30am and got into a full minibus that left for Kootenay along with a second bus full of local hotel workers. En route we were introduced to our guides, Anick and Nick, who gave us an overview of the tour, a brief history of the snowshoe, the fur trade in Canada and a brief explanation of the weather and geography of Kootenay National Park.

It was all very interesting, and I learnt a fair bit I will be able to pass onto our guests while selling this tour.

After arriving at the Paint Pots trail entrance, we clambered out of the busses and were instructed on how to put on the snowshoes that were delegated out to each of us. They are basically just a strong, wide, plastic base with 3 straps that hold your foot in and spikes on the bottom under your toes for grip on the snow. Quite odd once you put them on but after a few steps you get used to them.1Getting geared up at the trail head.

We took off in 2 groups and followed each other down the trail for about 20 metres then turned off into the forest where we meandered around and over fallen trees, up and down small mounds of snow and out to the clearing of the Vermillion River.  The sun was low but bright against the white fluffy snow surrounding us and it felt warm on our faces as we came out onto the clearing. There, we were given a bit more history about the Paint Pots and a chance to walk around freely in the deep snow.2 Learning about Kootenay National Park.

Crossing the large, wooden bridge was a bit of a challenge, climbing up and down stairs in snowshoes is no easy fete I can tell you! The Kootenay River that starts high up in the surrounding mountain passes, flows down to the US, back up into Canada and finally out to the Pacific Ocean was semi-frozen and where it had frozen, small multi-levelled waterfalls appeared making the flow even more interesting, especially as it glistened in the late morning sunlight. 3Glistening Keeoenay River in the morning sunlight.

After splitting into smaller groups, we ambled off into the Pine forest on the opposite side of the river where Anick stopped to explain the distinct types of Pine trees in the thicket we were walking through, after about 5 minutes walking at a fast pace we hit upon a large, flat clearing containing relics from the Ochre mining days. Old, rusted pipes and scoops litter the ground amongst the snowy mounds that in Summer are dark red Ochre mounds that were once destined for Calgary to be made into a pigment base for paint.4Ochre deposits under the snow.

We trudged up the trail towards the Paint Pots site and on the way up we found a small snow-covered hill to the right of the trail, our guides thought it would be a great idea to have a race from the top back to the trail and test out our running style in snowshoes. It was pretty funny, although most participants only managed a fast walk instead of a full-on run. 5Ready to hurtle themselves down the snowbank.

Once at the Paint Pots we had a look around and learnt more about the Ochre and how they collected it for. I think this site is better visited in the Summer, so you can actually see the colours of the different pools as well as the red Ochre on the ground, in the Winter, it’s all covered in snow, so you cannot appreciate how different this spot is to the rest of the park. It’s still beautiful all the same.

We wandered out of the clearing and back into the woods again, this time heading up above the pots on a trail through the tall Pine forest. We stopped briefly to observe a large tree favourited by passing Bears who had been scratching at it. There were huge claw marks all over it, the highest one being about a foot taller than me. Standing there I was glad it was Winter and the Bears in the area had already gone off to hibernate…hopefully.

We met up with the remainder of the group for a well-earned rest in a sloped clearing covered in deep snow. Our guides set up their small camping stoves to heat up the Maple Taffy and handed out hot chocolates to keep our hands warm as we waited in anticipation for out sweet treats. Maple Taffy is made by boiling Maple SAP to 112 degrees and then pouring it onto the cold snow where it sets. A popsicle stick is then rested on the Taffy as it sets then rolled around the stick to create a Maple lolly-pop.

This traditional dessert’s origins lie in Quebec, Eastern Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba and New England. 7Making traditional Maple Taffy.

While most of the group rested and indulged in hot drinks and Taffy, some tried the ‘crazy carpets’. Basically, pieces of thick plastic you ride down the slope on, head first! People would go to the top, lie on the crazy carpet and zoom down the hill at high speeds, either crashing into the snowbanks in a burst of powder or making it all the way to the end and stopping softly as the slope flattened out.

After packing up all the gear and putting our snowshoes back on the whole group made their way back into the forest to head back to the trail head. This was probably the most technical park of the hike, as we were climbing over fallen trees, crossing small semi frozen creeks and negotiating sticks and branches that were blocking the trail. A few people stumbled as the backs of their shoes got stuck between tree branches, this included me, and I understood why snowshoeing burns 400 calories per hour after this short jaunt through the woods.8Negotiating fallen trees, creeks and snowbanks in the woods.

We made our way easily through the clearing and over the bridge, again, with great difficulty, and meandered, in small groups, back to the vans where we parted ways with our shoes and jumped in for the 45-minute journey back to Banff.9Overall, I’d give this tour a 6 out of 10. The guides were interesting, knowledgeable and friendly and made sure everyone was coping with the pace. The walk itself was both relaxing and challenging, we had a lot of different terrain to walk on which kept things interesting and the weather was excellent.  I do however prefer this particular walk in the Summer due to the Paint Pots being a place where the colours of the ponds and the ground is the main attraction. In winter all that is covered in snow, so you cannot appreciate it.

More info:

Who: Discover Banff Tours

Where: Kootenay National Park

What: Hotel Pick up & Drop off, Snowshoes & hiking poles, refreshments, crazy carpet ride

Difficulty: 3km, minimal elevation gain

Duration: 4 hours

Cost: $74 Adults / $42 Children

It’s looking like a great season so far!

It’s been a brilliant start to the ski season, rumour has it ‘it’s the best since sometime in the 50’s’ but I have also been told they say that every year.

I’ve skied 15 days so far and am well on my way to beating last year’s total of 50 days on the hill.

Sunshine Village has had a heap of powder days already this season and although it’s challenging for me to ski in powder, I have been getting a lot of practice in and am starting to enjoy floating through the champagne snow which is a foot deep in places. At least if I do fall over, it’s not painful, its just hard work to dig yourself out. I can see why snowboarders love it! Powder day at Sunshine

The weather hasn’t been great in terms of sunshine. Up until this week there has been a lot of ‘white-outs’, snowy days and visibility has been very poor. But, this week the sun came out and is staying out for the next few days. Skiing on a ‘bluebird’ day is just amazing! The snow glistens, the views are amazing, and you can see exactly where you are going. There really is nothing like it.Powder day at Sunshine=happy girls!

Lake Louise hosted the FIS World cup early in the season and the crews who got it all ready did a fantastic job. The hours of snowmaking and putting in fences took an army and the event was a tremendous success, even on the day where a fallen tree caused the power to go out in the resort, so the athletes had to be taken up to the starting gates by other means, snowplough, helicopter and snowmobile I believe.Layla, Selina and I at the World Cup

Skiing in the early part of November was different, the snow in places was quite space and my skis took a bit of a beating due to rocks that were not quite covered. I actually don’t mind this too much as it makes you a more technical skier and able to manage difficult terrain to find the best snow. One day we even came across a sign advising us to ‘take off your skis/board and walk around this corner’, sod that! I went straight over the rocks, no problem!

Now the resort has had a fair bit more snow the conditions are fantastic, I like to spend most of my time over the back bowls and on Larch where the runs are long and less busy that on the frontside.

Even though Norquay is a lot smaller I have been up twice this season and really enjoyed it. The views over Banff from Cascade chair are just stunning. Its so exhilarating seeing the mighty Mount Rundle in the distance as you climb the hill and whizz back down.

Mount Rundle seen from Mt Norquay

Spirit chair opened this week, and it was great to be able to explore the runs around there. Their runs are quite a bit steeper compared to other ski hills so more of a challenge. I look forward to exploring Norquay more and their French fries are the best in Banff so its always a nice reward after a few hard runs.Selina and I at Norquay

Watch this space for more exciting tales of powder, bluebird days and mountain fun!

50 Things to do in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest Park and was established in 1885. It consists of 6.641 square kilometres of craggy mountain peaks, glacial lakes, Icefields, glaciers and small alpine villages visited by over 3 million visitors annually.

With this much park to explore, there are so many reasons to visit this paradise in the Rocky Mountains.

50 Things to do in Banff National Park

1. Skiing the Big 3, Sunshine Village,

Lake Louise and Mount Norquay

2. Hiking an hour to the summit of Tunnel Mountain for amazing views of Banff and the Bow Valley

3. Indulging in Fondue at the eclectic Grizzly House restaurant

4. Exploring the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel grounds and having a stein at The Waldhaus Pub

5. Taking the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain and walking to the old weather station

6. Having a soak in the 40-degree waters and enjoying the views at the Banff Upper Hot Springs

7. Strolling around Cascade Gardens looking at flowers, waterfalls and the Parks Canada building

8. Exploring the Cave and Basin historical sight and learning about the history of the National Park

9. Eating chicken wings on wing night at Mel’s bar. ($2 for 6 wings and cheap beer)

10. Taking a quick walk up to Surprise Corner for the wonderful views of the Banff Springs Hotel

11. Seeing an adventure film at the annual Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival in the Fall

12. Visiting the Parks museum, Buffalo Nation Luxton museum and Whyte museum in Banff town

13. Watching the waters of the Bow River cascade over Bow falls

14. Walking along Bow River Trail from Buffalo St to the Canoe docks trying to spot Elk

15. Eating traditional Poutine at Eddie Burger

16. Going down to Vermillion Lakes to catch the sunrise over Mount Rundle and the lakes

17. Chowing down on a Mac & Cheese pizza at High Rollers and getting in some pool and bowling

18. Ice skating on the free outdoor rink at the Banff Community High School

19. Driving out to Lake Minnewanka to see the Northern Lights dancing behind the mountains

20. Walking around the old mining town of Bankhead and admiring the views of Cascade Mountain

21. Picnicking at Cascade Ponds or Two Jack Lake and taking the kayak or paddleboard out

22. Driving around the Fairmont Golf Course loop trying to spot Elk and Black Bears

23. Heading to Earls for happy hour (3-6 & 6-close) and ordering their amazing $7 dry ribs

24. Hiking the Fenlands trail and watching the birds and animals

25. Getting your photo taken with the new BANFF sign on Lynx Street

26. Driving up to the Norquay Lookout on the ski hill access road for a magnificent view of Banff

27. Learning to Curl and catching a local ice hokey game at the Fenlands Recreation Centre

28. Hiking Johnston Canyon to see the amazing waterfalls and cascading Johnston Creek

29. Driving the Bow Valley Parkway all the way to Lake Louise and spotting wildlife

30. Hiking Sunshine Meadows up at Sunshine Village ski area and seeing the larch trees in Fall

31. Visiting the famous Lake Louise and hiring a Canoe and paddling across the lake to the glacier

32. Hiking up to the Lake Agnes teahouse and continuing to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

33. Cycling or Cross-Country skiing to the incredible Moraine Lake and the Valley of the 10 Peaks

34. Taking the short hike to the Peyto Lake lookout

35. Stopping at Castle Mountain Lookout for stunning views of this incredibly shaped mountain

36. Having an Ale brewed in Banff and watching a game of ice hockey at the Banff Ave Brewing Co

37. Taking a horse drawn sleigh ride in Banff town or along the shoreline at Lake Louise

38. X-country ski or hike the 11km to Skoki Lodge in the backcounty beyond Lake Louise Ski Resort

39. Rocket down the hill on a snowtube at Mount Norquay or Lake Louise ski areas

40. Rent a bike and cycle along the bow river to Sundance Canyon

41. Enjoy a stroll on horseback to the remote Sundance Lodge

42. Try a Beavertail at one of Banff’s two store locations

43. Enjoy a jug of beer and Thursday Night Bingo at the Banff Legion

44. Visit one on the many Galleries in town with art and craft from local artists

45. Try a relaxing float trip down the Bow river in Summer

46. Climb the hair rising Via Ferrata up above Mount Norquay’s ski runs

47. Climb the switch back trail up Sulphur Mountain and get the Gondola back down

48. Ride the mechanical Bull and do some line dancing at Wild Bill’s Saloon

49. Enjoy Banff’s Parade of Lights at Christmas and visit the Christmas markets at Warner Stables

50. See the New Years Eve fireworks while partying on Banff Avenue.

The Ski Hills are OPEN!

May 22nd, 6 months, since the last Banff based ski hill closed for the 2016/17 season. That doesn’t sound very long to someone who comes for a ski holiday once a year, but to those of us who live and work in Banff over the Winter and ski 3-4 times a week, when the season is over it feels like an eternity to wait for the next Winter.

It’s always a fun but expensive time leading up to the ski season. Firstly, you need to purchase your season’s pass and can either choose to go for just 1 mountain at around $1000 or go for The Big 3 pass which is a staggering $1600. Suffice to say it’s a quiet time of year in town for the bars and restaurants as everyone is broke for a few weeks after purchasing their passes.

Any newcomers doing the season ahead also need to get all the gear which can be very expensive, but we are lucky enough to have the Banff, Canmore and Calgary ski swaps where you can buy second hand gear for a lot less. Once you are all kitted up and have your pass, doing a whole season can be relatively cheap per day as compared to coming for a week’s holiday.

This year Mount Norquay opened on Saturday the 4th of November, the first ski hill in Canada to open its gates to the public. I went up for a few runs on the Sunday, but they only had one of their shorter lifts open, so we didn’t stay for long. Lake Louise opened on the 7th and Sunshine Village on the 8th.

FullSizeRender (010)The sun coming through the clouds above Strawberry Express

On the 8th on November I was awake at 5:30am, like a child at Christmas, I was so excited for Sunshine’s opening day and lay awake until my alarm went off at 7:30.

Normally I get the free ski shuttle from the Fairmont Hotel but on that morning, I got a lift with my flatmate and his friends. I think everyone from Banff who had the day off or was starting work later was heading up to Sunshine Village.

After a 20-minute gondola ride I was back in the surrounds of Standish, Lookout and Goat’s Eye Mountains. It felt like I’d never left and many of the people I spoke to on the various chairlifts I rode that morning said the same.

FullSizeRender (00F)Looking out over Sunshine Village and Wawa chair.

I started my day doing a few runs on Strawberry Express which is Sunshine’s beginner chair. It has a few greens and gentle blues to get your ski legs back after a long time away from the slopes. From the top of the chairlift you get an amazing view over towards Sunshine Meadows and the peaks surrounding Mount Assiniboine as well as Lookout Mountain where Angel, Teepee Town LX and the Divide chairs rise up into the clouds.

Moving on to Wawa, a more intermediate chair with long, wide blue runs and a few technical blacks I felt like I truly got my technique back as I powered down the hill executing short sharp turns over the beautifully groomed runs. I did about 7 runs off Wawa in the bright sunshine before heading down the mountain to the lower chairs.

Jackrabbit and Wolverine chairs are on the lower part of Goat’s Eye Mountain and have a variety of runs off them. I did a few of my favourite short black runs off Jackrabbit before cruising down the blues and blacks off Wolverine.

The crunching sounds of the snow being pushed aside by my skis, the whoosh of the chilly air on my face and the almost bluebird day was just what I was hoping for and Sunshine always delivers.

FullSizeRender (00D)Jackrabbit chair and one of my favorite Black Runs.

By midday I was really starting to feel the burn so returned to the Gondola mid station and headed home.

Sunshine Village, like Coronet Peak in my native New Zealand has a special place in my heart. I have skied 14 different resorts in Canada, New Zealand, France, Switzerland and Bulgaria but Sunshine has the best snow of them all.

I know the mountain so well and spent so much time there last season. It’s a mountain with something for everyone and the staff are always so happy and friendly. My boyfriend learnt to ski there and one of my best friends even got married there.

I wonder what exciting things will happen at Banff Sunshine Village this ski season.

Winter has arrived…..

This Winter has arrived quite suddenly. Banff pretty much went from Fall sunshine to snowy Winter skies in a week. 

The temperature has plummeted down to -15 and the town has a carpet of white that should last the next 6 months. 

The first ski hill has opened and the other two are due to open next week.

It’s beautiful. 

Bow River starting to freeze over, soon people will be walking over it.

Mount Rundle

Cascade Mountain towering over the town.

A Sensational Sunrise

This morning I was up bright & early and after my colleague Layla picked me up we headed down to Vermillion Lakes, just outside Banff to watch the sunrise. 

As we pulled up beside the first lake, the sky above Banff turned bright pink and purple. An incredible sight with the calm icy water of the lake in the foreground and the magnificent Mount Rundle in the background. A few minutes later orange and yellow were added to the hue and the scene changed dramatically. We moved around the lakeshore to get a few different shots of the amazing landscape it was simply breathtaking.We really do live in Paradise.