5 important things to know when doing a season in Banff.

Housing / Work / Discounts & Freebees / Banff Ambassador / Leaving Banff

I did a heap of research after deciding on Banff as the base for my 2 year Canadian working holiday visa.

We travelled in the States and Eastern & Western Canada for a couple of months before arriving in Banff in September ready for our first Winter season.

Come June of the following year we left Banff and drove across the country to St John’s, spent a month in the UK and drove back to Banff ready for our second Winter in September 2017.

So all in all we have spent close to 20 months living in Banff in total, I must say it feels a lot longer than that.

There isn’t a town on Earth, even my own hometown of Dunedin, or London, that I feel I know as much about. This is partly due to working on a hotel front desk and having to know and advise guests, but also because I wanted to cram as much in to these last 20 months that I possibly could.

Living in Banff isn’t easy, whether you are fresh out of collage and on your first big overseas trip or, like me, you are a bit older, have travelled and lived in multiple countries and have been on good money. It’s hard for everyone.

So for people looking to make this beautiful piece of the world their home, I offer the following advice;

1. Housing

Finding a home in Banff isn’t an easy feat, or so I’ve been told.  We only looked at about 4 houses before finding one so it was very easy for us. The second time around we got right back into the same house. Easy peesy.

But, a lot of people are forced to stay at hostels and even hotels for months on end while trying to secure a place to live.  Arriving at the right time of year definitely helps. Late May to June is good because a lot of the Winter seasonaires leave, and equally, September to late October due to the Summer workers departing. 

Most workplaces offer staff accommodation at great rates, they have to, being in a National Park, Banff has very limited housing and new buildings rarely go up, if they do it’s because something else has been torn down. Staff accommodation is great but if you are arriving as a couple and work at different places it won’t work. Most staff accom is for a single person, in either a shared bedroom or an apartment shared with a colleague.

For couples, you’ll need to go private and there are a lot of options, just not a lot of rooms.

Don’t be fooled into going to a real estate agent looking for a place, they will probably laugh in your face. Most accommodation is either owned by a local or rented by a local and sublet to travellers.

The best places to look are on the Facebook page, Bow Valley Home Finders or Kijiji which is Canada’s Craigslist or Gumtree. Also knowing the right people helps and word of mouth goes a long way.

We got our room through a couple we noticed were replying to the same adverts on Facebook as we were. We teamed up and tried to help them find a room and vice versa, in the end we ended up living with them and made lifelong friends.

2. Work

There is tonnes of work in Banff, absolutely tonnes, if you arrive at the right time.

As each season starts, help wanted signs appear in all the store and restaurant windows and this is a great way to find work. Make sure you have a lot of hard copy resumes and get walking.

I work in recruitment and tried to get a role doing that but unfortunately the well paid, non-hospitality jobs go to locals. Early on I made the mistake of applying for professional roles I could do standing on my head but they probably knew I would expect too much money or roles that only locals would get due to visa restrictions. I understand this because I know the cost of the recruitment cycle and to hire someone who will only leave to travel after a few months is not productive for any company.

So I had to go back to my roots and get something in hospitality. I didn’t want to do serving as I had done that for years and didn’t want to constantly work nights. I didn’t think it would look good on my resume either. 12 Years of corporate recruitment work to only go back to what I’d done 15 years earlier. No.

Also suffering a broken arm only a year ago I didn’t want to be lifting heavy trays all night.

But serving is actually where the big money is in Banff. Tips are huge and depending on where you work can be a lot, lot more than your wages.  I know people who worked 3-4 nights a week, did 5 hours shifts and made twice as much as I do.

It’s different here in Canada as well. The host seats you and gives you your menu then the server takes your order, the runner brings you your meal and the server gives you the bill. Back in Australia, when I worked in restaurants, I did all of that and barely made $10 a night in tips! And that is working in a fine dining restaurant! Yes, if you want to make money in Banff, work in a restaurant.Anyhoo, I ended up working at the Front Desk of a hotel in town, I love it and I get commission for ski rental, selling tours and the occasional tips. It pays the bills, enables me to ski 3-4 times a week and also save a bit of money.

My boyfriend managed to get gardening work during the few months there wasn’t snow covering the ground and labouring work during Winter and he was on great money.

Again Kijiji is a great place to look and also the Banff Resource Centre is a great help.

I know resumes, I look at them all day but I still had to tweak mine a lot for Canada. The resource centre will help you to understand how to do this and what employers are looking for.

Additional to this, most large companies such as the Fairmont, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Caribou Properties have job fairs at the beginning of each season. Go to their websites; see what’s available and pop along. Meeting you face-to-face is a great start and a lot of people get jobs this way.

3. Discounts and Freebees

As a Banff local, you get treated rather well. Yes, it’s an expensive place to live but the town knows that and looks after the dedicated people who choose to live here.

Many retail outlets and restaurants will offer you a ‘locals discount’ and you will get to know these places in time and only shop there.

Banff Food Rescue is a godsend for people who are struggling and those who want to help the community. Alanna Pettigrew, the founder, started just before we arrived and her and her team of volunteers now give out free food to over 50 people a night. They collect food from local stores that cannot be given to the food banks and give it out to anyone who lines up at her door. It’s perfectly fine and their motto is ‘keeps good Food from becoming Food Waste’, Just amazing!

Snowtips/Backtrax, a rental place in town was voted the locals favourite and give great discounts on ski & bike rental and purchases for locals.A lot of places offer discounts if you have a seasons pass for the ski hills, this is all on the Big 3 website, take advantage.

Discover Banff Tours offer a big discount to locals on their tours, 45% I believe.

The Taxi Mike website and brochure is the locals bible. Taxi Mike provides an up to date list of all food and drink offers all week, all season. Save it to your favourites and grab a brochure, you will refer to it the whole time you are here, believe me!

Nesters is a place you will frequent a lot. It’s a supermarket in town and they offer a points card that is actually very good. Each time you visit you get points which accumulate and can then be used to buy groceries. Get one as soon as you arrive in town!

If you are lucky enough to work on the front desk of a hotel, you’ll also be offered FAM tours, I’ve been skiing, snowmobiling, ice walking, snowshoeing and horse riding, all for free!

4. Banff Ambassador

I touched on this in a previous post but it’s a MUST do when you first get to Banff!

1. Go to the library, upstairs in the conference room, you don’t need to book, just turn up. Here, you’ll sit down with a bunch of other newbies for an interesting talk from the Discover Banff Tours representatives about the town, history, housing, wildlife, jobs and other fun stuff for an hour.

2.You get a discounted Discover Banff and its Wildlife 3 hour tour to some of Banff’s hotspots, learn a heap and have lots of fun.3.You then get a discount card, valid for a year with over $500 worth of discounts. This includes Canoeing at Lake Louise (worth $105), gondola tickets, hot spring tickets an heaps of other cool stuff.

They do this so you are all set to advise on tours and attractions, whatever your job may be. It’s a fantastic introduction to Banff and you’ll met some fab people along the way.

4. Leave Banff sometimes

When you arrive, you’ll think ‘I’m never leaving this place!’, well I did anyway.

But it’s important to leave once and a while. You will get into a little bubble of work, home, partying and the places you frequent with your mates and it’s easy to get into a routine. That’s what you came here to get away from though.

There are so many amazing places to visit not too far away.During the ski season do a road-trip to Fernie, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Panorama or Marmot Basin.  They are all amazing ski hills and quaint little towns with heaps to offer. You can get a discount with your Big 3 Pass or buy cheap tickets on kijiji. Have a look before you go, I never paid full price for ski tickets!

Calgary is also only 1.5 hours away and loads of big bands go there. I saw Kings of Leon, The Arkells and Frank Turner at the Saddledome. And don’t forget Hockey, you HAVE to go and see a few games, it’s so amazing!If you are a gambler, take the free shuttle to the Stoney Nakoda Casino, loose all your tips or go to the $30 Lobster & Steak buffet. Yum!

When you arrive back in Banff you are thankful, you feel like you are returning from a great mini holiday into another. Life is great. Until work starts!

Two more groups you need to join on Facebook are Banff Buy and Sell, everyone buys and sells their stuff on here! And Banff Lost and Found, Banff is the town of disappearing jackets, phones and keys. If you loose of find something, join this group!

So, that’s it. Come to Banff, have an amazing time, live your dreams and make lifelong friends.The writing below used to be written on the wall of the ladies toilets in Mels before it was painted over and I think whoever wrote it is spot on.

‘Banff Life is a good life, never forget this place’

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