FAM days

As a person working in Banff in the tourist industry, we are really lucky to be treated to a lot of familiarisation tours.

Tour operators and the ski hills give us heavily discounted or free days out from time to time so we can experience their product and subsequently sell or refer tourists to it.

This month I went on 2 FAM tours to Mount Norquay and Lake Louise. 


The closest skifield to Banff, Norquay is only a 10 minute drive and you can even see the runs from town. It’s the oldest resort in the Rockies and is really popular with the Banff locals. There is a 91 year old man who still regularly skis there.

The day started at the Mount Royal hotel car park. Only 4 of us jumped in a van and headed up the hill. Normally the tours have at least 20 people so it was nice to have a smaller group. The 3 Polish people that accompanied me all work as housekeepers and a resort in town.  They were all new to skiing so after our free coffee, muffin and chat about Norquay with the snow school director, they headed out for their lessons.

I headed out by myself to explore the mountain. It was a little eerie as it was so quiet (it was snowing heavily) so on most of my runs I didn’t see a single person. I did a few runs on Mystic, Cascade and Spirit chairs and the snow was great in the morning, about 10cm of fresh powder. The runs are a lot steeper than Sunshine but most are long and wide so they are enjoyable. I really wanted to do the North American chair, that one has the best view over Banff and has black and double blacks but it had only opened earlier that week so the snow coverage wasn’t great. I was advised to give it a miss. Next time…Skiing finished at 3:30 and I then had beer and nachos with the 3 Polish people, their ski instructor and the ski school director in the main lodge. It was a good day and for $37, you can’t loose. 

Lake Louise

At 40 minutes from Banff, Lake Louise is the furthest ski resort of the big 3. I was so excited about going to Lake Louise as I knew it rivalled Sunshine for area, terrain and lifts. Lake Louise has 10 lifts, 1700 skiable hectares, 3 lodges to eat in and incredible views. 

The bus from Banff was pretty much full and most people slept on the 40 minute drive up. Once at the resort we piled into Whickey Jack Lodge for coffee and muffins. Everyone was in groups and my friends (workmate Cian and flatmate Zeke) couldn’t make it so I went and sat with some girls at a table. Got chatting to Jana and Lena from Germany and Sophie from the Uk and ended up skiing with them all day. Very lovely girls and awesome skiers too! Lake Louise consists of 3 areas, Frontside, Back Bowls and Larch. We headed up the gondola on frontside first and explored the runs from there, mostly blue and green tree runs with a few blacks scattered around. Before lunch we headed over the the back bowls to Paradise chair and Larch which we really enjoyed as the snow was excellent and we found a couple of long wide blue runs we loved.

Lake Louise Trail Maps
After a quick burger and chips for lunch the girls and I headed up the top to the Top Of The World Express and Summit Platter, the first button lift I had ridden all season, hard on the legs I can tell you! Up the top visibility was poor, all day it had been cloudy and snowing, we couldn’t see anything except grey clouds over towards the lake, a pity because the views are usually fantastic. On the way down from the top I had the biggest wipe out so far this season. Too much powder and 0 visibility = faceplant! We did a few other runs on Larch and Glacier before heading back to the Lodge for a beer and some nachos. 

It was a great day despite the weather and  skiing a full day with people equally as good as I am was tiring! I’ll definitely be back to Lake Louise again, hopefully when the weather is clear and I can enjoy the stunning views.

Niagara Falls – a big surprise! 

Both Fergus and I thought Niagara Falls was a smallish town that sat on each side of the falls. Yes it would be touristy but we had no idea to what extent at all! 
On arrival at the bus station in the old part of town the surrounding buildings And quietness told a different story to what we would find a couple of minutes up the road. 

 After settling in to our lovely 4 person mixed dorm in the HI hostal, we set off in search of the famous falls. A 34-45 minute walk later we found ourselves in a large, modern town with the spectacular falls down below. The falls are in 2 sections, the American falls and the Canadian horseshoe (the more spectacular of the two) We wanderd around, took some photos and bought a 24 hour WeGo bus pass. 

On the way back to the hostal we met Rosie from the UK and Cleo, her Canadian friend. They had worked together in Europe and now Rosie was here on a working visa. We had a few vodkas in the kitchen with another guy caller Wart from Belguim/Holland and then headed off into town. 
We headed up Clifton Hill which is a street full of Vegas style amusements, restaurants, bars, a casino, museums and a lots of flashing signs and people trying to get you into their restaurant or sell you their tat. What a surprise that was, we had no idea the street even existed!
After getting some very cheap Jack Daniels cans from the bottle shop we sat alongside the mini golf watching and cheering people on as they putted around the huge dinosaurs and fire breathing volcano. Chatted and had a few drinks.

After being moved on by the police we went to a sports bar for a drink and some shots and then to Tim Hougtons for a sandwich before descending into the kareoke bar whereRosie and I sang Livin’ on a Prayer. Havent done kareoke in years, it was so fun. We then went to the casino for a bit before getting a cab back to the hostal. 

We woke up feeling rough as hell but determined to get out and be tourists. Had a massive fry up at Dad’s diner beside the hostal and got the bus into town. Got our tickets to the Hornblower Boat trip and took an elevator down to the base of the cliff. We got our bright red ponchos and climbed aboard. 

The trip is amazing, a couple in a poncho in frount of the falls is one of those iconic things you have seen a thousand times before and when you are there yourself, actually standing in the mist of the falls getting soaked and listening to the thunder of the the falling water you can’t quite believe you are there.
After drying off we headed back up the hill and back to Tim Houghtons for a sandwich. We then went to the casino to spend the $20 ticket I had found in my bum bag from the night before. Spent a few dollars fluttering on the machines.

Our last stop on our tour of Niagara Falls was the Skylon Tower. Similar to the CN Tower but a lot older, it was built in the 70s and is not that tall for a tower but the view is amazing and it’s well worth a trip up. You can see way up Niagara River and goat island as well as the town on the American side of the falls. (The Canadian side is better – fact) The Canadina side of Niagara sprawled out into the distance and ever further you can make out the skyscrapers of Toronto across Lake Ontario. 

After getting a cab back to the hostel we did a bit of shopping and had mushroom noodles for dinner before settling in for an early night. 

Niagara Falls, we ❤️ u.


So we finally departed the UK on the 22nd of June 2016 (today) for Canada. 

With a heavy large tramping pack and a small rucksack each we said our goodbyes to Alison and jumped on the train to Gatwick at East Croyden at 7:05, 15 minutes later we hopped off at the airport.

After eggs Benedict and a full English at Wetherspoons we set off a little late at 10am UK time. 

Westjet is a lot like Virgin Australia (back when I flew a lot with them) a young crew, jokes in amongst the serious information and free soft drinks and snacks. The flight was relatively boring as we were flying over the Atlantic Ocean, so all I saw was sea and clouds…..

I watched ‘A Walk In The Woods’, a film about Bill Bryson hiking the Appalachian Trail starring Robert Redford. Plesent and funny in bits and an easy to watch film.

Flying into Canada after 5 hours was quite spectacular. Suddenly after seeing the flat ocean (probably not so flat when you are in a boat as it was pretty choppy!) I saw towering steep cliffs with green grass and forests atop, then a few houses and we were down. 

On arrival in St John’s we had to wait in the plane for a while as we were 15 early, once out we headed straight for a teeny tiny customs area with 4 desks! 

We got to the desk and explained that we both had working holiday visas and after a quick glance at our passports we were told to report to the little room around the corner. 

The friendly lady took our passports, POAs, proof of funds and insurance documents and after 20 minutes presented us with our 2 year visas. She informed us we were unable to work in the sex industry, Childcare or teaching work. None of which I’d ever want to do. (I’m not sure about Ferg though!) it was a very painless encounter compared with some of the stories I have heard regarding working holiday visas. I’m guessing most people are young and unorganised, not like us.

We now have a 5 hour wait in the airport for our next flight to Toronto.

Post to be continued…….

The flight to Toronto was, again, uneventful. Mostly cloud but the tail end of the flight the clouds cleared and I had a wonderful view of the city and Lake Ontario. 

After landing we collected our bags and took the Union Pearson Express to Bloor. The train was nice and even had free wi-fi  (we now know that almost everywhere has free wi-fi). Once in Bloor we ended up walking to our AirB&B in Marguretta street. 

After nearly 24 hours travelling it was staring to bed! 

IEC Travel Insurance

Travel insurance will most probably be the biggest cost for your trip to Canada. 

We needed to find a company that covered the whole 2 years, offered winter sports cover and covered us going home if we need to.
The 2 big ones for UK based applicants are True Traveller and Alpha. 

True Traveller seems to be the one a lot of people go with but when I looked at their site it worked out to be over £700 each! Far too much.
So what I have done is go with Alpha Longstay cover and including winter sports the price ended up being around £300 each. Plus we booked via TopCashback so we will receive £101 back in 30 days! So £250 each, bargain!! Longstay allows you 2 trips home during your cover as well. 
 The catch with Alpha is that you need to have proof of ‘intent to return’ to the UK. This can include confirmation of University placement or employment start date, rental agreement, home insurance, court summons or return flights. 

What we are doing is getting some cheap return flights that we will be able to change later (we have no idea when we will be back) these will only been needed if we happen to claim from Alpha but it’s best to be covered. Plus the price of the return flights (which we will eventually use) and any fee we may incur from changing the flight date is still a lot cheaper than True Traveller. 

I have travelled a lot and have never ever had to claim on travel insurance but because it’s mandatory to get your visa and because we will be doing a lot of skiing I feel a lot better knowing I’m covered. I broke my arm last year so if I do have a big fall and injure that again I’ll be to get it treated as my hospital cover is something like £10million pounds! 
Whatever you do, you need the full 24 months insurance cover to get a 24 month visa. They will ask for this when you arrive so be prepared and have all your insurance documents printed out to show at the airport.