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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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!

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.

Sunshine Meadows – Fall Hiking

The first time I visited a ski resort in summer was when I was about 13 and my Mum, my cousin and I went up to Coronet Peak in Queenstown, NZ for a walk. It was hot and dry and I wore a vest top and a mini skirt. (Hey, it was the 90s!) I remember the main building being open but apart from hiking there wasn’t much more to do apart from enjoy the views over Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables.The next time was Whistler Blackcomb in 2016. This time the mountain was geared up for the Summer with mountain biking trails, hiking, the Peak to Peak gondola, lots of restaurants and bars and concerts going on all the time. I admit Whistler is a much bigger resort but I think ski resorts these days offer much more in the way of Summer activities.This week Fergus, our flatmate Kurt and I visited Sunshine Meadows. After skiing all season at Sunshine Village, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to visit the ski area in the off season. It was the beginning of Fall when we visited so there was plenty of snow covering the ground but the trails were mainly snow free and we were able to enjoy the Autumn colours and warmth on the last open day of the hiking season.

Upon arrival, we bought our discounted tickets (due to having a season pass last ski season) for the shuttle bus and Standish chair from guest services. We got on the old yellow school bus along with a swarm of tourists and started up the ski out to the main village.

Travelling up the ski out in a bus made it look a lot steeper than it looks and feels when skiing down it at high speeds after a long day on the slopes. It was also a lot bumpier and at some points I was concerned the old bus would burst a tyre or stop altogether and slide back down the mountain. It was an enjoyable ride despite this and it was great to be up high and look down onto the Black Middle and Lower Canyon runs and of course see the waterfalls and mountain streams, without snow cover.

We hopped on Standish chair which felt a bit odd without skis strapped to our feet but it was great to be heading up the familiar slope again, seeing the ski area to the left of us and the mountain ranges in front of us stretching out as far as the eye could see. It was a tad chilly going up but once at the top the wind died down as we headed out towards the Standish Viewing Deck. This is a large wooden deck situated on the ridge about 400 metres from the top of the Standish chair, the view from the deck is just incredible. You lookout over the whole of Sunshine Meadows, including Rock Isle, Laryx and Grizzly lakes, Simpson River Valley, various mountain ranges and peaks including the impressive Monarch and famous Mount Assiniboine. To the left, the Angel and Divide chairs rise up Lookout mountain with their empty chairs dangling, waiting for the Winter crowds. Its just breathtaking.We quickly started to descend the steep and slippery trail down to Twin Cairns Junction to avoid the crowds, most tourists are not used to walking in snow and we were just as bad, Fergus and Kurt wore Vans, not so good in the snow, I had my North Face Hiking boots on but still managed to slip over onto my knees at one point but that’s just incoordination on my part I think. The view over the Valleys below The Monarch were very autumnal indeed, the oranges and yellows of the Larch trees and the dark green of the evergreens contrasted with the bright white snow covering the ground.We arrived at Rock Isle Junction and carried onto the Grizzly/Laryx Loop trail. En route we passed the beautiful Rock Isle Lake, the most well known and largest Lake at Sunshine Meadows. The lake gets its name from the rocky island in the centre of it where a few trees call home. Behind the Lake, Lookout mountain towered above the meadows and you could clearly see the Divide chair and most of the runs coming off it. They looked much steeper from way down in the valley. Some of the mountain was covered in snow but it was patchy and hard to imaging opening day is only a month and a half away.We carried on down the hill to Grizzly Lake where we were happy to find a few hikers enjoying their lunch. We hadn’t seen anyone for a while and arriving at a lake named after the most feared animal in the Rockies we were a little relieved to see people. Grizzly lake was a different colour than Rock Isle. Rock Isle is bluer and is more out in the open whereas Grizzly is quite sheltered by steep banks and forest. On the far side and head of the lake you could see where the recent forest fires had burnt away the trees in huge areas. The Verdant Creek fire had come very close to the ski resort and during the Summer the lodge was used as a base for the firefighters who were working on fighting the huge fire.Continuing past the lake the trail rose up onto a cliff face and we came upon Simpson Viewpoint. This lookout was probable the highlight of the day for me, the huge Simpson River Valley spreads out before you far into the distance, the different shades of greens in the hills, cliffs and mountains make the valley look even deeper and I was sure I could see all the way to Radium. The most interesting yet sad feature of the valley was the amount of burnt forest there was on both sides of the valley. I’m so glad we had some snow recently so the fires were able to be put out and we were able to visit Sunshine Meadows, it was closed for hiking for a lot of the summer.We walked down the hill to Laryx Lake, the 3rd lake in the Meadows. We were able to walk almost the entire way around Laryx on the stony trail, across narrow log bridges and over the grassy plains. Laryx was quite calm and was sheltered from the wind so we were able to see the reflections of the surrounding mountain peaks in its shallow water which was beautiful. Sat down for a bit and watched a young Chipmunk scurry about looking for dropped food.After a short rest we climbed back up to Rock Isle Lake and at Rock Isle Junction we turned onto the Village to Lake Trail and headed up towards Divide Chair and the runs that come off Stawberry. After stopping at the Rock Isle viewpoint we continued down the path beside the Rock Isle Road green run back to the village. It was nice to actually walk along a ski run we had all been down many times. Being back at the Village when there was no snow was odd, we saw stairs that are usually buried under the snow and paths, roads and signposts that are not normally there, the place looked quite different. Waited for the shuttle bus for around 30 minutes before being informed it had broken down on the way up so we were driven back to the base in a small van. 

It was a great but tiring day and I’m glad I got to experience it before we leave Canada. 

 

 

50 days, 5 resorts and a million laughs…

This is the first time since we started traveling that I have felt really down. I feel like something is missing, something special has ended and there is a void in the pit of my stomach. The ski season is over.​I always knew I would have a wee cry and be upset when the ski season ended and to be honest I was getting a bit sick of skiing and only made the effort to go up if the weather was good whereas at the beginning of the season I would go, rain, hail or shine but I am feeling very sad that I can no longer jump on the bus and head up the mountain for a few hours before work or spend the morning skiing and the afternoon at Trappers having a few drinks or watching a band.2016/17 was such a great season and doing this was the best thing I have ever done and something I have wanted to do all my life. Sunshine Village is a very special place, the staff, many we know personally have made it such a great place to be. From the instructor who taught Fergus to ski to our mate Mitch from rentals, they have all made it a season to remember.Goat’s Eye, Standish, Angel, Wawa, Divide, Teepee and Strawberry are words we used often and everyone knew where you were talking about. In the future these words will always evoke a good memory when they are randomly and most probably very infrequently used. We had our own language up there, one everyone understood.I’m so glad Fergus has enjoyed it too. Back at the start of November he had never even been to a ski resort and I remember laughing at him trying to walk in ski boots for the first time, roll on 7 months and he is nearly as fast as me and is flying over big jumps and down black runs with ease. I’m glad I have been able to introduce the sport I love to the man I love.Slush Cup 89 was the best way to end a cracker season, the sun was out, the tunes were pumping and Trappers was packed full of revellers all wanting to cheers to a great season. It definitely went out with a bang!So today I packed up my boots, wiped down my skis, put them into storage and cleaned out my rucksack of things skiing related and stored them away in a memory box.

Yes, it is sad but we still have another Canadian ski season ahead of us, an amazing Summer full of travel and adventure and we have met some lifelong friends skiing this season at Sunshine.Sunshine village will always have a special place in my heart.
 

SKIING! – This is what we came to Canada for!

Stunning first day at Sunshine Village.

The Resort

Sunshine Village ski resort opened on November 3rd, the earliest opening day for 30 years! That tells me this season is going to be a cracker one.
Sunshine consists of 3 mountains, Mt Standish, Goats Eye and Lookout Mountain. It’s a lot bigger that any ski area in NZ but smaller that the big ones in Europe. You jump on a high-speed Gondola at the base and travel 20 minutes to the Village where there are 3 lodges, Lookout Lodge where there are restaurants and shops, Old Sunshine Lodge which is a pub/restaurant and Sunshine Mountain Lodge which is a ski in/ski out hotel. Sunshine Trail Maps

There are 12 lifts including 2 magic carpets and a luxury express bubble chair with heated seats. 

We have season passes which were just under $1000. Really cheap when you use them a lot which we will. I also get half the cost back through work if I say until the end of the season!Not the nicest of photos…..

Gear

I had my trusty Head Great One skis and Scott poles sent over from the UK at a cost of £130. Even though my skis are 2010 they are in great shape and always preform wether it be ice or deep powder. After a wax and sharpen at Snowtips in Banff where I get a 25% discount, they were ready to go.  Head Great Ones

I invested in new boots this year and am so glad I did so. Ski boots are so important to both comfort and performance and getting them mounded you your feet is also a must. They are not cheap though, mine were $369.00.

I researched for ages on the internet at the best womans boots from 2015 and 2016. I wanted the right flex for my skill level and of course a comfortable boot! In the end I had a pair in mind and went to Sports Experts in Canmore and funnily enough they had a selection of last year’s boots on sale and had one pair of Atomic Hawx 90 left in my size! After a few days breaking them in they are by far the most comfortable ski boots I have ever owned!Alomic Hawx 90

Ski School

Fergus had his first skiing lesson on the Sunday after the resort opened. He was so lucky there was only 2 of them in his all day lesson. Him and a lady from the Gold Coast. I went up and down Stawberry a few times (the small lift near the bunny slope) so I could watch his progress. First day of lessons

​I have to say, Fergus has taken to skiing a lot faster than I ever did. On his first day he went down a Green run on Stawberry and the second day we went up together I took him all over the mountains. Some runs he wasn’t fond of but he’s definately faster and more confident each day we go. I’m so very proud of him.Fergus and I on the bubble chair Stunning day!

I can also feel myself improving, it’s been 2 weeks since Sunshine opened and I’ve been 5 times. The snow has been wonderful, 8-10cm of fresh powder has fallen this week and it’s just fab to ski on.

Dreams do come true…

Lake Louise, Norquay and Nakiska open soon and we will go out and explore those resorts but Sunshine will be home for the next 6-7 months. I cannot believe I can ski every 3-4 days, I have been wanting this all my life, it’s true, it’s never too late to live your dreams.Ski bunnies – my flatmate Carris & I