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. 

Norquay

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.

I’m now a Banff Ambassador! 

The Banff Ambassador Program is such a fantastic idea, it gives new ‘locals’ a chance to do some of the amazing activities in the Rocky Mountains while teaching them about the history, natural resources, wildlife and people of this wonderful part of the world. I found about it from my flatmate, Carris who had recently completed it. 

The first part consists of a fun 1.5 hour informative talk by 2 local girls about Banff and the Bow Valley, it’s history, it’s  wildlife, it’s geology and it’s tourism. The group consisted of around 30 young people from all over the world and you didn’t even have to register, just show up to the library and take part!

The second part was a 3 hour tour of Banff and the surrounding area. This is an actual tour that costs around $60 for tourists but for Banff Ambassadors it’s only $10. The day I went there was no tourists on the tour which made it more fun. It was run by an Aussie guy from Cairns and was really informative.Two Jack LakeHeading down to the Beaver DamTour Bus

The tour included: 

  • Banff Springs hotel
  • Hoodoos lookout
  • Surprise corner
  • Bow falls
  • Elk spotting at the golf course
  • Two Jack Lake
  • Lake Minnewanka
  • Vermillion lakes Beaver Dam

Most of these sights I have already seen but it was great to get a bit of information about each of these places.

On completion of the tour we all recieved a voucher booklet with over $500 worth of vouchers! From snow tubing to museums, hot springs and glacier walking. Free stuff!

I would 100% recommend this programe for anyone who comes to live Banff. 

Memories of the tropics…

This evening was the first evening shift I did alone at Brewster’s Mountain Lodge (BML) and with only around 52% occupancy and a handful of check ins it was a pretty slow night.While looking at Google Earth, as one does when they have time to spare and a computer, I stumbled upon Port Douglas. Over the years I have wandered down the streets of ‘Port’ via street view or had a look at the Sheraton Mirage Resort website just to see how its changed or to show someone the beautiful paradise I used to work in.I still feel a hint of sadness that I left such a beautiful place but then I quickly remember why I did so and that was to travel, and travel I certainly did! After leaving North Queensland I have travelled to over 20 countries, spent 10 years in England and now I am on a working holiday visa in Canada.

Its funny how these 2 resorts, one in Tropical Northern Australia and the other in the Canadian Rocky Mountains are so very similar.They are both urrounded by incredible, world renowned areas of natural beauty,

  • Banff – The mountains, lakes, glaciers and rivers
  • Port Douglas – The reef, rainforest, rivers and tablelands

They both rely on tourists to survive after being small industrial towns

  • Banff – First settled in the 1880s, after the transcontinental railway was built through the Bow Valley.
  • Port Douglas – The township was established in 1877 after the discovery of gold at Hodgkinson River.

They both have very dangerous animals living in and around them 

  • Banff – Grizzly/Black bears, Cougars, Elk, Moose
  • Port Douglas – Crockodiles, Jellyfish, Cassowary, Snakes, Spiders, 

When I arrived in Port I was 19, fresh out of collage, a little immature and raring to party! My first job was there, and so were my next 20 or so. I was hired and fired numerous times and wasn’t really that bothered about my job as there was always another around the corner, and if not, the bank of Mum and Dad was there to help out. I did housekeeping, turndown service, waitressing, bar work and worked at a tour desk.I did manage to stay at the magnificent Sheraton Mirage Resort for 3 plus years and was basically running the swim up Ocean Breeze Bar while also working in both the buffet and fine dining restaurants, the bakery, the activities centre, the Cocktail bar and helping with banquets. It was hard work but I really loved working there. I was eventually fired for calling in sick after a night out, the local snooker competition end of season drinks in fact. My F&B manager was also in a team so instantly knew where I had been. Massive fail but I was probably time to move on anyway.I loved living in the tropics, walking down beautiful 4-mile beach to work, sometimes stopping for a dip, sailing to the Low Isles on huge yachts while drinking cocktails and laughing and singing, trips to the Daintree Rainforest for raves and fishing, lazy days sunbathing on the beach and of course all the Sunday sessions with the locals at the Courty Pub.While Port has a population of 4,454 permanent residents, Banff has around 7,584 so is a lot bigger but also due to being in a National Park can’t get a lot bigger due to building legislation whereas they are constantly building new resorts and apartments in Port and in a few years I wouldn’t be surprised if it joined Craigie. (The next settlement)
What is similar about these towns is the lifestyle and the people that come here. Banff is bursting with young 19 year olds, fresh out of collage, a little immature and raring to party! Being the ripe old age of 36, when I walk down the street I see loads of younger people doing what I did all those years ago and have heard stories about people not being that responsible and getting fired from jobs for this that and the next thing. History repeats itself….

Instead of living next to the Great Barrier Reef, its Islands and the Rainforest I am now in amongst towering mountains, alpine lakes and most importantly ski fields, 3 of them in this area and more a bit further away. Heaven!I am so so so excited about finally doing a ski season, not just anywhere, but in Canada, the ultimate ski destination. I look back at my past and yes, sometimes I feel a bit sad thinking about the good times and friends I met back then but then I think of what my future holds, more good times, more new friends, adventure, excitement and fun.I may now be 36 and more mature (just a little bit) but I still have that 19 year old’s passion and drive for adventure, meeting new people and living life to the fullest.

‘Not all those who wander are lost’ J.R.R Tolkein

 

 

 Work, work, work, work, work…..

We are now settled and both have work.

So much for the 4-5 months off I told everyone about back in London! We had 3 months off work, which in this day and age is fine with me. Watching your thousands of dollars of savings slowly whittle away is horrifying to say the least. I now wish we had couchsurfed throughout our whole trip but then we wouldn’t have met the wonderful AirB&B hosts along the way, namely our Bremerton friends. 

Hey ho, life goes on and we have to get back to the daily grind. One thing I have to mention is my commute to work. Gone (for now) are the 2 hour, multiple, frustrating train journeys into central London. They have been replaced by a leisurely 12 minute walk meandering through the trees while taking note of the overnight snowfall on the stunning mountains to my office at Howling Dog ToursI am a Reservations Agent/Pet shop attendant. 2 days a week I look after hamsters, mice, fish and lizards and sell pet supplies. Never in my life did I think I’d work in a pet shop, it’s hard work and I don’t like selling the cute mice to people to feed their snakes but I guess we all have to eat. The other 2-3 days a week I’m on the reservations desk replying to tour queries, booking tours and doing general office admin. I’m REALLY looking forward to going on a dog sled tour once the season starts in November! 

Fergus is working at construction /labouring company based in Banff and is doing 50ish hours a week. He will have his muscles back on top form in no time! He is currently working at Cascade Gardens which is at the head of Banff Main Street, the views from there, wow!

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.

Arrival….

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!