Banff is located in a National park and it is the home of many skiers and snowboarders. They drive up the mountain every morning and work a bit so once in a while. It’s also home for many Australians. The town is not a ski in ski out resort. From here you can choose between different ski areas. The closest one being Mt Norquay followed with Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. There are more areas but these are the main ones from Banff. The town itself has one main street, Banff Avenue. The other streets are probably named after the animals that were found or spotted there. From Otter, Beaver, Moose and Elk street to Grizzly, Buffalo and Wolf street.
My temporary home is in the Y Banff Mountain Lodge. Here I have a wonderful room overlooking the river and the village, with the mountains on the background. No complains here. Except maybe that its getting cleaned everyday which is a bit much. So I asked to have this reduced every second day. The housekeeping girls loved me for that. The mountain lodge was an former hospital and converted into a lodge. It has a combination of private and dorm rooms, but also permanent housing for season workers on the top floor. This creates is a wide variation of people walking around the building. Quickly you will meet people in the shared kitchen, lounge or the tv room.
After unpacking and getting settled in my room it’s time to hit the town. First stop picking up my season ski pass next stop supermarket.
I know Australian supermarkets can be expensive but here in Banff it’s not much better. But what can you expect in a ski resort. $100 dollars doesn’t buy you much. I see my bank account is going to hate me here. A bread over 5 dollars and a small piece of cheese (300gram) over 10 dollars. “how to confuse a Dutch guy” make bread and cheese expensive..
First day to the snow.
Still having a bit of a jetlag I was up early and ready to hit the slopes. Quick breaky and off to the bus. First Mountain/ski area in Canada for me is Lake Louise.
It’s not to cold (-10) and the sun is shining. A great way to start my ski adventure. The mountain offers complimentary ski guides that run a tour twice a day. Depending your ski level they take you on a the slopes that is suitable for you. This is a really nice way to get a quick and good understanding of the ski area. However it did not take me long to realise that the ski level of the guides was not really up to scratch and a bit to slow for me. So after one tours I had enough and went my own way.
Lake Louise got some really interesting runs and is a beautiful area with great views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
To get to the ski slopes every day I had to take the ski bus, sounds logic I know. These busses are pretty limited departing a few times in morning and after midday the bus is not going at all anymore. So no afternoon skiing if you get up late.
The alternative is hitchhiking to the mountain. This is an acceptable way of getting around here.
You walk to the end of the town and if your lucky there are not to many other hitchhikers waiting in front of you, if so you queue at the end of the line. But even if there are skiers or snowboarders waiting, pretty much every car that has an extra seat will stop and take somebody with them. One day when I was walking not far from the hostel on my way to the end of town with my skies on my shoulders, a car pulled over and offered a ride (that is what I call good hitchhiking) The guy in the car turned out to be living in the same lodge. That is how I met François-Xavier Tellier also known as FX.
Pretty much from that day on we skied together every day. I must admit that FX is a slightly better skier but we are pretty close, we did some amazing runs together. Some with cool names or less cool names but amazing scary entries like: Mineshaft, Hell’s Kitchen, The Beast, Jackpot, Free Fall and Adrenaline. But the highlight must have been Delirium dive. FX even bought a Delirium dive hat after we skied this. Delirium dive is an achievement for every skier, to be able to ski this route you need to know what your doing or you might get hurt (a lot) I do have to say that I am pretty proud that I skied this several times.
Its rated double diamond but I am convinced we skied this a few times in difficult conditions that this must have gone to triple diamond. The entry we took might be rated triple diamond as well. Not sure but it’s pretty scary at times (but still fun)
Normally when you do a run the first time, it can be a bit scary but the more times you do it the easier it would normally gets. Even dropping the first few meters of the edge into the bowl.
The first few weeks I had to get into shape and unfortunate I was not able to make long runs without stopping. But as time passed it all got easier and easier. It might have helped as well that I bought some new powder skies. So diving in powder or skiing between the trees was getting easier every day.
FX loved to have front row parking at the mountain, and also taking the first lifts up to make fresh tracks. This meant that we had to leave the lodge at 8am the latest. So for the people that thought I was having a holiday please think again. Skiing is hard work you know ;-)
So I was pretty much every day on the mountain except a few days when it was -30 or colder.
On a one occasion when it was so cold we went to Torque. This area is pretty close to the village but is a real small ski area. When you have a hangover, are tired or just want to ski for half a day because its cold, it might be an option. I went here twice for a few hours and did not really enjoyed it.
I might have forgotten how busy it can be in Europe and Australia. The beautiful thing about skiing in Canada is that there are not real long lines for the lifts. Only in weekends it can get busy but it’s still acceptable. Most of the times you just ski straight to the lift and off you go.
I could probably write for hours about how nice the snow is and how great the runs but I suggest you go see it for yourself. I am happy to accompany you if you need a ski buddy. The one thing I particular enjoyed are the unmark routes that are easy accessible and that its almost possible to ski powder or at least soft snow pretty much every day. I would have like to ski a bit more backcountry but to do this safe you really need somebody who knows the mountain. So for a peace of mind of my family I did not really do this.
After a long day of skiing FX and I had often dinner together in the cafe from the lodge. Meals for under 10 dollars, and I can’t cook for less than that so why bother right? I did made some attempts with cooking however I was not always that motivated to create big meals for myself after a tired day on the mountain. Instead I went to the Banff natural hot springs a few times to recover from all my hard work. I know your feeling sorry for me right now reading all this. The hot springs is a outdoor pool where the water is around the 40 degrees. Outside it was often -20. So you dive in and in no time your hair is frozen. Funny feeling that is.
The other options for my evening program was watching a movie or going to the pub. But I think I have seen more movies than the inside of pubs and clubs. With some great new friends I met in Banff I did had some good times going out. Special thanks for Frank that arranged cowboy hats one night and made me dance on country music. (I do have to get you back for that one Frank)
But all together is was great meeting all of you guys and girls.
One of the must-do’s in Canada is dog sledding (“for sure” the French Canadians would say
I was in two minds with the snowmobiling or the dogsled but I booked a tour with the dogs here in Banff. I normally not a big fan of animals doing these kinds of things but sometimes you need to make an exception. Not that I feel sorry for the animals but more that I don’t feel I have the control. Last time I sat on a horse did not give me the feeling it was doing what I wanted. Same with the dogs in the end. The little four footers know the route they are running so even if I would have liked to go in another direction they would not listen to me anyway. But despite the lack of really be able to control the dogs, it was an amazing experience. 6 little dogs can pull a big sled with 3 people pretty easy, amazing experience. I would see myself doing some backcountry tours with dogs like this. Sitting in the sled going up the hill and skiing down. Instead of cat skiing, dog skiing.
After all this fun and adventure it was time to move on to have some more fun and new adventures. It was time for me to go to British Colombia. Since the bus ride is about 17 hours I took the plane from Calgary to Vancouver. My ski bag however was still pretty heavy so I shipped this with the Greyhound direct from Banff to Whistler (next ski destination)
Up back to Calgary but this time straight to the airport.