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Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies Art & Science

Feb. 8, 2016
By Afton Aikens & Ashley Materi

While there’s plenty of outdoor adventure to be found in the Canadian Rockies, you can get your arts, culture and science fix here, too!

Banff Upper Hot Springs, Sylvia Plachy

Banff Upper Hot Springs, Sylvia Plachy

Inspired Images
Works of 20 international photographers that cover the diverse spectrum of the medium are showcased at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies exhibit Point of View: Photographs Inspired by the Canadian Rockies (in Banff, to March 27). Photos ranging from classic early 1900s Ansel Adams images to sculpture-based works by Diana Thorneycroft reflect both landscapes and emotional interpretations of mountain life.

Read more…

6 Reasons to Love Jasper’s Outdoor Playground

Feb. 4, 2016
By Afton Aikens & John Strugnell

Jasper National Park with its vast wilderness is a winter enthusiast’s paradise.

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Tourism Jasper

1. Explore by Snowshoe
Five Jasper trails are newly designated for snowshoeing and fat tire biking. “Snowshoeing is an affordable sport that allows trail users of all abilities to connect to the park,” says Joseph Zebrowski of Parks Canada. Find maps at the Information Centre; rental shops and tours are listed in our activities directory.

Read more…

Banff’s Sundance Lodge

Situated beside Brewster Creek and flanked by the Sundance Range, Sundance Lodge is the most accessible backcountry lodge in Banff National Park.

By Jack Newton

When the call of the wild beckons these days, cozy backcountry retreats come to mind. I guess my days of grand icefield traverses and winter camping are done. Hot meals, a comfortable bed and a soft seat beside a glowing wood stove have increasing appeal.

But I don’t want it too easy. I still revel in the sense of accomplishment that comes from earning creature comforts. So when the opportunity to make the 11.4-km (7.1-mi) trek to Banff’s Sundance Lodge presented itself, I did not hesitate.

The new bridge over Healy Creek was built after the old bridge was destroyed by the 2013 flood.

The new Healy Creek bridge was built in the aftermath of the 2013 flood.

The most direct trail to Sundance Lodge begins at Healy Creek Parking Lot on Sunshine Village Road. A former road with most of its snow packed firm by the snowmobile that supplies the lodge, it is perfect for fat biking. In fact, Sundance Lodge is the only backcountry accommodation in Banff National Park fully accessible by this newly popular mode of winter transportation.

My wife Donna and I chose instead the rhythmic and meditative motion of cross-country skiing. We were pleased that the trail’s edge was groomed for classic skiing, and enjoyed the fresh air exercise. Lunch at a sunny spot en route and stops to admire mountain views that presented themselves through the trees added to the experience.

Cross-country skiing beside Brewster Creek on the trail to Sundance Lodge in Banff.

Cross-country skiing beside Brewster Creek on the Sundance Lodge trail.

The clearly signed route consists of three sections. The first part is an easy stretch clockwise around a rocky knoll, across the new Healy Creek bridge, and along the south side of the creek. A right turn at the second junction accesses the trail that leads directly to Sundance Lodge.

Brewster Creek trail steadily rises until most of the route’s 173-m (568-ft) elevation gain is achieved. It then rolls through thinning forests that increasingly allow creek and peak views. Not long after crossing two bridges, Sundance Lodge and its backdrop of peaks present themselves in dramatic fashion through the pines.

The covered veranda at Banff’s Sundance Lodge is perfect for sipping a drink and conversing with friends.

The Sundance Lodge veranda is the perfect spot to visit with friends.

The cross-country ski to the lodge took us 3.5 hours. We travelled at a leisurely pace; others take an hour less. The return trip that offers more views, and a long and exciting downhill stretch took us 2.5 hours. Our companions on fat bikes made much faster time than us, both into the lodge and out.

I rate the trail to Sundance Lodge easy to moderate. If you have rudimentary skills as a cross-country skier, you will have no problem. The downhill section of the trail on the return is the only place where timid skiers might experience angst, but the generous width and packed base make it easy to snowplow. Access to Sundance Lodge by fat bike is similarly manageable, although less proficient riders dismount to walk some of the uphill stretches.

Fat tire biking is fastest way to access Sundance Lodge in winter.

Fat tire biking is the fastest way to access Sundance Lodge in winter.

Sundance Lodge co-owner Jonathan Welsh says, “If you’re looking for adventure you’ll make it in, even if backcountry skiing is normally out of your comfort zone.” Earlier this winter Jonathan made the trek with his five-year-old daughter, partially on snowshoes and partially walking.

Built in 1991, Sundance Lodge is a gorgeous log building situated beside Brewster Creek. On-site is 1923 Ten-Mile Cabin that once sheltered horse riders en route to Mount Assiniboine.

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The wood stove in the cozy living room efficiently heats the entire lodge.

Inside and out, the lodge’s ambience is Canadian cowboy. Western art and photos adorn the walls, and spent horseshoes find afterlife as ski racks and coat hangers. This is entirely appropriate as Sundance Lodge caters to Banff Trail Riders pack trip clients in the summer.

Sundance’s rustic décor is complemented by modern amenities that are not all available at other backcountry lodges in the Canadian Rockies. Indoor bathrooms are equipped with showers and flush toilets. Propane powers the fridge and stove, while LED lights and a water pump are operated by solar panel-generated electricity.

Beds at Sundance Lodge feature new mattresses, down duvets and Pendleton blankets.

Beds feature new mattresses, down duvets and Pendleton blankets.

Unlike other Banff backcountry lodges, all living areas at Sundance Lodge are contained within one building. The main sitting area has a long table, country-style couches and chairs, and a wood stove that efficiently provides the lodge heat. Ten upstairs bedrooms feature new mattresses, down duvets and Pendleton blankets.

For me, enjoying the warm comfort of Sundance Lodge common areas would come later. While Donna and other guests enjoyed homemade banana bread and tea beside the fire, I was drawn to the swinging bench on the covered balcony that runs the length of the lodge. This is where I would relax and savour one of beers I had packed in. (Sundance Lodge is also licensed to sell beer and wine to guests.) Soon I was joined by Jonathan who was similarly inclined to enjoy the remains of the day while gazing out at the creek and wilderness beyond.

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Chef Steve Roach served braised honey garlic beef for dinner.

The backcountry lodge experience is defined in part by the home cooked meals communally taken by previous strangers who now enjoy each other’s company.

At Sundance Lodge, live-on-site chef Stephen Roach presides over the large open-to-view kitchen with a long table where guests dine. He is perhaps Sundance’s biggest booster. “The first time I set foot in this place, I felt I had come home,” he says. Meals are served with wonderful stories of Steve’s life as an accomplished chef, vintage Harley Davidson rider and rock concert aficionado.

I read that food at Sundance Lodge was good, but the meals nonetheless exceeded my expectations. Our dinner of braised honey garlic beef brisket included accompaniments such as homemade vegetable soup, fresh baked crusty buns and Steve’s own apple pie with whipped-by-hand ice cream. The cinnamon buns at breakfast were prepared and baked by Steve at 6 am that morning.

IMG_1549 Sundance Lodge provides snowshoes for backcountry exploration.

Sundance Lodge provides snowshoes for backcountry exploration.

Many guests at Sundance Lodge simply relax, read and socialize. Others stage forays further up the trail. I borrowed snowshoes offered at the lodge for this purpose, trekked up the frozen creek and returned via the packed trail. Those with an extra day often go 4 km (2.5 mi) to Turtle Tom’s Cabin.

Sundance Lodge is one of the few backcountry retreats in the Canadian Rockies that allows one-night stays. This is great if you face restrictions on your time or budget. But next time I visit Sundance, I want to immerse myself more in the ambience of the lodge and the solitude of the outdoors. I’d like to stay longer.

>> For more Canadian Rockies activities, shops, restaurants and entertainment, read our digital magazine.

>> Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram at whererockies and tag your Canadian Rockies posts and photos with #whererockies

World Cup Fun at the Canmore Winter Carnival

Jan. 29, 2016
By Afton Aikens

Image: CanmoreBiathlon.ca

Image: CanmoreBiathlon.ca

This year’s Canmore Winter Carnival promises to be the biggest and best in its 20-year history, with two World Cup events (biathlon and cross-country skiing) as part of the festival. (For those who aren’t familiar with biathlon, the sport combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting). Read more…

Mountain Living for Seniors

Jan. 23, 2016
By Glenn Miles

Image credit: Origin at Spring Creek

Image credit: Origin at Spring Creek

A seniors’ residence is not my first thought when I visit the mountains, but after a tour of Canmore’s new Origin at Spring Creek, it definitely makes the list. It brought to mind active, independent parents who would benefit from the vibrant culture ever present in this place—and myself when I’m over 65. Senior visitors who are looking to live in a beautiful setting will be intrigued by how accessible Origin at Spring Creek is. Read more…

Banff’s Backcountry Lodges

Jan. 25, 2016
Afton Aikens & Jack Wennot

Travel Alberta

Skoki Lodge, Travel Alberta

Snowshoe or ski tour to these rustic, log-built wilderness cabins that serve home-cooked meals and offer access to many fantastic trails. Reservations are a must.

Skoki Lodge, built by local residents in 1931, is 11 km from the Lake Louise Ski Resort over Boulder and Deception mountain passes. The lodge caters to skiers of all abilities, with ski touring and telemarking slopes, plus cross country routes nearby.

The main lodge and three surrounding cabins can accommodate 22 guests. Skoki does not have electricity or running water, but warm wash water is available. At night, candles and kerosene lamps light the lodge. Skoki is known for its delicious buffet-style breakfasts and dinners. Winter season runs to April 24.

Read more…

Winter Essentials from 12 Canadian Rockies Shops

Jan. 21, 2016
By Where Writers

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Ultra Warm
In Jasper, keep the cold out with items from these local shops:

  • Totem Ski Shop: Merino wool base layers by Ibex are warm, comfortable and breathable. “They smell fresh even after an active day,” says store manager Victor Vassalo.
  • Wild Mountain: The North Face TKA 100 Glacier 1/4 Zip fleece mid-layer offers a soft, relaxed fit. “It’s great for activities or a day in town,” says Catherine Auclair of the store.
  • Mountain Air: Canada Goose down jackets come in a variety of lengths for different activities. Store owner Karen Jacobs says, “Even jackets built for -25°C aren’t bulky.”
  • Gravity Gear: Icebreaker Merino wool toques have thin fibres that keep you warm and don’t itch. When it comes to hats, Gravity Gear owner Dale Diduck is “all about wool.”
  • Edge Control Ski Shop: Seirus Heatwave+ Daze gloves and mitts have back-side Neofleece and reflective layers, and soft, wicking palm-side insulation. They’re “extremely warm,” says store owner Blair Timmins.
  • On-Line Sport: Sorel boots are durable and comfortable. On-Line owner Mike Merilovich says, “Many models are waterproof.”

Read more…

5 Outdoor Mountain Activities to try this Winter

Jan. 18. 2016
By Afton Aikens, Ashley Materi & Olivia Grecu

Visiting Banff or Canmore this winter? Whether you’re the do-it-yourself or take-a-tour type, the Canadian Rockies offer something for everyone. Get outside and explore!

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1. Cross-Country Skiing
Banff cross-country skiers can ride Roam Public Transit to the Spray River Loop (by the Fairmont Banff Springs) or Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court loops (search our Banff shopping listings for gear rental shops). Downhill skiers can also ditch the car and take the bus to the resorts.

Read more…

8 Reasons We Love Jasper’s Food Scene

Jan. 14, 2016
By Afton Aikens, Ashley Materi & John Strugnell

In winter, Jasper has great skiing at Marmot Basin and in the backcountry. And of course, there are those stunning, snow-draped mountains. After your day in Jasper’s outdoor playground ends (or begins), you’ll love a meal at one of the many fantastic restaurants in town. Here’s why we do.

1. Indian Cuisine
Jasper Curry House is the first in town to offer authentic Indian food. Chef/owner Gopala Shelke’s menu includes specialties from a tandoor oven. The cylindrical clay oven concentrates heat from fiery coals so foods infuse with rich flavours and cook at a consistent temperature. Try the Murg Malai Tikka (chicken with yogurt, crushed cashews and cheese) for a treat.

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2. Hearty Brews
Seeking a robust beer? With notes of cloves and molasses, Jasper Brewing Co.’s Rockhopper IPA has a strong hoppy flavour and is a favourite pour (also available at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s Emerald Lounge). At The Inn Grill, Edmonton-brewed Alley Kat Amber Ale’s caramel malts bring out a full-bodied sweetness balanced by a light aromatic hop. Read more…

Insider Tips: Canadian Rockies Ski Resorts

Jan. 7, 2016
By Where Staff

For Banff National Park ski resorts, read our previous feature.

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Alberta’s Olympic Mountain: Nakiska Ski Area

Between Banff and Calgary, south of Hwy 1 via Hwy 40, this resort was built to host the 1988 Olympics. Beautiful Kananaskis Valley views abound, and Kananaskis Village is only minutes away.

Read more…

Insider Tips: Banff National Park Ski Resorts

Enhance Your Experience

Dec. 23, 2015
By Where Writers

Our Canadian Rockies paradise has beckoned those who crave incredible skiing for nearly a century. We boast an enviable combination of deep dry snow, tree-lined and open bowl terrain, high-speed lifts and on-hill amenities. Peaks outnumber people, and the ski season is the longest in the country.

Canada’s Mountain Parks (UNESCO World Heritage sites Banff and Jasper national parks, plus Kananaskis Country) are home to five Alberta ski areas. Read on for our insider insights.

Banff National Park
Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are Banff’s ‘Big 3’. Tri-area multi-day lift passes with ski bus and optional lessons can be purchased at the Banff Ski Hub.

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Read more…

Best Hotels & Lodges in the Canadian Rockies

By Sara Samson, Afton Aikens and Jack Wennot

Browse accommodations: Banff | Canmore | Lake Louise | Jasper | Golden | Invermere & Area | Fernie & Area

Historic Fairmont Hotels
Banff and Jasper offer accommodation for every traveller, including luxury hotels, budget motels, rustic lodges, B&Bs, condos and hostels. But the grandest are the original Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Canadian National Railway (CN) hotels.

Now operated as Fairmont hotels, the Banff Springs, Chateau Lake Louise and Jasper Park Lodge offer historical significance, luxury, resort amenities and alpine adventure — plus prime mountain locations with extraordinary views. These are amongst Canada’s best and most iconic hotels.

Image: Fairmont Banff Springs

Image: Fairmont Banff Springs

Fairmont Banff Springs: Alberta’s “Castle in the Rockies” is the birthplace of Canadian Rockies tourism. This Scottish baronial hotel by the Bow River is a 10-minute walk from downtown Banff. Guests access a $30-million spa, renowned golf course, bowling, tennis, horse stables, shopping and 12 restaurants. Guests have included King George VI, Marilyn Monroe and Bill Gates. Read more…