By Jack Newton
Our editorial staff at Where Canadian Rockies have been writing about the 11,000-square foot climbing gym at Canmore’s Elevation Place since the facility opened two years ago. Everyone at the magazine was eager to try the wall (up to 45 feet high), and the occasion of our 2014 staff Christmas party gave us the opportunity.
Climbing at Elevation Place in Canmore
Two experienced climbers in our group opted to climb on their own, while the remaining eight joined a private group lesson arranged by Where associate publisher Glenn Miles. Elevation Place instructors Brian and Mike showed us how to secure our harnesses and ropes, and to safely belay.
It was time to tackle our first route. We formed groups of two, and one person ascended the wall while the other managed the rope so the climber would be safe if there was a stumble. We conquered easier pitches rated at 5.6 in short order, and soon we were challenging ourselves on routes with difficulty ratings to 5.10. One pitch included a ledge we could scramble onto for a break before continuing.
All around was a hive of activity. On the wall (and operating belay systems) were moms and daughters, teenagers with friends and climbers in their 60s. Everyone in our group was having a blast, so much so that our one-and-a-half-hour lesson extended to two hours. Our instructors Brian and Mike didn’t seem to mind.
After climbing, we greeted the brightly lit CP Holiday Train at its Canmore stop and enjoyed the music of Jim Cuddy and friends playing atop their unique boxcar stage. Then the party moved to Where general manger Warren Mackie’s house for prime rib dinner served with good wine and plenty of seasonal cheer.
Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!
Photo: Tourism Canmore Kananaskis
By Where Staff
This holiday season, downtown Canmore is the place to shop for the perfect gifts. Unique boutique finds abound, and participating stores are offering secret Christmas specials to festival passport holders (passports are available at locations throughout downtown—your purchases earn stamps, and stamps get you the chance to win a $1,200 grand prize!).
Sign up for the Christmas in Canmore Advent Calendar and receive a daily deal in your inbox from a Canmore shop or restaurant. On ‘Red Nose Fridays’, December 5, 12 and 19, several stores will be open late. You can also take a guided shopping tour (including a desperate husbands tour on December 20), or take advantage of husband and child sitting at one of five locations.
By Afton Aikens
With ski resorts open (and busy) from November to May, Banff is a good place to be a winter enthusiast. Embracing these chilly months has shaped the culture of the Canadian Rockies and those who live and play here, so it’s fitting that Banff National Park hosts a festival to ring in the season.
The Winterstart calendar (Nov. 29-Dec. 21) is packed with excitement. Get in the spirit with the Lake Louise Alpine World Cup (men’s weekend Nov. 29-30 and ladies’ weekend Dec. 5-7). Browse an exhibition at a local art gallery, or learn to curl at the town rec centre (Dec. 3, 10 & 17).
Photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Enjoy the family-friendly festivities in Banff Avenue Square (Saturdays 4-7 p.m. from Nov. 29-Dec. 20) like the ice carving and Christmas craft stations, or relax by the fire with free hot chocolate and marshmallows to roast. Don’t forget to get your picture taken with Santa.
A favourite event is the Santa Claus Parade of Lights & Festive Fun on Dec. 6. The day begins with free entertainment like caroling, balloon twisting, carnival games and crafts around town. Face painting and photos with Santa will be offered at a minimal cost. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to a local charity. Catch a holiday wagon ride at The Trail Rider store, and of course, watch the parade of lights down Banff Avenue at 5:30 p.m.
The following Saturday, Dec. 13, the CP Holiday Train rolls into town at the Banff Heritage Train Station, which will be hosting an open house with live entertainment, hot chocolate and fire pits to warm up beside. Admire the newly renovated train station. The train will arrive at 7 p.m.
By Afton Aikens
The second part of this four-week post series will introduce you to snowshoeing, a fun, low-impact and low-cost old-fashioned winter activity. Snowshoeing requires little planning, simple gear and no experience. Luckily, here in the Rockies there’s no shortage of powder to sink those snowshoes into! Join a local operator on a guided tour, or rent snowshoes and be your own guide.
Photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism
An Authentic Sense of Winter
“Snowshoeing is the fastest growing sport in North America,” says Mark Zanetti, sales manager at Discover Banff Tours. “People from all walks of life try it out and to their surprise find it not difficult at all. We tell guests that if you can walk, you can snowshoe!”
By Afton Aikens & Lisa Stephens
Marvel at snow-capped peaks from the cozy comfort of a horse-drawn carriage, hot chocolate in hand. Or strap on snowshoes and venture deep into a valley glistening in winter glory. However you prefer to play, ’tis the season to explore Canada’s Rockies in all their snowy splendour.
This four-week post series will introduce you to dog sledding, snowshoeing, sleigh riding and cross-country skiing. Once essential modes of winter travel, these activities now entice people looking for good old-fashioned mountain fun in the great outdoors.
Photo: Cold Fire Creek Dog Sledding
Photo: Bjorn Nielsen
By Afton Aikens & Jack Newton
Watching a live hockey game makes for great après-ski. See the elite National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames demonstrate their speed and finesse. Hockey tours depart Banff and Canmore late afternoon. Or, take in a local Canmore Eagles game. “We have a very competitive team this year,” says John Ross of the club. New this year, toast this impressive Alberta Junior Hockey League team with a beer!
For the sports fan looking to watch in comfort, renovated Tony Roma’s Lounge in downtown Banff boasts two 75” HDTVs (and four other big screens) that show every NHL and NFL match. Game day food and drink specials (usually Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday), a fireplace, leather seats and friendly bartenders contribute to the viewing experience.
By Where Staff
The Stay Active Rx deep-tissue massage at the Fairmont Banff Springs’ Willow Stream Spa targets sore muscles with a warm Indonesian ginger-oil blend and uses cooling elements to soothe inflammation. Soak in the relaxing mineral pools before and after for ultimate restoration.
The 60-minute Tropical Escape Wrap is a Rimrock Resort Hotel Spa favourite. Certified therapists (your choice of male or female) exfoliate with a salt scrub, then hydrate with a papaya and pineapple infused wrap. Warm waters applied by the six-showerhead Vichy bar further soothe winter-stressed skin. Add a mini facial or a scalp massage with warm conditioning argan oil.
Photo: Ian McIntosh via Edge Control
By Jack Newton & Afton Aikens
Thinner, Lighter, Stronger Skis
“They ski remarkably well, yet weigh nothing,” enthuses Edge Control owner Blair Timmins after taking Völkl’s 2015 V-Werks Katana for a test drive. Cutting edge composites, multi-layered wood cores and full carbon jackets are combined with rocker construction and innovative taper shapes. These new generation skis are stable at speed, and easy to turn and control in all snow conditions.
Not ready to commit? All local ski shops rent skis and snowboards. Competition means that novice packages are priced low, the world’s best gear is available for demo rental and services like hotel pick-ups are offered. If you rent from the downtown Marmot Basin Sales Centre or their website your gear will be waiting when you arrive at the ski area. Plus, “we’ll store your rentals overnight,” says Erin Reade of Marmot.
Photo: Robyn Moore
By Afton Aikens
Some of our favourite places to escape the cold:
Cascade Shops: Indulge your inner fashionista at Banff’s largest indoor shopping centre.
The Banff Centre: See top international talent at a music, dance or theatre performance.
Fairmont Banff Springs: Admire the baronial architecture at the historic hotel while shopping, dining or rejuvenating at the luxurious spa.
Lux Cinema: (shown above) Catch a flick at the Bow Valley’s independent (and only) movie theatre.
Elevation Place: Try Canmore’s impressive climbing wall, exercise room and aquatic playground.
Okay, so we couldn’t name just five…
Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino: Try your luck at the Alberta Rockies’ only casino.
By Afton Aikens
Beef-to-bison converts love the latter’s leanness, while elk is popular with visitors who want to taste ranch-raised cousins of the game animals that adorn our mountain landscapes.
These hoofed fauna are among many types of game you can sample in the Canadian Rockies—but be sure to add a glass of wine. We talked to three restaurants in the region about their favourite wine and game pairings. We hope you brought your appetite!
Athabasca Falls. Photo: Chris Stubbs / Wikimedia
By Afton Aikens & Jack Newton
Enchanting Ice Walks
An ice walk at Johnston Canyon reveals a magical frozen blue world (access the canyon via Bow Valley Parkway). Another top rated icy trek is at Grotto Canyon, just east of Canmore. Watch in fascination as climbers set routes on icefalls suspended from gorge walls. You can go alone, but guides provide safety gear like ice cleats and hiking poles, and point out easy-to-miss canyon features such as fossils and historic Native rock paintings.
In Jasper, straddling Maligne River is the new fifth bridge, “the best place to begin a Maligne Canyon ice walk,” says guide Trevor Lescard. A tour is the safest way to see the ice and rock caves, and icefalls like Queen of Maligne where climbers often perform. Guides provide ice cleats and waterproof boots, plus headlamps on magical evening trips.
Frozen Falls of Jasper National Park
In summertime, powerful Athabasca, Sunwapta and Tangle falls are perennial Icefields Parkway stops en route to the Columbia Icefield. But when cold winter air transforms these falls into blue-hued icewalls, they’re even more stunning. (Trivia: Sunwapta means ‘turbulent water’ in the local Stoney Nakoda First Nation’s language).
By Afton Aikens
This winter, try out Banff’s new intermediate 5.9-km Castle Mountain Lookout to Protection Mountain Campground trail, which parallels the Bow Valley Parkway and traces part of the original auto-route through Banff National Park. This single-track trail has 15 metres of elevation gain.
Perfect for novice skiers, the 4.4-km Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court trail near the Banff townsite debuted last season and is lit dusk-to-dawn. The trail has minimal elevation.