Over the Christmas holidays, we had planned a ski weekend at Sunshine Village in Banff. Well, the weather had other plans and even though we had gorgeous bluebird days, it’s not safe (or fun) to ski during a -45 degree cold snap. We were a bit disappointed, but we made the best of our time in the mountains and it turns out that there are lots of fun things to do in Banff when a polar vortex sweeps through.
Our first choice was the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. My sister and I had ridden this gondola in the summertime about five years ago (check out that adventure here), but riding it in the winter is a totally different adventure. When the snow dusts the trees, it gives a whole new perspective on the depth and definition of the forested lower half of the mountains. It also lets you spot tracks in the snow left by adventurous humans and curious animals. But it was cold, cold, cold– so we had to bundle up. At the top, we were really only able to stay out for a few minutes to soak in the views and grab a couple of photos. The risk for frostbite was high. Afterwards, we grabbed some coffee and pastries from the cafe and sat next to the floor-to-ceiling windows in a lovely lounge area and continued to marvel at the mountains and spot landmarks. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a reservation at the Sky Bistro at the last minute, but the smell of the food and the luxury of the dining room was so enticing.
We had already been planning to eat out at the Grizzly House, a restaurant on Banff Ave that comes highly recommended, and we had made reservations months prior. When we made the reso in late October, the only table left for December 28 was at 9:30 pm… so you’ll want to be sure to plan ahead for this place. While we waited and worked up an appetite, we popped into the Rose & Crown across the street and happened to catch the Nova Scotiables, a fun East Coast band with a knack for Newfoundland and Irish tunes– it was a pleasant, and fitting, surprise. They were such humble and kind musicians. Check out their Spotify playlist below!!
The Grizzly House was well worth the wait. Our server was very patient and helpful when she had to explain the whole concept of the menu to us. Grizzly House is a fondue restaurant specializing in high-quality local and exotic meats. Guests get to dip, dunk, and drizzle with delicious mixtures of cheese, butter, and pureed veggies. The main course comes raw with an extremely hot stone to cook your meats to your liking. Dessert, of course, has to be chocolate fondue. I cannot recommend this place enough. Our taxi driver shared a little bit of local lore about all the phones around the restaurant, at each table, lining the walls… I suggest you ask someone about this!
The next day, we made our first-ever trip to the hot springs. This was really fun and exciting as the springs all throughout the Rockies have been closed due to Covid-19 since we moved to Alberta in 2020. I was surprised that the springs were open in the extreme cold warning, but we didn’t even feel the biting cold while we were in there. It was hard to get good pictures because of all the thick steam and the risk of dropping my phone, but the views were spectacular. It was a little disappointing to find that the springs are basically just a modern pool filled with piping hot chlorinated water, but I also was not surprised by this as it is an extremely popular tourist attraction. It left me feeling refreshed but also eager to track down a more natural hot spring.
I can’t end this post without mentioning our accommodations for the weekend. We stayed at a gorgeous Airbnb in Canmore. Our host was fantastic and even left a freshly baked loaf of sourdough for us to enjoy. Canmore offers more affordable accommodations than Banff with equally striking mountain views. The Town of Canmore is also less busy and just as quaint, with lovely shops, cafes, and restaurants. We really enjoy Canmore and it is only a short, 15-20 minute drive from Banff. A taxi will cost $60 each way.
I am already itching to get back to the mountains. Despite the cold, we had a fun-filled and relaxing weekend. It’s all about mindset and making a conscious decision to not let spoiled plans ruin your time. Change = opportunity.