As one of the most majestic places on Earth, Banff is often seen as the “other” winter destination for Edmontonians looking to wax up their skis and snowboards or take in breathtaking mountain views in a quaint and friendly setting. And while many Edmontonians have ventured to Banff National Park, often it is just for a day or two of hitting the slopes without taking the time to see beyond the obvious and discover the various other splendours Banff has to offer.
And that’s not to say that the hills are not worth visiting, as skiers, snowboarders and more travel from around the world just for the chance of that world-famous powder Banff is known for. Plus, with a variety of major events this year on Banff hills, such as the Lake Louise World Cup from November 22 to December 7, some of the best skiers in the world will compete on regional hills this year.
Although not as prolific as a world championship, Banff is becoming especially popular for its fantastic festivals, culinary delights and local artisans. And for a town that lives in winter for most of the year, why not celebrate it!
“Ski resorts are just one of the many ways to explore and experience the kick off winter in Banff and Lake Louise,” says Allison Gendron, senior manager at Banff Lake Louise Tourism.
“The destination offers multiple ways to the outdoors in the winter, whether it be cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, dog sledding, horse drawn sleigh rides, the options are endless in the national park. These activities coupled with world class accommodation and dining, provide visitors with a truly unforgettable experience,” adds Gendron.
In late November to late December, Winterstart Festival lights up the town with a month-long family friendly festival that includes the Santa Clause Parade of Lights, cookie decorating, wagon rides, choirs singing, craft making, ice sculpting and more.
In January, another great festival becoming infamous for adventure begins. SnowDays is a fun-filled month of heart pumping, mid-week activities and weekend festivals jam-packed with adventures of all kinds.
The events launch on January 10 with a huge street party that includes loads of exhilarating outdoor activities that have become a tradition during SnowDays including the Slide & Ride, an ice playground, a 40-foot ice climbing wall in downtown Banff and much, much more throughout the month.
“Banff is becoming especially popular for its fantastic festivals, culinary delights and local artisans.”
As part of SnowDays, the Ice Magic Festival also begins in mid-January at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise with a 34-hour international ice carving competition. Watch in amazement as internationally renowned professional ice carvers work to sculpt towering one-of-a-kind works of art from imposing blocks of solid ice on the shores of Lake Louise. With each ice block weighing a daunting 300 pounds, this exceptional art form involves grueling physical labour in a delicate balancing act with precision artistry.
Kids can even get into the swing of things the following weekend with a “Little Chipper” event. Here kids can learn the art and science of ice carving first-hand, with blocks and carving tools on hand. They can also skate with the Ice Queen on Lake Louise and spend time in the Cozy Corner Kids Indoor Activity Centre.
From January 30 to February 1, the famous MEC Ice Climbing Festival takes place. The event includes the 40-foot Banff Avenue Ice Wall in downtown Banff, a grandiose sight to see in itself, which will operate as the hub for all festival components. There you can watch a demo or take a clinic for beginners with the skilled experts. For climbers of all skill levels, clinics are also offered on waterfalls in the surrounding area. MEC’s “dry land” clinics help broaden your knowledge about avalanche awareness, choosing the right gear, and the best ice routes in the Canadian Rockies.
So next time you think of heading to the mountains, try the “other” winter destination and explore the Banff you thought you knew!
LITTLE KNOWN FACTS ABOUT BANFF
- More than 4,000,000 visitors travel to Banff National Park every year since 1996.
- The Town of Banff has an elevation of 4,537 feet making it the highest town in Canada.
- Banff National Park was established in 1885 as Canada’s first National Park (third in the world) and was the birth of Canada’s vast national parks system.
- Banff National Park covers 6,641 square kilometres.
- Banff National Park has in excess of 1,600 kilometres of hiking trails.
- Castleguard caves in the Northwest corner of Banff are Canada’s longest cave system.
- Banff National Park has in excess of 2,468 campsites.
- Banff National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a United Nations designation which helps protect over 20,000 square kilometres of the Canadian Rockies.
- The name “Banff” is derived from Banffshire, Scotland, the birthplace of two of the original directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
- Banff National Park is home to the following seven National historic sites: Skoki Lodge, Abbot Pass Hut, Howse Pass, Cave and Basin, Banff Park Museum, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, and the Cosmic Ray Station on Sanson Peak.
- Skiing was introduced to the Banff and Lake Louise area in 1909 by Swiss and Austrian mountain guides.
- Mountains in Banff National Park are 45 to 120 million years old.
- Banff National Park has in excess of 1,000 glaciers.
- Banff National Park is open all year round.