1. Where it is – When I first started researching a trip to Banff way back in 2010, I really had no idea where it was. I knew it was in Canada and that it had a funny name and that was the extent of my geographical awareness of this wintery travel destination. I asked some of my friends and more than half hadn’t even heard of Banff before much less able to place it on a map. So for those of you who were wondering, Banff is a town within Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada located 78 miles west of Calgary and 36 miles east of Lake Louise. From Washington, DC it takes about 6 hours to get there with one connection; from Los Angeles it’s an easy three hour hop and from Dallas there’s a convenient 4-hour direct flight to the home of the 1988 Winter Olympics.
2. High and dry – I knew that we’d be in the Canadian Rockies and that Banff was a famous ski destination because of, you know, the mountains. But the drive in to Banff from Calgary was so easy, it never occurred to me that we were actually at 4,800 feet. That’s pretty high! Combined with the typically dry climate and the physical effects on the visitor can be noticeable. I thought I was going crazy at first until I mentioned the fact that I was light headed, had headaches and was guzzling Gatorade like it was going out of style and was told that instead of going nuts, I was just getting used to the elevation and climate. It got better by the second day or so, but it’s definitely something I didn’t know about Banff before I first visited. So when you visit, be sure to keep hydrated, get some rest the first night and take it easy until you get acclimated to being in Banff.
3. More to do than ski – I wrote an entire post about this, so I hope it’s not a surprise, but there is so much more to Banff than just skiing. Yes, if all you want to do is hit the slopes, there are plenty of opportunities, but there’s a lot more to the area. During our long weekend in Banff we went on an ice hike through the National Park, tried our hand at snow tubing and went on an amazing dog sled tour through the backwoods of Alberta. In addition, in Banff itself there are many great restaurants and shops that would take days to fully explore. Also, don’t forget the activity that put Banff on the map in the first place, the natural hot spas. What drew the robber barons of the 19th century still draws visitors today and there’s nothing better than admiring the nearby Rockies while soaking in the steamy waters.
4. Great food – This is subjective, I know, but I was really happy with the food offerings in this small mountain town. When people visit ski vilages they have certain expectations. Roaring fires, a cocktail, hearty meals, wine, more wine, you get the idea. Sure, Banff has some of the expected, headlined by the 45-year old Grizzly House, a traditional Swiss fondue restaurant that clearly hasn’t changed at all in four decades, nor does it need to. There are also fun gastro-pubs, like the Eddie Burger and Bar that offers a make your own burger menu featuring Kobe beef, tzatziki sauce and cranberry honey mustard to name just a few of the many fun extras. Clearly not your average burger joint. There are also a lot of multicultural options, Thai, Chinese and Indian restaurants can be found throughout the downtown core. Our favorite was Masala Indian Restaurant. While the service can be a bit slow at times, the food was some of the best we’ve had anywhere in the world. We’re butter chicken aficionados so believe me when I say that this place is good. As a testament to our love of Masala, we ate there twice in the span of just a few days. Regardless of what you like, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the culinary offerings in this Canadian mountain town.
5. Multicultural – Not to generalize, but when I think of a small mountain town in the Canadian wilderness the last thing that comes to mind is a diverse, multicultural populace, and yet that’s exactly what I found in Banff. Like many ski towns, people from around the world are attracted to Banff for the beautiful landscapes and the chance to ski and snowboard whenever they want. It’s not uncommon to find that your restaurant servers, hotel workers and store employees are from all four corners of the planet. When we went snow tubing there were four attendants: one from the UK, one from Italy, one from Australia and one Canadian. What does this multiculturalism mean? Well, it’s a lot of fun to chat with these folks, learn more about where they come from and what they’re doing in Banff. I also found them to be incredibly honest, so while you’ll get some great recommendations be prepared for some raucous stories too. Overall, this diversity helps Banff remain a fun place to visit without getting stuck in routine or old habits.
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