I’ve been up the Sulphur Mountain Gondola in Banff several times. This year was the first time I’d done it in winter. And it was spectacular.
I was out in the Rockies on a recent visit and had been hoping to do a helicopter tour near Kananaskis _ a gorgeous part of Alberta – and maybe some snowshoeing high in the mountains. But the winds were fierce and the chopper pilot said it wasn’t safe to fly.
I always listen to my chopper pilots, as I’m nervous in a helicopter at the best of times. Not paranoid, folks, just slightly skeptical about it all.
Anyway, it was a non-starter. So it was time for Plan B, as in Banff. I made the drive in a half hour or so, pausing a few times to take photos of the crazy-beautiful mountains, and then pulled into Banff.
We easterners, I think, forget just how scenic this place is. Nestled in a gorgeous valley and surrounded by towering mountains of all shapes and sizes, with craggy rocks and sheer white piles of snow and deep green trees, with the Bow River running through town, it’s simply one of the great settings for any small city I can think of.
I must admit the gondola ride in the wind was more, um, interesting than I bargained for. But I figured if it had been too windy they would’ve shut it down, so up I went. I spotted one hiker making his way up the snow-clad hillside, but other than that it was just me and the trees and the mountain and the sky and the silence.
I snapped away as we took the 10-minute ride (more or less) up the hill, then stood in awe – again – at the top once I got outside to see the view. The town lies far below, and you’re almost at eye level with some of the world’s most glorious mountains. You can see the river valley marching northward toward Jasper and the mountains that lead west and south (I think) into British Columbia and distant lakes shining in the sun.
I could see the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel far below me, looking like a toy, and the layout of the Banff Springs Golf Course buried in a blanket of snow.
Tickets for adults are $35.95 this year, while it costs $17.95 for kids.
I also stopped at the Upper Hot Springs, which is why it’s called Banff Springs in the first place. Well, it’s called Banff because that’s a town in Scotland. And it’s called Banff Springs because of the hot water that seeps out of the mountain in these parts, a fine respite on a cold winter’s day.
The springs were discovered by Europeans in 1884 and helped make this one of the world’s great national parks and the first national park in Canada.
The pool at the springs is lovely and is kept around 104 degrees. You can swim about or just laze in the hot water and gaze out at the majesty of Mt. Rundle and other peaks that surround this glorious place.
It only costs $7.30 and you can rent a towel for $1.90 or a swimsuit for the same price if you forgot one at your hotel. Lockers are just a buck, and if you like you can rent an old-timey swimsuit for that perfect Facebook photo.