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Canadian Rockies See And Do

Banff Centre
107 Tunnel Mountain Drive
Banff , Alberta
Canada T1L 1H5
Tel: 403 762 6100
www.banffcentre.ca

The Banff Centre helps to solidify Banff's claim as the capital of Canadian mountain culture. The Banff Mountain Film Festival (usually held in early November) pioneered the mountain film genre, whether for hard-core mountaineers or armchair wannabes. It offers seminars on such diverse subjects as the "ancient roots" of skiing, the people of China's Altai Mountains, and adventure filmmaking. From May to September, the Centre hosts its own Summer Arts Festival, with more than 200 musical performances, art exhibitions, and theater shows spread out over the tourist season. Since its founding in 1933, the Centre has also served as a training ground and performance space for dance, music, opera, and other art forms. Check out the schedule online; you might be surprised at what interests you.

Banff National Park
Banff National Park , Alberta
Canada
Tel: 403 762 1550
www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff

With 1.6 million acres of mountain wilderness, more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails, and the bustling town of Banff at its center, Banff National Park is the major draw to this region. You could spend months here and never quite experience everything. Of course there's the skiing in winter. And in summer, crystal-blue Lake Louise, a great spot for canoeing, hiking, or simply taking in the views. If getting around on foot or skis isn't your thing, there's always the Bow Valley Parkway—which runs from Banff to Lake Louise. The abundance of bears, elk, and deer, paired with a 35-mile-per-hour speed limit, makes for a safe and relaxing drive-through wildlife watch.

Cross-Country and Snowshoeing
Fernie , British Columbia
Canada

The resort has a ten-kilometer network of groomed trails. Another ten-kilometer trail loops around town (both free). Three-hour ski or snowshoe tours are available Thursdays and Sundays, 1–4 ($29 per person, with a two-person minimum). You'll hardly notice what a great workout you're getting, because the guide will keep you entertained with local lore (if you haven't heard the legend of the "Griz" yet, you will now). Call 877 333 2339 for reservations. Note that equipment is not included.

Downhill Skiing
Fernie , British Columbia
Canada

The ski area has an average annual snowfall of ten meters, five magnificent alpine bowls, and a total of 107 runs. For new arrivals, a complimentary Mountain Host Tour departs at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily from the base area. First timers: Head to the Mini Moose and Mighty Moose lifts. Intermediate skiers: the Deer and Elk lifts access groomed, rolling slopes. Or take the Boomerang to the Cedar Bowl, where most runs are intermediate. Diehards: The high-speed Timber Bowl Express and White Pass Quad will sweep you to higher, more challenging terrain. Lift day pass: approximately $53.

The Griz Festival
Fernie , British Columbia
Canada

Held in February, this festival is a tribute to the "Griz"—the hero responsible for Fernie's spectacular powder, according to legend. As local lore has it, the Griz wrestled with a grizzly bear as a child, and now roams the mountains eternally, clad in a bearskin coat and cap, shooting his musket into the clouds in order to trigger a snowfall. The festival includes sporting events, competitions, and parades. The citizen who best embodies the spirit of the festival's namesake during the week becomes honorary Griz for the rest of the year.

Ice Climbing
Banff + Jasper

Combine Banff's plummeting rock walls and cold winter temperatures and the result is a series of frozen waterfalls—prime ice-climbing terrain. Yamnuska Mountain Adventures has certified guides who will give two-day classes for novices, or lead more experienced climbers up routes in Cougar Creek (near Canmore) and Cascade Mountain in Banff National Park (403-678-4164; www.yamnuska.com). They also rent and sell equipment, such as the pointy crampons that let you kick footholds into the giant Popsicles, as well as axes, ropes, and harnesses. See, ice is not just for cocktails anymore.

Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park , Alberta
Canada
Tel: 780 852 6176
www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/jasper

Encompassing the alpine meadows of Mount Edith Cavell, the surging Sunwapta Falls, the awe-inspiring Athabasca Glacier (which is easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway, but is melting more every year), and the waters of Miette Hot Springs, this Rocky Mountain park is almost as large as Connecticut. About four hours north of Banff, it's one of North America's most-visited backpacking areas, thanks to its network of well-maintained hiking trails. Other local activities include white-water rafting, canoeing, skiing, horseback riding, and golf at the excellent Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (Old Lodge Road; 780-852-3301; www.fairmont.com/jasper). Many hotels and resorts are clustered in the town of Jasper, but lodges and campgrounds are scattered throughout the rest of the park as well.

Jasper Tramway
Whistler's Mountain Road (two miles south of Jasper off Highway 93)
Jasper , Alberta
Canada T0E 1E0
Tel: 866 850 8726 (toll-free)
Fax: 780 852 3093
www.jaspertramway.com

This family-friendly sky ride lifts visitors 3,193 vertical feet up Whistler's Mountain. Not recommended for the acrophobic, the gentle seven-minute airborne journey affords aerial views of glacier-fed lakes, the Athabasca River, and the town of Jasper. From the tram's stopping point, it's a 30-to-45-minute hike to the top of the mountain. Bring warm clothes if you plan to tackle the 8,085-foot summit.

Open seasonally 10 am to 5 pm (9 am to 8 pm late July through August). Closed mid-October through mid-April.

Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park , Alberta
Canada
Tel: 250 347 9615
www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/kootenay

Located just west of the Alberta border, this 543-square-mile park contains the Radium Hot Springs mineral pool (5420 Highway 93; 250-347-9485) and Stanley Glacier's hiking trails. Due to bridge repairs (expected to be complete by the end of summer 2007), the roaring waters of the ice-carved Marble Canyon are off-limits, but the nearby Paint Pots—a stunning trio of red, orange, and yellow ponds colored by oxide-rich springs—are currently accessible just off the highway. Most visitors take in this park's sweeping landscapes through their car windows as they drive along Highway 93, so even when tourists inundate the surrounding areas (all summer), the foot-traveled parts of Kootenay remain relatively serene and undisturbed.

Mountain Biking
Banff + Jasper

Unlike most American national parks, where trail riding is rarely allowed, Banff offers more than 140 miles of designated biking trail. Trails are carved out of the kind of tacky, grippy soil that knobby wheels work especially well on, not unlike the terrain in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Bozeman, Montana. Not that the trails are necessarily easy: The altitude makes the Canadian Rockies a wheeze-inducing experience for lowland riders. But mostly, visitors ride through subalpine meadows, over pine-studded ridges, past steaming hot springs, and beneath rocky tusks, such as the dramatic Mount Assiniboine. The Lake Minnewanka ride remains the best way to experience Banff's postcard terrain; located just outside of Banff town (go north on Banff Avenue till you reach the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road), the shoreline trail links forests of spruce via 20 miles of roller-coaster single-track. At the same trail head, there's the more intermediate Cascade Fire Road—a leisurely nine-mile gravel trail through the Cascade Valley. Park regulations prevent outfitters from leading mass off-road tours, so if you're looking for help, check out the Mountain Bike and Cycling Guide found at the Banff Information Centre (224 Banff Ave., Banff; 403-762-1550). Another, slightly shorter, classic just outside the park is Jumping Pound/Cox Hill: 12 miles of single-track through wildflower-rich meadows, rocky staircases, big mountain views, and winding, technical descents. In all cases, be aware of bears, especially in late summer, when they are gorging themselves with berries, trailside.

Skiing and Snowboarding
Banff + Jasper

The Rockies that delineate the Alberta-British Columbia border just west of Lake Louise soar above 11,000 feet, so they intercept many eastbound storms. The clouds consequently dump most of their water in B.C., leaving the Alberta side relatively sunny and dry. The snow is light, like Utah's or Idaho's, while gracing huge peaks that could be twins with Europe's Alps.

Four miles above town atop a switchback road, Ski Norquay is the closest mountain to Banff (403-762-4421; www.banffnorquay.com). Any modern-day rider will be impressed that Canadians skied the steeps of Norquay with the leather boots and flimsy bindings that comprised state-of-the-art gear when the resort was founded in 1926. (It was also home to Canada's first chairlift.) Since you can virtually ski here on your lunch break, it's full of locals (there's actually a ski-by-the-hour option). Follow the Banffites to the demanding 34-degree pitch of Memorial Bowl before slowing down on the less steep terrain near the Cascade Quad Chair.

Sunshine Village claims Canada's longest ski season (403-277-7669; www.skibanff.com); it usually has snow until late May. A 3,514-foot vertical rise also makes it one of the continent's highest resorts— one chairlift goes to nearly 9,000 feet. Since 1998, previously off-limits terrain has been opened to experienced skiers and snowboarders. Delirium Dive, the Wild West, and Silver City areas are "free-ride zones," where hazards aren't marked and route selection is up to you. Those who partake must have a partner and bring an avalanche beacon and shovel. A special phone number, 403-762-6511, regularly updates the status of these areas.

At 11 square miles, Lake Louise Mountain Resort is Canada's largest ski area, sprawling across four mountain faces (403-522-3555; www.skilouise.com). Amid alpine bowls and forested gullies, Lake Louise has 139 runs and an impressive 3,250-foot vertcal drop. And boy, does it look like the Alps, with craggy granite spires and vast snowfields. Off its backside are the Powder Bowls: a series of chutes and wide-open pitches that beckon fast, sure powder-skiers. With runs tracing World Cup courses (called, helpfully, Men's Downhill and Ladies' Downhill) Lake Louise is also an ideal place to give into gravity and get vacuumed down a fast, steep, groomed fall line.

Another marquee mountain destination lies an hour outside the park, on the British Columbia side of the border: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (866-754-5425; www.kickinghorseresort.com). Kicking Horse is a giant, with 4,133 vertical feet and 2,750 skiable acres. It's a haven for experts, with 71 controlled-avalanche slide paths to drop into. There is bus service during the ski season to Kicking Horse from Banff and Lake Louise on the Powder Express (reservations required; call 403-760-5465).

Snowboarding
Fernie , British Columbia
Canada

Fernie has some of the best snowboarding in North America. Snowboarders have unlimited access to the main ski area, and there are also a half-pipe and an excellent terrain park, open when snow conditions permit, on the Upper Falling Star run, with hip jumps, six new rails, a wall jump, bank turns, and assorted rollers. The natural terrain, however, is the biggest draw to serious snowboarders. Be prepared to slog up some lengthy traverses to get to the best-kept secrets, but when you get there, you'll be glad you made the effort.

Summer Sports
Fernie , British Columbia
Canada

The alpine trails, lakes, and summits around the Elk Valley are spectacular hiking terrain. The Elk lift is open June 1 to September 5 to take outdoor enthusiasts up the mountain. Other pastimes include mountain biking and white-water rafting. Both can be booked through the resort's Mountain Adventure Center (250 423 4655, open daily 9–5, Jul. 1–Sept. 5). Thrill seekers will love the all-day Bull River raft trip ($78), a progressively more exciting ride climaxing in three knuckle-whitening rapids: "Bubblicious," "The Sandwich Maker," and "The Toilet Bowl."

Upper Hot Springs
Mountain Avenue (two miles south of downtown Banff)
Banff National Park , Alberta
Canada T1L 1K2
Tel: 403 762 1515
www.hotspring.ca

Even before their "discovery" in 1884, the hot springs at the foot of Sulphur Mountain were considered sacred (and darn comfortable) by natives. Its sulfur-scented waters get as hot as 116 degrees coming out of the bedrock, but the spring-fed outdoor pool at the spa is kept at a milder 104 and 105 degrees. The Banff Upper Hot Springs, as they're officially known, now features a spa, large dressing rooms, restaurant, gift shop, and, most endearing, a grand bathhouse restored to its original, 1932 appearance. Entry fee is around U.S. $7.

Open daily 9 am to 11 pm.

Whitewater Riverboarding
Banff + Jasper

Kayakers float atop rapids; riverboarders ride in them. An especially intimate way to experience a body of water, the sport demands you don a wet suit, gloves, helmet, and booties, then grab onto a boogie board and plunge into icy snowmelt. Kicking with diving fins helps you steer, but you're really more akin to a piece of driftwood—rushing along with the current as it courses through swirls, boils, holes, and waves. This full-body workout provides a trout's-eye-view of the river, and it's nothing like rafting. Canadian Rockies Rafting (877-226-7625; www.rafting.ca/riverboard.htm), located just east of Banff National Park, charges $89 for a half day, which includes about two hours on the Class II and III Kananaskis River. You must have a group of eight or more to book a riverboard adventure.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.