Things We Learned from Our Winter Getaway in Banff, Alberta at -20 DegreesFebruary 16, 2017
When the hubs asked me to do a short winter getaway over the weekends, my immediate reaction was "Heck ya!". I'd always love an escape away from the cold to where the sun and beaches are, like that time I went to Punta Cana or Cuba! I did some snorkelling, partying on a catamaran, and horse back riding. So much fun!
Until I realized that our wavelengths weren't in sync this time. He was actually thinking of heading over to the Rockies to do a snowboarding trip together...! Even though, it was a complete opposite to what I had in mind, but boarding on top of the Rockies had always been on my bucket list. It's one of the things I wanted to check off before having a baby. So, without whining for too long, I agreed to the trip. And we decided to head to Banff, Alberta!
Our short four-day trip included visiting city of Calgary. And it was jam-packed with sight seeing, fun activities and of course, GREAT FOOD!
We also learned a few interesting things from our trip:
Pack layers to keep warm
First thing before anything and it's the most important tip I could give you for having a fun and comfortable trip in Alberta is to pack warm layers. Toronto was -5 degrees when we left to Calgary early morning. If you think that was cold already, Calgary was -15 when we arrived! And Banff was -20! Brutally cold. Luckily, my motherly hubby went over my luggage (seriously he did!) to make sure I packed some thermal layers, thick socks and warm boots. Here's to give you some insights of what I wore to stay warm:
For snowboarding I wore:
- Two pair of socks (one as a under layer and a pair of snowboarding socks on top)
- A pair of yoga pants and my sweatpants under my snow pants
- Layers with a breathable dry-fit t shirt, a thermal fleece, a hoodie under my ski jacket
- Mittens underneath my gloves
- Face mask
For sightseeing I wore:
- Two pair of socks (one thicker and longer than the other)
- Leggings underneath my jeans
- Layers with tank top, sweatshirt, knitted cardigan under my down jacket
- Knitted toque
To be honest, I actually felt pretty warm for the most part, so I thought I was pretty successful this trip.
On frozen Lake Minnewanka
Rent a car with winter tiresTo make our trip flexible, we rented a car through Enterprise to get us around for four days. As soon as we picked up our baggage, we went to get the car at the airport. It was very convenient! Because we were carrying our snowboarding gears, we booked a full-sized vehicle. That meant more space to fit our bags. Enterprise gave us a few options to choose from: a Hyundai Sonata, a Volkswagen Jetta, an Infinity Maxima and an Audi Quattro. But we realized none of these vehicles had winter tires on! Like seriously?! It snowed for the majority of the time while we were there. And we knew that the road conditions could be worse going up and down the mountains in Banff. So at the end, we chose the Audi. At least it was an all-wheel drive, for more control on slippery roads. But still, it was scary driving uphill and downhill on unplowed roads. Another thing we weren't aware of was that the Audi was considered as a premium luxury car. And we had not been told that the car would cost us extra on top of our agreed rental fee. Luckily, we managed to reason them but we learned how to avoid surprises next time.
En route to Banff from Calgary
Public parking is expensive in Calgary
We earned two extra hours back in Calgary because of the time zone difference. Gotta love that! So, it was still breakfast time when we arrived to the city. But we didn't realize parking in the financial district is that much more expensive compared to Toronto! We paid $14 for parking! And that wasn't for the whole day, it was only for AN HOUR! If we didn't have a tight schedule, we'd probably park somewhere else and walked to the restaurant. Oh well!
Frozen lakes and waterfalls are insanely beautifulOn our way to Banff from Calgary, the breathtaking view was hard to miss. We stopped over at Lake Minnewanka and experienced what it was like to be walking on frozen lake. I felt minuscule standing in the middle around the rocky mountains. We also did a little hike up the icy trail to Johnston Canyon lower falls. It was a challenging hike because of the trail conditions but it was well worth it. I mean, just look at these photos!
Frozen lower waterfall at Johnston Canyon
Hiking trail at Johnston Canyon
Moraine Lake is inaccessible by car
After visiting Lake Minnewanka, the hubs wanted to take me to Moraine Lake. Being a passenger, I only had one job and that was to enter destination spots on the GPS. I typed in Moraine Lake on Google Maps and it said no route found. I entered the same in Apple Maps, and it led us to a road block. We realized the only way to get to Moraine Lake was by walking or skiing.
Locals speak with an Aussie accent
We found it very interesting when we learned that locals in Alberta speak with an accent. As fellow Canadians, we were curious and unaware of the different dialect. Whether it was the waitress from Calgary, or the staff member at Lake Louise, or the bartender in Banff, they all speak in an Australian-esque accent. On our last day before leaving Banff, I finally asked the concierge about it. Apparently a lot of the early settlers were from Australia. They fell in love with the province and viewed Banff as a dream working destination. And eventually the dialect evolved with an Aussie accent, and now known as an Albertan accent.
View on Lake Louise is subjected to weather
Visiting Lake Louise was a definite must. We couldn't really say we've been to Alberta without taking a picture and stepping onto Lake Louise. Yes, we actually stepped onto the frozen Lake Louise. In fact, we even skated on the lake! Being one of the the most beautiful outdoor skating rinks in the world, we did not think twice about skating there despite the extreme cold alert. But, it was a snowy day when we were there, we could barely see the picturesque Rockies behind the flurries. So, we came back again on another day to catch the view.
Skating on frozen Lake Louise
Perfect place to improve my snowboardingWe went to Sunshine Village and Lake Louise Ski Resort on two separate days to snowboard. And boy! What an experience! The gondola ride up the mountains took probably 20 minutes or so before we could finally start to ski/snowboard. It took another ski lift to get to the peak of the mountain! That was how big and high the mountains were! But because of its sheer size, there were so many different runs for different skill levels. And all the runs were long and wide, so I didn't have to worry about crashing into other boarders or skiers and could concentrate on perfecting my technique.
Banff Upper Hot Spring could close due to extreme cold weather
After we spent two days snowboarding, we wanted to take a dip into the hot spring to relax our muscles on the last day. But, the funny thing was even the hot spring had to close because it was too cold to operate! Too bad we didn't get to try the hot spring otherwise it would be an experience doing it under -22 degrees weather.
Driving in snowy condition without winter tires
Meat in Alberta is mouthwatering deliciousAlberta is known for their meat particularly their beefs. Most restaurants catered to bringing the farm-to-table concept. While we were in Banff, we planned a steak night to reward ourselves after conquering the mountains. We went to Melissa's Missteak Restaurant as recommended by the locals there. The restaurant was built as a homestead hotel in the 30s so it had a rustic homey feel to its interior. The staff showed us a case of the different cuts of the beef to help us order our food. But, we both didn't want to settle for anything else other than the prime ribs. And I was glad we didn't! The steaks were super tender, perfectly cooked and juicy. It also came with sourdough bread, yorkshire pudding, roasted veggies and a choice of baked potatoes, mashed potatoes or French fries.
The sourdough bread was soft on the inside and crispy on the outside! Their French onion soup was one of the best I've had!
This 8oz medium rare prime rib was cooked to perfection with yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes and roasted veggies
On another night, we tried some great baby pork ribs at Park Distillery Restaurant and Bar. The restaurant specialized in campfire-inspired cooking. So, their ribs had a very strong smokey flavour like you would expect from a campfire. Super tasty and the meat came right off the bones. Be sure to try their pulled pork fingers too. They were addictive!
Smokey-savoury barbecue baby back ribs and Bubba's mac n' cheese with buttermilk fried chicken
Food is surprisingly good
Pacific Benedict with Smoked Salmon and Wakey Wakey breakfast with smash browns at Holy Grill
We also had a great breakfast at Tooloulou's in Banff. We just skipped the lineup before the crowd started to form around 9:30. We had pork belly egg benny and a breakfast poutine that came with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese, potatoes, bacon, caramelized onions... Gosh, I wished we had these in Toronto!
Breakfast Poutine and Eggs Benny with pork belly at Tooloulou's
All in all, we had a blast in Banff, Alberta, despite the fact that we went right after a snowstorm and the city was stuck at minus 20 degrees for the entire span of our trip. We learned a great deal from this getaway and we can't wait to go back again to enjoy the scenery better in Summer time!
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