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Bucket list alert: If you only make it to one Canadian destination in your life, it should be Banff. Summer, fall, winter, spring—it doesn’t matter, just get there.
The pocket-sized town of Banff sits within the borders of world-famous Banff National Park, and has been welcoming winter tourists for almost 100 years. The roughly eight blocks of Banff Avenue that makeup downtown sit in the shadow of imposing Mount Rundle and have everything you need whether you’re looking to spoil yourself (hot springs, anyone?) or find your adventure du jour. The lucky few that call Banff home (the town has a strict work-to-reside policy) are a wealth of information and more than happy to share beta. After all, Canadians are super friendly, eh?
And getting to Banff from Calgary International Airport is a cinch. Plus, the views along Hightway 1 are almost worth the trip alone. Hop on the regularly scheduled shuttle that runs between the Calgary airport and Banff, or rent a car and make the easy 90-minute drive on your own (be sure to stop in Canmore). The mountains in Banff are stunning, and if you’ve ever seen breathtaking photos of Canada there’s a good chance they were taken here. Around every corner is the most amazing vista you’ve ever seen—until you get to the next bend in the road, where the view gets even better. Sharp, angular rock formations make the gentle, curving lines of the Colorado Rockies seem likes child’s play, and they practically beg to be climbed, hiked, and skied.
Make Some Turns
The sad-but-true fact of life is that sometimes you just don’t have all day to spend on the slopes. Mt. Norquay, an easy five-minute bus ride from downtown Banff, has the perfect solution for these all-but-wasted days via hourly lift tickets. Starting at $42, a two-hour lift ticket gets you access to the mountain’s five lifts and 60 runs. No doubt the perfect way to stretch your legs after a day of travel. www.BanffNorquay.com
Stay In A Castle
We admit this is a cliché touristy thing to do, but it is so cool. Built in 1888, the Banff Springs Hotel is the closest most of us will get to staying in a castle. Chock full of history (plus maybe a ghost or two), and all the modern amenities you’d expect from a world-class hotel, there is enough to keep you busy at the Banff Springs. Be sure to spend time in the healing mineral pools at the award-winning Willow Stream Spa after those afternoon turns at Mt. Norquay. www.Fairmont.com/banff-springs
Swingers Welcome (Sort Of)
In the 1970s The Grizzly House was a swinger’s lounge, so each table in the restaurant (and even the bathrooms) is equipped with its own phone. Translation: You can call the cutie you’ve been eyeing across the way and, uh, proposition them. While “the good ol’ days” might have come and gone, The Grizzly House is still worth visiting for the food. Start with Swiss raclette, then try famous Alberta beef, and other exotic game meats cooked on a hot rock at your table. Tip: You’ll want to wash your clothes immediately upon departure, some serious smoke comes off those hot rocks. www.BanffGrizzlyHouse.com
Sip Some Suds
The craft brewery trend in Alberta is just catching on. Luckily the founders of the Banff Avenue Brewing Co. got into the game in 2005, giving them plenty of time to establish themselves as a Banff Avenue staple. A go-to for après, dinner, or a quick pint (good luck having just one), be sure to visit on Mondays for a $4, 18-ounce pint. Try the Pond Hockey Pale Ale for an extra dose of Canadian spirit. www.BanffAveBrewingCo.ca
Plan Your Next Adventure
Face shots, never-ending powder turns, and perfect pillow lines your thing? You’ll want to stop at the CMH Heli-Skiing store on Bear Street to arrange Part Deux of your Canadian getaway. Sign up for a stay at CMH K2 Rotor Lodge, an easy drive from Banff (or one of the heli-op’s other lodges). Meals are prepared by an award-winning chef, the tree skiing is the stuff dreams are made of, vert is guaranteed, and each trip gets you a free pair of K2 skis. Extra perk: The best turns you’ll make all season. www.CanadianMountainHolidays.com
Take A Dip
There’s no denying that soaking is good for the soul—especially when you’ve been hitting the slopes all day. Banff Hot Springs has welcomed skiers and weary travelers since the late 1800s, so they know what they’re doing. The highest hot springs in Canada (at 5,200 feet) is a popular stop for just about everyone in town, so consider a morning dip to avoid crowds. www.HotSprings.ca