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Canmore’s roughly 13,000 permanent residents don’t want me to tell you this, but you need to go there. And they’ll like this even less: you won’t want to leave. Nestled on the edge of iconic Banff National Park, Canmore sits right off Highway 1, an easy 90-minute drive from Calgary (and Calgary International Airport). The former mining town made a name for itself when it became the chosen site for the Nordic skiing venue in the 1988 Olympics, and the Canadian National team still calls Canmore its home. These days life for Canmore’s young, energetic, and highly-educated residents is centered around an outdoor-driven lifestyle. Locals spend the winter rotating between downhill and backcountry skiing, ice climbing, pond hockey, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
The main vein that is Canmore’s center is surrounded on three sides by the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and made up of the three whole blocks. Hip restaurants, busy coffee shops, and a dive bar (thrown in for good measure) are mixed between trendy shops and mountain outfitters. But you won’t find your run-of-the-mill tourist shops here. A true local’s town means visiting Canmore gives you a real life experience, void of t-shirt shops and tourist traps. People come here for an outdoor adventure, and stay for the lifestyle.
With endless mountain adventures at your doorstep in Canmore, it can be hard to know where to start. Yamnuska Mountain Adventures is the local expert on all things outdoors. The local guiding company has been leading clients from all over the world for more than 30 years, and offers a multitude of adventures, classes, and workshops to choose from—whether you need a backcountry ski guide, are hoping to brush up on your mountaineering skills, or are looking for avalanche training. Choose from half-day adventures or get crazy and sign up for a semester-long mountain skills immersion course. Equipment rentals are available, so don’t worry about making it past TSA with your ice axe.
Get Geared Up
Vertical Addiction is a tiny corner shop in an unassuming shopping center that has nearly every piece of crucial gear you could need for serious mountain adventures. From harnesses and ice tools to AT boots, avalanche airbag packs (and you can refill canisters there), and guidebooks. Chat with shop owner Ben to get beta on Canmore’s best ski tours (which he says are at their finest in March) and local ice climbs.
Options abound from Canmore, but some of the best skiing will be found by driving a short distance. Located about 20 miles Northwest of Canmore, Mt. Norquay is great for getting your fix without burning a whole tank of gas. Find what is–quite possibly–the best deal ever for lift tickets: ski by the hour, starting at just $20. Or get your night ski on for just $25, then pop into The Cliffhouse Bistro for a nightcap. banffnorquay.com
Tune Your Gear
A handful of shops in Canmore offer ski tuning, but locals swear by Neil at GearUp Mountain Sport and Rentals. The full-service shop tunes, repairs, and installs all downhill, backcountry, telemark, and Nordic equipment. Didn’t pack your touring gear? Rent everything you need there—from skis (with and without tech bindings), boots, and skins to beacons, probes, and shovels.
Live like the locals do–in a private home–with your own room in a bed and breakfast. Canmore’s bed and breakfasts are limited to three rooms or smaller and Homestead Bed and Breakfast has only one, so you’re sure to enjoy your own space. A private entrance takes you into a garden level apartment with a large room, private bathroom, and separate kitchen area. Hot breakfast is served daily by owners Ron and Colline, who will also point you in the right direction for restaurants, trails, and more. A 15 minute walk to main street offers beautiful views, and easy access to the Nordic center means you’ll never have an excuse not to get out there.
Fuel your adventures, and get your caffeine fix with clean, healthy breakfast and lunch from Communitea. Dine in or call ahead to eat their locally sourced and from-scratch fare on the run. Owner Marnie opened the café in 2007 aiming to create a place where locals could celebrate the great things in life—including custom blended teas, direct trade coffee, and healthy food.
Try a Salmon Pesto Wrap, with wild smoked salmon, avocado, tomato, spinach, hummus and pesto, which is perfect to kick start your morning adventure. And choose from more than 90 different teas that cover an entire wall in a rainbow of colored canisters.
Disclaimer: Locals love Communitea so much that it can get crowded. Come early (before 10 a.m.) or late afternoon to avoid crowds. Bonus: Communitea opens for select evenings to host intimate nights with well-known musical acts from across Canada and the States.
Poutine or Bust
There is something to be said for feeling like a civilized person after spending a couple of days in the backcountry. Take a shower, put on a clean shirt, and head to Tavern 1883—one block north of the main drag—to find the perfect balance between dirt bag mountaineer and cultured local. Epic patio views of the Rockies from this early 1900s former home make it a top choice for après. Get there in time for happy hour (3-5 p.m., Sunday through Friday), and you’ll be rewarded with $5 pints and 2-for-1 apps. Of course, you can’t leave Canada without getting into some Poutine (fries topped with cheese curds and gravy). Tavern 1883 offers four versions of this classic Canadian feast; the foie gras and truffle poutine is guaranteed to carve out a permanent spot in your heart for Canmore.