Days 302-305: Alberta, Canada (Banff & Calgary)


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North America » Canada » Alberta » Banff
November 24th 2007
Published: December 1st 2007
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With the conditions so much better from here on in (in Alberta!) the next part of the trip through to Banff went pretty easily and quickly - which was lucky as it was now dark. The town of Banff was great, there is snow around, but it hasn’t fallen in a few days. The main street has blocked off parts for pedestrians over winter and the festive lights are out and look pretty cool! Our hotel, Ptarmigan Inn, is right on Banff Ave, and again we have a great room complete with fireplace and huge views of the surrounding mountains, you even look out over the mountains while you’re in the shower! (or you could take a Jacuzzi…) :-) That night we ordered room service and crashed out, it was an amazing drive from Whistler to Banff and we’d recommend it to anyone, but it was definitely a tiring driving through what we then learnt on the local news was a “snow squall” or snowstorm!

The town of Banff is gorgeous, (I can see why you lived here Kirsty!) The town is really quaint and we love how all the buildings are made of stone and wood to suit the location, it’s just how you would imagine a mountain town! ;-) We strolled through the town on our first full day here and then visited the info centre - we really wanted to go Dog sledding with a team of huskies but although there is quite a bit of snow around, there's not quite enough snow for sledding yet, so we booked in to go to Snowy Owl’s the following day which runs sled teams - you get to meet and play with their dogs (they have 160 dogs at the moment!!) and go for a short training sled ride with them.

We then took the car for a drive along the “Scenic route” to Lake Louise - stopping off for photos and to play in the snow (of course!) The snow was like no other snow we’d ever felt before, it feels just like powder (hence the clever name I guess!) and feels almost dry! Pretty cool! We were on the lookout for Moose, Elk or Bears but again were sadly unable to see any on the drive. Arriving at Lake Louise, we did a quick circle around the tiny village then headed up 4km to Lake Louise. When we reached Lake Louise it was a chilly -9 degrees! However, Lake Louise was, dare we say it again, spectacular! It was truly beautiful, and the most fun part was that the lake had frozen over and people were walking around and skating on it!! So we headed out on to the ice (another first for us both!) and wandered around on top of the frozen lake. It was soooo awesome!!! We were quite speechless! The ice is completely clear and you can see all the rocks and logs beneath you on the bottom of the lake. We could have stayed there for ages! We took loads of photos then started back down the mountain and back to Banff. We spent the afternoon lazing about, strolling the town again and warming up at good ol' Starbucks.

The next day we drove to Canmore to visit Snowy Owl's who run the dog sled teams. We spent an hour there with a cool guide called Ethan, who's been working there for 4 years. He told us all about dog sledding and introduced us to several of the dogs, telling us all about their breeds and so on. They currently have 152 dogs and 8 puppies! All the dogs are absolutely gorgeous!! There's about 6 different breeds they use, and it's great to see they're all raised on love and attention at the kennels and are all so happy and excitable!! Every dog you walk past wants a huge hug, so it was great playing with as many of the dogs as we could in our short time there. While we were there, the people that work there were exercising the dogs - which means hooking a team of 8 up to this small 4wd and letting them pull that through a forrest track, being as there wasn't enough snow. The dogs knew exactly what was happening, and everytime an employee came into the HUGE pens to get dogs for the next team, there was a huge chorus of barking and they all strained on their leashes as they wanted to go too!! They obviously love what they do!! The staff have to get each dog by the collar and lift it up so the dog runs along on its back two legs - this is how musher's have been carrying their dogs for 2000 years since the dogs are bred for sledding and therefore pulling, so if you put them on a leash and let them walk on all fours - they'll just pull you right off your feet! The females and neutered males are kept in one cage, males in another, and the small group of males that are aggressive towards other dogs are kept in a line so they can't reach the other dogs at all. At the top of this line was their wolf, Toka. Toka is 95% wolf which we believe is the largest percentage of wolf that has been kept privately. The owners managed to get him from a special breeder in Alaska as a puppy and he is kept mainly for films. He was absolutely stunning! However, it's winter and instinctively, this is the time that a male wolf will fight the alpha-male of his pack and take over leadership. So, during summer he is the friendliest dog in the world with everyone, but over winter he can be a bit funny with males. He was fine with Ethan as Ethan knows how to handle him, and he loves girls so Kristi could give him loads of hugs and he was basking in the attention, but with Martin he wasn't quite as friendly so Martin only pet him once. Kristi adored him!!! He even had the same fur on top as Oslo! We met an Inuuit Husky too, called Shinook, these dogs are super strong and pull around 500 pounds by themselves! He was a beautiful white dog, historically they were always kept by the Eskimos, as they can be quite agressive and 3 of them can hold off a polar bear!! He had the funniest sounding bark and is super strong! Ethan has come out before in the morning in weather that was a toasty -40 degrees! (yes, NEGATIVE 40 degrees!) and Shinook was just sleeping happily on the ground rather than going in his house! We also met loads of Siberian huskies, a gorgeous Malamute, and indian and canadian huskies too. Plus we got to play with 4 of the 3 month old puppies!! So cute! Then we went on one of the training sled runs, we had quite a few younger dogs who were learning and they were all so cute and eager to please! We also had two wolf/husky cross dogs that Snowy Owl's adopted when the SPCA rescued the 2 dogs from a bad owner. The girl driving our 4wd, Carlin, was a part owner in the company and has been around the dogs since she was 4 years old as her parents were the original owners, she would yell encouragement at the dogs the whole way and they kept turning around with these big grins on their faces, they were so eager to please it was adorable! While on the "sled" it was absolutely freezing, it was -12 degrees out and about -18 degrees with the chill factor! Couldn't believe how cold it was, but the time at this place was just awesome, it was such a great experience!!! If we end up living in Banff one day, Kristi so wants to work there!

That afternoon we took a drive to Lake Minnewanka, another beautiful area, only 10mins from Banff. On the way we saw a huge herd of Elk (definitely reminded us of Oslo!!) and took lots of photos (go figure!) The lake itself was really beautiful too, and was mostly frozen over. Then we drove around to another lake that hadn't quite frozen over yet and just had to feel how cold the water was! ;-) It started to snow in Banff that afternoon which was pretty cool, but it was only very light snow. Then we went to a great pub in Banff that had some wicked specials on and typically MASSIVE Canadian/US servings!

Our last day in Banff we awoke to find the town covered in a light covering of snow which was so cool! We headed to Sbux for our usuals - Caramel Apple Spice - yum! Then headed out to Lake Johnson, it was only 10mins away from Banff but it was snowing the whole way and the road was covered in snow! We saw the same herd of elk again and once again this lake was really spectacular. It was completely frozen over, but had a heap of snow on it as well, so we had a wander around on top of it! Then it was time to drive through to Calgary. It snowed for the first 45 minutes, really nice heavy snow, But with no wind, which made it a very different (and pleasant !) experience.

On reaching Calgary though, the snow was mucky and brown, churned up by all the traffic! The cars were all covered in it and absolutely filthy! We found our Sandman airport hotel pretty easily where we had another great room. We dumped off our luggage then headed into town. I had expected Calgary to be a lot bigger than it was, it is actually quite small! In terms of high-rises, there's just a few right in the middle of town and that's it! We walked right around this area and it took about 30 minutes! We had been told previously that there wasn't a lot to see in Calgary, and that was about right so we were glad we spent our time elsewhere in Canada and just had the one afternoon in Calgary. But it was good to see all the same, it's quite a "cute" city! We went to the Devonian Gardens too, and they were pretty awesome! Huge indoor gardens spread over about 3 levels at the top of a shopping mall, loads of fountains, waterfalls and wooden bridges, it was quite surreal! There was a large pool full of turtles and multi-coloured carp - which was very cool. It would have been cool to go to the Olympic Park, but the rides we wanted to do (Bobsleigh and Zipline) didn't open until December so we were a little bit early for them - although we did drive past the park and see about a thousand snow-making machines in full swing!

Spent the rest of the evening at the hotel, ready-ing for our 4am start the next day for flights through to New York! Was really sad to leave Canada behind, but I'm sure we'll go back one day and we have so many more adventures in front of us. Roll on "The Big Apple"!



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