The road is winding, and the prairies begin to meet the foothills that transform into towering mountains overlooking the road. Entering Banff National Park is like entering a different world. Banff is the place to go for a winter escape and is an easy four-hour drive from Edmonton. Four days is the perfect amount of time to spend playing in Alberta’s backyard.
Day 1: Checking into the Moose Hotel and Dinner at The Block
We walked into the elegant lobby of the Moose Hotel which is filled with wood accents and cozy chairs by the grand fire. After checking into our room, we walked the streets of Banff slowly wandering towards The Block for where we planned to have dinner.
Cheerful music played in the small restaurant housing several tables and a few cozy spots at the bar. Wooden beams were accompanied by differing light fixtures- a perfectly imperfect place to dine for the evening. Ice clinked against the metal as cocktails were being made behind the bar. We started with green olives and Gin Beetroot sours; No.3 gin, fresh beet juice, lemon and chickpea brine. I ordered the Zen salad, which was made up of Quinoa, golden beets, walnuts, pea shoots and a sesame ginger dressing— a meal I would highly recommend.
The night fell quickly, and we headed up to the rooftop pool at the Moose Hotel. We sat in the warm pool and admired mother nature at night- we were in the town, but the stars made us feel isolated in the middle of nowhere.
Day 2: Yoga and Skating
The next morning, we woke up to the sun shining through the window. We walked to a modern cafe called Whitebark for a small breakfast and almond milk lattes. Next up was a yoga class at Rocky Mountain Yoga. Natural light spilled into the studio from two large windows which provided a view of the snowy mountain tops perched above the town
With a full afternoon to continue exploring, we rented skates from Banff Adventures Unlimited and picked up flatbread to-go from Rocky Mountain Flatbread (located in Cascade Mall). We laced up, ate lunch and skated around admiring the snow-covered mountains that surrounded us.
We had dinner at Nourish Bistro - A stylish eco-bar with Kombucha on tap! The menu offers gluten-free and vegan options including 29 ingredient nachos (who knew strawberries, pickles and tortilla chips tasted so good together).
Day 3: The Journey to the Backcountry Lodge
With full bellies we parked the car at Healy Creek and clipped in for a 4-hour adventure up the mountain. The beginning of the trail is covered with trees and is relatively flat. As we approached a small bridge, the trees opened up to a valley with clear blue water running through. After skiing up the mountain for quite some time, we spotted a small opening in the trees. We unclipped our boots and hiked in little bit further to find a place to rest. The large trees suddenly cleared to reveal the valley below with the stream appearing as a small blue thread weaving between the mountains.
The lodge cook, Skye, had cookies and freshly made coffee waiting for us once we arrived. We sat in the wooden cabin at a long table with benches on either side recovering from our trek. After picking out our bedroom in the small cabin, we grabbed large wool blankets and sat on the front porch as more people finished their journey in. The sounds of the backcountry on a winter afternoon are tranquil; melting snow dripping down icicles off the roof and the distant breeze gently twirling the snow from the ground.
As Skye began preparing dinner, the cabin filled with aromas resembling a thanksgiving feast. We passed the time to dinner by flipping through the guest book which was filled with short stories from people all over the world: Singapore, Germany, Canada and Australia. People that we will probably never meet, but for a moment there is a comforting sense of similarity. The lodge is heated by a fire that is centrally located in the main room where Mitch, another host, softly played guitar- a sound which the guests naturally gravitated towards.
After a delicious home cooked meal, we went stargazing near the cabin. Stars blanketed the night sky- the longer we looked up, the more stars we were able to see. The Big Dipper had a strong presence- so clear, resting just above the mountain top which the cabin stood at the base of. The cold of the night seemed to quickly disappear as we stared at the stars. Outside, under the stars, you can hear the sound of the other guests laughing and playing board games into the night.
Day 4: A Morning in the Backcountry
With no service and no clock to tell the time, I woke up in what seemed to be the early hours of the morning. The sky was still dark, and the cabin was lit with a few lanterns and a small fire. I wandered down the stairs and sat beside the fire. I watched as the logs cracked inside- orange, black and white. The cabin had never seemed so cozy as it did in this moment— outside it was still dark and the birds were chirping. The sun began to turn the sky purple as more people began waking up to the smell of breakfast which filled the cabin. Smoke was coming out of the chimney and was disappeared into the crisp morning air. As I sat outside in the cold appreciating the slow morning, I saw through a small snowy window, Skye beginning to make coffee over the stove. The cabin got busier as more people made their way down the steep log staircase. After breakfast Skye made us a snack to bring on the journey back to the car. We packed up, clipped into our skis, and headed on the trail. The cold night caused the melting snow to freeze over making the conditions more difficult to ski in than the day before. We made the decision to unclip our skis and hike down the mountain— a new perspective on a familiar trail. Once we arrived at the car, we returned our ski rentals and headed back to Edmonton full of new memories and a want for more adventure.
By Patricia Doiron