Vermilion Lakes, Banff. All photos by The Planet D.
January 11, 2015 By Dave & Deb of the Planet D.
Visiting Banff and Lake Louise in the winter is a magical time of the year. It is the way you are meant to see the Rocky Mountains, covered in snow. Outdoor winter activities are plentiful from snowboarding, skiing or tubing at one of the three resorts inside the National Park, to snowshoeing out to a backcountry lodge, skating on the extraordinary Lake Louise, or dog sledding to the heart of the Great Divide. While the adventures are memorable, it’s the people that make each experience unforgettable.
Helicopter view of the Canadian Rockies.
We always love traveling in our home country of Canada. There’s something about the passion of the people who run the tours and guide the excursions that sticks with us. They’re not out there just for a paycheque; they’re out there for the love of the outdoors and for the love of their home and native land. We met many people during our travels through Banff this winter and each person had a passion for their home like nowhere else. Many people came to Banff for a vacation or as a part of a cross Canada tour but after falling in love with the Rocky Mountains they chose to never leave.
One of those transplants from another part of the country is Steve from Sundance Lodge. Sundance lodge is a secluded backcountry lodge situated 16 km from Banff. We spent a day cross country skiing into the 10-room log cabin located on Brewster’s Creek in the heart of the Sundance Mountain Range. The lodge is in the backcountry, but it’s comfortable and cozy as a large fire sends out heat from the woodstove and there’s even electricity as it’s powered by solar panels.
Steve (left) and John join Deb (middle).
Steve is the head chef and was managing our stay and I couldn’t think of a better person to welcome us. A retired executive chef who has worked in his fair share of five star hotels, Steve puts a lot of TLC into his meals. He talked of how he could stay out at the lodge for weeks at a time and never feels the need to go back to civilization. He’s often forced by owners Julie and Jonathan to take a day or two off back in Banff before heading out for another long stint. For Steve, there is nowhere on earth he’d rather be and there is nothing else he loves more than cooking. We may have been sleeping in the backcountry, but our gourmet meal of Cornish hen and piped mashed potatoes had us eating in style. From food to photography, our next adventure took us out on a day of witnessing the best views in all of Banff. Ontario native Mark Unrau of Rocky Mountain Photo Adventures has called Banff home for 8 years and is so passionate about the National Park that he is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Banff Volunteer Centre.
Local photographer and guide, Mark Unrau (right), with Dave.
Taking a photography tour with Mark not only takes you to the best places in Banff for photo opportunities, but it also gets you to each spot at the right time for the right lighting conditions. Photographing the Rocky Mountains in the winter can be tricky, so having a guide who knows the park inside out can get maximize the amount of photography stops you make in the short winter daylight hours. Mark talks about photography, adventure, and Banff with a contagious energy that inspires you to go out and see as much of Banff and Lake Louise as possible. You really appreciate how special this part of Canada is when you witness it through his eyes. He has expert knowledge in photography, winning numerous awards such as the Grand Prize from National Geographic Travelers’ World in Focus competition. But like so many professionals in Banff, there is no ego to accompany his many accolades.
A Vermilion landscape from the photo tour.
When visiting Banff and Lake Louise in the winter, it’s important to get outdoors and experience all the fun that winter has to offer. I’m sure many visitors don’t have all the equipment they need so a stop at Wilson Mountain Sports is a must. Here you can rent or buy anything you need to make your winter adventure a success.
We met up with owner Bill for a game of pond hockey on Lake Louise and he is exactly what one would expect from an outdoor lover in Banff. A jovial and fun guy, he set us up with skates, sticks, and hockey pucks to make our game on the most beautiful rink in the world exciting. It had been awhile since Dave and I had been on skates, but Bill was relaxed and filled with encouragement as we played a game of pick up hockey. Knowing everyone in the area, he stopped to say hello in the parking lot, chatted with tourists from Asia, and welcomed anyone to come and join the fun. That’s what you get in Banff, a friendly and welcoming vibe wherever you go.
Face-off on Lake Louise.
Banff isn’t just about being outside, there’s a thriving food and beverage scene too. From fine dining to quiet cafés, Banff is a foodie’s paradise. It has its own microbrew the Banff Avenue Brewing Company where you can stop in for a fresh pint and there is a brand new distillery where you can sample local spirits at Park Distillery. Assistant distiller, Bree took us on a tour of the distillery and had a wisdom and confidence beyond her years. As the assistant distiller, she knew at a young age that she wanted and approached Master distiller, Matt Hendriks, about learning the ropes. At Park Distillery they distill in house so far producing vodka and rye. Everything is done by hand, right down to the labeling leaving a smooth and cool finish.
Bree from PARK shows off one of the in-house vodkas.
From our skillful snowboarding guide Jamie at Lake Louise who has the highest qualifications in ski and snowboarding as a pro instructor (he’s the guy that teaches the pros) to helicopter pilot Ralph Sliger who owns and operates Rockies Heli, each and every person we met in Banff is someone who we will remember forever. Be it their riveting stories, exceptional skill, or infectious sense of humour, everyone lives with a passion for life and for the area. It’s the people that stand out and make a trip to Banff/Lake Louise more than just a vacation. You leave with new friends and memories to last a lifetime.
About the authors:
Dave and Deb are well-known travel personalities in both online and mainstream media. Their highly acclaimed website, The Planet D, won back to back Gold Medals for Best Travel Blog by the Society of American Travel Writers (2014/2015) They've travelled to more than 100 countries on all 7 continents. Proud Canadians they are always thrilled to showcase their country to their international audience and Banff, Alberta is one of their favourite destinations on earth. As spokespeople and international ambassadors they've worked with some of the world's top travel brands and have been featured in major Canadian and international media outlets such as The BBC, Lonely Planet, and Today Show and CTV's the Social.