A Banff Vacation Journal

On Sunday, after our high-intensity day in Calgary and after stocking up on groceries in the Mount Royal Area,, we left the city to head towards the Rocky Mountains. It was an interesting drive on Highway 1, the Transcanada Highway, heading towards the mountains. There were some interesing looking clouds on the horizon that kept us entertained on the drive and it didn’t take us any more than about an hour and 15 mintues to get to Banff. We checked in at the Banff Rocky Mountain condominium resort and settled in for the evening to relax after a couple of really hectic days.

Yesterday after a leisurely breakfast we got up to take a drive through Banff. Banff is a quaint mountain town with many different hotels, restaurants, shops and galleries. We drove down Banff Avenue, the town’s main street, and since I had to pick a package up at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, we briefly explored this historic landmark. When Canadian Pacific built the railroads in the 1880s towards the West Coast, they determined that the Banff / Lake Louise area had tremendous potential for tourism and CPR built the Banff Springs Hotel in 1888 to develop this area for all the travellers who were keen to discover the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

After our very brief introductory exploration of this impressive building we decided to go skiing at Norquay, just 10 minutes from downtown Banff. On our first full day here we wanted to take it easy a bit since I am just getting over a major chest cold. I figured a couple of hours of local skiing would be enough of an initiation to the Canadian Rockies.

Norquay refers to itself as “Banff’s Best Kept Secret” and it has been around since 1926. Incidentally, Norquay is home to Thomas Grandi, Canada’s World Cup GS 2 time Champion. This ski resort is also the only one in the Banff area that offers night skiing.

What we found great was that Norquay offers the so-called “Ski & Ride by the Hour” passes and a 2 hour ticket was only $ 29, a great value. We drove up from the town on a forest road with many switchbacks and stopped several times at different lookout points to look over the Bow Valley and the Town of Banff. The vistas of the surrounding mountains are simply magnificent.

We arrived at the ski resort not much later (Norquay is only 5 km from the Town of Banff), and since it was a Monday, the slopes were nice and empty. Norquay’s elevation at the base is 1,630 m (5350 feet) and at the top it is 2,133 m (7000 feet). The vertical drop is 1650 feet and the resort has 32 runs. About 20 % of its terrain is geared towards beginners, 36% towards intermediate skiers, 28% to advanced and 16% to expert skiers. According to their website, Norquay also has a terrain park that features gap jumps, table tops, and hits for all levels of riders. We , however, decided to stick to our good old trusted skis and forego the jumps and table tops….

The runs on the south side looked extremely imposing, and most of them are single or double black diamonds. The slopes are extremely steep and covered with all sorts of bumps and moguls and this was an area we didn’t feel confident enough to tackle. I am sure expert level skiers would have a ball there.

We started with the first of four chairlifts and worked our way northwards and thoroughly enjoyed the extremely well-groomed blue runs. As a matter of fact, Norquay offers a Grooming Guarantee that ensures that the runs are always in perfect condition. We flew down a few of the single-black diamond runs, and because of the excellent grooming there was no problem at all, even for two non-experts like us.

At one point we ventured onto the northernmost trail which connected horizontally along the hill to the last run which was a double-black diamond run at the top. It was very steep, with lots of moguls, and very narrow, probably no wider than 3 m (10 ft). That was a slightly unfortunate choice since we got bumped a little by the topography, but once we had made it through that dicey stretch, the slope improved and we enjoyed our run to the bottom of the hill.

After our 2-hour ticket was finished we relaxed for a while in the spacious chalet at the bottom and watched the skiers coming down the hill. We both commented that Norquay was a very pleasant skiing experience and a great initiation to the Rocky Mountains.

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