Canada Day 6: Banff Gondola

We awoke to a surprise, snow was falling in Banff. The snow was quite heavy for a short while and gave the mountains a bit of a dusting, but by the time we had finished breakfast it had largely disappeared.

The plan for the day was to walk up to the Banff Gondola and take that to the top of a nearby mountain for some (hopefully!) spectacular views.

Google Maps and Apple Maps didn’t quite agree on the route, but the shorter route shown by Apple seemed logical and feasible so we took that. The Google route seemed to use roads, while Apple suggested a walk up through the trees. It soon became clear that the Apple Maps route was fine and we followed a track through the trees up the hillside. It was hard going at times due to the steepness of the track but we saved an hour and had a pleasant walk.

At the Gondola, we bought our tickets (about CA$50 each) and had little or no wait until we were ushered into a gondola and were on our way up. The views of the hotel and the mountains were spectacular as we soared over the treetops. We had a gondola to ourselves – two people in a cabin designed for four – so could really enjoy the views without getting in other passengers’ way. It only took about 5 minutes to reach the top and compared to other cable cars, was a fairly tame experience in terms of height above the ground below. Mer de Glacé in Chamonix and Montserrat near Barcelona remain my favourites!

At the top of the mountain was a visitor centre, with a small exhibition, a restaurant and a (closed) cafe. There was a viewing platform on the roof of the centre as well as a boardwalk stretching away from the visitor centre to the site of an old cosmic ray survey station on a slightly higher peak 200m or so away.

After enjoying the view from the rooftop viewing platform, we descend to the boardwalk and set off for the peak. The snow at this higher altitude had not completely thawed and a staff member was scraping the snow off where it had accumulated. The boardwalk was quite busy but gave some spectacular views across the Rockies around Banff. It wasn’t even particularly cold.

We’d been given a 90 minute stay at the top of the mountain (although you can have more time if you’re dining at the restaurant and can delay return when you’re at the top) . Our allotted time was perfect for walking to the old Cosmic Ray survey station and back with the slow pace required when taking lots of photos!

After returning to the lower gondola station, we headed back down the way we’d come. Within 5 minutes though, Craig pointed out a deer beside the track 100m or so away. A fawn joined the deer and we watched and photographed for a few minutes. Finally we walked slowly towards the deer so as not to startle them. We got very close before they moved away from us, but even then they seemed unconcerned.

A few hundred metres further down the path, we then heard and saw a squirrel in the trees. Again we stopped and watched for a few minutes and took some photographs.

After returning to the hotel, we had a free history tour booked. This was a fascinating insight into the hotel’s beginning, subsequent changes and a chance to walk around some parts we’d not seen. It really can feel like a castle sometimes!

For dinner, we were booked into the hotel’s own alpine-style restaurant in its grounds. The main theme of the food was fondue and so we shared a fantastic cheese fondue along with a schnitzel before having apple strudel (me) and a Black Forest dessert (Craig). We were sat beside a roaring log fire, which added to the atmosphere of the evening. At the end of the meal, we got chatting to a lady and her daughter at an adjacent table and were the last customers out of the restaurant at 10pm!

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