Cold & Coddled in Canada
Banff and Lake Louise balance the powerful outdoors with pampering (and historic) indoors
By Giannina Smith Bedford
I thought I knew real cold, and then I went to Canada. As I listened intently to my cross-country ski guide’s instructions, I could feel the ice building up on my eyelashes and stray pieces of hair sticking out from my ski jacket. “Whatever you do, don’t touch your hair,” he warned. “It will break right off.” Although I preferred to keep my hair intact, I endured the introduction to cross-country skiing on the banks of magnificent Lake Louise until the bitter negative 35 degrees (yes, I said negative) left my limbs numb. Aside from the jaw-dropping view of the wintry landscape, what got me through was the luxurious warmth that awaited me at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise just a short, yet icy, walk away. The previous day, it was sister resort The Fairmont Banff Springs that shielded me from a wind chill of negative 40. And while this cold snap was particularly harsh, even for Alberta, roughing it in the frigid outdoors and retreating to sumptuous comfort at day’s end was my idea of a perfect ski vacation.
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and The Fairmont Banff Springs hold priceless real estate in the heart of Banff National Park, about a 90-minute drive from Calgary International Airport. Canada’s first and the world’s third national park, it was established in 1885 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Home to the charming town of Banff and the hamlet of Lake Louise, Banff National Park’s 2,564 square miles are overflowing with postcard-perfect towering peaks and glacier-fed lakes. With the longest-running ski season in North America—from November to May—it’s a true snow-lovers’ paradise. Everything from snowshoeing and dog sledding to snowmobiling is at your fingertips. Three major downhill ski resorts— Mt. Norquay, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village—offer access to the park’s legendary slopes, and the two iconic Fairmont hotel properties protruding from the park’s wild landscape are idyllic headquarters for exploring the area’s outdoor pursuits—and rejuvenating guests for the next day’s adventure.
THE FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS
Described as the “Castle in the Rockies,” The Fairmont Banff Springs stands at a majestic post a mile from downtown Banff. Sheltering guests in historic grandeur for more than 125 years, it’s styled after a Scottish baronial castle with stone interiors and roaring fireplaces throughout. Its 769 rooms range from cozy, quiet accommodations to airy suites with scenic mountain views. Choose from 11 different dining options on-site, including Waldhaus Restaurant & Pub where authentic German and Swiss dishes are served in a 1927 Bavarian cottage-style house—meals of Fisch Suppe and Wiener Schnitzel are satisfying ends to a winter’s night. Along with eating your way through the resort’s long list of restaurants, stay entertained for days by amenities like a bowling alley and numerous shops retailing gifts, souvenirs, ski gear and jewelry. The Willow Stream Spa takes the award for the best indoor attraction, however. Recalling the hot springs that brought travelers to Banff more than a century ago, the spa features three waterfall treatment pools and an indoor European therapeutic mineral pool-pure heaven after a day spent braving the slopes. The Spa’s steam rooms, saunas and eucalyptus inhalation rooms are also great options for taking the edge off tired muscles. The Best part: You can enjoy all these therapies before and after your customized treatment.
THE FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE
A scenic one-hour drive from Banff down Bow Valley Parkway is the small village of Lake Louise. Set on the banks of the famous glacial lake is The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Its history dates back to 1890 when a one-story log cabin was constructed on the lake’s shore, but the more modern incarnation dates to 1911. The palatial hotel is surrounded by a Rocky Mountain landscape that is one of the most photographed scenes in Canada. And it’s easy to see why. Wake up in one of the 550 rooms to the transformative view at dawn and watch the sunset in an explosion of artistic colors each evening. Get closer to the soaring snow-covered peaks surrounding the lake with a twirl on the winter ice skating rink or snowshoe your way through the forest looking for wildlife. When hunger strikes, select from one of the hotel’s eight restaurants. The Walliser Stube is a favorite for classic cheese and meat fondues paired with a glass of wine from the floor-to-ceiling wine library. The Fairview Dining Room showcases regional Canadian cuisine using organic, local and sustainable ingredients. For a leisurely lunch, the Lakeview Lounge offers a flavorful Atlantic lobster and baby shrimp croissant, and mouthwatering French onion soup. Whether you opt for a meal or tapas, or cuddle up to a specialty coffee (maybe the Princess Louise made with Kahlúa, Grand Marnier, amaretto and coffee), your order is served with a mesmerizing view of the Victoria Glacier through arched Palladian windows.
So, if you must brave the bone-chilling temperatures of Canada for the sake of winter sport, it’s best to also savor the lavish comfort of its top-notch lodgings. Despite my frozen eyelashes, broken hair and wind-burned skin, The Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise would bring me back to a Banff National Park winter in a second. After all, I can finally say I know how to handle real cold.
COME TO CANADA
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Lake Louise, Canada
The Fairmont Banff Springs
Photo Credit: skibig3.com
Contributing home editor and design columnist at Simply Buckhead. Travel & Business Writer. Mother of Two.