Winter Weekend in the Canadian Rockiesby Christine Flynn
The shorter days and chilly nights of January and February bring the need for both hibernation and escape. To indulge the latter, and some of the former, I retreated to Alberta’s parcel of the Canadian Rockies for a long weekend of equal parts relaxation and adventure.
The road to Lake Louise
Flying into YYC and renting a car (with winter tires!), my friend and I take the two-hour drive northwest of Calgary to the infamous Chateau on the frozen waters of Lake Louise. At the foot of the entrance to Banff National Park and a little over an hour into the drive is the quaint little town of Canmore. We were eager to get to our hotel so didn’t stop for long, but made plans to eat at the Grizzly Paw Pub & Brewing Company and Where the Buffalo Roam Saloon next time.
A little less than an hour later, we arrive at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and check into a room with a view of the lake for the night. Inquire about sunrise and set the alarm accordingly—there’s nothing quite like waking up to the awe-inspiring alpenglow over Lake Louise at dawn.
First on our play-list: rent a pair of skates from the Fairmont’s activity center. The crisp Alberta air and the incredible view of the hotel and mountains from the turquoise green ice of the lake is the best way to start a winter wonderland immersion. If skating isn’t a preferred activity, there are endless other options including sleigh rides, dog sledding, a guided ice walk at nearby Johnston Canyon, and plenty of mulled wine and hot chocolate with Bailey’s being served at the Chateau’s outdoor ice bar.
All the nightcaps
Later, we do dinner with a view at the hotel’s newly redesigned Fairview Bar & Restaurant known for its selection of award-winning Canadian wines. We extend the evening with a short walk in the alpine air over to the rustic Deer Lodge. Conversely, there’s a more upscale selection of wines at the Post Hotel’s Sir Norman Lounge, a 10-minute drive away. Back at the Fairmont, there’s also the expertly-guided night owl snowshoe walk on which guests learn a little about the stars and see the mountains all lit up.
Getting an early start, we grab a quick breakfast at Poppy Brasserie, check out, and hit the road for first tracks in fresh snow at Banff’s Sunshine Village Ski Resort, one of the area’s “Ski Big 3” destinations. It’s not uncommon to see elk and moose during the 45-minute drive southeast, either early in the morning or at dusk. Sunshine Village is home to Canada’s only heated chairlift, and the place to après on the mountain is Mad Trapper’s Smokehouse, a historical log cabin circa 1928 located at the top of the village gondola.
Castle in the Rockies
Arriving at the Fairmont Banff Springs, we check in for two nights. This special and historic spot is over 130 years old and manages to stay true to its Old World roots while continuing to level up with its dining, world-class spa services, and most helpful staff in the business. The “Castle in the Rockies” is made for staying put and relaxing.
After our day on the slopes, we enjoy a restorative swim in the forest amidst the steam at the hotel’s large outdoor heated pool. Then, we take in live music and a cocktail at the bar of the new French brasserie-style Vermillion Room before exploring the cavernous corridors of the hotel to find a truly unique dining experience of fondue, impeccable cheeses and charcuterie boards at Grapes Wine Bar. We ask for directions to The Waldhaus Pub and embark on an outdoor, late night adventure down (several) stairs to the Bavarian cottage by the river for a pint—there’s also a full 32-ounce boot. The charm of this find is worth the hike back up the stairs after last call.
Our recovery continues the next morning, as we sip tea, get a massage and enjoy the private outdoor hot tub at the hotel’s newly renovated Willow Stream Spa.
Downtown Banff and beyond
We head into the town of Banff for the afternoon and walk along Banff Avenue for souvenir shopping and all the rocky mountain small town feels. After lunch and a gin tasting at Park Distillery, we drive 5km northeast for a scenic drive along glacial Lake Minnewanka.
Pulling over at “surprise corner viewpoint” on the drive back for the iconic view of the castle, or visiting Banff Upper Hot Springs for a more natural warm soak are recommended pit stops. That night, we dine at the hotel’s Castello Italiana and check out the marshmallow roasting by the skating rink outside of the Vermillion Room—a very Canadian way to cap off the day before calling it a night and heading back to the Calgary Airport in the morning.