When we found out that we were going to spend a week in Alberta we had no clue what we were in for. Sure, I had briefly heard of Banff and something about the Olympics, but the one thing that no one prepared me for was the diversity of the province. The first major shock was how close we were to Alberta. Sure, Canada’s our friendly neighbor to the north, but the province is literally in our backyard. Flying from Seattle, I was fully prepared to stick in my ear buds and take a little nap before the festivities began. Imagine my surprise as I finished my coffee and asked for seconds, but was then denied as the stewardess was already preparing for our landing. Less than an hour and a half in the air, and we were already touching down in Calgary.
There are two things we immediately noticed about Calgary, it’s clean and fit. I don’t know if it is the clear mountain air, or just the cleanliness of Calgarians as a whole, but downtown is spotless. I enjoyed people watching as everyone got off of work and headed to their favorite beer hall. We stopped in at National Beer Hall on 10th and were amazed at the selection (over 70 beers on tap) and the sheer amount of people partaking in their favorite beverage of choice. Don’t even get me started on the food. We munched on the mushroom and duck confit poutines, fried pickles, fresh oysters, and perfectly crisp corn dogs.
It seemed that if we weren’t eating or drinking ourselves into a euphoric stupor, we were working out. Most of the time our exercise was masked in the form of a fun outdoor activity. Calgary makes it so easy for residents to not only get fit, but also get around. With over 1,000 kilometers of bike trails leading to and around the city, anyone on wheels can get to wherever they need to go and feel safe while doing it. Eau Claire Rapid Rentals offers visitors a perfect way to explore the city. Bike rentals start at only $10 per hour and offer stunning views of not only the city, but of the nature that is found within.
Viewfinder Tip: If you’re into speed, hop in the bobsled and experience the fastest sixty seconds of your life.
Calgary is also home to the COP (Canada Olympic Park), a center designed for and around athletes. Home to the 1988 winter Olympics, these hallowed grounds are where athletic giants are made. Ever seen Cool Runnings? You can walk under the very turn (number 13) that derailed the Jamaican team and had them carrying their sled to the finish line. While not everyone can be an Olympian, COP offers you the chance to have an Olympic experience. Adrenaline junkies can take a ride down North America’s highest zipline that will have you soaring from the COP’s ski jump tower. Proceeds from the COP go directly into helping young athletes and Olympic hopefuls train for their next competitions.
A beautiful stretch of highway will take you out to the rustic mountain town of Canmore. Nestled in the Canadian Rockies, this town is the perfect place to enjoy the wonder of the outdoors. Like Calgary, Olympic hopefuls can be spotted daily. You can even stay at the Paintbox Lodge owned by Olympic medalist Sara Renner and her World Cup champion husband, Thomas Grandi. The town is walking friendly, but some of the greatest activities are just a short drive away. Local outdoor experts from Yamnuska are happy to take out adventurers of every skill level to ski, hike, climb, and explore. As a novice rock climber, I was grateful for the expertise and assurance that our guide, Rob, gave us. I left with a thirst for adrenaline and an even greater hunger for adventure.
The Nordic Center in Canmore is another great place to spot Olympic hopefuls. Skiing, biking, and even disc golfing is available to everyone, with the pristine mountain backdrop of Canmore that makes for a beautiful setting. To make up for all of the calories burned, stop in at the brand new Grizzly Paw Brewery. A passion for people and beer ensure that the brewery tour will leave you enlightened, if not full of beer. Incredibly interactive and informative, the tour enacts all of your senses as you touch, taste, and experience the delicate process of beer brewing.
Interactive Grizzly Paw Brewery tour
Located only twenty minutes from Canmore, the town of Banff is wild in every sense of the word. Home to some of the most breathtaking scenery, wildlife around every corner, and nightlife just as exotic as local animals, Banff is sure to excite the adventurer in everyone. Downtown is conveniently located a short distance from relaxing hot springs, soaring gondola rides, and picturesque lakes. The dining options are superb and we have to recommend the Grizzly House as one of our favorite dining experiences ever. Choose between exotic meats such as boar, rattlesnake, elk, and alligator. Pair your meat with a cheese fondue and end the meal by dunking strawberries and crispy wafers in a pot of melted Toblerone. Share your food ecstacy with other diners by picking up the phone at your table and dialing any other table in the restaurant. Just make sure you have something clever to say if they pick up.
To get an extreme thrill, visit the Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort during its annual Slush Cup. A celebration to commemorate the last day of the ski season, brave volunteers line up for a chance to jump (and hopefully successfully traverse) the frigid pond at the bottom of the hill. Costumes are encouraged and range from the creative to risqué. When not used as a playground for Slush Cup, Sunshine Mountain Lodge offers its visitors a unique lodging experience. A stunning resort perched at the top of the gondola, Sunshine guests can have their mountain and ski it too. A staggering twelve lifts will appease snow junkies of any skill level.
The province of Alberta is a grab bag of mind-blowing experiences alongside some of the most alluring scenery in the world. If you’re even remotely interested in adventure, good food, or the outdoors, Alberta is for you. It doesn’t matter if you have to hop on a plane, jump in the car, or get out the old bicycle, get yourself to Alberta and experience its majesty for yourself. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Alberta.
What are your favorite types of winter experiences?