During the holidays my sister-in-law Jen, and I sprawled on the couch and commiserated how baked we felt after the craziness of the season. Always up for an excuse to run away to the spa we conspired to have a girls’ weekend in Banff National Park. No husbands and no kids. Just a weekend to recharge and to find some bliss with a bit of indulgent pampering in nature. As great timing would have it, our weekend coincided with the start of Snow Days in Banff and the Ice Magic Festival in Lake Louise.
Your backyard Frosty masterpiece has nothing on the works of art these pro snow-sculptors have carved around the town of Banff. Creative and clever these playful mammoth snow sculptures brought smiles to everyone who stopped to warm their hands by the nearby fire pits. www.banfflakelouise.com/snowdays
Up the road in Lake Louise is the equally spectacular Ice Magic Festival. Using chainsaws, elaborate ice picks, sanders and blow torches competitors craft surreal works of art. Cash prizes and coveted winner’s titles draw artists from around the globe to showcase their talents. Spectators can get in on the action and vote for their favourites.
The awe-inducing, turreted fairy-tale castle that is the Banff Springs Hotel never ceases to amaze me. A day at their Willow Stream Spa includes swimming, soaking and floating in nine different pools is the ultimate indulgence.
The mineral-infused Kur Spa pool boasts health benefits. The dip between the three waterfall pools ranges in temperatures between frigid and steamy. Serious spa-goers acknowledge the health benefits of the ritual going from soaking in hot to a plunge in the cold including lymphatic cleansing and improved circulation. Most of us do it once, on a dare and then stick to the pools closer to our ambient body temperature.
Of course, a visit to the spa would not be complete without a restorative treatment. This visit I enjoyed their Destination Rejuvenation treatment – a therapeutic massage paired with soothing essential oils. These essential oils have healing properties to help regulate sleep, hydrate skin, relieve tension headaches and restore energy.
Another one of my favourite treatments at Willow Stream is the Rockies Rehydration. This is the perfect skin care treatment in the winter. A full-body dry-brush exfoliation treatment is followed by a luxurious hydrating cream and relaxation massage. You’ll love how soft your skin feels after all the dry scaley winter skin is sloughed off.
All facials, massages and body treatments include full-day access to the Willow Stream Spa. Spa attendees must be 16 or older. www.fairmont.com/banff-springs/willow-stream/
The following morning we picked up snowshoe rentals at Wilson Mountain Sports in Lake Louise Village. After getting a quick tutorial on how to strap them on by a friendly staff member we hit the perfectly flat terrain of Lake Louise for our inaugural snowshoe adventure. I’ve lived in Alberta surrounded by snow and mountains my whole life, and I have never snowshoed. My 2018 bucket list item #1 is now crossed off.
The Parks Canada representative we spoke with confirmed the lake was frozen although we might encounter pools of water as the insulating snow on the ice creates a layer of heat that will cause some of the surface ice to melt. She assured us the pools aren’t dangerous but to be aware of pools of water when walking across. We made tracks across the ice atop untouched snow and then settled into walking along the trail others had formed. There were slushy bits here and there but right in the centre of the lake the ice started feeling especially soft, and we kept reminding ourselves the ice below the pools of water was frozen solid. We made it unscathed albeit with damp feet to the end of the lake where we watched ice climbers finish their climbs up the frozen waterfall and slide their way down to the bottom.
If you are interested in snowshoeing in Banff National Park, stop by the Banff Tourism Office and a staff member will be happy to point out some of the best trails in the area and provide with a map.
Gear rentals including fat bikes are available at Wilson Mountain Sports.
My last mountaintop yoga adventure officially got me hooked; the higher the altitude, the better. Lululemon hosts yoga sessions accompanied by Alchemy Crystal Singing bowls at the top of Banff’s Sulphur Mountain. If the thought of doing mountaintop yoga in -20 unbalances your chi, you’ll be glad to know during the winter; the class is inside the Banff Gondola Summit. The only chills you’ll get are from the breathtaking mountain peak views. Outdoor yoga sessions are offered in the summer. Currently, the classes run the last Sunday of every month and are free with your Banff Gondola admission. For more information and to register for their next event visit: https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/banff-gondola/events/
Where to Stay
Buffalo Mountain Lodge
The first time I heard about Buffalo Mountain Lodge was when a friend was planning her wedding at this hotel. It is a popular hideaway among honeymooners, known for its romantic mountain-chic appeal. Thankfully nuptials are not required to enjoy this rustic-luxe resort; it also makes a great retreat for friends and families.
Heated bathroom floor tiles, luxury L’Occitane en Provence amenities, and soaring timber-framed ceilings on the upper floors are only a few of the special touches Buffalo Mountain Lodge offers. During my stay, I look forward to melting beneath the marshmallow-soft duvet while reading a book and enjoying the crackle of the logs in the oversized wood-burning fireplace which are stacked plentifully outside the rooms by attentive staff. This place is the epitome of Banff to me, all the above plus sweeping mountain views from my patio is icing on the cake.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge is located on Tunnel Mountain with hillside hiking trails to lead you into town. It’s a short car-ride away from Main Street but the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service if you’d prefer not to drive.
Where to eat
Breakfast – Wild Flour Bakery
With my sister soundly sleeping, buried deep in her down duvet, I drag myself out of my warm bed, yearning for my morning pilgrimage to Wild Flour Bakery. A visit to Banff would not be complete without a stop here. I’ve learned from experience that you need to come early, as things sell out quickly here. Last time I was here they had completely sold out of croissants. Today they had just come out of the oven. Our butter-croissant was crispy on the outside with soft-warm chocolate on the inside. It is THE best croissant anywhere. I dare you to try and find one better; even in France. I’d place a bet you won’t.
Lunch – Bear Street Tavern
In a world of boring and derivative, the Bear Street Tavern makes amazing pizza. If you have told me I would come to crave honey and chilli oil drizzled over pizza I’d have thought you were crazy. But that’s what they do and I love it! Everyone loves it. That’s why they are always busy and there is honey at every table. Try it and you will know why. www.bearstreettavern.ca
Dinner – Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant
If you are game to try some game, the newly-renovated Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant is where you’ll want to try it. For a culinary adventure, I recommend the charcuterie platter with an assortment of Elk Salami, Air Dried Buffalo, Prosciutto, Smoked Duck Breast, Wild Boar Pâté, Aged Sylvan Star Gouda, and my favourite, Mustard Melons.
If you aren’t one for exotic meat Sleeping Buffalo also has chicken and beef on the menu. Sleeping Buffalo is located in Buffalo Mountain Lodge and owned by Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts (CRMR). CRMR, the company behind the restaurant and hotel also owns the ranch from where their elk and bison meats are sourced. Be sure to grab a jar of their amazing Mustard Melons on your way out at the front desk. At $7.00 for a jar, you’ll have a lovely addition to your own cheese plate at home.
Even if you missed Snow Days and the Ice Magic Festival, all sculptures and carvings will be up all winter-long to enjoy until they inevitably melt.
Disclosure: The writer was hosted by Banff and Lake Louise Tourism.