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Embracing Winter at SnowDays

SnowDays Banff

If you were to look at my browser history -and I don’t know why you would, you nosy parker- in addition to “cleaning marker from drapes” and “life with a two year old” you would find searches like “Costa Rica real estate” “Mexican long stay visa” and “best remedies for dry skin”. I am not a person who likes winter. Despite the vow I make every year to embrace winter, mostly I just want to escape it. A good part of my winter misery lies with the fact that I am not “sporty” and it seems that most winter pursuits require a degree of athletic aptitude that eludes me.

So what is there for a person like me at SnowDays, the Banff-Lake Louise festival that purports to make you wish winter was all year long?

The answer is: a surprising amount!

Part of the charm of SnowDays for families (and everyone else!)  is the ability to strike a balance of indoor and outdoor activities, for the hard core and the less so. As much as I may have wanted to hibernate in my cozy mountain room at the well-appointed Banff Caribou Lodge and Spa, I ventured out…

Here are the consummate indoorswoman’s top picks for family fun at the SnowDays festival :

SnowDays Festival Activities:

For the kickoff weekend of the festival, a program of kid friendly activities was held on Banff Avenue. Families bopped away to the cover bands playing on an outdoor stage, while stilt walkers tiptoed through the crowd, posing for pictures every few steps. Hoop dancers, their hoops lit with LED bulbs added colour and fun to the festivities. There were bonfires to warm up at and roast marshmallows over, as well as hardier roast meat sandwiches and warm drinks to enjoy at the long picnic tables set up on the closed off street.

Ice Magic Festival, courtesy of Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography

Ice Magic Festival, courtesy of Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography

In the coming weeks look for Ice Magic at Lake Louise, with an ice carving competition and “Little Chippers” zone for the young and young at heart; Pinty’s All-Star Curling Skins Game with Olympic gold medalists Brad Jacobs and Jennifer Jones; MEC Ice Climbing Festival centred around the massive 40 ft ice wall erected in downtown Banff; The Big Bear where snowboarders and skiers show off their tricks on a ramps and rails while high energy DJs play them on; and more!

Eats

The Banff Ave Brewing Company: Where else could you bring your kids on a brewery tour? Don’t be off put off by the unassuming entrance beside the Clock Tower Mall, upstairs is a fun gastro-pub that even the loudest football fans can’t take away from. Minors are allowed in the pub until 10 pm and they have a kids menu with the requisite chicken fingers and grilled cheese sandwiches, but you might want them to take a look at the starter menu to spice it up a bit.

The Maple Grill and Lounge: If you are lucky enough to have childcare (or children that have mastered the art of fancy restaurants) The Maple Grill is one of the premiere dining spots in Banff. The elegant dining room welcomes children with a kids’ menu and friendly staff. The Maple Leaf Grill is the host of Banff’s Big Taste on January 29th, 2015, a SnowDays event celebrating the best in wine and Banff cuisine.

Outside Fun

Yes Virginia, there is fun in the not-so-bad outdoors (I’m not quite ready to call it “great”) One of the activities that take advantage of the beauty of the Rockies is the Johnston Canyon IceWalk with Discover Banff Tours. If your kids are 8 or older you will have fun hiking the trail and crossing the steel catwalks with a knowledgeable guide and ice cleats provided by the company. Our guide Steve was a wealth of information about the geology and history of the area, and we loved his gentle ribbing of the good natured Americans in our group. He assured us that at least a third of what comes out of his mouth is a joke, and it made for a great time. It really is breathtaking to be so close to the frozen falls (five in all) and enjoy hot chocolate in a cave!

SnowDays-ICEWalk

courtesy of Banff-Lake Louise Tourism

For those of us who have spent the majority of every ski/snowboard trip sliding down the hill on our rear ends (or pouting in the chalet) putting a tube between the snow and our snow pants seems a good solution. At the top of the impossibly high (bunny hill height) tube run, five year olds whizzing past, I could feel my confidence waning. It must have showed on my face as my host David assured me “If you need to scream, it’s okay.” Yes, but the problem is, I can’t guarantee what I will scream.

SnowDays-Norquay

The family friendly folks at Mt. Norquay have put together a facility that caters to even the non-skiers. Now, no doubt about it, the resort is dedicated to skiing and snowboarding; they are proud of their long history and status with the steepest ski hill in Canada on the Lone Pine run. But they have broken out of the one track thinking to offer snowshoeing and tubing to sweeten the pot for the non-skiers. They even have an on-site daycare and bar-none the best chalet menu I have ever sampled. No canned chicken noodle soup or soggy nasty fries in sight!
Sleigh Collage 2How about a sleigh ride? Discover Banff Tours offers sleigh rides out at the end of Sundance Road at the Warner Stables. As the only passenger on a clear Monday morning, I channelled my inner czarina under a buffalo hide atop a stack of blankets, hot apple cider in hand. I loved the feeling of slipping over the frozen fields, hemmed in on all sides by mountains. My guide Megan chatted happily about the area, telling me about the mountains, a bit of the history of the stables, and how she was a second-generation employee, her parents having met when they worked the summer 20-odd years ago. The 45 minute tour in the Bow Valley ended with a marshmallow roast over a nice toasty fire and the offer of another warm beverage.

So there. With only the most gentle of prodding I had an amazing outdoor experience. And if I did, trust me, you will too. I might even get my nerve up to try dogsledding next time, despite the fact my auto correct keeps switching the word to “distressing.” That’s not an omen right? RIGHT?

SnowDays runs from January 10th-February 8th, 2015 with activities in Banff and Lake Louise. Please check the Banff-Lake Louise Tourism website for a detailed schedule of all the events.

The writer wishes to thank Banff-Lake Louise Tourism, of whom she was a guest.

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