North America Ski Resorts International
**The nature of this review** Rather than re-iterate all of the wonderful things to see and do in Banff as 14 other reviews have done beautifully, I thought I would tell you of our activites on a 2 day trip to Banff in case others want to see it all on a tight time schedule. Banff is of course a beautiful town in the Rocky ... Mountains, just 1 hour away from Calgary airport by car. We visited in the summer of 2011 and had a perfect time. I seriously love the place. It is only small, one main road, less than 50 shops and restaurants but lots of visitors. In techy terms, it is a real "honeypot".
So here we go with essentially what was our trip report which I hope will provide some useful insight to the area and hopefully encourage you all to go and visit!
**Our arrival in Canada**
We arrived at Calgary airport at 2pm local time, it took nearly 2 hours to get out of the airport and clear customs but we finally made it to the rental car desk. The guy on the desk suggested we upgrade the car to at least a "full" size car for driving on the mountain roads and we are glad we did this, our Chevrolet Impala was well worth the small extra bit and with travelling around so much, the space in the boot of the car was brilliant. I would strongly recommend getting a car with at least a bit of power.
**Getting out of Calgary**
Having left the airport with the map firmly in the boot, I soon learnt that there are only a handful of main roads in Canada, and we were not on any of them. We took an unscheduled detour around the suburbs of Calgary (which I recommend not trying at home folks!) before finally finding somewhere safe to stop to retrieve the map. We finally got on the highway and before long, in the distance, the majestic Rockies loomed over us. The drive was so exciting, flat land all around us on three sides, but through the front window, the gateway to our holiday was getting closer and closer. The drive to Banff was approximately one hour and twenty minutes, but it seemed much shorter with the fantastic display of beautiful scenery to gawp at out of the window.
**Getting into Banff National Park**
After passing Canmore and paying our park pass fee (we got an annual pass as it worked out better for us), we turned off for Banff, only to take a right turn at the junction (I found Canadian signposts to be not so clear in some cases) and after 10 or so minutes, I felt we had taken a wrong turn (turns out we were on the Lake Minnewanka loop!), so we headed back to be greeted by the beautiful Banff.
**Hotel in Banff - Magnificent!!**
Our hotel was Hidden Ridge Resort on Tunnel Mountain. I can highly recommend the property, the hot tub with views over Banff and the Rockies were a highlight of our trip. I will do a full review at some point, but if you stay there ask for a room with a view and be prepared that some of the the rooms are quite dark even with all the lights on. I also recommend staying on Tunnel Mountain, it was 5 minutes from Banff in a car and felt so peaceful in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the town. We headed to Bruno's for some food, again I will do a full review but the food was cheap and cheerful, not a fine dining experience, but the staff were friendly and pointed out some good things for us to see and do. I felt like all of the staff in shops, restaurants and hotels really knew their stuff and were more than willing to dig out a map or provide information for tourists, so don't hesitate to ask.
**First full day of activity in Banff - suggestions of itinerary**
We headed to bed early, feeling fairly jetlagged and of course woke up bright and early at around 5am. This 8pm bedtime, 5am wake time would continue for the next 4-5 days and we made the most of the early morning opportunities. The week before we came away the weather wasn't so good in Banff and someone on here told us to make the most of the good weather when you can. I would say that was excellent advice and with that nugget of information safely stowed away, we jumped on the Banff gondola just around 9am. Whilst we were up there, the weather was clear-ish, then in snowed, then it was brilliant sunshine. I learned a saying about Alberta weather "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes" - mountain weather is extremely changeable and a tragic downpour of rain can be over within minutes (unlike England where it seems set in for 2 weeks). The views from the top were breathtaking, really really stunning. It also helped situate us, as I couldn't quite work out where everything was, given that I had such a clear image in my mind of what Banff would be like, it took a while to break that mould. We stayed at the top of Sulphur Mountain for around 2 hours, there is a cafe up there which is nothing special and a gift shop, but we were just in awe of the entire scene before our eyes. I would also say to anyone a little nervous of the gondola, yet it is high but the ride is incredibly smooth and I felt very safe throughout. By 11am, the peace and quiet at the top of Sulphur mountain was well and truly over and the hoardes of tourists on coaches queuing to go on the gondola made me feel glad we had done it really early.
After this, we headed to the Lake Minnewanka loop as the weather didn't look so great and I always figure that in general lakes and waterfalls look pretty good in the rain anyway so we tried to keep that in mind for variable weather days. We went around Lake Minnewanka, Johnson Lake and Two Jack. It absolutely poured down when we arrived at Two Jack and we had our sandwiches in the car. By the end of the sandwich, it was brilliant sunshine, so the tip about waiting five minutes in Alberta weather really made sense! This area is pretty good for wildlife and on our way out, we spotted what we thought was an elk (but since realise they were mule deer) - it was very exciting seeing these things in the wild. We stopped for a quick photo/video and then went on our way.
At this point, the weather was turning again so we were going to go to Banff Park museum, but by the time we arrived, the weather was so nice we took an unscheduled stroll down the Bow River to Surprise Corner. This is one of the "hiking trails" which is definitely more of an easy, easy walk, and also very pleasant. There are lots of benches to stop at and soaking up the atmosphere of Banff was just a really nice thing to do.
We headed back to Hidden Ridge around 3pm to sit in the hot tub, unable to believe we were in such a gorgeous place. That night we decided to eat in Grizzly's fondue restaurant, again I'll do a full review, whilst it was different, it was very expensive, not at all filling and I can't recommend it, we certainly wouldn't eat there again. Feeling shattered we retired to bed after a busy but exciting 24 hours.
**Second full day of activity in Banff - suggestions of itinerary**
We were up early and headed up Highway 1a to Johnston Canyon which took about 40 minutes. We had high hopes of seeing some good wildlife, as many people in Banff had described it as being one of the best places to see wildlife, we thought it would be a dead cert at 7am, but still, only the mule deer came to see us, nothing more exciting like the bears and wolves and cougars that had seemed so prevalent in the area when people spoke of taking this highway. We were a tad disappointed but got on with our day. Again we arrived at approximately 8.15am and it was busy enough but quiet enough to enjoy it. Again this is a "hike" that isn't so much of a hike, however believing the "hike" to be difficult, we decided to just stroll the first paved part. In flip flops, it wasn't too much fun, I recommend at least trainers as there are some uphill bits to the lower falls, but again, a much easier hike than we anticipated (particularly as we weren't going to do it). The walk was brilliant and pretty easy and the lower falls were very rewarding, had the trainers been on the feets, we would have gone to the upper falls but it seemed ridiculous in flip flops! I would suggest going to the little cafe in the gift shop, it is genuinely vintage and just felt very quaint, we really liked it!
We drove back along Highway 1a, again no wildlife spotted. We headed to Banff Springs Hotel, which is massive and impressive, but after wandering inside, I was heartily unimpressed with what seemed like a theme park castle. The man in one of the shops there told me he thought I wasn't impressed with it because I was used to real castles, which is true I guess, perhaps North Americans are more impressed because they don't see real British castles very often, so with that in mind I guess Banff Springs seemed pretty good to them!
After lunch on a picnic bench overlooking the hotel, we headed to the Hoodoos (another "trail" which is an easy paved walk). Two cougars had recently been sighted there, so we waited ages for more people to walk with us along the path as the "carnivore alert" sign suggested, but no one came so we just went to the first view point by ourselves at it seemed close enough to the car park and we made lots of noise to make ourselves known. The hoodoos were OK and worth a look, but the view over the beautiful Bow River was spectacular from this vantage point. That signed and sealed it for me, I was in love with Banff.
After this we went to the Banff Park Museum full of taxidermy animals, for the $4 it cost to get in it was worth it and filled an hour or so for us. We then wandered down Banff Avenue , disappointed that so many of the shops were full of the same (in most cases tacky) souvenirs. Once you've been in one shop, you've been in most of them! The situation of Banff between Mt Rundle, Sulphur and Cascade was so picturesque, I really loved it.
**2 days vs 2 weeks*
We had originally planned to have another day in Banff (but had to change due to hotel availability in Lake Louise), which we would in hindsight have spent visiting Canmore which is supposed to be lovely and less touristy than Banff (according to some Calgary locals). I would say the 2 days we spent in Banff were enough for us who were keen to see as much as possible and maximise the time we had in each place.
Personally, on reflection, I would now love to chill out and relax in Banff for a week or so. Either in summer or winter, it was one of my favourite places of all in Canada, but the itinerary suggested would be useful for someone trying to maximise their time in the town. We tried to pack as much in as possible, next time, I would try and chill out a bit more!
Also posted as dollydaydream84 on tripadvisor.
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This was the first time we had skied across the pond. We wanted to try the Rockies and chose Canada because, frankly, with the sort of "welcome" we had "enjoyed" when trying to enter its southern neighbour in recent years, we really could do without that sort of hassle. Sad really, but the US does seem to have ... retreated into itself since 9/11 and all visitors seem to be treated as potential terrorists. Our last experience at JFK was a nightmare: we had had 2 hours to clear Passport Control and catch our connecting flight; we made it with minutes to spare! American passport holders were ushered through whilst we "inferior races" were held back time and again. Such arrogance!
So, the Rockies in question were the Canadian ones and the resort we chose was Whistler, primarily because it would be easy to combine it with a week sightseeing in Vancouver, also a first for us. Our entry into Canada at Vancouver airport could not have been less traumatic; we really were made to feel welcome as visitors.
We were travelling with Inghams, our first time with this company. We were met by their local reps and soon were on our way for the 2 hour transfer to the resort, most of which was spent just trying to get out of Vancouver onto the North Shore. There are two major bridges across the bay and both are really inadequate for the amount of traffic. However, once across we were able to sit back and enjoy the amazing scenery.
Although the resort goes under the generic name of Whistler, in fact it consists of two resorts, Whistler and Blackcomb, each of which sits at the foot of its own mountain ridge, separated by a deep valley. It used to be that you skied either Whistler or Blackcomb but now there is a cable car (Peak2Peak) that runs across from ridge to ridge, over the valley, so it is possible to ski either or both, in a day, starting from either resort.
Whistler is a relatively new development as it exists today, largely as a result of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. The area, right down to Vancouver itself though, is historically that of the local indigenous tribes, primarily the Squamish. The developments throughout this region have not been entirely uncontentious but the European incomers and the tribes seem to live in peaceful co-existence these days.
We were staying in the Blackcomb half of the resort, at the Blackcomb Suites, self-catering, except for breakfast, which was included. This complex of apartments sits right at the top of the resort, at the end of bus route 6 and next to the Lower Cruiser piste down to the Wizard Express chairlift. This was the route we took each morning to take us up to the highest point and to begin our day. Our accommodation I have reviewed already.
The lifts to the main area of the Blackcomb ridge requires two separate chairlifts, Wizard Express and Solar Coaster Express, each of considerable length. It took us approaching twenty minutes to get to this point. This illustrates one of the major drawbacks of this ski area: most of the lifts are quite long so there really isn't much chance of doing short repetitive runs; all, with a couple of exceptions, are a long way up and a long way back down again.
We had also chosen a relatively late holiday, starting at the end of March and running into early April. We had imagined that this far North on the American continent, the snow would still be very reliable. It turned out that we were wrong. Perhaps the influence of the nearby Pacific Ocean had an effect but certainly we found that from midday onwards the quality of the snow tended to become somewhat iffy. In future, if we returned, we would make sure to do so earlier in the season or else venture further inland, where the influence of the Pacific would be less likely to be felt.
Most of the skiing is tree-line, with really only Seventh Heaven being mostly open space. One of our favourite runs was Jersey Cream, just long enough to enjoy without killing your legs and with a return lift journey of just a few minutes. This particular area seemed to suffer the least from the effects of less than ideal weather conditions.
However, that said, we did enjoy the skiing, on both mountains (the trip across on the gondola is spectacular and not to be missed), mostly skiing Whistler in the mornings and Blackcomb in the afternoons, as the sun swung around to light each slope. There is certainly enough skiing to fill a week without too much repetition. So long as the weather is favourable, there are pistes galore to enjoy; we certainly didn't cover them all but that was for bad weather reasons only.
Whilst out on the slopes, mostly for lunches, snacks and drinks you will likely use one of the several very large, purpose built complexes, providing self-serve and fast food meals. The food is largely American style with some strange takes on "European" dishes. It mainly seems to be "chips" with everything, even in the case of dishes which we would normally associate with rice or pasta.
For something better you have either to go further up or right down. The "Up" is to Horstman's Hut, at the top of the ski area called Seventh Heaven. This is a very good destination, both for the skiing and for the food as these slopes seem to get the most of the sunshine. Horstman's Hut is just that; you find it to the left as you come off of the 7th Heaven Express chairlift. The views from here are spectacular.
Space inside is limited but you can also eat outside on the sundeck, if the weather permits. If it doesn't, you probably don't want to be up here at all anyway: the weather here can get ferocious, and I do mean it literally. The food is excellent and not unreasonably priced. I do recommend at least one visit.
The "Down" is the the oddly named "Garibaldi Lift Company" at the foot of Lower Olympic piste and right next to the Whistler Village Gondola. It's up a flight of steps although there is a lift as well. This is a much larger establishment. The food, though, was good and, once again, not exorbitant. They also have home-brewed beer which, whilst quite good, was neither true real ale nor true to their descriptions. Their "IPA" most definitely wasn't! Still, once again, recommended.
Clearly very new and almost entirely pedestrianised. Buses stop at the top of the village and you walk down a flight of steps to the main square and the bottom of the pistes and to access the gondolas to the upper slopes. From here you wind your way down through the middle of the village to access all the shops, bars and restaurants. However, there are also many on the outside of the village, facing onto the ring-road so, sticking to the centre of the village you will miss a number of other possible attractions.
At the bottom of the village is the Olympic Square, with the Olympic Rings which attract many photos. Just beyond is the Market Square, with what is really the only supermarket in town - the "Market Place". If you are self-catering then this will inevitably be your destination for supplies, all except alcohol. The supermarket is large and has just about everything else you could want.
For drink you have to cross the square to the Liquor Store. It seems that the sale of alcohol in Canada is restricted to dedicated outlets. However, the choice here is extensive, including locally produced wines, some of which we tried and found pretty good, if a tad expensive.
Even when self-catering, we like to try the local eateries as much as possible. Whistler has a lot of choice, both for drinks and for meals.
Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub - Yes, even here, there's no getting away from the Irish Pub, but this one is definitely one you'll want to get away from! This is the first place you'll see as you enter the village from the bus station. My advice is, keep walking. We dropped in here for a nightcap on our way home from a meal elsewhere. The drinks came to £14 (!!!) for a whiskey and a red wine. I wouldn't have minded so much if the wine hadn't been distinctly mediocre. I have posted a fuller review on Tripadvisor.
The Brewhouse - If you want good drinks, including some pretty decent own-brew beers, good atmosphere, friendly service and reasonable prices, this is the place to go. It's down by Olympic Square. It's quite large and also serves decent meals, by the looks of the menu and by the packed tables, although we didn't have an opportunity to eat there ourselves. We did pop in for a drink several times though.
21 Steps - Definitely our favourite of all of the restaurants at which we ate. On a wet night we sat at a high table next to the second floor window, watching the [soggy] world go by below us, whilst we enjoyed an excellent meal with a good bottle of wine.
Black's - On the edge of the main square and diagonally opposite the Garibaldi Lift Company. We went there primarily because it has a first floor outside balcony from which we could watch the evening ski show on the slopes opposite, whilst we enjoyed a meal. It was a tad cold but the balcony has overhead heaters although you needed to be sitting at the inner tables in order to get the benefit of them. Once again, enjoyable food and not overly expensive. Unless you are watching a ski show though, I would recommend inside rather than out!
Earls - Nice atmosphere and reasonable food. We had lunch here one day, TexMex style. Enjoyable but there is better.
Mix by Rics - Our final meal of our stay in Whistler. Once again, very enjoyable but by far the most expensive. One of two restaurants under common ownership and with a good reputation locally. Probably one for a special occasion.
As I mentioned, this area has a history of occupation by local peoples, long before the Europeans discovered it. The Aboriginal Culture Centre, just on the outskirts of Whistler Village, is well worth a visit to see many artefacts of local tribal life. They also have a small cinema where you can watch some very interesting presentations on the area and the history of the interaction not only between the local tribes and the Europeans but also between the tribes themselves.
We enjoyed our visit to Whistler although, as mentioned, were we to return we would undoubtedly do so earlier in the ski season, so as to enjoy better quality snow conditions. Of course, the visit was an expensive one overall, due to the relative values of the Pound and the Canadian Dollar. Sadly it can no longer be said that to ski the other side of the pond is as good value for money as to ski Europe, and I suspect that will continue to be the case for many years to come. Still, I'm glad we did it, even if we never do it again.
Next stop - Vancouver.
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Breckenridge (United States)
I have been to Breckenridge three years consecutively now. It is that good. I am hoping to go back this year as well if I can. I have only ever been there during Easter to ski, however, I have heard that it is pretty amazing during the summer also for adventure sports and such activities. My focus will therefore be on the skiing side of ... what Breckenridge has to offer, which is a LOT.
Firstly, the runs themselves are well groomed and well signposted. Good start. Secondly, even in late April there is still a good amount of snow and last year it was still snowing and at the same time it was sunny. The best skiing conditions I have ever come across. The runs are suitable for all skill levels with a good beginner's area which features a magic carpet through to off piste and double blacks for seriously advanced skiers. Don't worry there is plenty for intermediates as well. All in all there is most certainly something for everyone and the resort also features at least one terrain park, mostly for the benefit of you snowboarders.
The up-mountain restaurants are friendly but simple. They definitely do not cater for fine dining, however most people just want to get back out on the snow.
The town of Breckenridge itself is friendly and tidy and features establishments such as:
An oxygen bar for the altitude sick.
Hat Store - provides much fun
A healthy amount of restaurants from which to choose an evening meal. The nicest part about the restaurants, and in fact, the place in general is how friendly the local people are. It definitely adds to the warmth of the place.
I stayed in the Beaver Run Resort which is a ski in/ ski out hotel. Very useful. It has a locker room for skis/boards. Also very useful. The hotel features double storey rooms with balconies and a log fireplace. Also in the hotel are: an arcade machine area, a swimming pool and Jacuzzis, Tennis Courts(Summer) and a deli and basic supermarket. The hotel also offers a complimentary bus service into town, however the driver is expected to be tipped (as are all those in the service industry). Town is however an easy walk from the hotel.
I feel it is right to say that the resort itself is not expensive when compared to other QUALITY ski resorts. The biggest expense would probably be the flights to Denver.
Lastly, it takes about 7 ½ hours to fly to Denver and it is then about a two hour transfer to Breckenridge itself. I say from experience DO NOT GO OUT ON THE FIRST NIGHT you will almost certainly want to sleep.
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North America Ski Resort International
Ski Resort International / Canada.
Ski Resort International / Alberta, Canada.
Ski Resort International / Lake Tahoe, Nevada, California.
Ski Resort International / British Columbia, Canada. - Whistler Mountain is a peak in the Fitzsimmons Range on the edge of Garibaldi Provincial Park, and the location of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort and the town of Whistler, British Columbia. Over two million people visit Whistler annually, primarily for its wo...
Ski Resort International / Alberta, Canada.
Ski Resort International / Colorado, USA.
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Ski Resort International /
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Ski Resort International / Colorado, USA.
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