You either love your birthday or you don't. I might as well be a professional at 'having a birthday' because the occasion seems to last three days on average, with the occasional two week long celebration surrounded by loved ones, depending on whether it's an age of significance. Or if I'm just feeling fancy.
This year was slightly different though. With most of our family and friends on the other side of the Atlantic (with the entire width of Canada added into the equation too), we decided to take a much needed break in the mountains to celebrate us both having reached the grand old age of 27. The hangovers are getting worse and the aches and pains take longer to heal but we're still young, and what better way to show it than by throwing Nikki down a mountain on her first real foray into skiing and sinking some beers afterwards?
For the first time since being in Canada, we set off the for the mountains at a reasonable time. We drove straight through to Lake Louise, to assess the ice skating situation on the lake, said to be one of the most beautiful and scenic rinks in the world. You can bring your own skates, or rent them from inside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for a fee (and a probably extortionate fee at that), which had been our plan all along. We've read so many travel blogs and guides saying this is a must-do winter activity in the Rocky Mountains, but my overwhelming fear of ice skating held us back on this occasion, but we settled for a slippery walk on the frozen lake instead.
(Note - we also stopped by Lake Louise ski resort on the drive back to Banff to check out the Lake Louise Audi FIS Ski World Cup, which was pretty awesome)
After arriving in Banff, we checked into our home for the next two nights, the YWCA Banff Hotel. This budget accommodation is definitely more hostel than hotel, but clean and well maintained, and just a 2 minute walk to Main Street. We stayed in a private double room, with access to the shared bathrooms in the corridor. Free WiFi, parking and ski storage made it a great option for our trip, and I'd recommend it for anyone wanting some peace, quiet and privacy, with the aim of keeping the costs low.
On another 'keeping costs low' note - if you ever need to remember any advice I give you about things to do in Banff, this is it. It's safe to say that most of us will never be disgustingly rich enough to spend a whole vacation at the Fairmont Banff Springs, but their exquisite restaurant, The Vermilion Room, offers Happy Hour deals from 5-6 pm every damn day. $5 select drinks and appetizers make it the perfect place to feel fancy, whilst saving your pennies. We made sure to reserve a table at the bar for quick service and speedy refills. After all, we're two British girls who know how to drink!
Saturday night was an early one, as we got up early for our first day of skiing in Canada. I've had quite a bit of ski experience from school trips and family holidays throughout my childhood, but it had been ten years since I last gave it a go. I was pretty nervous about the whole thing, would I remember how to snow plough let alone my parallel turns? Nikki was even more unsure, with just 6 hours of ski experience under her belt before an injury had her signed off for the rest of her school ski trip years back. We decided to spend the day at Sunshine ski resort, the biggest of two resorts in the Banff vicinity, and around 20 minutes outside of town. Instead of renting our equipment in Sunshine Village itself, we opted to rent from Ultimate Sports Banff the day before, and have them dropped off at our hotel (I knew that free ski storage would come in handy) so they were ready to go in the morning. I cannot recommend Ultimate Sports Banff enough, they answered all our questions about helmets (we bought our own) and were quick to recommend the best equipment package for our skill levels. Plus the benefit of renting outside of the resort truly comes down to the cheaper rates, and we saved a fair amount. When we arrived at the gondola base we bought the Sunshine Super Card, which gives us our first, fourth and seventh visit free, as well as discounts on lift tickets every other time you visit, and food and drink deals in the resort. Somehow I'm turning this into a money-saving post - how unlike me that would be.
After a couple of practice runs on the beginner slope (and some time for Nikki learning how to move in skis) we decided it was best to stick to the green runs for the day. The grading system in North America is different to that in Europe, where a green becomes a blue and in turn becomes a red, and so forth. We hitched a ride up the Strawberry Express chairlift (how cute is that name?) and immediately turned left down the first slope. Or what I thought to be the first slope. In all fairness, the sign pointed left for the green piste and I told Nikki to lead the way so I could watch her technique. Okay, so it turns out I led her down a steep blue run (equivalent to a European red) so it didn't take long for Nikki to end up practically upside down in a pile of snow, skis halfway up the mountain and wondering where it all went wrong. We know where it went wrong, and it had everything to do with my flawed advice!
(Note - the second image isn't of Nikki falling down a hill but she did crash into those trees, so I thought it was worth sharing)
It turns out skiing is like riding a bike. Once you've given it a few tries in life, you never truly lose it, and muscle memory does half the job. The biggest struggle was getting used to the world's most uncomfortable boots again (snowboarders, you look like you have it so much better) but we had the time of our lives getting that fresh mountain air, and trying out different runs throughout the day. Sunshine Village has a lodge with a few canteen-esque eating choices, but as it was a special occasion, we headed upstairs to Restaurante El Lookout in the Lookout Lodge for some lunch and a beer, for me anyway!
After the sun went down, we caught a gondola down to base and headed back to Banff to return our gear and get changed. Aching and exhausted (but in a good way) from our day on the mountains, we decided to settle in at Banff Ave Brewing Co, our favourite bar in Banff. We'd popped in a few times for lunch on many of our mountain trips, but with Nikki always behind the wheel, we'd never had much of a chance to sample many of their beers, so we didn't waste time in ordering a flight of their finest! We picked up a McDonald's on the way back to our hotel and had a classy burger in bed, the absolute dream.
The next morning we'd planned to visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs, an outdoor pool heated by the thermal activity in Sulphur Mountain, but decided against it at the last minute. We've heard reviews that it's not much more than a glorified, warm swimming pool, but at least the views are probably spectacular. It's still on our list of things to try so maybe you'll see it pop up on our Instagram sometime in the next year. Instead we settled for a stroll around town and a burger from Eddie Burger Bar (the best burger you'll ever eat - trust me) before our long weekend came to an end.
The countdown is on until our next trip away, but for now we're hiding away from this deep freeze that seems to have hit Calgary. When temperatures drop to -30 degrees outside, your social life takes a hit. It does wonders for your bank balance though!
Until next time!