Breathless in Banff

I flew into Calgary yesterday afternoon and then caught the first bus to Banff.

The 90-minute drive starts out straight, flat, brown, and boring–but soon, the bare white wheat fields ripple into true hills that roll into the western distance and its promise of great mountains. And then, before you have time to guess when you’ll arrive, the road kinks up into long racecourse curves, rock walls shoot up on all sides of the highway and you find yourself deep inside Earth’s most monumental fortress.

For me, the beauty of Banff lies in the surprise of the mountains. Upon entering Canada’s oldest national park, I could not stop gazing upward into the hazy, ever-changing play of sunshine, snow cloud, and stone. Likewise, walking through the alpine town of Banff can feel slightly unnerving. As your view vanishes into snow mist, another great mountain is revealed in the clear, as if some godly giant has been secretly watching you all the while.

As a flatlander from a more temperate latitude, I long dreamed of traveling to this kind of winter paradise: pine forests painted with snow and  monstrously oversize mountains just begging to be skied. Also, in case I get cold, there are abundant hot springs to soak in, and all of them with a view of these heavenly peaks.

After a summertime in Ontario and Quebec, I grew tired of being told that the true test of Canadian-ness lies in surviving the frightfully cold winter. Well, here I am, folks: back in Canada, this time in winter. And don’t tell me it doesn’t count because the west is a dry cold and therefore not that cold. It’s minus 6ºC right now.

If I can see my breath, then it’s cold, and if I can’t see my breath, that’s because I’m holding it, surrounded as I am by the breathless beauty of Banff and the wondrous Canadian Rockies.



  1. Shiloh
    November 29, 2011, 7:52 pm

    I’d say if it’s negative ANYTHING it counts as cold…

  2. Jessie at
    November 29, 2011, 9:35 pm

    I grew up in northern Idaho and have driven some amazing roads in the Pacific Northwest, but the highways right around Banff are the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere. If your plan is flexible, dropping down into Montana through Glacier National Park is also breathtaking.

  3. Lisa @BlueRaveFinn
    November 30, 2011, 12:28 am

    Minus 6 C is a comfortable kind of cold. Get to minus 15 or 20 and that’s a bit more interesting to be outside for any length of time. Glad you are enjoying the mountains!

  4. Where’s Andrew? – Intelligent Travel
    November 30, 2011, 4:21 pm

    […] Breathless in Banff Nov, 29, 2011 (3) Digital Nomad » […]

  5. Rick A
    November 30, 2011, 8:14 pm

    The Canadian Rockies have some of the most beautiful areas on Earth. I hope you get to enjoy as many as possible!
    It always makes me chuckle when fellow Canadians from warmer parts of the country mention how cold it is at minus 10 or 15 or 20! Try minus 40 with a wind that makes it feel like minus 55! It’s not at all unusual during our winters in Saskatchewan to have some days with minus 25 as the high for the day, with the occasional minus 45 overnight!

  6. H.P.
    December 12, 2011, 10:02 am

    Very cool. I have only snowboarded in Whistler and I have been back twice because it is just so spectacular. Now I feel that I should check out Banff. As a Lake Tahoe local I love great fresh powder and a bit of sunshine but I am always down for a new location.