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.