Somewhere down in the valley below there’s a bustling town with themed restaurants, boutiques, souvenir shops, museums and chateau-style hotels, with a population of more than 7,800. But from my newfound advantage, none of this seemed to matter.
For a moment I am illuminated. The sun pokes over the mountains and warms the small vessel inside. There’s a loud hum that breaks the silence of each snow-capped peak as we slice through the thin air with spinning blades. I catch a glimpse of my breath in the light and then it disappears.
This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now, and the feeling I have is everything and more while we soar over the Canadian Rocky Mountains in winter, which are shrouded in glamour and mystery. It’s the first time my husband Terry and I have been inside a helicopter.
We are on a 30 minute Mount Assiniboine tour leaving from Canmore Municipal Heli Pad at 9:30 a.m., located one hour away from Calgary in Alberta. Arriving 15 to 30 minutes before our tour departed, as instructed, for the mandatory safety meeting that includes watching a short clip on how to enter and leave the helicopter, seating, headsets, where to locate the fire extinguisher and so on, we were then off soaring through the sky.
Terry is slightly nervous and I reach for his hand, but this is the way the magnitude of the Rockies is meant to be seen. The ice-fluted faces, the howl of wind across razor-sharp edges, uncharted grounds and the adrenaline rush that follows.
The Rocky Mountains spread out over the horizon are like nothing we had seen before. From this angle, the mountains dwarfed everything else around. I crane my neck to see the “Matterhorn,” which towers high above the continental divide and is surrounded by glaciers and icefalls.
And I can’t help but find it strangely satisfying to encounter such wide-open spaces where even GPS devices may not help one find their way back if hiking through such terrain. Then I gaze out at the tips of each summit, deep cracks and crevasses, powdery-white blankets wrapped around each mountain, frozen rivers, the vastness of the sky, and all trivial problems of the world below are forgotten in that glorious instant.
I feel like I can reach out and touch each peak and I don’t want the tour to end because it feels so beautiful to be lost and found, all at once, in the sky. It’s something Terry and I won’t forget soon.
Terry and I travelled from Prince Edward Island to Banff on Sunday, February 11 to 16, 2018.
We originally planned a helicopter tour, departing Canmore, on Wednesday (Valentine’s Day). But I checked the weather reports and saw that it was meant to rain and cloud over, so I rescheduled for an earlier date on Monday 12, at 10 a.m. We had the perfect morning flying over the Rockies.
On Wednesday morning (our original day planned for flying) we happened to get a phone call to say all flights had been cancelled because of the “poor visibility,” so it was just as well we rescheduled this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
We stayed at the Hidden Ridge Resort in Banff for the extent of our trip. This is a beautiful resort perched high on the edge of a mountain overlooking the small tourist town. The resort has a heated outdoor pool, as well as wood-burning fireplaces in each condo with complimentary wood, making it ideal during the cold wintry nights.
Hiking through Johnston Canyon
The next day, Tuesday, Terry and I hiked along Johnston Canyon, which is nestled in the heart of Bow Valley Parkway. Our boots crunched through the snow as we treaded along the steel catwalks suspended above the canyon floor, pausing briefly to catch our breath and soak in turquoise-coloured ice sculptures every few metres. At the end of the canyon trail, there’s a frozen waterfall where climbers, on a belay with boot crampons and picks, scale the curtains of ice while tackling the overhangs and vertical sections with both grace and precision. We continued on our hike in the shadow of the mountain, through the valley covered in fresh powdery snow, and to the ‘Ink Pots’ where we could hear the soothing trickle of water under the ice.
Exploring Lake Louise
We hired a car throughout our trip, and on Wednesday wound our way through the scenic snow-capped mountains on either side of the road to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. On arrival, it felt like we had stepped into the pages of a fairy tale. Silhouettes of people contrasted against the glittering white snow spread like a blanket over the lake. The sun pokes through the surrounding mountains, warming the air and highlighting the ice sculptures that lined the front of the Chateau. Terry and I hiked around the lake, while a horse and sleigh carried a handful of people through the pine trees.
First time Skiing
On Thursday, Terry and I went skiing and snowboarding at Mount Norquay, which lies northwest of the town of Banff. This is one of the smaller ski and snowboard resorts in the area, making it less crowded and a local hotspot. It was my first time skiing, so I took a two hour lesson to learn the basics. Terry knows how to snowboard, so we parted ways as he caught the chairlift up to the steep peak.
At first, I was extremely nervous about what to expect. “Why on earth am I doing this?” I remember thinking, but my ski instructor was excellent. She was Australian but knew exactly how to put a beginner at ease, teach them the basics of how to put on skis, slide, walk onto the conveyor belt lift, stop, start and we progressed from there. After my lesson, I was confident enough to ski on my own and went slowly down the slope zigzagging my way to a stop. I did this a few times before we wrapped up the day. Skiing is something I will definitely do again.
Town of Banff
The town of Banff is a beautiful touristy place and it’s small enough to walk around, browse all the trinket stores and endless cafes and restaurants. One of my favourite places to visit was Touloulou’s for breakfast. I had vanilla bean crepes draped in fresh fruit, cream and jam or fluffy waffles – the menu had a wealth of options and I was never disappointed. This place got so busy for breakfast that we learned quickly to either come very early or later on in the day.
Terry’s favourite restaurant was the Saltlik Banff, an upscale place where we dined by candlelight one evening.
This was our first time visiting west Canada, and the Rockies. It was an incredible experience and we would both like to return to this scenic destination.