Monday 5 September 2022 – We only had one item on the plan for the day, which was to travel on the Banff Gondola. The bottom station is a little way outside town, but there’s a shuttle bus and a kind soul at the hotel reception had provided us with passes that meant we could travel there for free. The bus stop was conveniently directly outside the hotel; we climbed aboard and were wafted electrically through the town and out the other side to Sulphur Mountain. The last hundred metres or so were rather slow, the reason being traffic congestion for this popular attraction, but we arrived well before our appointed departure time, wondering how they were going to manage the logistics.
As it happens, they didn’t. The queue for those who had tickets (we did) was very short
and they were happy to let us through early. I infer that the “departure time” idea is simply a matter of attempting to manage the flow of punters; there are ticket desks beside the entry queue and if it becomes popular, I suppose that ad hoc ticket purchasers will be given a later time and simply have to wait to board.
The setup is very familiar to anyone who has ridden a gondola elsewhere in the world. The Banff setup has 40 cabins each of which can seat up to four people; the cabins come round slowly to make it easy to board and then, once aboard, they whoosh down a rail to get up to cable speed and off you go. The only difference from other gondolas I have ridden was that the cabins were manhandled around (mostly by Australians, it seemed) at top and bottom instead of being moved along by machinery.
The ride up is fast and smooth, and small open windows allowed me to poke a lens out and get some nice photos of downtown Banff as we were whisked upwards.
If you know where to look (top right) you can even see our hotel.
The top station is a very substantial 4-level building, offering coffee stops, a restaurant, a patio/observation deck and
a gift shop. Your exit on to the observation deck is greeted by a grizzly bear statue.
The observation deck is understandably popular
and the view from the top is wonderful, as one might expect.
There is a one km boardwalk leading to an adjacent peak
which has 83 steps down and 296 steps up; from that peak you also get some great views, including back to the top station itself.
On the walk over, we were joined by some wildlife which didn’t seem to mind humans much at all.
I’m not sure what the first bird is (maybe a Black-Capped Chickadee), but the second is a Grey or Canada Jay, unofficially Canada’s National Bird.
We also think we saw a Clark’s Nutcracker, which we’d learned about yesterday with Geoff. It has a fascinating partnership with the Whitebark Pine; it has learned how to eat the seeds from the tree’s pine cones – even to the extent of developing a special sublingual pouch where it can store dozens of seeds – and in a mast year there are too many seeds for the bird to eat, so the uneaten ones germinate and the trees spread. Much like the relationship between our Jay and Oak trees in the UK…
There was some great light playing across the views to bolster my photographic day.
After a short while and a coffee break, we headed down again. As we went, I wondered where this gondola fitted in to the skiing setup of Banff. From later research, the only conclusion I can come to is “not at all”; there are no obvious pistes leading down from the top station – just a walking trail for those of a hardy disposition – and all the ski maps I can find for Banff are of other places. So the Banff Gondola is not a skiing installation, but a tourist attraction. This explains the gift shops at top and bottom, which are rare in my experience of European ski lifts.
Back at the bottom, we caught the shuttle towards town, but got off a few stops early to have a look at the Cascade Gardens. These surround the National Parks administration building, itself quite an imposing edifice
from which decent views back over the town are available.
The gardens were originally developed in the 1930s and have since attracted some investment from China, which makes them popular with Chinese visitors, of which there are plenty. To get the photo above, I had to quickly dash in to the viewpoint where there is a perpetual queue of people taking photos of each other.
This urge to believe that an image of some pretty or impressive place can be improved by having oneself in it is something that I find difficult not to get enraged about, but then I’m just a grumpy old man. People doing selfies made it difficult to get decent pictures of the rest of the gardens, but we persevered and got one or two.
After the gardens, it was getting towards time for our late lunch, or, as they call it here, “dinner”. We dropped in to the rental place whence we should pick up a car tomorrow to chat, but there was no-one there except a customer sitting on the floor awaiting the return of staff with a car for him. To pass the time we set out to wander about a bit and ended up heading towards the Banff City Sign. This is A Thing, apparently – we’d had someone ask us where it was the day before, so we thought it might be worth going to. We did get there, and saw that it was crowded with people getting their photo beside it,
so I simply got a photo of the “ffnaB” sign and we turned back towards the town. There was still some great light on the mountainous backdrop to town buildings.
The chat with the car hire desk chappie was very brief as he was still dealing with the customer we’d seen earlier, so we just headed to the Maple Leaf restaurant – a recommendation from Geoff the guide – where we were eventually permitted to have a very nice lunch/dinner (delete as your culture dictates). They didn’t start serving food until 5pm, so we had to wait a while, but we bore this burdensome setback with heroic stoicism, a seat outside and a cocktail each.
After the meal we walked back to the hotel and indulged in further wedded bliss, with me writing this blog entry and Jane doing a bit of ironing from yesterday’s laundry, accompanied by Nice Cups Of Tea. Tomorrow we leave Banff for nearby Lake Louise, or at least we will if all goes well at the Avis desk; the journey there is short, which leaves time for some diversions on the way. I believe Jane has a plan for this. Come back tomorrow, and find out if I was right, eh?