49 years ago, Mrs Bear was not yet Mrs Bear. She accompanied me from New York to my hometown in Marin County, California. She met my parents, who were much nicer to her than my previous girlfriends … I think they sensed the seriousness of this relationship. My father had an auto dealership … We acquired a car and set out on our first cross-country drive. We drove through the Pacific Northwest, traversed Idaho’s Lolo Pass, and drove Going To The Sun Road. It was our plan to drive N/NW to Banff, but a toothache and a loss of tent waterproofing led to a decision to head for home by turning east in Calgary. And finally all these years later, we have finally driven into Banff.
A few words about what finally got us here … Mrs Bear’s sister, via unlucky genetic predispositions, had multiple breast cancer relapses. Last year, she experienced another diagnosis with spreading to multiple body sites. During one of my visits, we brainstormed possible celebrations once remission was achieved. And the plan to set up a heli-hiking trip to the Canadian Rockies was proposed. The Canadian Rockies are North America’s center for helicopter skiing during the winter months. Folks are flown to backcountry lodges, and then helicoptered high into the surrounding mountains to ski untracked powder. It is an immensely popular activity … A couple decades ago, someone came up with the idea of utilizing these lodges, which had sat unoccupied the rest of the year, to offer high country hiking days initiated by helicopter rides up and down the mountains. Mrs Bear and I have yearned to go, and her sister loved the idea of setting this trip as her personal incentive. Unfortunately, she did not survive this cancer invasion, but her husband decided to bring his son and meet us for the trip as a life celebration.
The town of Banff was originally settled in the 1880s … The Canadian transcontinental railroad was built through the Bow River Valley ( seen behind Mrs Bear in a pic above) and some workers came upon a few natural hot springs on the flanks of the surrounding mountains. The town grew up when Canada decreed the mountainous area as their first National Park. The park was advertised by the government as an international tourist site in order to provide support for the new railroad. The Canadian Pacific Railroad then built two iconic hotels: the Banff Springs Hotel and the Chateau Lake Louise to promote the area. The rest, as they say, is history. Banff had a population of 8,800 residents at the time of the last census. It is the second highest town in the country, at just under 5,000 feet, and attracts visitors all year with three major ski resorts within 40 miles.
Obviously, Banff has grown up in the 50 years since my last visit. I recall a functioning town with one huge hotel, a few pizza parlors, and a youth hostel. Now, everything seems geared toward tourism. We stayed at an incredible B&B, and there were four others ( all with no vacancy) on the same street. We walked into town, along streets blocked off to car traffic and ate each night at upscale restaurants. There were lots of tourism offices, bike rental shops, and active clothing stores … Oh, I shouldn’t forget the ice cream stores.
But let’s not get too immersed in the tourism … Banff is, more than anything else, a beautiful mountain village. The heights surround the town and offer many trails to hike up and look down on this beautiful spot. Mrs Bear snapped this photo of the town.
The other major hike attraction in town is the Bow River. Mrs Bear’s photo shows one of the town bridges traversing the river. A short hike away from town center brings you to the Falls and the Hotel.
I have not yet made it to Austria or Switzerland … But Banff is close to what I imagine their Alps villages to be … The closest I have seen in the USA is Telluride, Colorado.
I am glad we finally arrived, and as will be explained in a blog entry waiting to be written, we will only have to wait 50-49 years for our next visit.