Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas in the Rockies - The Adventure!

Last week I wrote about Christmas in the Rockies and the Banff Winterstart Festival we planned to go to this past weekend.  We had a full weekend planned with an overnight stay in Banff, plans to take in the Santa Claus parade of lights, and a full schedule lined up for Saturday and Sunday which included everything from cross country skiing to skating, downhill skiing, and tubing.  Then the temperature dropped.  And kept dropping until it was hovering around -30C with wind chill.  (sometimes colder.)  Plans were about to be "modified."

The hardy Canadians we are, there was no way we were cancelling our weekend in Banff.  With reservations already taken care of at the Hidden Ridge Resort, we knew we wanted to go out for the weekend and hang out in the resort's hot tub at the very least! And the Santa Claus Parade is an annual tradition for us.  We would be there!  In multiple layers of long underwear, down and fleece!

Christmas in the Rockies - The Adventure!

Christmas in the Rockies

We headed out to Banff shortly before noon on Saturday and decided to start the day off right - at the St. James Gate pub.  (which was still serving breakfast!)  We were given a toasty warm table right beside the fireplace and we were tempted to spend the whole day there. Eventually moving on though, we decided to check out what was happening in the Cascade Plaza across the street.  It was a great place to spend some time on a cold wintery day.  The Bow Valley Choir was singing Christmas carols beside the food court and we found the top floor to be filled with booths offering crafts, games, and activities for the kids.  We even managed to quickly ambush Santa on his way into the mall for a quick photo. 

The Bow Valley Choir in Cascade Plaza
Meeting Santa in the Cascade Plaza

Next we made our way over to the Bison Courtyard where we'd heard there was ice carving going on.  We didn't see any professional carving happening but Noah did get to try his hand at chipping away at his own block of ice.  He loved it and I'm sure he could have chipped away at his block for a good hour or more!  Now we're really excited about the Ice Magic Festival that will take place in Lake Louise late January.  Noah will get the opportunity to practice his carving skills again there during the Little Chippers Weekend.

Ice Carving in the Bison Courtyard

We finished our tour of Banff with a visit to the Whyte Museum where they were hosting an open house complete with more crafts for the kids, carolers, story telling, and visits with Santa.  We'd never actually been to the museum before so it was nice to spend some time walking around while we checked out the photography on display.  (Mark pointing out all the routes he's climbed in each  photo.)

Crafts in the Whyte Museum

The Parade of Lights

We checked in to our hotel early and then drove back downtown for the parade which started at 5:30pm.  We were bundled in more layers of clothes than I've ever worn but for the most part, stayed warm.  The parade was short at a half hour (thank goodness) but was impressive none the less.  We especially loved the giant inflatable Santa that towered over downtown Banff.   And Santa himself made an appearance in a carriage at the end of the parade.  We got lots of candy canes, stickers, glow sticks and even hot chocolate from the awesome people walking the parade route.  Despite the cold temperatures, the spirit of Christmas in Banff Saturday night was alive and strong, and this might have been the best parade of lights yet!  We thought everybody really out did themselves this year and there appeared to be more floats and entries than last year. 

A Giant Santa made an appearance at the Parade of Lights
The finale of the parade - SANTA!

Staying warm at the parade
We finished off the evening at the Banff Ave. Brewing Company and I would definitely visit this casual pub on the main street again.  They take kids, offer up tasty pub fare along with a few more sophisticated menu items (lobster mac and cheese for example,) and there were many different varieties of hand crafted local beers to try. 

Banff Ave

Watching the parade

Hidden Ridge Resort

Our home away from home for the weekend was the  Hidden Ridge Resort.  We'd stayed here years ago (pre-Noah) so knew what a fabulous place it was.  The resort features condo suites with lofts and one or two bedrooms per unit along with pull out sofas to accommodate groups and families wanting to travel together. 

Hidden Ridge Resort (photo courtesy of the Banff Lodging Company)

Our suite
Kitchens in each condo allow for meals in the comfort of your room and our stay came with a breakfast package which was pretty sweet!  The kitchen was stocked with everything we needed to make breakfast Sunday morning from eggs and bagels to pancake mix and sausage.  Add OJ, coffee, and milk - and we had more than enough for our small family!  They even thought of the little things like butter and syrup.

We loved the hot pools on site and the change rooms below the pools were a welcome treat as we didn't have to run across the parking lot in the -30 weather in house coats.  We checked in to our hotel early on Saturday so that we could spend some time in the pools before the parade that night.  It was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.  We also took advantage of the late check out time (11am) to use the hot pools again before leaving Sunday. 

Hot pools at the Hidden Ridge Resort

The final thing we loved was the wood burning fireplace in our suite.  We had the fire going most of the time we were in our room and had a beautiful evening sitting in front of it after Noah had gone to bed Saturday night.  We even lit a fire during breakfast on Sunday since we didn't have to go out to eat!

The Pools at Hidden Ridge Resort (photo courtesy of the Banff Lodging Company)

Sunday Hiking in Johnston Canyon

We were supposed to have been skiing at Mt. Norquay on Sunday but due to the frigid temps, had to call that part of our weekend off.  Not a family to shy away from outdoor time at any temperature though, we decided to go for a hike in Johnston Canyon.  In summer the trail to the lower waterfall is so crowded you can barely move, and the parking lot is overflowing with cars parked up and down both sides of the highway.  In winter however - we almost had the canyon to ourselves.  We came across a few other small groups but for the most part it was a quiet and peaceful walk to the waterfall.  I would have liked to have gone further to the upper falls but Noah was "tired."  Getting him the short distance to the first set of falls was hard enough so we decided to call it an early day and make our way back to Calgary.

Noah making his way to the first waterfall on the cat walks of Johnston Canyon
The cave that gives you an up close view of the first waterfall
Possibly the best part of the hike for kids - the cave!
Love the catwalks that traverse the canyon walls

It was certainly one of the colder hikes we've done but it was a nice walk none the less and we enjoyed seeing a popular tourist site without said tourists.

Johnston Canyon

Upcoming Christmas Festivals in the Rockies

If you missed the Christmas in the Rockies festival last weekend, you can still make it out to Bragg Creek for the final weekend of their Spirit of Christmas event.  It wraps up this coming Saturday and Sunday, December 14th and 15th, with fun activities happening from noon until 4pm both days.  We went last year and enjoyed a horse drawn wagon ride, a visit with Santa, and a special visit with one of Santa's reindeer. We plan to go out again this year and do some skiing at West Bragg Creek while we're there. (fortunately it's looking a LOT warmer for this coming weekend!)

Special Thanks!

Toasty Warm!
I want to give a special thanks to the wonderful folks at Banff and Lake Louise Tourism  for sponsoring so much of this past weekend in Banff.  They graciously set us up with our room at Hidden Ridge Resort and made sure we were well fed throughout the weekend.

Thanks as well to the Banff Lodging Company for making our stay at the Hidden Ridge Resort possible.  

I also want to say thanks to some great companies who helped keep us warm in Banff (no small feat last weekend!) Columbia Sportswear has been sending me gear to try out and it was definitely appreciated in the cold weather we just survived.  (reviews to come shortly) 

As for Noah, he couldn't even feel the cold through his Molehill down jacket that we received through Mountain Baby out of Nelson, BC.  To read the recent review I did on the jacket, follow this link to It's So Puffy!!  Introducing the Kids' Molehill Down Jacket.  

Noah also had warm feet all weekend thanks to a great pair of winter boots  from Stonz Wear.   (review to come shortly.) It takes a lot to have warm feet when it's -30 so thank you, thank you, thank you!!  And we finally tried out Noah's new Stonz Mittz on the Johnston Canyon hike so I will be able to get a review up for them shortly too.

Parting shot of some great gear!


  1. Wow, such a great place to visit!! I wish it wasnt so far away ;) Greetings Susanne in Sweden