Thursday, November 30, 2017

Gotta do THIS - December 2017 Edition

We just welcomed in the Christmas season with the annual Santa Claus Parade in Banff. We met Santa in person on top of the Banff Gondola, and we did our first winter ice hike to see the frozen falls at Johnston Canyon.

Gotta do THIS in the Canadian Rockies - December 2017 Edition

Last year, I did two separate "Gotta do THIS" posts, one for December, and one for Christmas. This year I am combining the two into the same post, focusing primarily on holiday fun to enjoy with your family this coming month.

Gotta do THIS in the Canadian Rockies - December 2017 Edition


One - Attend a Fun Family Outdoor Holiday Event

We have several favourite holiday events that we attend annually as a family. Then there are always new events that we discover each year - ensuring our calendar stays nice and full. Add a few to your own calendar and make some fun memories this season.

1. The CP Holiday Train -  This beautifully lit up train travels across Canada each December collecting donations for local food banks and spreading holiday cheer with live entertainment. A stage opens out of one of the box cars and it's always a big party with kids dancing in front of the colorful train.

The CP Holiday Train rolling across the country

We like seeing the holiday train in Airdrie so that we can go to the Airdrie Festival of Lights at the same time and take a ride on one of the miniature trains.

Riding the train around the Airdrie Festival of Lights

2.  The Spirit of Christmas in Bragg Creek - This festival runs over the first two weekend in December. While you probably won't spend the entire day at the festival, it's fun to head out for a short ski or hike in West Bragg Creek and then stop by on your way home to take in some of the free family activities, to see Santa and his reindeer, and to enjoy a wagon ride. (Our highlight one year was the wagon ride with Santa riding along with us leading us in Christmas carols.)

Santa and Reindeer for the Win in Bragg Creek

And if you want to make sure the reindeer will be there for your visit, I'd recommend contacting the Bragg Creek and Area Chamber of Commerce in advance. The reindeer might not be there until the second weekend.

Wagon Rides with Santa in Bragg Creek

3. The Lion's Festival of Lights, Confederation Park  - The 31st annual Festival of Lights runs nightly from December 2nd until January 8th in NW Calgary. While you can just park near the gates and walk in to see the lights, we like to park over by the Confederation Park Golf Course off Collingwood Drive and then we like to ski or hike across the golf course.

Attend the opening night celebration on December 2nd. There will be hot chocolate and cookies from Tim Hortons, ice sculptures, musical entertainment, and fireworks! Bring a donation for the interfaith food bank and plan to arrive anytime between 5 and 5:30pm. (Fireworks start at 6:00pm)

Fireworks and Lights in Confederation Park

4. Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo - This popular event is back until January 6th and I recommend going early! By 7:30pm it's so crowded you can't move in the park and the line up to buy tickets is insane!

And a Few Things that Many Families Don't Know:

  • Yes, you can use your seasons pass to go earlier in the afternoon, visit the animals, and then just stick around for Zoo Lights. They do not kick you out. In fact, the cafeteria is kept open so you can go in and have dinner (and thus, you are still supporting the zoo by buying something, and not just sneaking in for free. We usually buy cookies and hot chocolate as well.) - And yes, I can confirm all of this because we just visited Zoo lights last weekend.

  • If you don't have a seasons pass, you can still go earlier in the day, pay for regular admission, and then stay for zoo lights. Yes, it is more expensive to buy regular admission rather than paying for zoo lights, but you get to see the animals and the lights for one price - and you get early access to see the lights without the crowds!

  • If you have a seasons pass with parking connected to it, you do not need to pay for parking at zoo lights. You can park in the zoo lot at any time with your Calgary Parking Authority registration.

  • The conservatory opens at 6:00pm for zoo lights. In previous years it was kept open between regular hours and zoo lights hours, but this year it is kept closed until zoo lights officially starts. Hang out in the cafeteria instead, or just walk around to see the lights between 5 and 6pm (they come on as soon as it gets dark.)

Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo

We went to zoo lights last Sunday at 3:30pm with our annual passes. We visited all of our favourite animals, had dinner at the cafeteria, and had the whole park to ourselves. AND the lights were on by 5pm. By the time the park started to get busy, we were on our way home. We skipped the Santa visit this year but he was in the conservatory at 6pm ready for visitors.

Santa at the Calgary Zoo (He arrives in the Conservatory at 6pm)

5. Mountaintop Christmas at the Banff Gondola - Free with your admission to the Banff Gondola, you can visit with Santa, decorate Christmas cookies, make a craft, and participate in a fun family scavenger hunt. Take a tour of the interpretive centre, watch a great Disney movie in the theatre, have lunch in the cafeteria, and take a walk on the boardwalk trail to the top of Sanson's Lookout.

And for those on a budget, you don't have to pay to ride the gondola down in the winter if you hike up. The trail is pretty snowy right now though so if you plan on hiking up the 700 metres of height to the top of the gondola, bring spikes or ice cleats for traction. I also recommend checking the Banff Trail Report for the Sulphur Mountain Trail because sometimes the trail can be closed.

For more information, read the story I just wrote: Celebrating a Mountain Top Christmas in Banff.

Santa found his way to the top of the gondola in Banff

6. Ski With Santa at Nakiska Ski Area - Watch out for Santa on the slopes at Nakiska Ski Area between December 23rd to the 25th.

Ski with Santa at Nakiska Ski Area this Christmas

And then when you're done, head over to the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis to look for Santa's reindeer. (You can take photos with them on December 24th between 3-5pm and on December 25th between 1-3pm.)

Reindeer at the Delta Kananaskis Lodge

7. Attend Christmas at the Track at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park in Calgary - This event happens on December 9th and includes the following:
  • Viewing access to the Viessmann Luge World Cup races

  • Airbrush tattoos and face painting

  • Horse drawn rides inside the track (Husky Gardens to Kreisel)

  • A petting zoo and bouncy castles

  • Santa visits

Tickets are $10 + GST (Children under 3 are free.)

And, you can try luge in the ice house, included with your paid admission, if you pre-register. I'd register soon as this is bound to be popular!

And read here for all details on luge participation (including age, weight, and health restrictions.)

And, while you're at Winsport, you should definitely try tubing as a family!

New this year:

  • More sliding lanes to control crowds

  • Faster, longer lanes where you can reach speeds up to 50km/hour (though you can place a saucer under your tube to slow it down if you are with younger kids)

  • Heated bathrooms and a snack/coffee bar right at the base of the sliding hill! You can warm up with a hot chocolate or coffee without having to return to the main building.

  • Large family tubes that can fit up to four people in one tube!

New snack and coffee bar at the base of the tubing hill

Read more about the Acura Tube Park at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park here (complete with age restrictions, hours, and ticket prices.)

Acura Tube Park at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park 

Still looking for more fun holiday events? Check out the following:

  • Granary Road Christmas Market (skating, visits with Santa, photos with the farm's alpacas, petting zoo, family games, hay rides, and market shopping/dining)

  • Market Collective in Inglewood (Shop from local businesses in Calgary this Christmas on the first three weekends in December)

  • Santa's Wonderland at Bass Pro, CrossIron Mills Mall (The only store my son actually enjoys visiting for Christmas shopping! Kids can visit Santa, make a craft, play with toys sold at the store, and participate in fun activities - all for free. And CrossIron Mills Mall is always decorated beautifully right down to the giant Christmas tree and the Starlight musical light symphony.)

  • Once Upon A Christmas at Heritage Park (Wagon rides, Santa visits, Christmas train display, holiday music, crafts, cookie decorating, shopping)

  • Free Wagon Rides in Banff (Sundays until December 17th starting from the Whyte Museum parking lot.  - This is great if you're already in Banff for Christmas at the Banff Gondola.)

  • New Year's Eve Party on the Pond in Canmore with fireworks (and if you are looking for something to do locally in Calgary, there is always a new year's eve party at Zoo Lights. The Airdrie Festival of Lights has had a new year's eve party in previous years as well.)
Holiday Fun in the Canadian Rockies 

Two - Plan a Pre-Christmas Mountain Getaway

Spend Christmas at a Wilderness Hostel

We like to spend the weekend before Christmas at a remote wilderness hostel in Kananaskis or Banff and have been doing this for several years now. We go skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and play in the snow with friends. Some years we've made gingerbread houses and other years we've exchanged a few presents.

Christmas at the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel 

Below are some of my pre-Christmas wilderness hostelling stories if you'd like to be inspired to try this yourself.

Christmas Getaway in Kananaskis at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

Christmas Getaway at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel

Christmas Getaway at the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel

Christmas in Kananaskis at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

And this year we've decided to glamp things up a bit by staying at the HI Lake Louise Hostel before Christmas (hello private rooms, indoor plumbing and electricity!)

You can read about our stay at the Lake Louise Hostel last winter in this story I wrote about Lake Louise. (Scroll to the end where I wrote about our accommodations at the hostel.)

Hostelling in comfort at Lake Louise

Have a bigger budget and want to spend a few nights in the mountains this Christmas? Below are my top picks for where to spend a truly magical Rocky Mountain Christmas.

Spend Christmas at Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park, BC

With ski or hike in/out cabins on the lakeshore, Emerald Lake Lodge is a great place for active families wanting to play in the snow without going far from their hotel room. Families can ski or hike across the lake, ski or hike the circuit around the lake, or ski/hike on numerous other trails in the area.

The resort has a great outdoor hot tub as well and the dining is some of the best in the Rockies.

It can be noted too that the last time I stayed here, I proclaimed that camping was stupid and that I was born to be a princess within the first 5 minutes of arriving. So take mom here and treat her like a princess for a couple of nights.

Cabins along the lakeshore of Emerald Lake

For more inspiration check out this story I wrote after our stay last year: Family Weekend at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park. 

Skiing at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park 

Spend Christmas at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

One of our favourite places to head for a day trip before Christmas is Kananaskis Village (and if you can stay overnight at the Delta Lodge it's even better!) We go cross country skiing or hiking at Ribbon Creek, go downhill skiing at Nakiska Ski Area, skate on the outdoor pond at the village, visit with the reindeer (they'll be at the Delta Lodge this year on the 24th and 25th,) and hang out inside the lodge by the beautiful fireplace.

Stay overnight and you can also enjoy the amazing swimming pool and hot tub as well as stay for dinner in one of the excellent restaurants (something we even do on day trips occasionally.)

Christmas at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

For more information check out these links:

Christmas and New Years Festivities at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

Deals and Packages at the Delta Lodge

Ten Reasons to Spend Time at Kananaskis Village This Winter 

Ski Trails at Kananaskis Village

Spend Christmas at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis

If there's one place I've truly fallen in love with over the years, it's Mount Engadine Lodge. We've stayed here numerous times (winter and summer) and have always had an extremely memorable stay.

Top Reasons to stay at Mount Engadine Lodge:

  • Easy access to the Mount Shark cross country ski trails

  • Easy access to the Chester Lake and Rummel Lake trailheads for snowshoeing

  • Close proximity to Canmore if driving out Saturday afternoon after spending the day in the Bow Valley

  • Amazing location in Spray Valley Provincial Park with SNOW that you have to see to believe

  • Beautiful lodge rooms, cabins and suites in what feels like a backcountry ski lodge - but that has drive up access

  • All inclusive stays with lodging + all meals included (including afternoon tea, dinner, breakfast the next day, and a packed lunch for your day's outing)

  • A cozy rustic yurt on site for those who want to try winter camping with all the comforts of the lodge and meals next door
Mount Engadine Lodge from the meadow below

For more inspiration check out these links:

Yurt Camping in Kananaskis at Mount Engadine Lodge

Paradise at Mount Engadine Lodge

Yurt Camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

Christmas Day Trips

Don't have the time, budget, or energy to plan an overnight trip right before Christmas? You can still round up your Santa hats and head out for a day hike. Check out our photos from last year's Christmas hike in Johnston Canyon in this story.

Christmas hiking at Johnston Canyon

Three - Plan a New Years Getaway

We love going away for New Year's with friends and sharing a cabin or condo so that we can celebrate New Year's Eve with the kids during the daytime but then continue the celebration after the kids have gone to bed.

New Years Fireworks in Radium Hot Springs

Travel Spotlight: Radium Hot Springs and the Columbia Valley

We love going to the Columbia Valley in BC for New Year's. There are fireworks on the 31st in the Town of Radium Hot Springs and there's no shortage of things to do in the valley!

Some of our favourite things to do in the Columbia Valley over New Years:

Go Skating on the Lake Windermere Whiteway - When frozen, the lake has a giant oval cleared for skating with groomed ski tracks created around the outside of the skating loop. It is the longest skating trail in the world at over 30 km in length. There are also several hockey rinks cleared on the lake and fat biking is another popular sport enjoyed by locals on the lake.

Skating on the Lake Windermere Whiteway

Spend a day at Panorama Mountain Resort - We plan to spend a weekend downhill skiing at Panorama in January and are super excited to try out the hill.

Aside from downhill skiing, there are plenty of other activities to try at the resort as well. We love coming here for a day to go cross country skiing up to the Hale Hut. And this past winter, we tried fat biking!

You can rent everything you'll need for  cross country skiing or fat biking at the Panorama Nordic Centre (and they have kids plus sized bikes for rent as well.)

Read more about our fat biking and cross country skiing experience last winter here: Panorama Mountain Resort - much more than downhill skiing.

    Skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort

You can also go cross country skiing or skating on Lake Lillian, just outside the Town of Invermere on your way up to Panorama. The Toby Creek Nordic Centre grooms and maintains a ski and skating loop on this lake.

Skating across Lake Lillian, Invermere

Go Cross Country Skiing or Fat Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort - Located a short drive from Radium Hot Springs, we love coming here for a day to ski or bike . The Natural Bridge is really cool to ski to and we like doing the loop to return via the Canyon Bridge. There are also warming huts spread out around the property which makes for a family-friendly way to ski with young children. 

Read my story, Everything for a Family to Love about Nipika Mountain Resort, to learn more about skiing here. 

Skiing across the Natural Bridge at Nipika Mountain Resort

And, while you're at Nipika skiing, rent some fat bikes and take them out for an easy spin around the south trails. The resort also rents kids' fat bikes (they have one 20" bike and one 24" bike.) Go early if you want to claim one of the two kids' rental bikes. 

Fat biking at Nipika caused me to fall head over heels in love with the sport and I now want my own bike. Read more about our experience last winter: Our Newest Obsession - Family Fat Biking.

Fat Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort

Have a great Christmas season everybody and make sure you're following me on Instagram to follow all of our holiday adventures. Some of them will be a little less snowy than normal for this family in December.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How to make learning to ski FUN (Downhill Skiing with Kids)

Last year I wrote a piece on Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids, which is my most comprehensive guide to date on the subject of family resort skiing. I wanted to follow up on this popular story with more tips and tricks, this time focusing on making learning to ski FUN.

How to Make Learning to Ski FUN (Downhill Skiing with Kids)

Ten Tips and Tricks for Making Learning to Ski FUN 

1. Rewards and Incentives 

Learning to ski should be fun, and you shouldn't have to bribe the kids to get them to the ski hill. However, falling isn't a ton of fun (and beginners will fall a lot.) Learning any new sport can also be very challenging at times, and we all benefit from receiving a reward or two for hard work and effort.

Try some of these rewards or incentives to help keep spirits high on the hill:

I love rewarding determination and a good attitude

  • Take the kids tubing, sledding or ice skating in the afternoon if they keep up a good attitude in the morning and try hard on the hill. We like to ski at Nakiska Ski Area near Calgary, where there is a tube park conveniently located next to the beginner's area. (And I'm pretty sure they chose the location on purpose.) We also like to go over to the Village where there is a skating pond and a sledding hill beside the Delta Lodge.

  • Struggling with a child who doesn't want to take ski lessons? Make your child/children a deal that you'll take them on a weekend ski trip to a resort they'd like to visit if they agree to take at least one refresher lesson to launch the new ski season.

  • Reward hard work on the hill and positive attitudes with hot chocolate and treats in the day lodge at the end of the day. 

And it doesn't have to be a big deal or cost a lot. It can be as simple as "Mommy thinks you did really well today and I loved your positive attitude, even when I know it wasn't always easy. Let's go get a hot chocolate and a cookie in the lodge."

Will ski for coffee! (because even parents need rewards for a job well done on the hill)

2. Learn to Ski as a Family 

My son and I are going to try something new this winter, and we're going to learn to improve our skiing together! As in "in the same class, together."

Nakiska Ski Area offers Family Coaching Clinics as part of their signature lessons, and it's a great way for families to learn to ski together. Children must be 5 years of age or older, and everybody should be at a similar ability. The Family classes are ideal for siblings who can ski the same runs and want to take lessons together, or for a whole family who wants to learn to ski together rather than in separate classes.

My son and I have similar abilities on the ski hill and I know we'll benefit from taking a class together. And this way, I'll know what he learned in his class so I can continue coaching him after the class is finished. Otherwise, how do you continue to work on the skills that the kids learned in their class? In a family coaching clinic, you can even just feel comfortable tagging along in the lesson (even if the focus is on the kids) just so that you're in the loop and know how to proceed after the class is finished.

Learning to ski together can be fun!

3. Get the Kids into the Trees 

My son LOVES skiing at Fernie Alpine Resort and at Kimberley Alpine Resort in neighboring BC because of the kids' tree runs. The Minute Maid Kids' Trails are located on the bottom half of the resorts, and are a huge hut with all pint sized skiers.

Kids' Trails at Kimberley Alpine Resort

The special kids' trails wind and twist their ways through the trees (along narrow paths that only small skis will fit) and they are conveniently located off of well groomed beginner runs for easy access.

At Nakiska, my son loves skiing in the glades where there are wide runs through well-spaced trees. It's a great place to get a safe intro to backcountry skiing.

Read more about ski vacations at Fernie and Kimberley here:

Family Guide to Fernie Alpine Resort

Family Guide to Kimberley Alpine Resort 

Kids' Trails at Fernie Alpine Resort

4. Stay on the Hill for the Ultimate Ski Weekend

I love downhill skiing but there is one thing I absolutely do not like about the sport. I dislike having to wake up crazy early in order to drive out to a ski hill, and be there for 9am when it opens. It requires packing everything up the night before, having a simple breakfast, and being very organized (all things I don't want to do on a weekend.)

Make ski trips less stressful with a stay on hill in a comfortable slope-side condo. Choose a resort that has a swimming pool and hot tubs for relaxing at the end of your ski day, and make sure you choose a suite that has its own kitchen so you can save money on cooking (rather than eating out the whole weekend.)

Stay on hill and you'll easily be first in line for the lifts (after having a yummy breakfast,) and you'll have your own private getaway for lunch (rather than squishing into the crowded day lodge.)

Slope-side accommodations at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Read more here:

The Ultimate Family Ski Weekend at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Five Reasons for Families to Love Fernie Alpine Resort 

Slope-side Swimming pool at Fernie Alpine Resort

5. Ski LOTS

The more you ski, the better you'll ski. The better you ski, the more fun you'll have.

And save money with discount cards!

 - Grade 2 fun pass ski cards - $20 for unlimited skiing at all RCR resorts (Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, and Kicking Horse)

- RCR Rockies Tiger cards - $20 for unlimited skiing at all RCR resorts for kids 5 and under

- Grade 4-5 Snow Passes - Ski or board at each participating resort 3 times for $29.95

- RCR Rockies Discount cards -  Get three free ski days at any RCR resort for $99.95 (with discounts on all other ski days)

The more they ski, the better they'll ski 

6. Games!

Kids love games, and ski games would be no different. Create a family fun scavenger hunt for the ski hill, play games of follow the leader, or take turns choosing which runs or route to take on your way down the hill.

Try a game of "Follow the Leader" or other fun activities on the ski hill 

7. Load your Pockets with Candy and Snacks

Fight off the "hangries" by filling your coat pockets with candy, granola bars, and snacks. Pull items out as necessary in long lift lines or while riding the chairlifts. You can even go into a mid mountain lodge to warm up and save money by eating your own snacks

And trust me, I have learned this one the hard way. Skip that important snack by even fifteen minutes, and it may take some kids half an hour (or longer) to recover even after they've had a snack.

And a tip for eating on chair lifts - make sure the snack can be eaten with gloves ON.

Chair lifts are a great place to have a quick snack

8. Ski with Friends 

Most things are more fun with friends, and skiing is no different. Round up a gang of families with kids who can ski the same runs, and head out for a fun day on the slopes together.

And one advantage to skiing with other families, is that you can divide kids into "ability groups" and have parents split up to take the group that they feel comfortable skiing with. In my personal case, I'd happily head out with some of the more beginner skiers, leaving more experienced adults to ski the difficult runs with the older kids.

Skiing with friends is always a lot of fun

9. Take it into the Backcountry for a Change

Last weekend we wanted to go off-resort skiing as a family, and we chose a destination with a very steep climb/descent - that we weren't sure our son would be up for on cross country skis. The goal was to ski up to a fire lookout with gorgeous views as a family, and then to enjoy the screamer of a descent down.

While we started out outing on cross country skis to access the lookout trail, my husband attached our son's downhill skis to his pack, with his boots inside. We figured it would be a good option if the descent was too steep for skinny cross country skis.

What backcountry skiing looks like with kids

As it turned out, the snow was clumpy and warm, our son's skis kept icing up, and he could not make any progress trying to ski up to the lookout on cross country skis. Out came the downhill skis (and a tow rope) and we were off again. My husband towed our son up to the lookout, and then we all had a blast skiing down.

Read about another backcountry ski trip we did as a family here (using a combination of snowshoeing and skiing:) Introduction to Family Backcountry Ski Touring.

No chairlifts here. This is the real thing. (and we had 10cm of fresh powder!)

And obviously, you should NOT be taking kids into avalanche terrain! Last weekend we were skiing on official cross country ski trails (normally groomed later in the season.) Other times, we've headed out on official ski/snowshoe trails recommended by Alberta Parks for winter use. (Such as Chester Lake in the Spray Valley.)

Hike up, ski down! 

10. Ski CLOSE for Day Trips 

We love skiing at Nakiska for day trips because we can make it to the hill in 45 minutes on a good day, door to door. While we love many of the other resorts in our mountain parks, we don't want to spend three hours of our day driving to get to/from the ski hill.

We save the bigger resorts for overnight trips but ski close when it's a Saturday ski day. And I tend to think the kids will thank you for not making them spend 3 hours of their day riding in a car.

Not bad for November Skiing close to home!

Recommended Reading

Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids - This is a huge collaboration with other ski families, and loaded with links to other great stories

And if you have toddlers or preschoolers, check out these two stories just written by other Calgary outdoor moms.

Let the Skiing Begin - A Guide to Starting Out - Rocky Mountain Minis

Downhill Skiing with Kids under 5 - Off Road Discovery

Parting Shot 

Disclaimer: This story is not sponsored and all opinions are my own. I have chosen to partner with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies for another ski season though, so you will see many references to RCR resorts. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Celebrating a Mountain Top Christmas in Banff

Last weekend we headed out to Banff for the annual Santa Claus Parade, and we visited the Banff Gondola for the first weekend of their "Mountain Top Christmas" event. We had a lot of fun and so I wanted to write about some of our highlights from our early Christmas weekend in Banff.

Celebrating a Mountain Top Christmas in Banff

Admission and Basic Details for the Mountain Top Christmas Event

The Mountain Top Christmas event runs on weekends from Saturday November 18th, 2017 - Sunday January 7th, 2018.

Admission to the Banff Gondola is $56 per adult if you book in advance ($62 regular rate.) However, as I know this is expensive, know that kids are currently free if you visit before noon. (So that helps a LOT.)

Kids ages 6-15 ride the gondola for free before noon each day. (And kids under 6 are free all day.)

Want to save even more money? You can always hike up the Sulphur Mountain Trail, and ride the gondola down, which is free to ride down in the winter months. Know that it is a pretty big hike though for kids, with 700 metres of height gain. It takes about two hours to hike up at a moderate adult pace (longer with young children) and you'll want ice cleats or spikes.

NOTE that you should always check the current trail report for the Sulphur Mountain Trail to ensure that it's recommended for hiking. Sometimes it can be closed when avalanche risk is high. (as is currently is.)

Scenery as you hike up the Sulphur Mountain Trail

Don't want to hike up with the kids, but still want to save some money? Send one adult up ahead (on foot) while the other parent rides up with the kids. My husband would absolutely do this to save $56. And you could always spend time at the hot springs with the kids while waiting for dad (or mom) to hike up the mountain. (The hot springs are conveniently located right beside the gondola)

There is also a "Northern Lights Lunch Package" for $69 which includes gondola and lunch at the cafeteria up top.

Visit the Banff Gondola website for hours and full admission details.

View of Sanson's Summit and the Boardwalk Trail from the Upper Gondola Building

What Do You Get with Your Admission to the Banff Gondola 

  • Access to the interpretive museum, movie theatre, and all facilities at the upper gondola terminal. Food is extra unless you buy a package ticket.

  • All Christmas activities are included once you get to the top of the gondola. Hike or ride up, but there is no cost for the cookie decorating, crafts, visit with Santa, or other fun activities. (You will pay though if you want a professional photo taken of your family with Santa.) - We just took our own photo with Santa for free. (NOTE that the Christmas Activities tend to wrap up early in the afternoon, and Santa is only on site between 10:30 am and 1:30 pm.) So visit in the morning (when the kids are free.)

  • Access to the boardwalk hiking trail to the top of Sanson's Peak and historic weather station

  • Stargazing experience with astronomers  from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada on the rooftop deck (Fridays 6-8pm) - but note that the Christmas activities only run on Saturdays/Sundays. So you can't do both in the same day.

Interactive displays and exhibits in the Banff Gondola interpretive centre
12 Animals of Christmas Treasure Hunt at the Banff Gondola

Mountain Top Christmas Highlights 

My son's top highlight was visiting with Santa. And I loved that we could take our own photos, that there was no line up, that Santa welcomed our whole family for a photo, and that there was no cost associated with the visit/photo opp. The backdrop was also better than what you often get at a shopping mall.

Visit with Santa at the Banff Gondola
The second activity that my son LOVED was the Christmas Movie, "Disney's Prep and Landing" playing in the theatre. He liked the movie so much that he actually started crying when we couldn't find it on Netflix the next day. (not kidding.)

My son also loved the cookie decorating. Kids could put as much icing and candy on their creations as they wanted (and some got pretty big!)

There was also a craft picture frame the kids could make, and they could write letters to Santa. We didn't have time for either because we spent too much time on the 12 Animals of Christmas Treasure Hunt and completing our adventure booklet. The treasure hunt activity is fun and is a good counting activity for young kids. (Just don't expect a big prize when you get back down because it's just a small candy cane.)

We also received a Rocky Mountain Adventure booklet to fill out as we visited the interpretive centre. (Know that there is no prize though for filling it out. It just helps keep older kids motivated as they walk around the interpretive exhibits.)

Banff Gondola Kids Booklets

Other Highlights from a Visit to the Banff Gondola

Make sure you take the short hike up the boardwalk trail to the historic weather station on top of Sanson's Summit. It's a scenic walk and kids love running up/down the boardwalk.

Be prepared with good winter clothing though because it's often cold and windy on the boardwalk. You'll also want good winter boots for the walk.

Magical Scenery on the Boardwalk Trail at the Banff Gondola

And make sure to take some family photos on the rooftop observation deck. We even found Santa hanging out here last year. (Hello Christmas card photo!!)

Please visit the Gondola website for a complete list of Christmas activities at the Banff Gondola.

Santa on the roof top observation deck at the Banff Gonddola

What Else is Happening in Banff for the Holidays 

I could write up everything else happening in Banff for the Christmas season but I don't believe in reinventing the wheel. For a complete (and fabulous guide) to all things "Christmas in Banff," please read "Celebrating Christmas in the Canadian Rockies" from Family Fun Canada. There is nothing missing in this great story.

Cookie decorating at the Banff Gondodla
Cookie decorating at the Banff Gondola

Affordable Accommodations in Banff 

We have stayed at numerous hotels in Banff but chose to stay at the HI Banff Alpine Centre on our recent visit. The hostel has two private cabins (each with private bathroom and two double beds.) While not fancy, they are comfortable and completely sufficient for a family to stay in for a night or two.

The cost is $99 per night (Hosteling International Member rate) for up to two adults. Ask about an additional cost for children. 

While there are no kitchens in the cabins, you'll find two communal kitchens on the property along with a common lounge area in each main building.

Know that if you choose to stay here, the alpine centre targets young people working and traveling in Banff. Families are not their primary focus. You are welcome to stay in a cabin but don't get upset if the "atmosphere" in the common areas isn't always "family-friendly." This worked for us because we spent all of our time out and about in Banff, returning to the hostel to sleep. And when we were at the hostel, we just went straight to our own private cabin. We used a communal kitchen once for breakfast, but that was it. 

We also liked that there was a cafe on site so we could skip cooking our own breakfast if we truly didn't want to cook. (Which we didn't Sunday morning.)

Private cabins at the HI Banff Alpine Centre

Thanks to Banff Lake Louise Tourism for taking care of our admission to the Banff Gondola on our recent visit. Thanks as well to HI Hosteling International for taking care of our accommodations at the hostel.

This story is not sponsored. All opinions are my own. 

Parting shot of our family at the Banff Gondola