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

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