Banff in Winter
If you ever make your way to Banff, Alberta, Canada, there are some strategic viewpoints you must go to in order to really take in the beauty of the town. I’ve been to this place a couple of times, and what I will say is that I went once in the Spring to Summer time, and every single street and road was packed with cars and other people. I did not really get to enjoy it like I wanted to, I couldn’t get pictures I wanted to, I couldn’t move about like I wanted to, I just couldn’t really get into the mood. However, I recently went there, to try to get a run through the place while there would much less likely be people around- during the Winter and with Omicron spiking. Omicron was so bad in Canada, despite the stupidity the news tells you that the spike is over, that the USA changed the testing period for PCR test validity to 1 day, not 72 hours before you fly back. I know this because US changed the policy while I was in Canada and it suddenly was not 72 hours and when I submitted my test to the airlines, I got a DENIAL notice that I didn’t submit the test in the required timeframe. I checked with the airline and they said “uhm yeah it’s 1 day, not 3 days”. WTF!!! To get into Canada from the USA, you had to pass within 3 days still though. LOL I was in the testing center with 20 other people who got screwed over thinking 3 days prior was still the timeframe so we all had to re-arrange flights. Meanwhile, Canada don’t bother you if you are fully vaccinated, as I am. So, with many people not wanting to be vaccinated, thus they cannot fly to Canada, I was mostly among locals who frequent the beauty of Alberta, which means as long as you don’t go on the weekend to popular spots, you’re golden with free space and time to see the things you want. Boy, I seized that opportunity and saw what I wanted to see properly, and more. If you add in the cold weather, only people who really love nature and the mountains would even bother to go in Winter. It’s freezing- PERFECT for me!
I had only been in the Banff National Park, and really only Banff the town and a fake long ride to things in a small area, but I went there, previously, when it was warm to hot temperature. If you go when it’s warm to hot, you can expect nothing but CHAOS all over the same damn place, and I’ll warn you that it was so crowded you couldn’t get around, there were long lines to see some of the most important things to see, and one of those things was the Banff Gondola. I wanted to hit up the Banff Gondola, and circling by it then, I was not interested due to the extreme lines to go to that place. It was so bad, I couldn’t want any longer and didn’t think again about going on that damn Banff Gondola, which everyone who ever went to Banff told me I had to go to. I’m dead serious, I tried to get up in that thing 5 times in the previous trip, too busy each time!!!!! It just made no sense, what so ever, to bother with it again in the Spring/Summer. But this year, aaaahh I thought that if I did it in the dead of Winter, only the most die hard would even bother to go there. Going up to where there were hard winds blowing and the weather was up to 20 Fahrenheit (up to -7 Celsius)?? So when I got over there, at the bottom of the Banff Gondola lifts, people coming down from the lifts were laughing/complaining to others that it was FREEZING up there, they couldn’t feel their faces and hands, and after looking at how beet-red they were Then I looked to see the line of people ready to go up in the lift- THERE WAS NOBODY ON LINE at all, yet. I saw and heard all I needed to get hype! I rushed to get in my lift and took off. Then when I got up top, I was in the area that most people were in, just in the rim at the top. I saw people NOT going over towards that little housing that was pointed out to me, that Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station. I observed for a second and I saw that many people were not going up, nor were they coming back down for a period of time, a few individuals here and there.
The WIND was blowing hard AND I saw people holding the wooden rails walking slow. I watched multiple people damn near crack their heads open falling flat on their butts and sliding down the stairs, no kidding, hysterical. So I was intrigued, and approached the point where most people went to an area to get a view, maybe 3/4 of the way up, and then after that stop they turned around. I make way way there, and I realized that ALL of the people turning back around, not going all the way up, were COUPLES. I stopped to see what the view spot was all about, the view was trash and then I realized that people were stopping there because they were out breath and that wind was seriously hurting when it blew, plus tiny, sharp shards of ice were flying in the wind. People were not taking that many pics, just snapping pics super quick of NOTHING and putting their hands in their pockets in pain, complaining. So when I reached that area those unrelated couples were gathered at, I watched 3 couples decide not to proceed forward, but to turn back towards the Gondola. One of the ladies was tending to her knee because she got busted up when she fell too many times, but she was mad because other people saw her. LOL So, she dragged her man back to the Gondola. I looked up ahead, the winds were stronger but I saw nobody ahead so I dashed on all of them and kept going. I then knew I could finally enjoy what I wanted to see, a building on top of the hill that I saw off in the distance, without anyone in the way! It was actually what I went up there to see, because it was a marker to go find, and I realized that I had finally found it- I’ll explain in a second. I powered forward, and reached the top and it was like a magical type view like I reached the high view point in Assassins Creed video game.
The funny thing is I thought a guy was clowning me, the day before, when we were standing on Lake Minnewanka 12 miles (19km) away, and he pointed to a mountain top asking me “do you see that little house up there? You have to go up there”. I thought this man was HIGH and pulling my chain, because, how the hell did he see that, 12 miles away? I got closer to Banff and I thought I was imagining something up on that mountain when I looked up on top of that same mountain and actually did see some kind of housing structure. I was like WTF??? I asked what it was, people told me it was the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site, and I just HAD to get up there, and that is why I couldn’t wait to get to that Gondola because that was the quickest way to get up there. Finally, I had made it up, but then realized that you couldn’t actually go into that Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station, but it was still cool to go up there. It was open in 1957 and this station was used to study cosmic rays and aliens, along with the whole world! Maybe it shut down because they did find the aliens?! I had that whole mountain top to myself, there was nobody behind me and I didn’t see any of those couples that I left behind. When I left the top, to head back to go down the Gondola, I saw MORE couples turning back around. A one lady asked me how far up, I told them another 10 minutes and they can make it, just be careful on the path and she demanded her man turn back around and abandon the quest. And her doing that set off a catalyst of ladies in other couples who were inspired by this lady, and the I saw most of the couples turn back towards the Gondolas too! I could see the guys’ faces, they were pissed and annoyed they couldn’t go ahead. I told one guy privately, “yo, you need to get up there, bruv!” This guy just pointed to his lady and shrugged like a weakling, I was disappointed in him.
However, I was proud that I saw this Asian dude look in disgust that these dudes were turning back around and he said something to his lady, waved her off, and he said something I guess meant for her to wait in that rest, view area. Then I saw another guy tell his lady to go back to the cafe / restaurant and he would join her after he went to the top, and I was happy to see these guys not be complete losers, and to go up to the top despite their ladies complaining that it was too far and too tough. It was not tough to get up there, but it is cold and is it almost 7,500 ft above sea level, so there is less oxygen and some people can’t breath. So if you want to go, you need to get someone who is really a ride or die lady. If your lady goes with you to this, and any other little mini hiking type things for that matter, that’s a keeper, gentlemen! If you have a big chick, she’s not going to do this, sorry. There was a pattern of ladies there complaining about knee problems and how they can’t breath so dudes felt bad and had to take the ladies back to the Banff Gondola. Solo Travel, if you can’t find a down woman, Bruv! Those dudes took a loss, because it costs $80 CAD, PER PERSON, to get up there so they wasted $160 CAD!!!!!! 🤦♀️ And I KNOW the man paid for it if the ladies would just throw away money liked that. lol And when I got down to the bottom of the Gondola, I saw an ethnic couple that was queued up with me to go up, but apparently they did not go up after all. The husband told me that his lady didn’t want to go up after inquiring about it, and was complaining that she thought they would get driven up to the top, but she refused to go up because it was too high and too cold. Well they paid $160 CAD too and wasted it! 🤦♂️
That Sulphur Mountain / Banff Gondola was well worth it, with people not in the way! So what I’ll say is skip the damn shopping in Banff (what I heard the ladies up top on the Gondola planning when they didn’t want to continue), that’s where everyone ELSE is and it’s boring. I’m saying, if you want to know the spots to hit, you should make a bee-line for the Banff Gondola so you can either hike the southern trail and/or walk to the top of Sulphur Mountain. If you make it up there, all you need to see in Banff, is actually in the open, which you can see from the rest stop everyone was at. I could see the famous Fairview Banff Springs Hotel, Bow Falls completely frozen and not as beautiful as it is in the Summer, I could see that Surprise Corner that I spoke about in a previous blog. I didn’t know all of this stuff was so close together. When I got up on top of the mountain, I realized that previously when I went to Banff 8 years ago, I wasted a sh1ton of money to see Banff as part of the tour, because all I ever really saw was right in 1 direction that I was facing when I went up the mountain. You could literally walk to all the things I saw down in Banff’s town. You don’t need to waste hundreds of dollars a day in hotel costs, and it can be $500-$900 a day to rent a room, in Spring and Summer! You don’t have to do that, you can fly into Calgary, Alberta and take a 45-minute ride to Banff on TransCanada Highway! DONE! You could technically see all you need to see, as a tourist, in Banff, in under a few hours! If you do this, you avoid the extremely limited parking problems there, which is why you jump on tour because the small buses can go where you cannot as a regular person in a car- and yes there are physical parking limitations and in areas like Lake Louise, you have to take a 10 minute Banff National Park organized bus-ride to get there after they force you into a crowded parking lot, just to get to that hotel site! On that previous fancy tour I took, I didn’t know I completely missed the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site, after going up on top of it, I doubled back around to surprise corner to see that I actually missed a lot of things previously.
Another sad thing about my previous trip on that fancy tour, I didn’t even get to see the birthplace of Banff, which is also a tourist spot but it’s the one that no other tourists even know about. It’s wild! I went to the place called the “Cave and Basin National Historic Site”, which is an important piece of Banff history, that NONE of the popular tours will take you to. You have to find a local guide even because it was not on the “top 10 things to see in Banff” lists that I checked either. The Banff Cave and Basin National Historic Site is to celebrate a sacred place that the original people in the area, whom were Indigenous people, gathered in for more than 10,000 years. The hole that opened up into a tiny, closed cave that had steam coming out, which is part of the multiple hot springs that are in the foothills surrounding SULPHUR MOUNTAIN. It’s on a fault line that busts open with old rocks breaking newer layers, opening up the hot water that produces the hot springs, and what you smell is Sulphur, which is how all hot springs smell. Banff was a hot spring that people could gather around in the freezing dead of winters, so the Indigenous people would rappel down into the hole to gather in the hot spring cave. As soon as the Europeans descendants learned of the hot springs, just like anywhere around the world currently, it becomes a popular spot to go to. Some people working with the Canadian Pacific Railroad officially made it popular in 1883, and suddenly they “discovered” the Banff Cave and Basin National Historic Site. 🙄They set up a cabin to monetize their “discovery” and made it popular so they could exploit it as a tourist attraction near this hole leading to the cave. They didn’t give a damn that Indigenous people were there, they just set up their property, took that area from the natural inhabitants to the area and pushed the Indigenous out. The problem is, before this time, there were other European descendants in the area, who also noticed the site of the cave and they decided that they were the first to “discover” the Banff cave, which became huge disputes between MANY people just making up claims and saying they owned the area and rights to the land. This led to an explosion of people in the area, and that was the official start of the town of BANFF, but also, that led to the very first National Park for all of Canada, in 1885, called “Banff Hot Springs Reserve”. Given what I just said, this is the spot you should probably go visit, if you decide to go there. Beware, it smells like Sulphur, so if you didn’t experience this yet, it will smell interesting. I thought everyone was used to Sulphur’s smell but where you have an opportunity to go into an opened up portion of the cave, the smell will overtake you. I saw some poor guy’s girlfriend not want to go into the cave entrance, the smell overtook her and she said “it smells like a toilet. No!” He wasn’t brave enough to tell her to stay outside, so that he could go into the cave to see and witness the interesting find, enjoy the site and experience history- dumb SIMP! If you go, GO to this location and experience it! You’ll notice a British flag flying high and proud when you get there, which is also a symbolic thing about this site. So not sure why this place is not explored, but you should hit it up.
That’s all for now, there is a LOT more to see in this place, but many of the things I know are great, hidden spots that I use for photography, so, I’m not going to give those out to avoid crowds when I go back. You’ll just have to go find them yourself, but at least I put you on to things that people are missing out on when they do typical tours that only sit you in town to eat at a restaurant for 2hours, buy overpriced nonsense you don’t need, then go to Bow Falls, Surprise Corner, some other smaller places to look at, along the popular lookout spots along the TransCanada highway, and that’s pretty much the whole tour. You should seek to go in winter to see the place in a much different light because that place is a completely different feel in the winter, and with less people in the way, you can actually enjoy the beauty without being pushed out of a spot because of too many people being in any location. Banff is too small for the crowds in Spring/Summer and thus is not enjoyable. What I see is that people go there now to avoid the crowds by going hiking up the side trails, to avoid the crowds, but even those are overcrowded. So do this course I outlined here, and you can see all you really need to see, as a tourist, and if you want to see something different, hit up a local guide or do it yourself using this. I can tell you a secret, you should go to a place NONE of them take you, the Vermilion Lakes. I’ll leave it there but on a sunny day, looking south, that’s a great spot to chill and take pics, and nobody is there! Go watch a sunset there, and it’s likely you’ll not see a crowd even in Spring/Summer. You’ve been told!
As always, the finished products from this outing can be found on the main site of www.drunkphotography.com.