We left Canada today for Los Angeles. We have been very lucky to experience so much of the country, although given that it is 40 x larger than the UK we have hardly touched the sides.
The last stop was Banff, which we thought was going to be the Canadian Rockies’ version of Aspen / Vail – an upmarket resort catering for the global elite across winter and summer. It has the perfect location – only 1.5 hrs drive from Calgary airport yet still in the heart of some big slabs of rock. A local says it ‘only has 3 streets’ but it is far bigger than Jasper and these streets are like Oxford Street at 8pm – heaving with the kind of tourists who struggle to put one foot in front of the other without pausing to think about it.
The shops are surprisingly naff – think endless tacky gift shops with BANFF plastered over low quality gifts (watch out for your Christmas presents), the generic US invasion (Foot Locker, Subway, Starbucks) and independent restaurateurs who cannot hire enough staff to cope with demand.
Half the staff are British, the other half are Australian. Quite what the locals think we never found out. The Brits and Aussies get 2 year Visas and it seems that Banff is a fairly easy place to find work and somewhere to live. The lady in the t-shirt shop was from Wallingford – its that kind of place. The main ski area is what they call the Big 3 though apparently it is busier in the summer than winter. The hardcore skiers amongst you want to head for Revelstoke and Golden – the home of Canada’s heli-skiing scene, although apparently it ruins normal skiing for you for ever after.
Did we find our Grizzly?
We have seen one bear in the wild in 3 weeks. We are grateful for this and we are greedy so we’ve been trying to see more, not least a Grizzly Bear (they are bigger and more dangerous than their black bear cousins).
We met a funny chap on a hike who seemed to know a lot about where the bears are. He said ‘Drive on down past Banff and find the 40 route and go up into Peter Lougheed National Park’. So last night we did. We had been rafting nearby (cold and fun) and went on a random drive on our own at dusk. The bears should be eating berries at this point, often on the side of the road, but we saw nothing except two very cute female deer.
We have to settle at one bear for this trip. We hope the rest of them are getting enough food before winter sets in – the females need to store fat to become pregnant, so the race is on to eat large volumes in the next 6 weeks.
A couple of parting shots of Canada.
We need to illustrate how many tourists there are here. This photo is extreme but it makes the point. This is the moment that the path up to Lake Louise hits the lake, and these are lots of tourists taking photos of the Lake. Our estimates put the breakdown of foreigners in British Columbia and Alberta at roughly 30% Chinese, 20% Japanese, 25% Canadian / US and the rest European. It is fine on the whole and who are we to tell other people not to visit.
This is what they are looking at. Well, not the girls but the lake and mountains behind. Lake Louise is probably the single most visited attraction in the Rockies after Banff. It is easy to get to and on the motorway. The green colour comes from the rock flour and it goes back to blue in the winter when there is less water coming off the glacier and rock walls.