Alberta adventures: Icefall hike filled with delights

Imagine this scene — 96 huskies barking, yelping and howling at once — a symphony unlike anything you’ve heard before. Unless of course you’ve taken part in dog sledding, an ancient mode of travel for First Nations peoples of the north.

My partner Brent Chysyk and I, along with 32 fellow outdoor adventurers, recently took part in the Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours along Spray Lake, in Canmore, Alta., during which 16 teams of six huskies welcomed us with howls and excited licks.

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Brent and I took turns guiding the sled, led by blue-eyed Saban. With us shouting words of encouragement, our team of energetic dogs took us on an exhilarating ride through unspoiled mountainous terrain. Our adventure complete, we all converged around a campfire and enjoyed hot chocolate and cinnamon buns.

That evening, we walked 20 minutes through a light snowfall from our hotel to Murrieta’s restaurant. Located above several shops, our window seat offered magnificent views of the majestic Bow Valley mountain range. It was there we enjoyed a wonderful leisurely meal surrounded by Murrieta’s charmingly rustic décor, including wood beams, floor-to-ceiling wood bar cellar and a large fireplace.

As we laid our heads down in our Whistler-inspired suite at the Solara Resort and Spa, we both agreed that our mushing expedition was a memory we would cherish.  

We had arrived in Calgary a few days earlier, guests of Tourism Alberta. After picking up our rental car, we headed to the ultra-chic, contemporary Hotel Arts in downtown Calgary. The city has changed a lot in the 25 years since Brent lived there. Alberta’s largest metropolis is filled with new bars, boutiques, restaurants, arts and culture, and entertainment venues. That night, we feasted on some “Vietmodern” dishes at the award-winning Raw Bar. Sharing a culinary journey through crab and mango salad rolls, prawn salad, maple ginger black cod and squid a la plancha, we departed with a new appreciation for Vietnamese cuisine.

The next day, we explored the historical Simmons Building in East Village. The former mattress factory has been reinvented into a funky food lovers’ destination. Breakfast at Calgary’s celebrated Sidewalk Citizen Bakery was followed by lunch at Charbar — following a brisk walk along the boardwalk that snakes along the Bow River. Charbar’s Chopped Canada winning chef Jessica Pelland delighted us with tantalizing dish after dish inspired by Argentina, Spain and Italy.

Our last night in Calgary was spent at the city’s first Relais & Chateaux Property, the Kensington Riverside Inn, located across the Louise Bridge from downtown. After dropping off our bags in our room, we headed out for a walk through this historic, trendy urban village and discovered unique shops and colourful character homes.

And, as if we hadn’t eaten enough, that evening we dined at one of Calgary’s newest, hippest eateries, Native Tongues Taqueria, where great atmosphere meets amazing Mexican street eats. (Highly recommend the grilled prawns in chilmole butter and lime — bring on the napkins please.)

The next morning, we drove to Banff for a two-night stay at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge. We reached the bucolic lodge in the early afternoon just in time for a two-hour hike along the Tunnel Mountain Trail. Although steep, the trek awarded us with spectacular vistas of Rundle Mountain.

That evening, we dined in the resort’s restaurant. Brent started with the elk and followed with northern caribou medallions. A hunter, he was pleasantly surprised by how delicious and tender the game was.

We soon retired to our rustic, cozy room with its wood burning fireplace. We spent the night cuddled around the crackling fire sipping on a nice bold red.

As a fan of icefalls, a Johnston Canyon Ice walk was a must for me. As soon as we strapped on our ice cleats, we hiked along steel walkways built into the canyon walls and witnessed nature at its best. Halfway up, we pulled out our cameras for photos of the cave, which over thousands of years was carved into the rock face. The grand finale is the Cathedral of Ice at the Upper Falls.

A few hours later, we headed to the historic Fairmont Banff Springs for a casual break. The stately hotel, designed after a grand Scottish castle, opened in 1888 and sits above a scenic bluff overlooking the town of Banff, the Bow River and the mountainous beauty of Banff National Park.

We dined in the Grapes Wine Bar, which in its former life (circa 1926) was a charming writing room. Chef Tyler Thompson put together a sampling of its most popular charcuteries (elk and buffalo), fine cheese and homemade breads.

The following morning dawned bright and cold — very cold. It was off to Lake Louise, where we stayed at the Deer Lodge, a sister accommodation to the Buffalo Lodge. That evening, after a pub meal in the aptly named Powder Keg Lounge (raucous and fun, it was filled with après skiers) in the Lake Louise Ski Resort, we went for a nighttime snowshoe. With a sky filled with stars, it was breathtaking journey through the towering forest and untouched terrain next to ski trails. The following morning, Brent pulled the window blinds and there was an elk. The female completely ignored us, allowing me to snap photo after photo.

Our last day, which was also crystal clear, we met up with guide Bill Keeling, manager of Wilson Mountain Sports, and headed out for an hour of cross country through a snowy terrain up the Bow River Loop.

When we planned our trip, we were looking for a vacation getaway with some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, a place where we could witness unspoiled wilderness and wildlife, lead a dog sled tour, hike, snowshoe, cross country ski and eat some fine cuisine — we got it and more.

Michelle Hopkins was a guest of Tourism Alberta.

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