Banff-Lake Louise: The Rockies in Rutting Season (Video)

Photo: (c) Russell Johnson

Watch out where the huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow.
Frank Zappa

God tipped over the snowglobe and fresh flakes fall, frosting the castle and the Canadian Rockies.

On the banks of the Bow we sit, sprinkled with new snow, un-sullied by foot and tire prints, un-yellowed by cats and dogs. It is the first snow of the season. Holiday decorations go up, fireplaces blaze with bonhomie.

It is a myth, by the way, that Eskimos have 200 words for snow. They are mostly derivations and conjugations of about four. And while the Inuit may hoard the term “utvak” for “snow carved in a block”, they don’t talk about hardpack and powder in the same way as the residents of Vail or Telluride.

A light dusting coats the golf course at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel as my wife  Pat and I dance across it in search of that yearly ritual that comes with the first snow: the Elk Rut. We are warned to keep our distance lest a love-blind bull charge us due to error or desperation. We tiptoe between Elk turds, spaced about a foot apart like divots. Elk are quite the problem here during golf season. Herds drift across the fairways blocking players. In off-season, however, they roam freely and with cleanup crews on furlough, their spoor collects, undoubtedly nourishing the paths of next season’s duffers. Ah, the cycle of nature.

Our sighting of the day is one lone bull, with a handsome rack but, like a many members of Parliament, a double chin. He looks up at us briefly, then insouciant Tory that he is, returns to his fairway salad. So much for today’s excitement.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a Harry Potterish replica of a Scottish castle set at the confluence of two rivers, the Bow and the Spray. The Banff Springs was built in 1888 as a lavish pit stop for trans-Canadian railroad passengers.

 Van HorneIt was commissioned by railroad baron William Van Horne, who stands stout and bronzed in the courtyard, a tuft of snow capping his head, pointing his finger as if to say “I’m in charge”. These were the days of luxury rail travel, and the Banff Springs was quite the formal place where people dressed for dinner. Today Gore-Tex is the fabric of choice.




View from Banff Springs HotelPhoto: (c) Russell Johnson

My wife Pat and I book into Room 669, a rather ordinaryish room with a spectacular view.

The town of Banff, itself, is not notable: a motel row and the straggle of the mostly overpriced restaurants and tacky stores that usually metastasize in tourist spots, but it is set in spectacular Banff National Park, one of a string of jaw-dropping parks that butt, in the north, against glaciers.

These are in-your-face mountains. Unlike California’s Sierra Nevada, they don’t reveal themselves gradually on a gentle incline. Here, you round a corner and wham, a sheer cliff whacks you with a sucker punch. These are mountains you can’t photograph. Even if you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of megapixels, they could never capture the weight of these majestic rocks. God must live here, or at least come here for spring break.

Banffbalustrade.1200Photo: (c) Russell Johnson

The snow is coming down heavier as we walk up the path to the Chateau on Lake Louise, which started off as a log cabin built on the orders of Van Horne (he of the pointy finger). It became a summer playground for rich and famous: Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Prince Rainier and the Queen Mum. ‘Springtime in the Rockies” with Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda was filmed here.Elk Jerky

We settled down in the lounge to taste a sampler plate of native fare, as the staff started to string holiday decorations outside.

Elk, deer, bison jerky with cranberries.

It all tastes kind of the same. What can you say? It adds a new phrase to my culinary lexicon: “Tastes like Elk.”