Alpine Edge

Banff: The most magical winter destination in the world

Brekke Fletcher, CNN Video by Alfredo Alcántara, Alexander Rosen and Diana DiroyPublished 30th November 2018
Alberta, Canada (CNN) — It's before dawn on a typically freezing February morning in Banff, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies. The CNN Travel film crew arrives at the Banff Gondola, freaking out because they may already be too late to film the sunrise, which is supposedly epic and must be witnessed from the summit of Banff National Park's Sulphur Mountain if you visit in winter (or anytime really).
Speeding up the mountain in the gondola, there's a sense of racing the sun to witness the majesty that no photo or film can properly capture. This is one of those things you have to see for yourself, the snowy mountains, sunlight that creates visible waves that seem to be actually glinting. Below, the town of Banff becomes visible, lit up like a miniature holiday haven, until the clouds completely delete the view.
Banff National Park's mountain majesties are best viewed at sunrise.
Banff National Park's mountain majesties are best viewed at sunrise.
Alfredo Alcántara
Banff is one idyllic mountain town. It's also part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage site.
And one of the magical mountain town's most beloved daughters is professional skier Tatum Monod, whose family has owned and operated the local mountain outfitter, Monod Sports, since 1949.
It's a first stop for anyone who hasn't come prepared to face the cold -- or any conditions -- to dress the part of a local strolling along Banff Avenue downtown.
In Banff, nearly everyone is an outdoor enthusiast, with some of the world's best hiking, climbing, skiing and fly-fishing in the park (for which all visitors need a pass). "Anything that's going on in life, you can just come here and just kind of hit reset because it's just so beautiful," says Monod.
Monod may be based in Vancouver, but she is at home in Banff. She worked in her family store and grew up skiing on Mount Norquay, a short, circuitous drive from town. Her reason for being home is a bit of a bummer. An accident while filming in Alaska sidelined her skiing last year, but she's recovered well on Norquay, skiing with her new best friend, who happens to be Swiss-born octogenarian Leo Berchtold, who's been coming to Mount Norquay for 60-plus years.
Skier Tatum Monod is at home in Banff and calls it the most beautiful place she's ever seen.
Skier Tatum Monod is at home in Banff and calls it the most beautiful place she's ever seen.
Alfredo Alcántara
"I think if the rest of the world could discover the sense of community that Banff has, the whole world would be a much better place." Here are Monod's favorite Banff spots, for those lucky enough to find themselves in this winter paradise.

Monod's Banff picks

Ski (or don't) Norquay: A short shuttle bus or carpool ride from downtown Banff, this ski resort dates back to 1926. Wildly popular with locals, families and tourists alike, skiing Banff isn't for those afraid of the cold. The subzero temperatures are a small price to pay for the lightweight powder and breathtaking views.
"Skiing in the Rocky Mountains is unlike anything I've ever experienced," says Monod, who calls the area the most beautiful place she's ever been to.
The main lodge at Mount Norquay is old-school and unfussy, with a restaurant and a cafeteria, child care, lockers and rentals. Non-skiers and snowboarders can fly down the mountain on an inner tube at Norquay's Tube Park, the largest snow tubing facility in Alberta.
Banff provides plenty off off-slope activities for visitors and locals alike.
Banff provides plenty off off-slope activities for visitors and locals alike.
Mike Seehagel/Travel Alberta

Eat and drink

Start the day with a hot cup of coffee or tea at Whitebark Café.
For a boozy breakfast or lunch with friends head to Park Distillery Bar and Restaurant (Monod recommends asking for a table upstairs near the fireplace and ordering a Caesar, the Canadian twist on the Bloody Mary). Later, enjoy a tour of the distillery (book in advance) or stock up on spirits at the adjacent gift shop.
Cheese lovers may opt for fondue at The Grizzly House housed in a wooden A-frame building, where tables are equipped with actual telephones for guests to use to call one another, installed back when the establishment was a nightclub and disco in the 1970s.
For dinner, carnivores (and pretty much anyone who can stand to be in the presence of meat) should head to Chuck's Steakhouse. It's one of Monod's local haunts, particularly for a girl's night out. The impressive selection of Alberta-raised beef, including the Wagyu from Brant Lake Cattle Company, is matched by the variety of share plates and steakhouse staples like a loaded baked potato and asparagus with hollandaise.

Nightlife

High Rollers is both a beer hall and a bowling activity, and it's one of the spots that Monod and her friends like to go after dark.
High Rollers is both a beer hall and a bowling activity, and it's one of the spots that Monod and her friends like to go after dark.
Chris Amat/Travel Alberta
Twenty-seven-year-old Monod acknowledges Banff's share of happening bars, but notes that the real fun happens at the subterranean High Rollers beer hall and bowling alley. Cocktails and local beers flow as bowlers of all abilities roll on the six neon-lit lanes. The pumping music and vibrant atmosphere feels like an intimate house party, and the chance you'll meet some great people is much more likely than bowling anything close to a perfect game.
Bonus: Hand-tossed pizzas are on the menu, if you feel like you need to fortify after exhausting yourself after 10 frames.
If you want to slip on your boogie boots, head to the Dancing Sasquatch (yes, with real sasquatch) for Banff's biggest party scene. Untz-untz nightclub vibes abound, with theme nights, bachelor and bachelorette parties, a DJ or live music and the aforementioned hairy squatch putting in regular appearances to dance the night away with the revelers.
A magical winter destination, Banff isn't just for skiers and snowboarders. There's plenty to do off-mountain too.
A magical winter destination, Banff isn't just for skiers and snowboarders. There's plenty to do off-mountain too.
Alfredo Alcántara

Stay

The famously picturesque Fairmont Banff Springs rises from the Canadian Rockies just like a castle straight out of "Frozen." The feel is decidedly luxury lodge, with an array of dining choices, from super-fancy to take-away, as well as a few bars and plenty of fireplaces. The guest rooms are comfortable, but they're nothing compared to the snowy mountain views. The heated outdoor pool is open year-round, and in the winter, it's a superior spot to melt your cares away.
For a home-away-from-home feel, Buffalo Mountain Lodge is a great choice. All 108 rooms feature a wood-burning stone fireplace (and fresh wood delivered daily), and some also have heated slate floors and gorgeous claw-foot bathtubs. There's also an outdoor hot tub. The property has two on-site restaurants, The Sleeping Buffalo with an adjacent lounge, and the more casual Buffalo Mountain Café.
One of the newer hotels, conveniently located near downtown on Banff Avenue, is the Moose Hotel & Suites (yes, there's a moose statue outside). The interiors are modern and airy, but with plenty of woodwork to reflect the region's outdoorsy, mountain feeling. Two outdoor, rooftop pools make for excellent nighttime stargazing, and the renovated early 1900s Corner House, a freestanding cottage in the courtyard, can accommodate two very lucky guests.
For Monod, Banff is far more than a place with challenging terrain. It's a community and a home.
For Monod, Banff is far more than a place with challenging terrain. It's a community and a home.
Alfredo Alcántara
As for Monod's characterization of her hometown, "I think Banff just attracts really adventurous, like-minded people, people who live for the outdoors and live for exploration and have adventure in their blood. I'm just so lucky to be surrounded by so many people that love the outdoors."