Hiking through Lake Louis in Banff National Park. // © 2011 View836
Polar Bear Encounters With Baobab Expeditions
Banff National Park, in Alberta, Canada, is no stranger to tourists. When Banff's natural hot springs were discovered in the late 1800s by railroad construction workers, they immediately sparked interest among travelers seeking out therapeutic waters and the forested, natural landscape that surrounded them. By the time the park was established in 1885 as a protected reserve, it was a bona-fide tourist attraction and has remained so ever since.
Today, while some visitors still travel to Banff to experience its natural hot springs, many of Banff's nearly 4.5 million annual visitors think of the area more for its active pursuits -- which include skiing, snowboarding, cycling and hiking. However, according to tourism statistics, less than 5 percent of visitors to Banff and Lake Louise actually get off any paved paths. So, while world-class skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing, hiking and cycling often assume the spotlight when it comes to Banff's destination reputation, the truth is that your clients need not be expert athletes to enjoy all that Banff and Lake Louise have to offer.Winter Activities
While skiers and snowboarders flock to Banff and Lake Louise, your clients can find other ways to enjoy the powdery snow that blankets the landscape every winter. Nor do clients have to confine themselves to long sightseeing tours by motorcoach. For those who would like to explore Banff and Lake Louise's great outdoors without having to book ski or snowboarding classes, agents should suggest they try icewalking or snowshoeing. I managed to do both activities during a visit to Banff and Lake Louise this winter and, while I thought my lack of previous experience would be a major hindrance, I found both activities to be fairly easy -- and, more importantly, they were fun.
For my first icewalk ever, I was booked on a guided Johnston Canyon Icewalk tour with Discover Banff Tours. To start, my guide, general manager Daymon Miller, drove our group through the Bow Valley Parkway on our way to the trailhead and explained how the Rockies were created and why some parts of the forest looked younger than others (thanks to prescribed burns). Learning more about our natural surroundings made it all the easier for me to appreciate what I discovered on our icewalk. After outfitting ourselves with ice cleats, we set out for the 3.4-mile-long canyon trail, which is built upon sturdy steel walkways with handrails that hang onto the cliff of the canyon. On the tour, clients can explore a natural cave for a unique view of the canyon's lower falls and, later, travel up some 443 feet in elevation to the upper falls where they can see giant pillars of hanging ice. For refreshments, Daymon treated us to hot cocoa and maple cookies and, throughout our tour, he made sure to point out significant rock formations and natural occurrences.
Johnston Canyon Icewalk tours usually last anywhere from 2 to 2Ω hours, and the minimum age required to participate in a tour is 8 years old. Standard agent commission is 10 percent, and the tour costs $59 for clients ages 13 and older and $40 for children ages 8 to 12 years old.
For my first snowshoe experience, I met with Bruce Bembridge, an experienced guide from The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise's Mountain Heritage Guide Program. Bruce took me out onto the lake after outfitting me with the proper winter gear at the hotel. The lake was completely frozen over with ice and, together, we walked to the program's storage shed to pick out our snowshoes. Bruce pointed out all of the different shapes and varieties of snowshoes available and asked me to choose which shoe "spoke to me." I went with the "bear paw" shape and, after strapping my feet into the shoes, he asked me to take a test walk in my new kicks. At first, I'll admit it was a bit difficult to navigate through all that snow -- some of which was at least a few feet deep -- but, as soon as I got the hang of it, we set out to cross the lake and explore the nearby forests. Seeing all of those trees covered with snow and looking back on the snowshoe prints we'd left in the snow was one of my more memorable experiences in Lake Louise. Agents can easily book their clients on tours with Fairmont's guided tour program by contacting the hotel's concierge. Summer Activities
When the ice melts and the snow begins to shine on Banff and Lake Louise, there are even more opportunities for clients to get active and explore. One of the easiest ways to enjoy the national park is to see Banff by canoe, kayak or bike. Discover Banff Tours offers a 1.5-hour-long Voyageur Canoe Tour along the Bow River that takes place in a 14-passenger Voyageur Canoe. No previous paddling experience is necessary to participate in the tour and, while clients paddle their way along the river, their guide regales them with tales about the river and the surrounding wildlife and nature. The cost of the tour is $39 for adults ages 13 and older; $15 for children ages 6 to 12; and free for infants ages 2 to 5 years old.
At Lake Louise, clients may book or rent canoes from The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to explore the lake itself, or they can take part in one of Lake Louise's most popular summer activities -- hiking. One of the hotel's most popular hikes is the half-day, 4.4-mile-long Lake Agnes and the Tea House Hike. During the trail, clients can look down upon the turquoise-hued waters of Lake Louise and, as they ascend up the mountain, they pass the glittering Mirror Lake, stopping by the Tea House on the mountain for a short respite before making their way back. The cost for the guided hiking tour is $49 for adults and $25 for children ages 8 to 12.
So, no matter what time of year it is, or how fit your clients consider themselves, they're sure to find an activity that allows them to experience Banff's natural beauty firsthand.