Exploring LGBT Alberta, Canada

by Our Editors
Moraine Lake at Banff National Park

The next morning, I meet Jonny at Alpine Helicopter tours in nearby Canmore where we zoom amid snowy peaks, jagged vistas, and mountain lakes. Our pilot points out Marvel Lake and Mount Charles Stewart, where they sometimes fly people to get married. A company representative tells me that they’ve done “a couple of gay and lesbian weddings in the last few weeks.” There are also proposals. One guy booked a flight for him and his partner, but then pretended to bail and sent the boyfriend out with a friend. It was all trickery. The partner who made the booking dressed as a co-pilot, with a fake mustache, helmet, and coveralls, and then popped the question.

Other ways to enjoy the view is to ride up the Mount Norquay Chairlift, which goes over black bear and grizzly habitat or to bask in the soothing waters of the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The latter has a public pool feel, with turnstiles, placards explaining the site’s history, and towels, bathing suits, and lockers for rent.

Later that day, when I’m ready to checkout of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, I simply send a text to the front desk and they ask the valet to bring my car around. Meanwhile, the concierge helps me plan my route to Lake Louise. He suggests taking the Bow Valley Parkway (1A) instead of the Trans Canada. It’s a more picturesque drive and there’s a greater chance of seeing wildlife.

Spirit Island in Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park by Elena Suvorova

Spirit Island in Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park by Elena Suvorova

I keep an eye out for “animal jams” (groups of people pulled over by the side of the road taking photos of wildlife) and this is how I get my black bear picture.

Ultimately, I pull off onto a winding road that takes me to Moraine Lake. There’s a light rain and loads of tourists. The lake is the kind of blue I’ve only seen in Tahiti, but unlike those clear waters this is fed by glaciers and gets its hue from a suspension of mountain silt or “rock flour” from glacial erosion.

My friends Paul and Miguel did an eight-hour hike from here to Lake Louise just the day before. They say it was exhausting, but beautiful.

A shorter trek starts at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and leads to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. It takes about two hours to do the 3.5 km forested hike, which is of “moderate difficulty.” The Tea House features homemade soups, sandwiches, and more than 100 teas, including top seller ginger lemon (made with real ginger).

As the rain intensifies, I check into Deer Lodge, taking in its rustic charms (it has Wi-Fi but no TVs in the rooms). They’ve maintained much of the original hand-hewn log structure, particularly in the dining room. There are numerous common areas, including a rooftop hot tub with a mountain view, a games room, coin-operated laundry (an amazing amenity for a hiking-oriented destination), and the main lounge with a roaring fire and a buffalo head above the mantel.

The guest rooms are spacious, with simple wood furnishings and thick duvets. In the bathroom is a “Scald Warning,” advising against running the sink or flushing the toilet while using hot water because “with our charm come our original heating and plumbing system.” Their biggest stand-out is their Mount Fairview Dining Room. It specializes in Rocky Mountain Cuisine, inspired by hearty meals made by European mountain guides. This includes bison and elk. I opt for tender wild caribou medallions on spiced sweet potato purée with a raspberry cognac glaze. They also have a large selection of hard-tofind Vintners’ reserve wines.

The forecast is calling for more rain, but when I wake it’s sunny and warm. That’s Rocky Mountain weather—unpredictable. I drive to the Columbia Icefields, roughly three hours from Lake Louise, where I pull into the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. It’s packed with tourists lining up for “The Glacier Adventure.” Because I’m on my own, I get a spot with only a half-hour wait. For others, it’s two hours.

My group boards the six-wheeled Explorer. Each wheel is enormous, and it runs on “eco-friendly vegetable oil instead of dead dino oil.” Our tour guide Ness drives us up and down steep grades and out onto the Athabasca Glacier, saying: “If we get stuck we’ll need five strong men to push or three strong women” She points out the dark spots marring the surface of the ice. “You’re not looking at any kind of dirt,” she says. “That’s atmospheric dirt, including ash from the Fort McMurray fires.”

We disembark, and while some tourists pose next to the Explorer’s giant tires others are filling up their water bottles in the frigid streams of melted glacier water.

After 20 minutes, we’re bused a short way up the highway to the glass-floored Glacier Skywalk, which extends out over the Sunwapta Valley, using a cantilever structure inspired by the Douglas Fir. It’s made from a weathering steel that rusts and self-seals over time, so “no paint is needed to protect its surface.” I feel it sway slightly with every step as it absorbs my kinetic energy, making me lightly queasy. I’m assured that it’s quite safe (during their Christmas in July party 150 of the park’s staff members jumped on it at once). The song “Defying Gravity” comes to mind.

Back at my rental car, I continue my journey through Jasper National Park, stopping at Tangle Falls, Sunwapta Falls, and Athabasca Falls (marked on a free map I procured at the Discovery Centre), arriving at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge a couple of hours later. It feels like a summer camp by the lake, with stone and cedar chalets. It’s full of luxurious amenities (stables, tennis courts, a renowned spa) while keeping a rustic vibe.

Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park by Leonard Zhukovsky

Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park by Leonard Zhukovsky

According to Fairmont Regional Sales Manager Steve Benn, some families have been coming here “since the 40s.” They don’t want it to be “too posh.” We sit on a restaurant patio, overlooking Beauvert Lake, surrounded by mountains, a year-round heated pool below us, a Canadian flag flapping in the breeze. My local Alberta ribs arrive and I think, sure, not too posh.

I meet again with Steve at breakfast, along with Public Relations Manager Teresa Marshall, the three of us enjoying the resort’s buffet, which has recently added a smoothie bar.

They’re nearly finished a 16 million dollar renovation, putting in new carpets and updating furniture, yet they seem more excited to talk about Jasper Pride.

With a population of 4,000, this tiny mountain town still has the third largest Pride in the province and according to many, “Jasper Pride is the best.” The Lodge is heavily involved, hosting the event’s gala. In 2017, they will pay homage to Canada’s 150th anniversary. “Expect a lot of red and white” at the gala, while downtown will be “covered in rainbows.” The majority of businesses get involved, from a local brewer that puts out a Pride ale to stores competing in a window-decorating contest. I make a note to come back March 9-12, 2017.

While Pride is a draw in the later months of winter, and Jasper is a huge ski destination, hiking and other fair-weather excursions make summer the lodge’s busiest season. With that in mind, I check out a boat tour of Maligne Lake, about an hour away. It has a fjord-like feel as we travel across the water amidst soaring mountains. We dock at Spirit Island, where the Queen Elizabeth Mountain Range wraps nearly all the way around. According to our guide, back in 1907 surveyor Mary Schaffer called it “the Hall of the Gods” because if they came down from the heavens “they’d each have a throne to sit on.”

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