Sunday, July 27, 2008

Banff Gondola: 7,486 Feet on Top of the World & 1,807 Miles from Houston

I walked a snow covered boardwalk on a sunny Friday morning. What’s so unusual about that? Had my experience been on a January day, a snowy walk might be expected but the day I shuffled through the four inch snowfall was a mid-summer day - July 11th!

I was on the Banff Skywalk strolling along the summit ridge of Sulphur Mountain, 7,486 feet on top of the world, a short five miles away from Banff, Alberta. From a view deck, I could see downtown Banff in the valley below. The snow hadn’t touched the streets there. As I took in the clear view of the town, I could see the castle-like hotel/convention center structure of The Fairmont Banff Springs and sparkling water of Lake Minnewanka. I was pleased that I took the sound advice offered a day ago.

“There’s still time for a gondola ride today. But, if you can wait until tomorrow, you’ll get a better view,” advised the summer staff in Banff’s Gondola. Though the afternoon downpour ended, ominous clouds hovered above shrouding some of the mountain peaks. Yes, I could wait and I am glad I did.

I arrived at the Banff Gondola Friday around 9 AM, well before the bus tour crowds converged on this tourist destination. When I squinted my eyes to see the summit, I made a quick assessment to buy the $26 roundtrip ticket versus $13 for a one-way down ticket. Hikers more hardy than I climb the summit and ride the gondola down; I preferred the 8 minute ride from lower terminal to upper terminal. The gondola travels at 13.3 feet per second. My trudge up the mountain would surely be much, much slower.

The gondola holds up to 4 passengers in a fully-enclosed cabin. As the gondola glided smoothly on the cable track to the summit, I shot photos of the Canadian Rockies. My view was unobstructed but did not compare to the 360° view from the Summit Complex and Boardwalk.

When I walked the circular viewing deck, I used the interactive compass display to find the direction and shortest distance to cities around the world. Houston, Texas, a city where I had been three short months ago, lay south some 1,807 miles from me now. There’d be no snow in Houston on this July day.

Here the snow still looked fresh with barely a footprint. My sister-in-law Betty Anne walked with me along the boardwalk path. We pressed our hands into snow on a picnic table melting shadowy prints, our signature mark. Some people on the summit with us had never seen snow. Children coxed by parents formed miniature snowmen at the some of the boardwalk view points. When asked, I paused and took a photo of a husband and wife both delighted to see snow for the first time.

“You ought to taste it,” I said.

“Taste it?” the woman asked.

“Sure, just pinch a bit off the pine needles.” I demonstrated by popping a clump of big flakes from a nearby evergreen into my mouth.

The woman followed my example. She must have liked her sample because she smiled broadly having had her first taste of snowflakes.

The elevated boardwalk along the summit ridge spans a full kilometer. Betty Anne and I laughed when we reached the trail end at Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station and Weather Observatory. Had we really walked that far? From the upper terminal complex, the place seemed so far away. I suspect, the scenery kept drawing us from one view point to the next until there was no further point. Not so far at all.

Turning to walk back to the gondola terminal, we stopped nearly as often to pause again looking at the rugged and snowy peaks of the Rockies. Now, the snow on the boardwalk had turned slushy with the warming sun and tourists’ footsteps. Drops of water hung from the pine needles, where earlier snowflakes clustered. And, water dripped from the picnic table where our hand prints once pressed into the snow.

From the Banff Gondola, I saw mountains and walked in the snow. The morning validated the words on the Banff Gondola brochure: “More mountains in a moment than most see in a lifetime…” I’d like to add more snow than some see in a lifetime, especially in July.

The Banff Gondola and the Banff Skywalk at

Sulphur Mountain is a short 5 minute drive

from downtown Banff, Alberta.

Open year round.

For information: 403-762-2523.

July 11, 2008

July 11, 2008

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