Western Canada: Lake Louise

Continued from Post Hotel

Just up the road from the Post Hotel is one of the star attractions of Banff National Park, Lake Louise.

A natural wonder, the lake (though half-frozen when we visited) is ice blue, a result of mineral run-off from the massive, protective mountains around it. A UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s reached by a short path from a public parking lot, it nonetheless feels like the corporate property of the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Re-done sometime in the late 80s/early 90s and just expanded in 2008, the Chateau is overrun with tourists…because it’s a must-visit place.  Even with its unromantic, pink stuccoed updates, it has the feel of a bygone era.

On a warmer day I’d recommend the long boardwalk stroll around the Lake and a panoramic view of the Chateau, but with the cold we had, I’d say follow our lead; head inside, ogle the soaring ceilings with bizarre chandeliers made of colorful wooden women, snag a table by one of the huge windows, and have some tea and (if you require it, gluten-free) cake beside Lake Louise.

But know that the lake is only one small view in the Pipestone River Valley.

Our last, late-May day in Lake Louise, the sun finally came out; we gasped when we realized that the single set of snow-webbed mountains outside the Post was actually two and sometimes three sets of Rockies. We decided there was nothing for it but to head up the hill to the Lake Louise Gondola to see even more.

It bears mentioning here that Adam skis and I don’t.  In fact, I’m not a huge fan of anything that heads downhill quickly, and find it especially disconcerting when there’s nothing under my feet for several hundred yards or more.

So, this was my first ski gondola ride…and for spice, we agreed to take an open one.  You can take a nice covered one, a little metal cabin in the sky, if you will, but where’s the terror in that?

End result:  I loved it. Soaring gently up a mountain, watching the snow melt and tiny ground squirrels scatter below, a cold breeze making it all the more advantageous to burrow into your partner’s shoulder for warmth — it’s pretty much vacation on a stick.  I had a few panicky moments when I chose to think about what was happening, but as with most physically illogical activities, use of intellect can only confuse things.

Before we began our ride, we were treated to a cautionary tale about not bothering any pregnant grizzly bears we might see; this pep talk was delivered by an earnest young guy with two inexplicably broken arms.

Suitably warned, when we finally hopped off the still-moving gondola at the mountaintop, we only saw more little ground squirrels.  These are, as you can see, not at all scary.

There’s also a breathtaking view of just about fifty massive, jagged mountains surrounding Lake Louise.  Oh, and Lake Louise itself, which gleams its lagoony blue-green in the center of this snowy panorama.  In the bright sun, fluffy cumulus clouds threw distinct shadows on all the mountains, almost like cartoons.

Hooray for Canadian air quality, and for the very Rocky Mountains themselves.  This vantage point gives you the feeling that life is full of possibilities.

*For more photos from Lake Louise, click here.

Continued in Moraine Lake

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