Banff Gondola vs. Mt Norquay Look Out: Choosing "This or That" in the Rocky Mountains
It didn’t take much to convince my mom that we needed a weekend away. She’d been busy with work, I’d been busy with putting the house on the market and in all of that, we’d missed Easter together. Canmore and Banff is what we chose.
I’ve been to Banff several times in my life, as a native Albertan tends to do, though as I researched for the trip, I realized there are so many places I had never been. Most of my trips had been for school or choir and I realized that never had I been of my planning. I compiled a list of places I wanted to try and stop to take some photographs of (coming soon to an Instagram near you) and I get a message from Ma that she would like to do the Banff Gondola. Now, I can assure you this surprised me as my mother is both afraid of heights and small confined spaces, but she assures me this is something she’d like to do and I, being a dutiful daughter, want to fulfill her wish.
I opened up my computer and navigate myself to the prices list - $62 for an adult, 10% off if purchased in advance. I damn near die of a heart attack, but the Banff Gondola is an iconic activity, one neither of us has ever done before.
The day of we show up. I’ve selected a ride time of 10:10am both in attempt to sleep in and an attempt to beat any crazy wild masses (both successfully achieved). We load into a sky buggy built for 4 and up the mountain we go.
The views are lovely. You can go up to the 4th floor observation deck, or take the walk out to the look out point along a walkway. About half way down the walk way we realized that even if we made it to the look out spot, it would still be the same views as from where we were standing and we choose to turn around and find a) a bathroom and b) a drink. Mountain climbing is apparently a dehydrating activity. We went to the Café and negotiated our way (easily) to a cup of tap water to save ourselves the $4.50 on bottled. The environment thanks me, of this I’m sure. And if the environment doesn’t, my wallet sure did.
Make no mistake, the Banff Gondola is a pricey activity. Get 4 adults walking up to the desk to purchase tickets and you’re looking at dropping $250, plus food and beverage if you buy any.
As we sit and enjoy the (free!) Wifi, I do some google mapping to figure out our best plan of attack and I decide that next, is Mount Norquay.
Named after a former premier of Manitoba, Mount Norquay is probably best known as one of three major ski hills in the Banff area. But what I had found in my research was a grassy clearing on the side of the mountain with the promise of a spectacular view.
Mom and I get in the car and head out of Banff and up the mountain. A steady 50km/hr up the switchback hill, we roll our windows down. It’s a gorgeous day and the breeze is wonderful. We make a turn and an oncoming motorcycle flags us. “I think he’s telling us to slow down” my mom says. As we debate motorcycle culture and the language of the road, we turn a corner and four Mountain Sheep are standing in the middle of the road. My mom was right. “Nature” I whisper, because I’m an ass. But past them is the sharp curve of the switchback and no way to see oncoming traffic. I decide the best way to pass is to do a continuous loop of 2 short horn blasts as we pass around the animals and we survive, safely back on the right side of the road.
Eventually we reach a stone wall and I’m not sure if this is it. There’s no definite or clear sign that says we’re at the look out point, but this looks a bit like the street view I saw on Google Maps. I pull over and Ma looks over the edge. She says “I see red chairs. Should I be seeing red chairs?” and I know I’m in the right place.
What started out in 2013 at Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland has spread to over 100 different National Parks throughout Canada. The Parks Canada website states “The Red Chair Experience is all about connecting Canadians with nature in our country's most unique and treasured places. “ There are thirteen locations in Banff National Park alone (click here to see more). I’m on a mission and that mission’s name sit in a red chair.
There’s no one else here. We see more sheep off in the distance and we each take a seat in the red chairs that Parks Canada has left in various places around Banff National Park and I am in heaven. To the right, are Vermillion Lakes. “That’s where we’re going next” I tell Ma. To the left, we can see the Banff townsite. In front of us, if we squint, we can see the Gondola observation building and look out point. And around us, nothing but breeze and quiet. This is partly due to it being the end of April and technically, low season, but it’s in part to the inaccessibility of the spot. Tourists can take the Banff bus to the Gondola, but to get up here, you hike, bike or personal vehicle it up. It definitely limits the traffic and somehow makes this spot only 6km from the centre of town feel so remote.
Despite it being low season, the top of Sulphur Mountain was crowded and congested and the introvert in me was getting antsy. I couldn’t imagine being up there on a busy day and in all honestly, will likely not do the Gondola again. But rest assured, I plan to try and make it up to the Mount Norquay look out point every time I visit, because it was just us, the red chairs, a couple of Mountain sheep and a handful of gophers and I could have stayed all day.
This or That Verdict: Mt. Norquay Look Out