Alberta Adventures in Wellness: Spas, Mountains, and Banff, Oh My! (Part Three)

To put it quite simply, 2018 has been a draining year personally and professionally. Don’t get me wrong — I have plenty of things on my gratitude list, but, by the end of a busy summer, I was in serious need of a recharge. So when Travel Alberta mentioned a wellness tour through the Canadian Rockies, I jumped on the chance.


Usually by day three of a press trip, writers are feeling a little rough due to busy itineraries, late nights, heavier than usual meals, and too many libations. So imagine my pleasant surprise to wake up feeling happily a bit sore from two workouts, rested from yoga nidra, and energized from healthy meals! Who knew this was possible on a press trip?!

Day three took us further into the craggy snow-capped Rockies — Kananaskis Country (which, one of our guides pointed out is spelled like “banana skis” though pronounced like “can uh NAH skiss”). Along the way we discovered that a great new form of road trip entertainment is asking Siri to read aloud texts containing a variety of emojis (medium skin toned man in a sauna, reverse palm hand with middle finger extended). We could see runs from ski resorts featured in the Calgary Olympics as we made our way to the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge (a newly renovated Marriott Autograph Collection hotel). The rooms were adequate though it felt exactly like staying in a standard Marriott hotel room but with urban decorative finishes. However, the rooms hardly mattered. We were there for the Kananaskis Nordic Spa.

You might be in the Canadian Rockies if…

You check into a spa and the robe (translated “house coat” in Canadian) is cut from red and green plaid and contains extra loft for warmth because the spa is outdoors. Kananaskis Nordic Spa is a Scandanavian-style spa where guests are encouraged to cycle through hot, warm, and cold experiences with a rest between cycles. The setting is incredible. Steam wafts up from hot pools, snow blanketing the trails outside the fence, tall narrow lodge pine trees sway gently, and massive granite peaks loom just beyond. There is a “no photos/cameras” policy but it is impossibly tempting to snap a selfie with that backdrop. Yes, the hot features feel great (like the eucalyptus steam room) but the best part is plunging into a cold pool. Ok, maybe not the plunging in. Maybe more of the emerging from. It produces a rush of energy, stimulates your skin to close it’s pores and your immune system to kick in, and actually makes you feel warm when you exit the water.

After spa-ing all afternoon, we freshened up and stopped at the Blacktail Bar in the lobby for a happy hour cocktail. The S’mores Old Fashioned is a must — a marshmallow is brulèed to a graham cracker and inverted onto the glass like a lid, “smoking” the beverage. Dinner at the Cedar Room is a steakhouse-style experience. The elk dish stole the spotlight. Many many dishes and beverages later, we rolled to bed as per the norm on a press trip. And, no, I did not wake up feeling refreshed the next day.

In fact, I woke feeling more than a little rough around the edges until I got some breakfast and coffee in me at The Communitea Cafe in Canmore (quite possibly the most picturesque town ever surrounded by mountains with a little river running though the middle). By the time we finished our noon yoga session at WildHeart, I felt nearly human again.

Once in Banff, we headed straight to the gondola taking the eight minute ride to the top. And it felt like the top of the world. Never have I ever seen so many incredible mountain peaks. I kept trying to capture it on my camera but nothing could do it justice. There’s a short boardwalk hike up to Sanson Peak where I was able to take a 360 degree video. And then I just looked and looked, feasting my eyes on this incredible part of our planet.

Dining at the top of the world can’t be beat — Sky Bistro serves locally grown seasonal vegetables, tasty sandwiches, seafood entrees, and more during the lunch hour. I opted for an Alberta Prime Rib Dip served with crispy fries. When we inquired about ordering a local wine, we lucked out. While the Okanagon-based Noble Ridge “The One” Brut 2014 sparkled all the way into our glasses, who should saunter to our table but the Noble Ridge owners Jim and Leslie D’Andrea who just happened to be having lunch there that day. They gave us a bit of their story sharing that they started their vineyard journey on 1/1/2001 — hence, calling their first sparkling wine “The One.” Leslie gave us their special toast — “Here’s to all of you. You’re the one.” Cheers!

Back down the mountain, we took a very brief drive to the Fairmont Banff Springs for spa treatments and to check out the Willow Stream Spa facilities. It’s hard not to feel like a princess as you walk into a Fairmont with its castle-y chateau grandeur. The spa changing rooms were undergoing their own kind of face lift during our visit but the pool area was gorgeous featuring waterfalls tumbling into hot and cold pools along with a still mineral pool. I decided to hit the steam room one last time as my sinuses were starting to feel the effects of the dry, cold air and high altitude. Unfortunately, that backfired and I got a massive nosebleed immediately prior to my facial treatment. With tissues jammed into one nostril, the poor esthetician graciously worked around my tender infirmity and ignored my noisy mouth breathing. I emerged glowing radiantly. With a huge wad of tissue still corking that untimely eruption.

That evening, our dinner plans had to be modified due to a miscommunication about a reservation. As serendipity would have it, we were treated to a great meal at The Bison Restaurant (or as the Canadians say, “Bizon”) in downtown Banff. Yes, the menu featured bison in many forms like bison tataki — a carpaccio served with ponzu and orange zest. But, holy cow, the squash fritti was otherworldly good — fried delicata squash rings, toasted walnuts, honey, mint, and curried yogurt. I enjoyed a Beavertail Raspberry Ale from The Grizzly Paw Brewing Co. located in Canmore.

We all opted to get up extra early the next morning to catch the sunrise over the Vermilion Lakes just a couple of minutes outside of downtown Banff. The colors were already blazing when we arrived and several other cars were parked along the road, passengers and cameras out. Pointy Mt. Rundle (looking for all the world like Dr. Seuss’s Mt. Krumpit from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas) loomed between the lake and the sunrise. As the initial colors retreated from the clouds, nearly everyone left the lake and they missed the most amazing part. Though we couldn’t quite see the sun yet as it was still low in the sky, the mountain interfered with the light casting a shadow into the sky creating one of the most breathtaking sunrise experiences I have ever witnessed. We’re talking angel choirs- and hallelujah-level amazing — just what I needed to complete the wellness tour.

I left Alberta with body, mind, and spirit recharged. Wellness, check.

Julie Arnan