Adjacent to the gondola's lower terminal and parking lot is welcome relief--the Upper Hot Springs Pool, where the average water temperature is a pain-relieving 89 degrees Fahrenheit. It's open year-round. Winter hours: 2 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Adults: $1.75, children $1.
Banff has a nice mix of eateries, ranging from Le Beaujolais--the consensus choice as the best in town--to Joe's Btfsplk's Diner, which is proof that even our neighbors to the north have picked up on diner hysteria.
Le Beaujolais (212 Buffalo St., just off Banff Avenue) proved as good as its billing. The poached salmon from British Columbia, with a light dill sauce, was superb. So was the setting--a rustic, second-floor room with low lighting and a river view. Ask for a window seat. Dinner for two, with wine, will be about $85 Canadian ($60 U.S.). Reservations: (403) 762-2712 or (403) 762-5365.
Joe's Btfsplk's Diner offers good burgers on whole wheat buns, homemade ice cream and a bakery with some of the biggest and stickiest cinnamon buns you'll ever find. For $6 you can try to break the diner's biscuit-eating record. As of last week it was 12, by a visitor from London. If you succeed, you'll get your money back plus a T-shirt. Pass the butter.
Greek fare is offered at the Balkan Restaurant (120 Banff Ave.; try the moussaka), while the Grizzly House (207 Banff Ave.) specializes in fondue dining. If you've somehow managed to avoid buffalo or caribou or chocolate fondue over the years, don't fret; you can get it there, along with 11 other kinds of fondue.
If you have time, stop at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies (111 Bear St.), which chronicles the cultural history of Banff and the mountains of western Canada. Winter hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (open till 9 p.m. Thursday). Admission: $2, students and seniors $1, children under 12 free.
Another cultural highlight of this area is the prestigious Banff Centre, which opened in 1933 and is considered one of the major fine arts training grounds in North America. It's considered a Canadian version of the Juilliard School, only a better-kept secret. Students come here to study drama, music, ballet and voice/opera. Notable is the annual Banff Summer Showcase (June through August) and the Banff Festival of the Arts. For scheduling information: Banff Centre, Box 1020, Banff, Alberta, Canada TOL OCO, phone (403) 762-6100.
For those who prefer leaving the driving to others, Brewster Transportation & Tours offers a five-hour bus tour of the Banff area for $22, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the downtown bus depot.
Banff offers a number of moderately priced accommodations. Most are in the $75 range (Canadian). With the still-favorable exchange rate of 1.23 Canadian dollars for each American dollar, good deals abound.
Among those recommended: the Aspen Lodge, Cascade Inn, Pinewoods Motel & Chalets and Traveller's Inn. All are centrally located on Banff Avenue. The Banff Rocky Mountain Resort (also on Banff Avenue) offers condominiums for rent. In addition, private homes have available room rentals at different times of the year.
For more information on accommodations, contact Banff/Lake Louise Central Reservations, Box 1628, Banff, Alberta, Canada TOL OCO, phone (403) 762-5561, or the Banff Bed & Breakfast Bureau at Box 369. Call (403) 762-5070.
Still, if you can manage it, try Ivor Petrak's "house" this year to help celebrate the grand lady's centennial. They've built a 246-room structure adjacent to the hotel, the Banff Springs Manor, that is near completion. Eventually, a walkway will connect the Manor to the hotel proper.
Who knows, you may even get to meet Mr. P himself--he'll be the pleasant chap with the firm handshake, spirited laugh and disarming smile.
Then again, who \o7 wouldn't\f7 smile if they lived here all the time?
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Banff Springs Hotel, Box 960, Banff, Alberta, Canada TOL OCO, telephone (403) 762-2211. Rates (double occupancy, Canadian dollars): February, $154 or $186 (depending on view), with Jacuzzi $205 or $225; March through mid-May (low season), $95 or $115, with Jacuzzi $165 or $180; mid-May through September (high season), $160 or $195, with Jacuzzi $215 or $235.
Chateau Lake Louise, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada TOL 1EO, telephone (403) 522-3511. Rates (double occupancy): Feb. 6-29, $154 (mountain view) or $186 (lake view); March through June 2, Oct. 10 to Dec. 23 (low season), $95 or $115; June 3 to Oct. 9, $160 or $195.
Note: Both the Banff Springs Hotel and the Chateau Lake Louise still have some rooms available during the Olympics. In addition, there are an estimated 700 rooms still unreserved in other hotels and motels throughout the Banff area.