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The Mature Traveler

May and October in the Canadian Rockies

June 26, 1988|BILL HUGHES | Hughes is a 30-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks

If you advise mature travelers that the best time to beat the crowds and high prices of the Canadian Rockies is during May or October, you may hit a snag. They've no doubt heard that the temperature hovers around 5 degrees during those months.

That even sounds about right for the northerly province of Alberta, which holds one of North America's largest collections of glaciers and icefields within its mountainous folds.

But this is metric-minded Canada and that 5 degrees is Celsius, which corresponds to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It's the median for the entire month and for each 24-hour day. Actually, during the last half of May and in early October midday temperatures are in the mid-50s to 70s.

On a recent trip in late May folks were out in shorts and T-shirts in Banff and Jasper, and were even sunbathing in Calgary and Edmonton.

In the higher elevation of Lake Louise, where the lake was still frozen over, or along the scenic Icefield Parkway into Jasper, temperatures were cooler and a sweater or light jacket was comfortable.

Mirrored Mountains

In early October the temperatures are slightly warmer during the day and the lakes are not yet frozen, so you can get plenty of those great mirror-image photographs of the Canadian Rockies. And there's the bonus of spectacular fall coloring--golden groves of aspen standing out against the verdant green fir and pine forests.

Except for adventure activities such as white-water rafting, climbing or pack trips, almost all tourist-oriented happenings are offered in May and October, including aerial tram rides. The one notable exception are the big Brewster Snocoaches atop the Athabasca Glacier; they start in late May and go until Sept. 29.

The summer or peak season for the Rockies resort trio of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper (plus or minus a few days for individual hotels) is June 1 to Oct. 1. The short four-month peak commands the highest rates.

But the cost of the same accommodations during mid-May and early October is 20% to 25% lower.

Difficult to find at any time, but doubly so during the peak season at Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, are mature or senior discounts.

In the "Alberta Accommodations Guide" only two of the 40 hotels and resorts in Banff quote the availability of senior rates, and just one of the 20 resorts in Jasper. None of the eight properties in Lake Louise mentions any senior discounts.

One reason is that even though this is one of North America's most scenic areas, there are fairly limited accommodations. Combined with the short summer season and normal vacation crowds, no resort or hotel needs to discount rooms to draw such discretionary-time travelers as seniors.

During the May and October off-season almost every resort and hotel has an across-the-board drop of 20% to 25%. To add another 10% or more for a senior discount just to turn on the no-vacancy sign for the night would cut deeply into their profit margin.

Keep in mind that the Canadian dollar automatically provides U.S. visitors with roughly another 20% when translated into our dollars. All factors considered, mature traveler discounts or not, the area is a bargain . . . and more so during May and October.

For seniors 65 and older, Air Canada makes it even better with a special senior fare from Sept. 9 to Dec. 16. Round-trip air from Los Angeles to Calgary, jumping-off spot for the Canadian Rockies, will be $202, tax included. Normal economy-class round-trip fare for the 2 1/2-hour flight is $422.

This is the best deal for seniors. Real bargain hunters will find a few other airline fares that are a few dollars cheaper, but they are for fixed dates, with no refunds for cancellations or, at the very least, a sizable charge for them. Senior fares with Air Canada, for only a few dollars more, are completely refundable in case of cancellation for any reason.

Although individual senior discounts on accommodations are infrequent in the Canadian Rockies, group rates are not, especially during May and October. And group rates are even better buys than any senior discount.

That's why many savvy senior clubs and organizations in Southern California are discovering Alberta in the fall, when a great combination of airline and hotel rates are available, the weather is great and the foliage spectacular.

Some have also discovered the similar advantages of a tour in late May, when alpine meadows are alive with new growth, wildflowers and photogenic wildlife. On my trip there were elk, moose, mountains goats and bighorn sheep, often so close to the roads that I half-suspected that the local tourist office had rented them for the occasion.

My companion and mentor on this trip, Bill Siefke of Great Western Travel, was checking arrangements for a series of fall senior tours to the area and making plans for similar ventures for next May. It was a learning experience for me, seeing what a conscientious senior tour planner looks for and expects to get when he takes a motor coach full of tour members into an area.

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