48 Hours In Canmore
This Rocky Mountain jewel makes for a perfect keeping-it-real weekend of food with a view.
If Banff is your staid rich uncle prone to furs and bourbon in pricey hotel lounges, Canmore is an adorable cousin in a Patagonia puff vest with a penchant for craft beer. The former is cozy, but the latter is more fun and knows how to eat. Cosmopolitan eating and drinking establishments abound in Canmore, with plenty of options for working up an appetite that don’t necessarily involve skiing.
If only the most historically rich hotel in town were also the loveliest; alas, a night at the 125-year-old Canmore Hotel involves sharing a bathroom with strangers. At $45 per night (no reservation required—in fact, you can’t even make one), the “Ho” is the cheapest place in town by far but, as the front desk clerks are apt to tell you, “the price reflects the quality of the room.” Instead, head to their pub for a beer and a night of live musical entertainment, then give in to more luxurious digs at one of those gigantic earth-toned condo units on the east side of town. While the Blackstone Lodge and Stoneridge Resort may be the sorts of places one might sidestep if seeking an idiosyncratic experience, here, these fit the bill: comfortable, walkable to downtown and in view of the Three Sisters peaks. Rates vary depending on the level of rustic-luxe you seek. Blackstone Lodge is polished and family-friendly (but no dogs), with suites starting at $170 for a hotel room and $899 for a four-bedroom penthouse. Turn on the fireplace and spend what’s left of your evening playing board games in your suite. (The front desk will lend you Cranium or a surprisingly challenging puppy jigsaw puzzle.)
No secret to locals hungry for virtuous yet wickedly delicious breakfasts of warm apple crumble topped with organic house-made granola, Communitea is a low-on-the-radar national treasure of intimate coffeehouse musicality. This is where the likes of Ron Sexsmith and Whitehorse stop to play a set after selling out larger venues in Calgary the night before; go for breakfast, and head back later in the day to rock out with an indie band and a mug of Earl Grey. After breakfast, you’re pretty much obligated to do something sweaty with a mountain view. If snowboarding at nearby Nakiska or Norquay isn’t your bag, walk west down Main Street until it dead-ends in a residential cul-de-sac. You’ll see a marked footpath on your left; head up toward the river, take a right and enjoy a stroll across the Bow River on a scenic old trestle bridge and into the trees.
Once you’ve walked off breakfast, you’ll want to head back down Main Street, where Curly Wurly bars and 10-kilo boxes of Blue Whales beckon from the Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe. Another block up is the fantastic Gingerella—a shoe store with few equals in the province.
If you book ahead, you can spend the rest of your day cooking and eating at the Paintbox Lodge, a boutique hotel owned by Olympic and World Cup ski-race couple Sara Renner and Thomas Grandi. Winter classes in the lodge’s Miele kitchen, known as “the Box,” include Classic French Bistro, Indian, favourites from The Skoki Cookbook and a hands-on tutorial on how to “Eat Like an Olympian.”
Otherwise, if you like Murrieta’s in Calgary, you’ll love it in Canmore: vaulted ceilings and mountain views plus Brome Lake duck breast. Friendly, fun and meaty, Gaucho Brazilian Barbecue will dispel any lingering misconceptions that you’ve stumbled into an earnest hippie-granola mountain town. Churrasco-style skewers as long as ski poles will likewise dispel any misconceptions that you’d have room for dessert.
Nothing works up an appetite like traversing hip-deep powder on snowshoes. Start at Rummel Lake, 40 kilometres south of Canmore in Spray Valley Provincial Park (get directions at albertaparks.ca). Five kilometres and 400 metres of elevation later, you’ll arrive at Mount Engadine Lodge, where $17.50 will buy you space in a comfy chair in front of a stone fireplace and, most importantly, a substantial afternoon tea of cheese, salads, fruit, pastries and whatever else the chef puts out that day. Canmore Nordic Centre, where Olympic cross-country skiers train and the rest of us try to keep up, is a more contained but equally bracing place to work up a winter sweat.
The drive back to Calgary can get a little crowded at the end of the ski day, so grab lunch at the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company with a Genoa salami pizza for the road. (RMFC has sister restaurants in Vancouver.) The Trans-Canada will be wide open—and you’ll be back soon enough.