How to Spend a Cozy Winter Getaway in Alberta, Canada

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I never considered myself to be a snow person because it simply wasn't a place my family went growing up. When I went to Jackson Hole last year though, I discovered how many things there are to do beyond simply skiing and snowboarding, and have been dying to get back to the snow ever since. Banff had always been on my bucket list because my mom went 50 years ago and never stopped talking about it—but it blew even my very high expectations out of the water. Here's how we spent a long, cozy weekend in Alberta, Canada: 

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5:00 PM We arrived at our first destination in the early evening after a quick two-hour flight and maybe an hour and a half drive from the Calgary Airport to the Banff Fairmont Springs in our rental car. In other words, we arrived in an exquisite winter wonderland in less time than it takes to get to New York from L.A. I had assumed that all ski resorts are perched atop scary cliff drives, but I couldn't get over how easy it was to get there. We checked into the Fairmont Banff Springs, which even at night, felt straight out of a fairytale. 

7:00 PM For dinner, we went to a place in our hotel called Grapes which is exactly the type of cozy place you want to go after traveling. They had a really delicious smoked fish appetizer, charcuterie spread, and great bread, which is my favorite way to eat. 

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9:00 AM Because we arrived after dark on Wednesday, I felt like a kid running out to see the view in the morning, which was stunning. It felt amazing to be in a cozy hotel room, but still have access to such beautiful, snow-covered views. For breakfast, there wasn't even a discussion - we quickly opted to walk into town and ended up at the Wild Flour Bakery where we got assorted pastries as well as oatmeal and coffee. The town of Banff is so quaint and idyllic, with plenty of shops to walk around and a Christmas shop open year-round. Obviously I scouted out a candy store within minutes (the Banff Sweet Shoppe) because one of my secret talents is tracking down candy within minutes of arriving at any destination... it's actually a little uncanny. 

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1:00 PM After returning to our hotel, we changed into clothes for an ice hike. The weather was spectacular for the entirety of our trip, and I felt warm in my silk long johns, snow pants, a moisture-wicking t-shirt, fleece, puffer, plush gloves, and beanie. 

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1:30 PM We drove out to Johnston Canyon for our guided hike along the catwalks. I have a tendency to get bored on hikes if there isn't enough to see or do, but that wasn't even close to the case between the rock formations and the frozen creek below. Most impressive were the water formations that freeze in pale aqua-blue pillars. At times, you're walking along a cliff with some good drops, but enclosed by a railing the whole time, for a good balance of exciting but still totally safe. We walked up to the highest view where our guide surprised us with maple sandwich cookies and hot chocolate, the perfect treat to have on top of a mountain. 

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4:30 PM Instead of heading directly to our hotel on the way back, we drove a bit past it to get a better glimpse of its sheer size. After taking in the amazing view, we came back, changed, and relaxed a bit before dinner at a place called Three Ravens right in town. A lot of the cuisine around Alberta has a focus on really good meat that's been sustainably farmed. I had a beef tenderloin that was delicious and some great wine before heading back to our hotel for bed.

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8:30 AM The Fairmont Banff Springs has a new couples' suite, so we got massages at 8:30 AM which was such a phenomenal way to wake up in the morning. We padded downstairs in our robes and slippers for a very relaxing morning. 

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10:30 AM G and I know our way around a breakfast buffet and are very discerning, but the one in the Fairmont's Vermillion Room is one of the best we've ever seen, complete with grilled tomatoes, a variety of breakfast meats, and a whole station of different varieties of honeys, breakfast pastries, an omelet station, and fresh-squeezed juices. It was a gorgeous spread with even prettier views. 

12:00 PM After breakfast, we returned to our room to pack and headed in our car to Lake Louise, which was a relatively quick drive, just 45 minutes from Banff. 

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12:45 PM As soon as we arrived at Lake Louise, we dropped off our bags at the hotel we were staying in, The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and went straight to the lake. I'd seen photos of it in the springtime on motivational calendars and on Pinterest because it's the craziest blue color. But, in the winter, it's frozen over, covered in white, and even more stunning. There were kids playing pick up hockey, people ice skating, and people trudging down the middle to walk its length, which is what we promptly did. There were ice sculptures and an ice castle (Sloan's dream home). We went back inside for cocktails and French fries to warm up.

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3:30 PM In the late afternoon, we went for a 45-minute sleigh ride around the lake, which was so cozy and romantic. We made friends on the sleigh and Lloyd, the driver, was so darling and such a wealth of information about Lake Louise and the surrounding area.

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5:00 PM After our sleigh ride, we checked into our room and I immediately got into a bubble bath (a theme during our trip!). We changed and went to Walliser Stube in the hotel for dinner. There's something so special about not having to step outside when it's cold and bundling up with access to incredible views. I'd never done a fondue meal before, but they offered a traditional fondue dinner, starting with a cheese and bread course, followed by a steak course, and a chocolate course with madeleines, profiteroles, and fruit, and plenty of wine. To our surprise, it began snowing as we walked to our room so, of course, we had to race outside to see the ice castle in the snow which was pure magic. 

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8:00 AM We woke up and had breakfast and coffee, before making an impromptu decision to go snowshoeing. We rented snowshoes downstairs in the lobby and set out on a pretty easy loop trail in the mountain, which was so crisp, clear, and quiet as we traipsed through the woods and the perfect final send-off before driving to Calgary. 

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4:00 PM We arrived in Calgary late in the afternoon, took a quick nap at our hotel, Hotel Germain, then went out to dinner at Rouge, in a darling historical home where everyone eats in separate rooms. We sat by the fireplace and enjoyed yet another great charcuterie board situation and were surprised again by snow after dinner. This time I was really surprised in that I was wearing just a chunky sweater, but it's never not magical coming out into surprise snow... 

The hotel we stayed in Calgary wasn't as grand as the Fairmonts we stayed in, but so great in its own right as a really chic boutique hotel. It's also worth mentioning (at least I think it is!) that all of the hotels had really great bath products. The Fairmonts had Le Labo Rose and at Hotel Germain they had Molton Brown, so two of my all-time favorite products. 

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Just like the trip there, the trip back was incredibly simple. Our hotel was just a few minutes from the airport and the rental car return is attached to the airport so you're not exposed to the elements or have to get in any shuttles, which makes a huge difference in my book. As with literally everyone we met in Canada, the people in the airport went out of their way to be kind. When G and I were lugging our bags to a terminal, an airline representative pulled over to give us a lift in her golf cart, which is representative of the generosity offered by every person we came across. 

The whole trip was so seamless and lovely, it makes me question why anyone would ever go to any other snow destination when there is Alberta! 

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