We had campsite reservations for the next two nights at the Lake Louise Campground. We would be living a completely opposite lifestyle from what we had at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise a few nights earlier and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel the night before. We loved what luxurious wilderness lodging had to offer, but we were also looking forward to roughing it for a couple nights. I had spent all my time camping out in National Parks in the past, so staying in lodges was new to me. I loved being able to sleep in a warm comfortable bed, because I often struggled with sleep in a tent. But I missed grilling my own dinner and relaxing by a campfire.
It was still morning when we arrived back at Lake Louise. It was too early to check-in at the campground so we decided to go to the Lake Louise Ski Area to ride the sightseeing gondola. The ski resort is only a five minute drive from the village of Lake Louise.
We arrived at the expansive ski resort, which had an enormous parking lot at its base. In front of the lot was the Lodge of the Ten Peaks, the ski area’s massive post-and-beam day lodge. It looked like a gigantic log cabin. We walked inside to inquire about taking the gondola ride high up the mountain.
The wooden lodge was cavernous inside. There was a huge cafeteria on the main floor and a sizable ski shop on the lower level. The place was crowded, but I’m sure it couldn’t compare to what it’s like in the middle of winter.
We proceeded to the sales counter and learned we had two options. The cost of the gondola ride was $26 per person. That sounded a little expensive, but we could tack on the lunch buffet for just $7 extra. We really wanted to take the ride up the mountain, so we figured the package deal was a no-brainer.
Jasper and Banff also have gondola rides high up mountains, but an added bonus at Lake Louise is the strong possibility of wildlife sightings. Grizzly bears top the list of animals that frequent the ski area.
Once we exited the spacious lodge we found out there was a grizzly bear currently on the mountainside. It was pretty high up one of the ski runs. Even through my telephoto lens it looked like little more than a large brown lump in the grass. I hoped we would get a closer view along our ride up the mountain.
There are two ways to ascend the mountain. There are fully enclosed cable cars and open-air traditional ski lift chairs. We went with the open-air choice since we figured we would have a better, clearer view. I was hoping to photograph a grizzly, not to mention some awesome alpine scenery.
We walked over to the base of the ski lift and turned in our tickets. Then we followed the workers instruction and waited on a platform for an open chair to swing around to us. Once it arrived we quickly sat and pulled a long bar down over us to act as a large metal seat-belt. The chair was wide enough for four passengers, so we had ample room. My legs swung freely as we were whisked up the side of Whitehorn Mountain.
The grizzly bear we had seen from afar had since disappeared, but great views along our lengthy ascent made up for that. We passed over stretches of open meadows and dense forest. It took us fourteen minutes to climb almost 1,500 feet in elevation. The time passed swiftly, because we were busy scanning the mountainside for bears and enjoying the surrounding scenery. The ride was smooth except for when the chair passed over one of the huge poles that supported the cable. I surprisingly wasn’t scared along our journey into the sky considering my fear of heights. I felt more safe and comfortable up on the chair than I expected.
It was much colder high on the mountain than down at the lodge. Thankfully we dressed fairly warm and weren’t planning on spending too much time up there. There are a few trails near the top of the lift that vary greatly in difficulty. Some are short and easy strolls, while others are more challenging. There’s even a very difficult hike that climbs almost 2,000 more feet up to reach the summit of Whitehorn Mountain. We were content making the brief jaunt over to a large viewing platform elevated off the mountainside.
The views were astounding. We could see far and wide to colossal mountains spanning the horizon. It was top of the world scenery at its finest. The massive mountains to the west made up the Continental Divide. Their summits were covered with snow. Dramatic peaks and valleys filled the view to the west. Between us and the huge mountains to the west was the Bow River Valley. We watched as the river, which looked miniscule from there, snaked its way through the region.
The best part of the view was seeing Lake Louise from a far different perspective. The gorgeous teal-colored lake looked tiny in the bottom of a colossal cirque. When we were down at the lakeshore two days earlier the lake looked large and the mountains around it gargantuan and steep. But from far away and high above, the surrounding peaks formed what looked like half of a steep-sided bowl with the lake at the bottom. The lake and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on its eastern shore were dwarfed by the immense mountains. I needed to use my telephoto lens to be able see the lake and hotel well.
We spent some time up on the viewing platform admiring the endless views. But soon we grew cold so we returned to the top of the chair lift. We enjoyed the romantic ride down the mountain together, watching the views change as we dropped in elevation. Then we returned to the Lodge of the Ten Peaks for our lunch buffet. The lunch wasn’t great, but the gondola experience was well worth the price of admission.