Christmas in the Canadian Rockies

Christmas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Spend Christmas cozy and carefree by a crackling fire at Banff’s Buffalo Mountain Lodge. All photos Jason Dziver

Creating a Christmas card perfect
holiday in the mountains

The snow is so thick, it’s a small miracle that the horse-drawn sled full of wide-eyed, carefully bundled guests is able to make its way around the ice-covered lake. Laughing skaters glide up and down the ice, having just strapped blades to their feet for the very first time. Once inside, with cheeks still rosy and hair well-mussed by wooly winter hats, the tired skaters sit back in the luxury of a toasty lounge, where they sink into velvety chairs in front of a crackling fireplace, while sipping steamy Bailey’s-spiked coffee, frothy eggnog and mulled wine. Their children giggle over their own cups of hot chocolate, conspiring over who will try to stay awake past midnight to listen for Santa and his reindeer landing on the lodge’s roof. The cozy retreat overlooks the majesty of the Rocky Mountains sparkling under a fresh blanket of snow illuminated by the stars of the vast Alberta sky.

Have a white Christmas at a Rocky Mountain resort

This winter wonderland, so perfect that it could be captured on a Christmas card (and sometimes is), isn’t a scene from a movie — it’s the reality that visitors to Alberta’s most prestigious Rocky Mountain resorts will experience when they seek out a real white Christmas in Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper. While spending Christmas in a hotel may sound like sacrilege to some, the lure is a hassle-free holiday, complete with gourmet meals, fresh-cut Christmas trees so high they graze the ceilings of the region’s most grandiose hotel lobbies, and best of all, a near-guarantee of snow.

“A lot of overseas travellers never get a white Christmas, and it’s something they want to experience at least once in their life,” says Martin Parkes, lodge manager at Banff’s Buffalo Mountain Lodge.

For that Christmas-card-perfect holiday experience, the best trick is to get situated in the warmth of one of the Rockies’ famed luxury resorts. These include the boutique, log-and-stone Buffalo Mountain Lodge, the palatial Fairmont Banff Springs and the cozy and contemporary Rimrock Resort Hotel. Slightly further afield, if you’re arriving at Calgary International Airport, are The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Jasper Park Lodge. Each resort has its own slate of Christmas activities, ranging from movies and family craft-making sessions to wine tastings and ritzy receptions hosted by the hotels’ managers, for those looking for a more sophisticated take on holiday cheer. Special events include a yule log ceremony and Christmas Day afternoon tea at the Banff Springs, a s’mores skating party at The Rimrock, country Christmas barn dances (guests are transported via horse-drawn sleigh) at Chateau Lake Louise and Christmas church services at Jasper Park Lodge.

Christmas in the Canadian Rockies

Cut house cleaning and food prep out of your Christmas equation and simply soak up your surroundings at one of Alberta’s mountain park hotels. Photo Jason Dziver

While small details like Christmas trees in private rooms, gift wrapping and ensuring gifts from Santa are delivered are of concern to many visitors, the biggest question is “What’s for dinner?” The larger resorts each feature several dining rooms offering a number of food options for December 24 and 25 ranging from buffet dinners to high-end plated meals. Suffice it to say, turkey with all the trimmings will be served, but most hotels also offer a premium cut of Alberta beef, an indulgent seafood dish and a chef-driven vegetarian entree.

Some travellers choose to spend their holidays in the luxury resorts to avoid the stress and work that accompany traditional family Christmas at home, but for others, the pull of outdoor recreation is what brings them to the mountains. Downhill skiing and snowboarding can be found within easy distance of the town of Banff and other mountain resorts. Most hotels also offer immediate or nearby access to snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, curling and other activities.

Whether they’re staying in a hostel, discount hotel or five-star hotel, the town of Banff brings the Christmas dream alive for visitors at street level. The town’s parade of restaurants, shops and holiday-themed activities play off its Rocky Mountain setting in a way that sings “Christmas” all December long.

Getting there

Access the town of Banff from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) by taking Highway 1, then turning off at the Banff exit (approximately 145 kilometres). The Fairmont Banff Springs is accessible by taking Banff Avenue west to Spray Avenue and The Rimrock Resort Hotel can be found by taking Banff Avenue west to Mountain Avenue. Buffalo Mountain Lodge is on the other side of town: take Banff Avenue east from downtown Banff and access the lodge via Tunnel Mountain Road.

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