It was on our fourth day in Banff that I finally got the layers thing down. Getting the layers thing down, I figured out at last, basically just meant putting on my body every single piece of clothing I'd brought to Canada with me, and then a few of Sean's for good measure. For our final day of skiing---this time at Mt. Norquay---I wore two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, tights under my snowpants, a camisole under a long-sleeved thermal tee under a normal long-sleeved tee under an old cashmere sweater of Sean's, a fleece, a ski jacket, and a hat made of alpaca wool. Oh, and a partridge in a pear tree too. Though thinking about it, that partridge was probably overkill.
The funny thing about the Banff-Lake Louise area is that all three of its ski mountains are so vastly different from one another. The terrain is different, the snow is different, and the overall vibe of each is different too. While I'd found Lake Louise most similar to the fairly traditional mountains I'd skied before and Sunshine Village to be unfamiliar but thrilling, Norquay was the mountain that surprised me the most, pretty much because it was so unlike the others.
It's widely known as "the locals' mountain," see, a place where the lift operators greet you by name (and they do!) and parents take their kids to races on Sunday mornings. There was a race going on the morning we were there, actually: two or three dozen pint-sized daredevils, all speeding down the mountain at seven zillion miles an hour on their comically tiny skis. I'll tell you what, there's nothing like realizing that the majority of second-graders are braver than you are to make you question a few key life choices, that's for sure.
At Norquay, we made the acquaintance of Ted (hi, Ted!), who was to be our "snowhost" for the day. An electrician by trade, Ted volunteers one day a week at Norquay and let me tell you, if you're going to Norquay, Ted is the guy you want by your side: he knows everyone---or everyone knows him---and the smiles and handshakes and conversations never stopped all day. It was like skiing with the mayor! Except guess what? THE ACTUAL MAYOR OF BANFF HIMSELF SKIS AT NORQUAY, at least according to a few people I talked to. Being with the ever-popular Ted also meant we probably could have cut to the front of the line a bit if we'd wanted to, but there was never any need because Norquay is notorious for not really having any lines in the first place. Honestly, I don't think we ever waited for a ski lift for more than about seven seconds.
While Norquay isn't quite as fancy as the other resorts, it's refreshingly down-to-earth; most skiers we saw were families, and it even offers hourly rates to let locals squeeze in a few runs during a lunch hour or after work. That's not to say the mountain doesn't have some challenging terrain, though: Sean about fainted dead away when he saw the snowboard park, protesting that he was too old to attempt jumps that high. And as you can see from the video below---look, more vlogging! Extreme vlogging! VLOGGING FROM A MOUNTAINTOP!---even relative newbies like me had to take it slow.
(Seriously, HOW SLOW DO I SKI? I had no idea I skied so slow! Watching this video of myself was like watching paint dry; I kept wanting to push myself a little faster downhill. I think my problem is that I am generally very cautious and meticulous in life and these traits have followed me onto the mountain. Seriously, get yourself a snack before you begin this. Because spoiler alert: it takes me TEN THOUSAND YEARS to get down.)
Anyway, after a hilarious mountain-top slip and slide session, during which Ted totally caught us almost plummeting to our deaths....
....right before he snapped this....
.......we left the mountain exhausted, happy, and in need of either of a very good masseuse, a very large bottle of Baileys, or something better than the two combined. And wouldn't you know it, we found it.
As luck would have it, our new hotel, the Fox Hotel and Suites, was famous for one thing in particular: its awesome grotto-like indoor/outdoor hot tub. I'd seen pictures of this on the website before I arrived, sure, but I wasn't prepared for just how cool it would be in real life. At the Fox, all the rooms are arranged around a central courtyard, and in the middle of the central courtyard is the opening to the awesome indoor/outdoor grotto-like hot tub:
Which is modeled after the famous Banff Springs and, inside, looks a little like this:
(For those playing along on Twitter, this is also where I accidentally wore my diamond engagement ring and then proceeded to FREAK THE FREAK OUT about whether or not I should have done that and whether the chlorine was going to discolor it and cause my fiance to leave me because clearly I wasn't capable of having nice things because I wasn't able to take care of them. For the record, however, my ring seems to be perfectly okay. But quick show of hands: diamonds in hot tubs? Yes? No? Only if you promise to start a band, Holly, and call it Diamonds In Hot Tubs and get that dude from Rock Of Love to be the lead singer and Tila Tequila to sing backup?)
The Fox, in general, was a pretty great hotel: the rooms were a little smaller than those at the Deer Lodge in Lake Louise had been, but they were brand new and imbued with a cute, cozy charm. The flat-screen TV pleased Sean---it was Superbowl Sunday, after all---and the almost supernaturally comfortable bed pleased me; I doubt I have ever slept as well before, nor will I ever again. I think it had something to do with the pillows. Or maybe it was just that I'd been throwing myself down a mountain all day.
For dinner on Sunday night, we made the ten-minute stroll into the heart of Banff---a super easy walk from the hotel, although the front desk will also give you free passes for a shuttle bus that runs up and down Banff Avenue---and found ourselves getting lost on the way to The Bison, a new-ish restaurant in a "green" building that I'd heard quite a bit about. The great thing about Banff, however, is that all the street names are animals, and so it's entirely possibly to say things like "I'm on the corner of Wolf and Caribou" or "I'll just wait for you here at Bear and Grizzly." This makes being lost....well, not exactly fun, but certainly more amusing.
The food at The Bison turned out to be insanely good, and we ate an awful lot, including the contents of two of their bread baskets, although we can hardly be blamed for that, because they came accompanied by what is possibly the most brilliant invention ever: a dish of butter COVERED IN OLIVE OIL, SPRINKLED IN SEA SALT. Yes, you heard that right: butter, oil, and salt ALL IN ONE PLACE, just begging to be sopped up with a crusty piece of bread. Seriously, who made this decision? Who figured this out? Come here, sir, I would like to shake you by the hand.
The most awesome part of our meal, however, was our waitress, an Australian girl who looked a little like the actress who plays Meredith's sister on Grey's Anatomy and who, upon bringing us our desserts----homemade s'more for me, caramel-apple upside-down cake for Sean---smiled when I said that they looked "a little avant-garde." (They did! They were super wacky! And in enormous bowls!) After we'd made our way about halfway through them, she wandered over again and said---with a perfectly straight face---"are you enjoying your large, avant-garde desserts?" That is pretty much the most awesome thing a waitress has ever said to me. I mean, honestly, Banff, like I even needed another reason to fall in love with you.