“We can handle a little elevation,” I told the fit, young park interpreter at the Banff Tourist office, even though I really can’t. He had just looked us up and down and suggested we hike the Johnson Canyon. “It’s only 2 k round trip and quite flat,” he said to sell it. I was mildly offended.
Sulphur Mountain, named after the sulfur hot springs at the base stands at the edge of town and rises to an elevation of 2,451 metres. The trailhead, located at the parking lot for Banff Hot Springs starts at 1580 metres. We are here to ski, but have arrived a day early for some sight-seeing. Our ski package included a bunch of coupons, one was free access to the hot springs. It seemed like a good idea to hike and soak afterward.
The trail climbs almost 750 metres in a gorgeous 5.5k switchback trail. The trailhead sign warns that the trail is difficult and strenuous, and it is but you only need to hike one-way, as the gondola ride down is free. The entire trail is steadily up, but not terribly steep. There are steeper sections at the base and near the top. When you need to pause to catch your breath, there are plenty of photo ops of the emerging view of Banff as you climb higher and higher. Once at the top the view is apparently magnificent. I say apparently because a snowstorm rolled in as we hiked and completely obliterated it. I’ve downloaded a nice photo of it for you, but we couldn’t see a thing from up there. An hour after we descended, the snowstorm was over. Missed it by that much.
We took the gondola ride down, and like proper skiers thought nothing of it. I did ask at the base how much the ride up cost, and was absolutely shocked at the $65 per person price tag. All those people up there paid that much and saw nothing but snow. We followed up the hike with a free soak in the hot springs.
As we soaked, the conversations around us were like the United Nations of world languages. One of the best things about visiting Banff is the international nature of the visitors. We cut our soak short to go tap the keg. Time to get this ski party started.