Winter in New York City is a tame beast compared to winter in the rugged Canadian Rockies, so I was thrilled to join a fam trip to Banff and Lake Louise led by Travel Alberta in February.
It was late afternoon when I checked in to my room at the luxe, alpine-styled Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. I met up with fellow journalists and a few meeting planners for a tour of the hotel’s 36,000 square feet of meeting space, followed by a reception at the hotel’s outdoor ice bar. After cocktails, we took a sleigh ride to Brewster Cowboy’s Barbecue and Dance Barn, a self-enclosed, Western-themed venue on the Fairmont’s grounds. Our final stop of the evening was the hotel kitchen, where we enjoyed tuna carpaccio, a buttery squash bisque, and beef tenderloin in a wild-mushroom jus while executive chef David MacGillivray played some of his favorite classic-rock records to set the mood.
The next morning, we met up bright and early for a dogsled ride with Kingmik, the only company to offer dogsled tours in Banff National Park. After a bracing 10-mile run through the Kicking Horse Pass, we bid farewell to Lake Louise and drove for an hour through gorgeous mountain passes to the Fairmont Banff Springs.
We attended The Gathering, a two-day conference for brand marketers held at the Banff Convention & Business Centre, mere steps from the main wing of the hotel. Airbnb, Lululemon, and Molson Canadian were among the marquee brands that shared their marketing strategies with about 900 other attendees. After the meeting wrapped for the day, we took a tour of the Fairmont’s more than 72,000 square feet of event space, then enjoyed a light dinner and tastings of several local wines at The Wine Store, one of the hotel’s 10 restaurants.
On the second day of The Gathering, I caught up with Airbnb Chief Marketing Officer Jonathan Mildenhall between sessions to get his take on how the sharing-economy giant is affecting meetings. The conference concluded with a seated awards dinner, followed by a rowdy after-party.
Many attendees stayed an extra day for a jaunt to Sunshine Village, a ski resort just 15 minutes from Banff. Our group also struck out for Sunshine Village for a morning of skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoing. I joined several planners for a guided showshoe tour through the snowy woods courtesy of White Mountain Adventures, followed by a simple buffet lunch at the lodge.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped for a site tour of Brewster’s MountView Barbecue, where groups of up to 50 can feast on carved Alberta beef hip with all the trimmings in one of two unique, open-roofed “donut tents.” MountView’s entertainment add-ons include interactive gunfighter shows and First Nations ceremonial dances.
Our final meal together was dinner at The Maple Leaf, a restaurant that’s popular with tourists and locals alike. We sampled a variety of small plates, including tender bison carpaccio, roasted chicken, and salmon with almond-and-olive pesto. It was a fitting farewell to a trip that showcased both the outdoor charms of the Rockies and the unique meeting venues of Banff and Lake Louise.