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Canada’s western wonders

Courtesy Banff and Lake Louise Tourism

As I stood there in my bathing suit, I felt my brain yelling at me not to jump into an outdoor pool within sight of a frozen lake. So I tried to ignore my common sense and leapt into the water before I lost my nerve.

The water brought instant relief, with temperatures closer to those of a hot tub than a traditional swimming pool. I enjoyed the odd juxtaposition of swimming during a snow shower. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge keeps its outdoor pool warm year-round so you can use the pool while staring at the Canadian Rockies’ snowy peaks.

I’m what you might call a winter wimp, since I manage to freeze in the middle of summer if I feel the air conditioning is blowing too cold. So I was a little nervous when I first learned to expect three feet of snow on my Canadian Rockies trip with Collette Vacations last April.

However, in my warm winter clothing, I soon forgot all about the temperature. The majestic scenery was more than enough to focus on as I traveled the route from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Banff, Alberta, in the heart of Canada’s Rocky Mountains.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

My tour began with the 450-foot-long swinging Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver. The steel cable bridge spans 230 feet above the Capilano River and is the only gateway for visitors interested in exploring the site’s dense rain forest.

The bridge reminded me of the swinging bridges I crossed on playgrounds as a child, although I resisted the urge to jump up and down as I used to. Traversing the bridge brought me into the tall forest of ancient firs, hemlocks and redwoods.

“This is a rain forest because it rains a ridiculous amount here,” said Sky Brown, nature guide for the Capilano Suspension Bridge. “The huge Douglas firs around us create a canopy over the forest. There is almost no sun that touches the forest floor because of this.”

I walked across seven more suspension bridges linking several of the giant trees. The bark on some of the trees had grown so thick over hundreds of years that it could withstand forest fires.

After leaving the Capilano Suspension Bridge, I discovered that much of Vancouver is similarly scenic. The area’s gorgeous snow-capped peaks were within sight during much of the city tour as I explored the wild Stanley Park, historic Gastown and colorful Chinatown. Granville Island provided a relaxing way to view the city. After grabbing lunch at the local marketplace, I sat in the outdoor dining area to watch sailboats drift by while musicians played for the crowd. Later that evening, I boarded a train for a scenic trip through the mountains.

The next morning, I awoke to find my room moving. Opening the window shade revealed a dark mountain forest blanketed with snow. It seemed that one night on a train from Vancouver had taken me all the way to Narnia.

Via Rail Canada’s private train cabins allow guests to travel from Vancouver to Jasper in luxury. The train provides freshly cooked meals, a scenic dome car and — happily — even showers.
I soon lay back down in my bed and soaked up the quiet, misty mountain scenery. All the snow lay untouched except for occasional paw prints of animals somehow surviving in the winter wilderness. As the mountains grew higher and steeper, I knew I was close to my first Canadian Rockies destination.