Best Local Ski Resort: Sunshine Village, Banff
Located about 90 minutes west of Calgary, Sunshine is not as large or challenging as the better-known Lake Louise Ski Resort, but it's much more laid back, with long green and blue cruisers. For a romantic weekend, we recommend staying at the hotel at the top of the mountain, accessible only by gondola (once you're there, you're there for the night!). If you plan to ski a lot during the season, but not enough to warrant a season pass, consider buying a Sunshine Super Pass. At $99, the pass will quickly pay for itself after 2 visits; every third visit is free and you will receive big discounts on other visits. And the card covers several resorts including Marmot Basin (below).
Best Destination Ski Resort: Marmot Basin, Jasper, Alberta
Honorable mention: Whitefish Ski Resort, Whitefish, Montana
Both Marmot and Whitefish are located about 5 hours from Calgary. Marmot is northwest near the end of the Icefields Parkway. Whitefish is southwest of Calgary near the twin cities of Whitefish-Kalispell, Montana so you need your passports. Thanks to their remote locations far from any major cities, both resorts have few lift lines and great powder.
Best ski deal: Mt Norquay
Mount Norquay is a small ski resort located just outside of downtown Banff. It's face is nearly always in the shadows so it's frequently plagued by icy conditions. But you can't beat the price. They regularly have "Toonie Tuesday" deals where you pay just $2 Canadian dollars (lots of people call in sick, especially on powder days). On Christmas, they offer free admission if you dress up like a Santa, Elf or Reindeer! We took advantage and skied every Christmas in Calgary.
Best Brewery: Last Best Brewing, 607 11 Ave SW
Longtime readers know Mr. & Mrs. Crab love good beer. When we first moved to Calgary in 2015, there were less than 5 breweries due to some antiquated local laws. The laws were relaxed in 2016 and suddenly overnight there were literally dozens of new breweries sprouting up in and around Calgary. We've been to many of them, but our favorite remains Last Best. Not only do they make our favorite beer but their food is great too (most breweries in Alberta do NOT serve food). Their bar staff is also extremely friendly and knowledgable about their beers.
Favorite SpeakEasy: Betty Lou's Library
Calgary is obsessed with speakeasies - hidden, prohibition era-style bars serving up cocktails and live music. Some guests show up dressed in 1920s flapper dresses and Zoot suits, but not required (although we do recommend dressing up more than your average bar. Business casual at least). Betty Lou's is hidden in the basement of an apartment building, with the entrance behind a fake bookshelf. Reservations are a must, when you will receive your secret password to gain admittance. Finding these speakeasies are half the fun!
Favorite Pizza: LDV
When Two Crabs first moved to Calgary, we were placed in temporary housing above a Subway sandwich shop in the cute little neighborhood of Bridgeland. The smell of fresh bread was a nice wake-up call. But the best part of living here was across the street; LDV Pizza. It's name derives from the former restaurant here, La Dolce Vita. LDV has a real wood-fired oven, serving up real Italian-style pizza with thin and crispy crust (most pizza in Canada is "Chicago style" with thick crust that we really can't stand). LDV also has one of our favorite Austrian beers on tap, Stiegl.
Best Brunch: Dairy Lane Cafe
We went to this place frequently as it was less than 2 blocks from our house. Excellent eggs Benedict's and mimosas. All their food is fresh, real farm-to-table with regularly rotating menu. Honorable mention to their sister restaurant, Blue Star Diner, in Bridgeland.
Best Steakhouse: Chuck's Steakhouse, Banff
Alberta is Canada's Texas. It's all about beef and oil in these parts. And nowhere will you find a juicier more delicious, perfectly-cooked steak than Chuck's. Located in Banff, about 1 hour west of Calgary,
Best Poutine: Kensington Brasserie
Poutine is Canada's stable snack - french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. What makes Kensington's poutine a standout is it's cooked in duck fat. Pure heaven. Their adjoining "Container Bar" is a great place for an evening drink in summer.
Best neighborhood bar: Kensington Pub
Located in Calgary's hip Kensington neighborhood, Kensington Pub stands out among the many bars for its laid back atmosphere and great British pub grub like Yorkshire pudding and Shepherd's Pie. Lots of English Ales on tap.
Most unusual bar: The Barn
Located inside the West Hillhurst Community Center, you would never know this place even contained a bar. We passed by it for many months before realizing there was a bar inside this indoor ice rink. The bar is located on the mezzanine level of the ice rink, with great views of the action below. Say hello to our friend Stacy the server.
Unusual day trip: The Great Canadian Barn Dance
Run by the Kunkel family for generations, this family-run farm hosts weekend dances and live music concerts. You can camp on site as we did. It's about 90 minutes south of Calgary.
Favorite Hike: Nihahi Ridge (aka Nahini Ridge), Kananaskis
Located about 45 minutes west of Calgary, Kananaskis Provincial Park -- known locally as "K-Country", is just as beautiful as Banff National Park but only a fraction of the visitors. This gorgeous hike begins at "Forget-Me-Not Pond", a popular picnic area. The trail begins easy and becomes more moderate near the top as it traverses the spine of Nihahi Ridge, leading to million Canadian dollar views.
Best outdoor event in Canada: Calgary Stampede
The 10-day Calgary Stampede epitomizes the city. Part county fair, part theme park, part music festival, the Calgary Stampede is a celebration of Canadian western lifestyle and hospitality. During the 10 days of Stampede, locals (including US Consulate staff) don Western wear. Businesses offer "pancake breakfasts" on the streets, served up by local dignitaries. If you plan to go more than once, buy the "season pass" that gets you park admission everyday during the festival.
Do this, not that
The city of Banff is indeed one of the most beautiful towns in Canada. Unfortunately, it's been completely taken over by package tour groups and tour buses clogging the roads, especially in the summer. Their New Year's Eve festival and fireworks was one of our favorite events (stay at the YWCA for cheap and clean rooms downtown). When you go to Banff, go on a weekday or shoulder season to avoid the crowds. Better yet, avoid Banff and make the trek to Jasper instead. Jasper is what Banff was 20 years ago. A quaint little town with cute restaurants and shops. Our favorite restaurant in Jasper is Downstream. Jasper is a Dark Sky Preserve, meaning all light pollution is regulated. Jasper hosts the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival which has attracted celebrities such as George Takei of Star Trek and Bill Nye the Science Guy. (Below: Icefields Parkway, the road connecting Banff and Jasper, with many glaciers visible from the roadside).