TwoCrabs' Best of Calgary awards


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).


Canada: Redux

I've been horrible about blogging, mainly because I just don't have the time and it seems like blogs are so 2012. Does anybody care or read blogs anymore? I rarely do.  But, I thought I'd blog today because it's on my to-do list and also because I've been home sick with the flu for the past 3 days and getting really bored.  I'm long gone from Canada. I'm actually in Afghanistan now.  But here's some photos of some of my favorite places seen from Calgary:


Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in March


Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in March



Downtown Calgary in the Fall.


Lake Louise Ski Resort, with Lake Louise visible in the distance.


Sunshine Ski Resort


Waterton National Park


The U.S.-Canadian border. No walls, no fences, no hedges. Just a clearcut in the forest and simple stone obelisk with "USA" written on one side and "Canada" on the other. Glacier National Park, Montana, USA is to the left (south) of this obelisk and Waterton National Park, Alberta, Canada is to the right (north). 



Snow festival castle in Yellowknife, NWT


Tuktoyuktuk, a small fishing village on the Arctic Ocean, Northwest Territories - well above the Artic Circle.


Flying above the MacKenzie Delta toward Tuktoyuktuk. The delta is the second largest in the Western Hemisphere after the Mississippi Delta.


Formerly the end of the road in Inuvik, NWT. The road has since been extended all the way to Tuktoyuktuk in the Artic Ocean.


Tuktoyuktuk, a small fishing village on the Arctic Ocean, Northwest Territories - well above the Artic Circle.


In praise of: Calgary Stampede


Full disclosure: before we were assigned to Calgary, I had never heard of the Calgary Stampede -- billed as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth".  The Stampede is part rodeo, part state fair, this quintessential Canadian event was actually started by an American -- promoter Guy Weadick.

It's no surprise Calgary was chosen for this mega rodeo. Calgary is to Canada what Houston is to the U.S., a boom town built on the oil and gas industry. But before there was oil, there were cows. Lots and lots of cows. Hence Calgary's other nickname: Cowtown. Outside of Calgary in the plains of Alberta, real cowboys still roam.

But for 10 days in July, everyone in Calgary is a cowboy or cowgirl. Folks wear jeans, plaid shirts, big shiny belt buckles and cowboy boots, of course.  Another Calgary tradition: the pancake breakfast. Many companies and social organizations host free pancake breakfasts throughout the city, sometimes 100 different events per morning. The costumes, parades, decorations and pancakes all lead up to the Stampede. It could take you 3 straight days and you would still not see every attraction, food stall, dog show, or ride every ride.  Just $8 Canadian dollars (about $6 U.S. bucks) lets you roam the grounds for an entire day. Of course, you can still go broke buying drinks, junk food, ride tickets and tickets to headline concert events.

And of course the rodeo tickets. During the day, the Stampede grounds host a traditional rodeo with bull riding and barrel racing. At night, the shows start with the ground-shaking chuckwagon races, followed by a Vegas-style glitzy show and fireworks. Here's looking forward to the next Stampede!

More images from Calgary Stampede 2016:





How we learned to stop worrying and love Canadian winters

When we were first assigned to Calgary, everyone warned us of the horrible the winters that lay ahead. They don't call Canada "the Great White North" for nothin'! Some of the more bleak predictions warned of regular -40 degree days (note: -40 is where celsius and fahrenheit meet). 

We took the warnings to heed, physically and psychologically preparing ourselves for what would surely be the longest winter of our lives. We spent a lot of money on winter tires (a MUST) and super warm parkas (maybe a must depending on your tolerance for cold. But you don't need to spend $1K on a Canada Goose). We got a good snow shovel and ice melting salt. We bought new gloves, hats, scarves. We prepped our house, storing everything in the garage. We stocked up on bulk food and products from Costco, under the assumption that we would be spending a lot of weekends and nights stuck in the house. 

It hasn't turned out that way. More than halfway through the winter, our description of 2015-2016 winter has been: meh! Turns out, it's been one of the most mild winters in history. Granted, we've had a few cold spells. The coldest day we experienced in Calgary was -13F (-25c) in late December.  There were weeks in December and January when the temperature never got above freezing, and we've had a few snow "storms". Fun fact: it doesn't snow in Calgary as much as on the east coast. And when it does, it's rarely more than 3-5 inches, and the snow is so fluffy and powdery, you can sweep it away with a broom. But even when the temperatures dipped into single digits, it's soon followed by the warming phenomenon known as "Chinooks" -- a warm dry wind from the Pacific that blows over and down the east side of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. When the Chinook winds roll into Calgary, the temperatures can rise from 10F to 30F in just a few hours!  (It was 55 and sunny in Calgary today, while it was only 31 and snowing in NYC today). 

The Two Crabs have EMBRACED the winter. We've gone skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding. We have no problem with bundling up and walking 1 mile in the snow to our neighborhood pubs. As devoted skiers, we've explored several of the world class ski resorts within a 2 hour drive of Calgary (more details in a future post). And we've welcomed 5 wonderful friends to our home in fall and winter, including two dear friends who visited us in the dead of winter in January. We've experienced activities we never would have done human curling! And in a few weeks we will be heading to Yellowknife, a city near the arctic circle most famous as being one of the top places in the world to view the aurora borealis -- the Northern Lights. 

A few photos from our first Canadian winter:



Top places to experiencing winter in Alberta:

Best ski resort: Sunshine Village, Banff

Best place to learn to ski: Calgary Olympic Park, Calgary

Best dog-sledding tour company: Snowy Owl Tours in Canmore, AB

Best snowmobiling company: White & Wild, Golden, BC

Best hotel: Fairmont Lake Louise