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).


Ski Bears Town! (베어스타운)


It's time for another episode of The Two Crabs Guide to Skiing Korea! The final resort we are reviewing this season is Bears Town. This small resort is located less than 45 minutes northeast of downtown Seoul. With just a handful of slopes and creaky slow-ass chair lifts, and mostly man-made snow, there's not much to say. Bears Town is the place you go when you don't have time to head east to Yongpyong or High 1. 

2010317141539882i That said, it's not a bad little neighborhood hill. Most of the slopes are green and gentle. It's a good place to learn to ski. The longest "challenge" run would barely qualify as an advanced beginner slope in Austria. As for amenties, there's a small lodge with lockers, a KFC and a few snack shacks. There's also a hotel and youth hostel but I can't imagine why anyone would want to stay there overnight. You can ski the entire mountain several times over in a 4-hour time blocks offered. Tip: if you pay with a visa card, you can get 40% off your lift pass.

On this visit, Mr. Crab tried his hand at snowboarding. Mind you, this is only the third time in my life that I've stepped foot in a snowboard. As my past attempts, I spent the better part of the day on my ass or falling on my head. But after about 2 hours of tumbling, I managed to stay up long enough to do the "falling leaf" and link 1 or 2 turns. But you just can't teach this old dog new tricks...I'll stick to skiing.  

More scenes from Bears Town:



Ski High 1! (하이원!)



During the 2013-2014 Ski Season, the Two Crabs had the opportunity to sample four of Korea's major ski resorts: Yongpyong, Phoenix Park, Bears Town and High 1 Resort. Of those, HIGH 1 is by far the tops! The Two Crabs visited High 1 during the American President's Day holiday weekend with dozens of friends and colleagues. 

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 9.00.57 PM High 1 is a four-hour drive from downtown Seoul, located in the southeast corner of Gangwon province. It's certainly not the closest, but it's worth the drive. At 1,367m (4,484 ft), High 1 is the highest elevation and most snow-sure of Korea's ski resorts, hene the name. 

Don't let the poorly-designed piste ski map steer you wrong: this place is HUGE. 18 runs. 3 gondolas. 6 chairlifts. The resort is a huge horseshoe-shaped bowl, with all the runs dumping into a common mid-station before ending in a gentle green slope down to the base village.

There's something for everyone here. For beginners, there are several gentle, long lazy green slopes. For experts, there are actually some honest-to-gods challenging (albeit short) slopes to tackle. Non-skiers will find dozens of restaurants and cafes, a huge casino and great accomodations. Our group of 6 stayed in a large, 2-bedroom Mountain Condo with heated ondol floors. Our hotel complex even had several outdoor hot tubs!

High 1 has one major negative point in our book: the slopes are "dry". You won't find a drop of alcohol for sale at any of the slopeside restaurants, cafeterias and cafes. The only place to find booze at High 1 is the lone convenience store at the base station, the casino, or bring it with you. As noted before on this blog, Koreans have yet to embrace the Apres Ski scene! 

A few more scenes from High 1:

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Ski Phoenix Park! (휘닉스파크)


Korea got a nice dumping of snow on Saturday.  So early Sunday morning, the Two Crabs and an FSO friend hit the slopes, this time at Phoenix Park in Pyeongchang county, South Korea.  It seemed a fitting location this week, as Phoenix Park will be the site of the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events at the 2018 Winter Olympics!  

IMG_2130Quick recap on Phoenix Park: It's about half the size of Yeongpyeong - Korea's largest ski resort that will serve as the main venue for the 2018 Winter Olympic events. The runs aren't as long, and there are only a few short "expert" slopes.  Phoenix is in the Olympic spirit, sporting a huge LED Olympic "torch" outside the resort entrance.

Architectually, Phoenix Park may not be much to look at, but it has a little more character. There's a ski village on the road to the slopes with "minbaks" (basic B&Bs), ski shops and restaurants. The prices are cheaper than purpose-built Yeongpyeong and it's 30 minutes closer to Seoul.  There's even a couple of mid-slope restaurants. Interestingly, it seemed like 80%+ visitors to Phoenix Park were snowboarders, whereas Yeongpyeong was about 50/50 skiers vs. boarders. Not surprising since Phoenix has a huge freestyle park with half-pipe.  


Tip: You can get a 25% discount simply by asking.  We paid $45 for a 5-hour lift ticket...with 25% discount. I'm told diplomats and U.S. Forces Korea military personnel & dependents can get up to 40% discount, but your results may vary.

Some more scenes from Phoenix Park:


Don't Drink & Ski!?!? So why do many of the restaurants serve 1.5L-sized beers? 



Typical Apres Ski fare: Bulgogi beef with rice, pork cutlet with gravy, and side dishes of kimchi, radishes, miso soup, plus Cass Korean beer! Incidentally, just like Yeongpyeong, Koreans at Phoenix Park still have not discovered the pleasure of "Apres Ski".  At every stop, Americans and Europeans were the only people drinking beer. 


Above, slopes can get quite crowded, especially after lunchtime. But if you're a good skier, stick to the intermediate and expert slopes, which are practically empty even on the most busy days!



Nothing says skiing like Dunkin Donuts!


A strange site at most Korean ski resorts: pressure air hoses to blow the snow off your skies & boards!


Phoenix Park: brought to you by Mini Cooper. Even the gondolas look like Minis!



Ski Yongpyong! (스크 용평!)

The Two Crabs have two shared passions in life: traveling and skiing.  So when we landed our Korea assignment, we were psyched because Korea has 1) snow and 2) ski resorts!  South Korea has a young but growing ski industry, no surprise in a country that is about 70% mountainous.  In 2018, South Korea's Pyeongchang County will host the 2018 Winter Olympics

649px-Pyeongchang_location_in_Korea Last Monday, to avoid the weekend crowds, the Two Crabs took a day off work to hit the slopes. So we waxed up the skis, packed the Jeep Wrangler and hit the road to Yongpyong, by far the largest and most built-up ski resort in Korea and the main venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics.  

Location & Directions: Like most of Korea's ski resorts, Yongpyong is located in Gangwon Province. Yongpyong Resort is located about 127 miles east of Seoul.  Leaving Seoul at 7:30am on Monday morning, it took us about 2 hours, 15 minutes to drive there with zero traffic (on a Saturday afternoon, the same trip can easily take 4-5 hours due to Korea's infamous weekend traffic). The best route from Seoul is Route 1 to Route 50 toll road (W9,000). 

Basic info & Price: Yongpyong has 31 runs and 15 lifts including one main gondola. IMG_5766Foreign visitors will be pleased to know that most of the ticket agents speak basic English, and all the piste maps, the resort website, and most of the signs are in Korean and English. Lift passes at Yongpyong come in a variety of prices and packages, based on the times you are skiing. We paid 66,000 won (about $62 USD) each for the 10am-4:30pm lift pass. Ski and board rentals are also available; we noticed that the basic ski rentals are sub-standard compared to U.S. or European ski resorts; if you're a good skier, shell out the extra bucks for premium equipment rentals.

Weather & Snow Conditions: On our ski day, the weather in Yongpyong was about 28F / -2C, or about 10F colder than it was in Seoul.  The snow conditions at Yongpyong was a mix of natural and man-made snow. I would characterize the snow conditions as dry and frozen granular. If you've ever skiied in the Mid-Atlantic / East Coast, the snow at Yongpyong was similar to a good cold day at a Pennsylvania ski resort.

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 Terrain: Let me preface this by saying that the Two Crabs are advanced intermediate skiers; we've skiied everywhere from West Virginia & Pennsylvania to Austria, France and Italy.  If you're used to skiing in the Rockies or the Alps, you may be disappointed. The terrain at Yongpyong (and most of Korea) is similar to those found at southern Pennsylvania resorts. Yongpyong runs are mainly beginner (green) and lower intermediate (blue).

IMG_5749The so-called "black" runs on the left side of the mountain would be an intermediate on the East Coast -- or a difficult beginner run in Austria!  We didn't have a chance to ski the "double black diamonds" on the far right side of the mountain because they were closed for most of the day, but I imagine they would be similar to an East Coast black / Austrian intermediate.  Our favorite run at Yongpyong was actually the "Rainbow Paradise" - a long, lazy blue run that's more than 5km long!  If you want to stay away from the crowds, keep to the intermediate and advanced run areas.

One very annoying issue at Yongpyong: the ski runs are named for colors, and the colors don't match the run rating -- the "red" run is actually a blue rating; the "new red" and "blue" runs are actually blacks, etc!  So if you're a beginner, make sure you examine your piste map closely before attemtping any runs that might be beyond your skill level. 

Lodging: We were only at Yongpyong for a day trip. But lodging at Yongpyong, and at most Korean ski resorts, is very expensive. According to their website, average rooms cost $250-$500 per night! The higher end rooms can accomodate up to 6 people so it's best to go with a group and split the costs. There is also a youth hostel at the resort.  The hotel rooms come in both Western-style rooms with real beds, and Korean "ondol" rooms where guests sleep on mats on heated floor.  

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Dining: There is no shortage of dining options at Yongpyong. The main ski lodge has a food court with many options from Korean to fast food. The mountaintop gondola station has a Western and Korean restaurant plus street food vendors selling everything from pretzels to churros.  We had lunch at the "Green Snack" restaurant. The portions are huge and cheap. For less than $6, the Two Crabs shared a pork cutlet, which was similar to weinerschnitzel covered in a tangy sauce and several sides and a yummy soup. Tip: You mut order and pay at a separate desk and pick up a food ticket, then get in the food lines and hand your ticket to the cook. Nearly every restaurant had an indoor and outdoor seating area, but we were usually the only skiers sitting outside. The indoor seating areas at Yongpyong restaurants and shops are UNCOMFORTABLY hot, with the heat cranked up to sauna-like temperatures!

Apres Ski: From our first impression, Koreans have yet to discover apres ski. Although beer is sold at all the restaurants, we didn't see anybody else partaking. At lunch, the Two Crabs were the only skiers drinking beer. Later at the Gold Snack shack, we got some strange looks when, again, we were the only people drinking beer when everyone else was nursing their hot chocolate and tea. 


Facilities: The main lodge and base gondola station (above), houses a lift pass ticket booth, ski and snowboard rentals, locker rooms, lockers, several snow sports shops and a ski/snowboard repair shop. Dining options include a main cafeteria with fireplace and several restaurants including a burger joint and Chinese restaurant. The Twosome Place coffee shop has indoor and outdoor seating.  Lessons are also offered, including English lessons taught by native speaking instructors. The resort village also includes several other lift pass stations, an outdoor stage, children's play area and snow tubing area. 

Bottom line: It's not Austria, but Yongpyong is a pretty good time. The Two Crabs will be back! A few more scenes from Yongpyong...

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