A Snow Season in Banff, Canada
Nov 2007 - May 2008
We were very fortunate to have lived in Banff, AB, Canada for six months with the sole purpose of doing a snow season, primarily at Sunshine Village. We also got to visit Norquay, Lake Louise, Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, Panorama and Fernie.
If you've never visited Canada, do yourself a favour as it's possibly the most breathtakingly beautiful country we've visited. And we've only done the West Coast! We're planning to see more of this amazing place in May 2016 so we'll keep you posted. Our base in 2007/08 was Banff, within the Banff National Park, and this little town wouldn't look out of place in a fairy-tale. It was such a great place to call home for six months as it provided an excellent base to access all the above mentioned snow resorts.
Living and Working in Canada
As an Australian, and many other nationalities, you can enter Canada as tourist and you're allowed to stay for six months. You don't need to apply for a visa beforehand unless you plan to stay for longer or work. As of the 1st March 2016, you will need to apply for an electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) if you plan to enter Canada via air (an eTA is not required if you enter via land or sea).
Jen applied for a working holiday visa as she wanted to work on the hill at Sunshine Village but the rules have changed a little since 2007. Take a look at the Government of Canada website and in particular the 'Applying for a Work Permit outside Canada' page. If you intend to work during your snow season, then look to choose the, 'International Experience Canada (Working Holiday)' option from the list, 'Details of Intended Work in Canada'. All this information is on the Work Permit page. If you end up getting a work permit, you'll need to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN) at a Service Canada office as you won't be able to work without one. Applying was really easy and our closest Service Canada office was in Canmore (about 25 mins from Banff).
Just prior to the start of our Canadian adventure, we were living in Las Vegas (that's a whole other story to follow!) and Jen flew up to Banff in October 2007 to secure work and accommodation. She managed to secure a job with Sunshine Village at their premium restaurant, Chimney Corner. Working in hospitality on the mountain was probably one of the preferred jobs. Pros - working in an environment out of the elements and receiving good tips (well Jen got great tips!). Cons - pressured and stressful environment, especially in peak periods, and often no time for lunch breaks. One of the advantages of working for Sunshine Village is that you get a season pass included (and as Jen's spouse I got a heavily reduced pass too). Additionally, you're on the mountain so if you start late or finish early, you can get some riding in. In fact the lifties get ride breaks during the day which is awesome! Check out available jobs here.
Many of the local businesses in town also offer season passes as part of their employment contract. So if you can't secure a job on the hill, there's usually plenty of other opportunities available.
Opening a Bank Account
Maybe it was just the easy going, laid-back attitude in Banff, but opening a bank account at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) in Banff was a breeze! You'll need a Canadian bank account if you're working there as employers will pay your wages directly into your account. The bank does suggest you close the account when you leave Canada as it's almost impossible to close from overseas.
The most challenging aspect of our time in Banff was securing suitable accommodation for the six months. At the time there wasn't as many online resources available as there are now so Jen used the local paper, The Crag and Canyon, and also looked at physical postings on boards around town (Safeway had a pretty big notice board). As above, Jen arrived in Banff in October 2007 and only found our cool little one bedroom place on the last day she was in town! Many of our friends opted for shared accommodation, which was definitely more affordable and much more social. As we were a little older than most of our friends, we decided to stay on our own - who wants an older couple telling you to, "be quiet"!
If you end up working for Sunshine Village, they have a limited amount of staff housing options available. The advantage of staff housing is that it is on the hill - on your days off you're right there for first tracks. It's also very affordable. The disadvantage is that if you want to go shopping or out in Banff (15 minutes away), you're restricted by the gondola hours and you have to work around the bus timetable if you don't have a car.
These days you have many more resources available for finding accommodation - check out Jen's article on Short Term Accommodation.
Groceries - there are two small supermarkets in the town of Banff - Safeway and Nesters Market. There's no doubt you can survive by doing your grocery shopping in Banff but if you can make it to Canmore, the Safeway there has a greater range (well at least it did when we were there). There are also a couple of other options in Canmore - Save on Foods and Mountain Mercato.
Eating Out - due to budgetary constraints, we limited our eating out experiences to special occasions or when there were specials on. We ate at the following places:
- Tommy's Neighbourhood Pub. We had their Steak Sandwich special which I think was $6.95 at the time (it looks like it's gone up to $8.95). Great sandwich and still great value at $8.95.
- The Maple Leaf. This is one of Banff's premium fine dining establishments. We waited for the annual lobster fest to eat there and were not disappointed. Great value - I recall it being $25-30 per head at the time.
- Wild Bill's Legendary Saloon. Great atmosphere and a menu best described as casual American dining.
As there is no home delivery in Banff, if you need to receive mail or parcels you can open a PO Box at the post office. When we were there, you could just use c/- Banff post office, which is what we did. Funny story - we received a wedding invite where the only address on the card was, 'Jen & Mick, Banff, Alberta TL1 1B8, Canada'. Banff post office had the card in a glass cabinet at the front counter and one of our friends noticed it and told us about it!
For employees of Sunshine Village, there are free buses that run between Banff and the snow resort. If you have a tri-area ski pass (Lake Louise, Norquay and Sunshine Village) the bus is also complimentary. Otherwise the return adult fare from Banff to one of the three resorts listed above in the tri-area is $15. The bus schedule can be found here.
We were luckily enough to have a car so depending on Jen's start times (if she started really early she'd catch the staff bus), we'd drive to the hill everyday. All parking is free but you need to arrive early if you want to secure parking close to the gondola, especially on weekends and public holidays. The other advantage of a car is that you can drive to Canmore to do your grocery shopping, as listed above. And of course exploring further afield, such as Fernie or Revelstoke, is a much easier option with a car. I'll be writing a separate article soon about owning a car in North America (USA and Canada), which will highlight the pros and cons of ownership (and provide other options), and how to set-up your car, and adapt your driving, for snow conditions.
Skiing and Snowboarding
We spent the majority of our time at Sunshine Village but we got to ride some other snow resorts as well. I'll be writing reviews on all the resorts we visited, so please stay turned for these articles.
In conclusion, living in Banff was one of the best times of our lives. It's such a beautiful town, with friendly, laid-back locals, and close to some of the best snow resorts in the world. And doing a whole snow season opened up many other aspects of the resorts that we may not have discovered if we were just visiting for a short period of time.
If you have any questions or would like to share some of your experiences about Banff, please add your comments below. Go spend some time in Banff - you won't regret it!
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