We were all thinking it: million dollar view. From our window table at the Cliffhouse Bistro, high on the slopes of Mount Norquay, the eagle’s eye view of Banff town site was beyond impressive.
Cradled by verdant spruce and pine forest lining the valley bottom between Sulphur and Rundle mountains, the miniature streets and buildings appear gift wrapped by the meandering turquoise Bow River.
Built into the mountainside at 2,090 m, the Cliffhouse beckoned as a perfect place to enjoy a weekend brunch with my mum and dad. And now as we marvelled at the Canadian Rockies panorama spread before us, I congratulated myself for choosing this truly unique destination. Better still, getting here had been half the fun.
Chairlift to the Sky
To reach Mount Norquay we drove 7 km from Banff up the swooping switchbacks of Mount Norquay Scenic Drive. The real treat began when we boarded the North American Chairlift.
Settling into the two-seater chair, my parents rode together while I followed in the next seat for the 15-minute ride. With a soft breeze kissing our faces, we were lifted toward the sky on an exciting, yet gentle and relaxed outdoor escalator.
First installed in 1948 to whisk skiers up to the top of the steep downhill runs – and upgraded several times since – this same chairlift transported Marilyn Monroe up the mountain during the filming of River of No Return in 1953. Stepping off at the upper platform, we decided she would have been spellbound by the view, as were we.
Banff History Elevated
Originally constructed in 1952 as the Norquay Teahouse, the newly renovated Cliffhouse Bistro maintains much of its stylish architecture while serving up a menu that’s fresh and modern. Craft beer, quinoa salad, beef tartare, chicken galantine, cheese or charcuterie platters – we were pleased to discover the fresh mountain air had piqued our appetites!
Between courses we examined interpretive panels that described how, with heavy machinery not permitted on the national park’s slopes, all the building materials for the Teahouse were carried up to the site on the chairlift. Construction, using local rock, was all done by hand.
Strolling along the viewing boardwalk afterward, we took in the unique perspective of the Bow Valley. A wooden sign had the names of the neighbourhood peaks carved into it: Cascade, Inglismaldie, Girouard, Peechee, Grotto, Rundle and Sulphur. Norquay, we learned, was named for John Norquay, Premier of the Canadian province of Manitoba in the late 1800s.
While skiers have been schussing Norquay’s slopes since 1926, this day we watched several adventurers experience the newest summer attraction, the Via Ferrata. With steel cables, steps and rungs bolted securely into the rock to assist climbers, the route is made extra safe by professional guides. Perfect for first-time climbers who want to get a taste of mountaineering.
Deciding the ride back down on the chairlift would be enough adventure for us on this visit, we took our seats. In the corner of my eye, something moved. A herd of bighorn sheep were grazing on the pastoral slope. I decided I was wrong. This was a billion dollar view.