Weak knees, nervous giggles and a megawatt smile. Learning to ice skate is a little bit like falling in love – especially when your lesson takes place in the dazzling outdoor arena of Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. A glistening hand-carved ice castle stands in the centre of the rink. Victoria Glacier sparkles in the cool winter sun. An early morning snowfall has draped the shoreline evergreens and elegant Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in soft white powder. It’s a flawless fairy tale scene.
My husband Curt, who effortlessly skates backwards just ahead of me, coaxes me toward him. Laughing I shuffle forward as couples glide past holding hands. We’ll do another loop and then move from the ice rink to the Fairmont’s ice bar for hot chocolate laced with liqueurs. And I won’t retire my skates just yet. The ice is lit up at night and spectacular under the star filled sky.
Ice Cold Spectacular Beauty
We’ve come to Lake Louise for a relaxing weekend getaway and to check out Banff National Park’s annual Ice Magic Festival. Artists come from around the world to compete in the 34-hour ice carving competition held on the hotel grounds. Only ten teams of two are allowed to compete. Every duo is provided with 15 blocks of ice, which weigh a whopping 300 pounds each. It’s an event that requires brute strength and precision artistry. Raw emotion, dynamic energy and playful childlike whimsy are captured in delicate detail to create a magical frozen masterpiece. Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. it’s a ticketed event, unless you’re staying at the Chateau. The sculptures remain throughout the winter season and can be viewed for free after the competition closes and a winner is announced.
Indulge in the Chateau Experience
Later we’ll dine at Walliser Stube, the Fairmont’s European alpine restaurant inspired by the Swiss mountain guides who first climbed the surrounding Canadian Rockies in the late 1800s. Traditional fondue and raclette – a Swiss dish that is both a cheese and a style of cooking – and a generous glass of red wine promise warmth and comfort after a day of outdoor adventure. The restaurant’s signature Chateau Experience for two features a cheese fondue to start, followed by prime Alberta beef Chateaubriand and dark chocolate fondue. My taste buds are tingling already.
Tomorrow we’ll begin with a luxurious treatment at the spa. Perhaps a couple’s massage or the therapeutic Hiker’s Foot Therapy, which focuses on the lower leg muscles. It is thought to relieve tension after a long day of golfing, hiking or skiing – or in my case, a beginners skating lesson on one of the world’s most breathtaking lakes.