In Banff and looking for something do to? Get the heck away from that tacky souvenir shop and find your way to the Banff Gondola. Get on to Mountain Avenue and follow the Gondola/Hot Springs signs. Soon enough you’ll be elevated 698m to the summit (2281m above sea level), and the view will take your breath away (the thin air also helps with that).
The gondola cabins are enclosed and seats four for the quick 8-minute ride to the top. You’ll walk out of the gondola onto a literal mountaintop experience.
There are 40 gondolas in operation that can transport up to 650 passengers in an hour, and it is certainly a busy place. In the parking lot, we saw more states and provinces represented on license plates than we had on the entire two-week road trip to San Francisco and back.
Next to the view, the most fascinating part of this site is the little stone cabin at the top of Sanson Peak. Norman Bethune Sanson was the national park’s meteorologist, and he built this stone cabin over 100 years ago. He climbed to the peak (without the aid of a gondola) every week to keep weather records for 30 years. The last time he made the trek he was 84 years old. There are several trails to the top that you can take to recreate one of Sanson’s weekly walks…but we took the gondola. :)
Unfortunately Sanson died in 1949, one decade before the Swiss-made lifts were opened.
Also near the top of the peak, you’ll find a rectangular concrete foundation – all that remains of the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station. It’s not as cool as it sounds, but if you like history and science, and the history of science, there are some cool signs to read. And no matter how some of the tourists with poor English say it, there’s no “m” in Banff. (GPS coordinates: Latitude 51° N and Longitude 116° W)