BANFF is an odd town. Beautiful, undoubtedly. Charming, certainly, But beyond the spectacular setting, and the tourists thronging the main street, and the busy hotels, and the ubiquitous souvenir shops, it is hard to get a handle on the place.
Situated in the Rocky Mountains, this little town of just 6,700 inhabitants is Canada’s most popular resort, attracting more than 4 million visitors every year And that’s what makes it odd. At any given moment, locals are vastly outnumbered by outsiders. The town’s demographics change from day to day.
Almost from the moment the town was established in the 1880s, efforts have been made to preserve its remarkable environment and to limit human impact. Banff National Park, Canada’s first, was set up in 1885, and a century later the area was accorded UNESCO World Heritage Status.
The local council has been proactive in making Banff one of the most eco-friendly places in the country with a host of environmental initiatives aimed at ensuring that, ultimately, the town has ‘no net negative impact’ on its natural surroundings.
In a place where the majority of the population is transient, it is crucial for the tourist industry to lead by example. Banff Park Lodge was one of the first hotels to Introduce a thorough environmental management system. This involves making real and continuing improvements in key areas such as guest education, responsible purchasing, waste management and recycling, water conservation and energy efficiency.
The hotel has replaced its old, water-cooled industrial refrigerators with air-cooled models, which save water and electricity, and there are also plans to supplant the air conditioning with a system that employs groundwater to cool the building passively.
As a result of all these, Banff Park Lodge was the first hotel in Canada to be awarded the prestigious Environmental Choice Eсо-Logo, a certificate introduced by the government agency Environment Canada to help consumers identify products and services with genuine green credentials.
From inside the hotel looking out, it is clear just what is at stake. Every room takes in a vista of pine trees and snow-flecked mountains. Banff National Park encompasses some of the most stunning scenery on the planet, luring more and more visitors – by 2020, it is estimated that annual numbers may rise as high as 19 million.
South of the hotel looms Sulphur Mountain, which is accessible via cable car or by a 90-minute hike. To reach the 2,285m-high (7,495ft) summit on foot is the more satisfying option. From the top, you are rewarded with a 360-degree view.
Banff lies far below, unobtrusive, enfolded by the glacier-blue waters of the Bow River on one side and the monolithic hulk of Tunnel Mountain on the other From up here you can also see the tarmac ribbon of the Trans-Canada Highway stretching towards Calgary, just 130km (80 miles) away Each day, the road brings a never-ending stream of new arrivals. Sustainable hotels such as Banff Park Lodge set the tone for their visit, helping to ensure that they leave Banff as they found it.