We weren’t really planning on living in Banff. We originally intended to settle in Canmore. As the two cities are very close, Pierre-Adrien also looked at job offers in the national park. We moved to Banff on November 1 when P-A found a job here.
Living in the mountains, or in a resort is an experience that I have always wanted to have, so living in Banff was a bit like a dream, in the end, without really realizing it. The setting is really what makes this city so attractive to us.
Banff: a quick description
Banff is a small town in Alberta located in the national park of the same name. The town of 5 km², at about 1,400 meters above sea level, is surrounded by the Rockies. It had 9,000 inhabitants in the last census.
You should know that Banff was built around a hot spring. It is from this source that the first national historic site of Canada was created: “Cave and Basin“. And it’s from this that Banff National Park was created. It is Canada’s oldest national park.
Banff is a very famous city in summer as in winter. The national park has more than 4 million visitors a year and is the most visited national park in the country.
In summer, visitors take advantage of the springs, observe the animals, go hiking or climbing and cool off in the many lakes while camping and enjoying an absolutely sublime setting.
In winter, the snow offers many activities including skiing and snowboarding with 3 resorts in the park: Norquay, Sunshine and Lake Louise. You can also go hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in landscapes worthy of Narnia, ice climbing, snowmobiling (ski doo) or go for a ride with sled dogs. The lakes freeze and become hockey fields or skate tracks.
The city lives on tourism mostly but it has grown to be able to offer everything necessary to the regular residents, those who work to support the tourism economy.
Banff is not really a resort, but it works like one. Here, we live and work according to the season. From May to September, it’s the summer season with thousands of tourists from all over the world, big coaches carrying groups and a bunch of rental campers. From December to February, it’s winter season, with more locals spending the holidays or a weekend on the ski hills. The quietest is from October to December before the Christmas holidays, and then in March/April. Spring skiing still attracts a few people, especially during Spring Break week in early April.
Working in Banff
If you are looking to relocate to Banff for work, the best times to look for work are in September/October for the winter season and from February/March for the summer. But there are year-round job openings. We arrived in mid-October, and it took 2 weeks to find a job indirectly related to tourism. At the end of January Pierre-Adrien lost his job and it took 1 month to find another one. Most of the offers at this time of the year were for summer positions.
It is possible to find work in everything related to hotels and restaurants, but also trades that affect the ski resorts, well-being and finally everything that makes a city work.
Most employers offer many benefits in addition to a job. Depending on the company, you may have discounts on ski passes, restaurants and bars, other services such as equipment rental, etc.
When we arrived, we didn’t really know where to look for work. I could list many local sites that offer jobs related to tourism in the region. We have found that the most effective way to find work in Banff is to visit the Job Resource Center to see the classifieds and talk with a counselor. Feel free to leave a comment if you want more information on finding a job in Banff.
Living in Banff
You have to suspect that Banff is an expensive city. Even if it is not technically a ski resort, you have to plan for the same budget. It is a national park, a protected area, a magical setting, it is logical that we pay as a kind of tax to come and live in such a beautiful place.
Many employers offer staff accommodation (as they say here) with rent reductions, but there are constraints. You cannot live there as a couple unless the two people work for the same employer. Most of the time, these accommodations do not offer an internet connection, and it is not possible to have visitors after 10 p.m. Some accommodations are no longer up to standard, the kitchens are only equipped with a microwave and an electric stove. We know someone who lost his job because he brought a toaster back to his staff accom.
If your employer does not offer staff accom or you do not want to live there, there are many other options such as a room in a shared apartment. For rent, it’s about $700 per month or between $1,000 and $1,500 per month for a couple.
There are two food stores in Banff, IGA and Nesters Market. They’re not very big, don’t have a ton of choice, and it’s mostly pretty expensive.
One of the solutions to that is to have a car (yes, it adds a budget) to be able to go shopping in the next town, Canmore, which is outside the national park.
The stores are bigger and slightly cheaper than in Banff. Also, in Canmore, every first Tuesdays of the month, the supermarkets, Save-on-Foods and Safeway, offer a 15% discount on everything.
We also take advantage of having a car to leave the Rockies and go shopping at Walmart in Cochrane. It is the first city on the way to Calgary by taking the Trans Canada Highway. To get an idea of the prices, especially on imported products, the 725g jar of Nutella costs an average of $5 across the country. We bought a lot from everywhere we went, so we have a good idea of the prices. In Canmore and Banff the same jar is $10.
The Food Rescue
Otherwise, the other tip for eating cheaper is to go to Food Rescue. It is an organisation that recovers foods that were going to be thrown away like fruits and vegetables, fresh products or dairy products that have passed or are near their expiration date. There is also bread, and sometimes non-perishables that are just damaged.
The Food Rescue is Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6 p.m. It costs $3 per person and you get enough food for a few days. The quantities depend on what there is and the number of people in the queue that evening.
You can also volunteer to run the Food Rescue, and it allows you to collect a little more food, have more choices and to get it for free. We volunteer once a week and since we started, we no longer buy any fruit and vegetables. Our food budget has decreased, what continues to cost us the most is the meat.
Some good food deals
In addition to Food Rescue, there are other initiatives that allow you to eat for less.
The BanffLife Association, which focuses on integrating young people into the community, offers a pasta dinner every Wednesday evening for $2 per person. We went there several times at the beginning, and it allowed us to meet people in addition to a cheap meal.
Every last Thursday of the month, there is a community dinner offered by the city in partnership with one or more establishments. The meal offered is always different for $4 per person with options for vegetarians, gluten-free, etc. And it’s open to everyone.
Other punctual events are organized. We had a great Christmas dinner on donation before the holidays and a free breakfast on December 25.
One of Banff’s churches offers a free Chili Con Carne (or no carne for vegetarians) dinner every Friday evening. It is open to everyone, and it starts at 6 p.m. It is possible to get refills after 7 p.m. and then go play upstairs, with a pool table, a ping-pong table, air hockey and many more games.
Many paid, inexpensive or free activities are offered in Banff. You have to look on the websites of the city and pick up the brochures to find them out. There are also many groups on social networks that allow you to learn about all these activities.
Some stores or establishments organise free or donation activities such as yoga, karaoke, bingo, conferences, workshops, etc. The bookstore also offers many activities. And the recreation center offers sports sessions of all kinds.
If you are looking for a particular info, please leave us a comment. I do not put the activities in detail, because I imagine they change every year.
Who lives in Banff?
We won’t be able to speak for Banff in summer, but in winter, the city is overrun by Australians. I don’t have a number, but I think they represent at least 50% of the young people who come to work and ski for the season. The rest are from Czech Republic or elsewhere in Eastern Europe. There are Asians, usually from the Philippines, China or Japan. We are a small community of French people. In our comrades from Western Europe, there are many Irish, Scottish and English. We also hear Spanish, but we don’t know if they are from Europe or Central/South America. It’s really very cosmopolitan. There are also Canadians, of course! Most of those we met are from Ontario, Quebec or Saskatchewan.
Last summer when we came to Banff on our road trip in August, it was pretty warm. We still wore light sweaters regularly, especially in the mornings and in the evenings. We even had a snowfall at peaks.
When we arrived on October 15, we already had negative temperatures and the snow quickly settled. We had the biggest snowfall between October and December. Sometimes more than 30 cm of snow fell overnight. The temperatures were between -10 °C and -20 °C most of the time.
In January, it was between -30 °C and -40 °C for a week. It was the coldest we had. Normally, there is supposed to be a cold spell in February, but we didn’t get it this year. It was relatively mild in the end. We even had positive temperatures.
In March, we directly got a lot of snow. Then, it got super cold again … And after, Spring began to show itself with a big sun, but sometimes still a little more snow.
The right plan to enjoy Banff
The best way to get the most out of Banff in the winter is to find hourly paid work with shifts. With your employer, you can get a season ski pass for free or at a reduced price, and go skiing every time you are not working.
When Pierre-Adrien found his first job, it was still early enough in the season to buy the season pass at a reduced price. It was still $1,000 per person, and we had no savings left so we couldn’t take advantage of it. Skiing is very expensive, but we’ll talk about it in a future article on Skiing in Banff National Park.