North of the Border
ATTRACTING MILLIONS OF VISITORS EACH YEAR from as far as Australia and Japan, Banff National Park has long been a popular destination due to its unparalleled scenic beauty. This playground in the Canadian wilderness captivates guests with its stunning mountain vistas, thundering waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and more. If the unspoiled setting isn't enough to charm visitors, the spa scene offers its own tempting rewards.
At Willow Stream The Spa at The Fairmont Banff Springs, the indoor Hungarian mineral pool is a highlight of the expansive hydrotherapy area.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Modeled after a Scottish baronial castle, The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (Banff, Alberta) is truly a vision set amid the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Conceived by William Van Horne, then general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the grand hotel was intended to generate tourism in the area, which also had the added enticement of natural hot springs. In the 1800s, he was reported as saying, "If we can't export the scenery, we will import the tourists." And that is precisely what he did with the opening of the Banff Springs Hotel in 1888. The 250-room property, located just 90 minutes from Calgary, attracted more than 1,500 guests in its first summer. By 1911, however, its reputation had grown, and 22,000 guests descended upon the hotel known as Canada's Castle in the Rockies. A series of expansions and renovations followed, the most recent being a $2.3 million update to the existing spa in the fall of 2003.
Originally opened in 1995, the spa has long been a welcome respite to guests of the hotel. The latest renovation only added to its appeal with the addition of 3,000 square feet of usable space, a new co-ed relaxation room, redesigned men's and expanded women's lounges, and more. The 38,000-square-foot Willow Stream The Spa at The Fairmont Banff Springs features 23 treatment rooms. A focal point of the spa is the expansive hydrotherapy area, which includes an indoor Hungarian mineral pool, three whirlpools with cascading waterfalls, and separate men's and women's whirlpools, saunas, and steam rooms. Guests are encouraged to arrive early so they can enjoy the spa ritual, a therapeutic hydrotherapy experience that involves a five-minute soak in each of the whirlpools, starting with the warmest. According to spa director Pam Ouellet, most spa-goers take advantage of the facilities and make the spa ritual a part of the overall experience.
Clockwise from above: The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is styled after a Scottish baronial castle; a hot tub outside the spa offers stunning views of the mountains; a cascading waterfall flows into one of the spa's three whirlpools.
Attracting a diverse clientele, the spa caters to guests from around the world, which is no surprise considering the hotel's demographic makeup. According to Monica Andreeff, director of public relations for The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, the Banff property's clientele is approximately 30 percent American, 30 percent Asian, European, and Australian combined, and 40 percent Canadian.
In creating the treatment menu, both the spa's clientele and mountain locale came into play. "We wanted to offer a wide selection of services that would please our international clientele as well as ensure that the services remain true to our philosophy of creating healthy energy," says Ouellet. "Our services also reflect our Willow Stream spa logo, which symbolizes the elements—earth, air, fire, and water. It is important for us to create balance in our guests' bodies and lives."
Top: Guests at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel can relax in the co-ed lounge in front of a roaring fire. Below: The indoor pool provides a welcoming respite when the weather outside is less than ideal.
The spa features a number of product lines, including B. Kamins, Kerstin Florian, Tara Spa Therapy, and the spa's own Willow Stream brand. Although a variety of alpine-inspired treatments are available, the Rockies Rehydration ($132, 60 minutes) is the most popular. It involves a dry-brush exfoliation and a hydrating wrap. According to Ouellet, massage is especially popular among the active clientele, many of whom also take advantage of the products used during treatments for at-home use. "Retail is very important to the spa and to our spa-goers," says Ouellet. "I really believe you are doing an injustice to the guest if you are not providing some learning and guided information to them that will allow them to enjoy their spa experience when they go home."
With 78 full-time and two part-time employees, the spa typically accommodates 65 to 175 guests a day. Ouellet notes that women account for approximately 65 percent of the spa clientele. At a time when the industry is still growing at such a rapid pace, she finds hiring qualified estheticians and therapists to be her greatest challenge.
Top: Still flowing today, the Cave and Basin Hot Springs was considered liquid gold when it was first discovered. Below: Today, the original site of the Cave and Basin Hot Springs serves as an interpretive center.
Because the majestic mountain setting plays such a pivotal role in all aspects of the property, it's no surprise to see the impact it has had on the decor. "It is important to know that no two Willow Stream spas are the same," says Ouellet. "Each Willow Stream spa is designed to reflect the beauty and ambience of the landmark Fairmont resort and the surrounding landscape, hence, the Rundle stone pillars that surround the therapeutic mineral pool, where guests look onto Rundle Mountain; the floor-to-ceiling windows that allow the mountains to almost come into the spa; and the outdoor hot tub that allows guests to enjoy the scenery and fresh mountain air."
Canada's Mineral Hot Springs
Long before the existence of the spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Canada's Stoney Indians took advantage of the area's mineral hot springs, believing them to be sacred waters with the ability to cure illness and maintain good health. In 1882, workers for the Canadian Pacific Railway discovered the Cave and Basin Hot Springs at the base of Sulphur Mountain. The discovery, considered to be liquid gold, eventually led to the creation of Banff National Park in 1885. Over the years, a number of facilities were constructed around the nearby Banff Upper Hot Springs, allowing visitors to experience them firsthand. In 1932, a new bathhouse, complete with sulphur swimming pool, plunge baths, steam rooms, showers, tubs, and dressing rooms, opened. Rivaling the infamous spas of Europe, it replaced the previous facilities, which were destroyed by fire. In 1995, the bathhouse was restored to its former glory and reopened in 1996 with a new spa, restaurant, and gift shop. Today, Banff Upper Hot Springs are open year round. Visitors can also check out the site of the original Cave and Basin Hot Springs, which has been transformed into an interpretive center.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is ideally situated on one of Canada's most legendary lakes.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Reminiscent of a picture-perfect postcard, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (Lake Louise, Alberta) creates a captivating image, poised on the shore of the legendary glacial lake and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Intended as a hotel for alpinists and outdoor adventurers, the one-story log cabin built on the bank of Lake Louise in 1890 was also the brainchild of Canadian Pacific Railway's Van Horne. After two fires and contributions from several architects, the modest cabin evolved to become what is now known as the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Many spa-goers take advantage of the outdoor activities available on and around Lake Louise.
Remaining to this day a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, the 550-room hotel also offers a respite for guests to unwind after their adventure-filled days. The recently renovated Escape Spa & Salon first opened in 1989. An Aveda spa, it caters to a fair number of American, Australian, British, Canadian, and Japanese guests. According to owner Christine Reh, cultural differences do arise when accommodating such a diverse clientele. "Of course, there is the obvious language difference when performing treatments," says Reh. "Sometimes the client speaks very little or no English. This can be very challenging for everyone." Another cultural issue pertains to modesty. Reh notes that although Europeans for the most part are pretty comfortable disrobing, British and Japanese guests tend to be a bit more reserved.
The reception desk at Escape Spa & Salon welcomes outdoor and adventure enthusiasts.
With eight treatment rooms and two manicure and pedicure stations, the spa can accommodate anywhere from 30 to 110 appointments in a typical day, depending on the time of year. Not surprisingly, summer and winter are considered high season. The spa has 15 staff members. Two are part time.
In regards to the menu, Reh was hoping to accomplish a sense of relaxation and balance. "We want our guests to begin their journey of relaxation and rejuvenation from the time they walk in the door and continue it well after they have left," says Reh. The spa's most popular treatment is the Elemental Nature Facial ($132, 60 minutes). Guests also favor the Couples Massage ($254, 60 minutes), the Aqua Polish ($140, 60 minutes), the Caribbean Therapy Hand Treatment ($61, 60 minutes), and Caribbean Foot Therapy Treatment ($87, 75 minutes). According to Reh, body treatments are much more difficult to sell on account of their longer length. Body wraps typically take two hours. "Most people who come to the lake have most of their day already planned with horseback riding, hiking, and canoeing," says Reh. As a result, most guests tend to want treatments no longer than an hour. It certainly comes as no surprise when you consider the splendor of the great outdoors that awaits them just outside.