For Alberta, the cat's out of the bag. The Winter Olympics revealed the glory of Kananaskis Country.
Albertans have been more than glad to publicize Banff and Jasper, two famous resort towns in the Rockies that are jammed with visitors in the summertime. But Kananaskis has been something of a private playground for Albertans - at least until those American Broadcasting Company cameras began scanning this wide, glacial valley with its rambling Bow River and surrounding snow-covered mountains."We are a little parochial," admits Don Morberg, a public affairs officer for Kananaskis Country. "We tend to keep things to ourselves."
This recreation area is about 55 miles west-southwest of Calgary -only a short drive away. Its boundaries take in more than 4,000 square miles of land, three provincial parks, and some of Canada's grandest natural terrain.
It also includes Mt. Allan, where daredevil Olympic skiers plunged down its steep slopes last February before the eyes of nearly 2 billion TV viewers.
More than 90 percent of the half-million campers who used its almost 3,000 auto-accessible campsites last year were Albertans. It was mostly Canada's westerners who enjoyed the white-water canoeing, the 75 picnic areas, the hiking paths, the 165 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, the zone for snowmobiling. Not to mention the stocked fishing and the hunting, mountain climbing, wind-surfing on the lakes, the four-wheel-drive area, a rifle range, many miles of equestrian tracks, paved bicycle paths, two 18-hole golf courses, picnic sites, and, perhaps above all, the natural beauty.
The Alberta government began preparing this playground some years ago, when the province was booming and oil revenues were plentiful. Then Calgary won the right to stage the Olympic Winter Games, and the facilities here were improved further. Now there is the Olympic-class skiing facility at Mt. Allan as well as a ski area at Fortress Mountain for all levels of ability.
This "village" just south of Mt. Allan boasts three handsome resorts. There is the four-star Lodge at Kananaskis, a 255-room alpine-style facility; a double room there costs about $78 (US).
There's the five-star 70-room Hotel Kananaskis, which boasts king-size beds and baths and enough class to make the TV show "Life Styles of the Rich and Famous."
Then there's the more rustic Kananaskis Inn, which bills itself as a family-oriented hotel. Among its 96 suites are 32 with kitchenettes for those who want to cater to themselves. It also has a swimming pool with large sunroom windows looking out onto the mountains, health club facilities, and day care for children. A double costs $105 from June 1 to Oct. 9 ($80 from Feb. 29 to May 31). The province adds a 5 percent room tax on your bill.
The scenery in this area is so spectacular that it has become a favorite for movie companies. Filmgoers saw it in "Superman II," "Missing," and "Wild Dog of the North." About two producers a year are taking advantage of the site.
For nature lovers, Kananaskis Country offers an abundance of wildlife. In the summer you can't miss the magpies with their flashy black and white coloring, among a host of other birds. And there are beavers and their dams on the numerous creeks that feed into the Bow River. Among the larger creatures are wolves, coyote, white-tailed and mule deer, cougars, lynx, elk, moose, wild horses, black and grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. The wildlife is protected in Kananaskis Country's Bow Valley and Peter Lougheed Provincial Parks and in the Sheep River Wildlife Sanctuary.
For golfers, the Kananaskis Country Golf Course is about as scenic as you can find anywhere. In winter, the greens must be fenced to keep the elk off them. Golfers don't like putting into the holes left by their hooves. The course is open to the public, at a charge of $22 a round. But normally you need reservations. Chances of getting one at the last minute are best early in the week. The course is becoming popular for the Japanese as its reputation and low cost become known in that island nation.
Officials have a warning for visitors: This is mountain country. Even in the summer, the temperatures can change rapidly. Bring a sweater or jacket. And the waters are cold, making sudden squalls on larger lakes dangerous for boaters.