In 1988, the top of the Calgary Tower was on fire. Nobody panicked, though, and no one tried to put out the flames. If they had, and succeeded, it would have been to the disappointment of athletes and spectators the world over, because that flame burned in honour of Canada’s first Winter Olympic Games. At 191 metres above the city, the light that fire produced—flickering from a gas-fired cauldron—served to unite the city around the games, to honour the spirit of sportsmanship, and to safeguard the event from Mothra attacks.
Today, visitors can see the city from just below where that torch burned. After a 63-second elevator ride to the top, guests can explore the observation deck, take a complimentary tour, and peer from high-powered binoculars at the Rocky Mountains, foothills, and prairies. Then they can step out onto the glass floor and stare down at the Olympic Plaza, the Glenbow Museum, and the bald spots on park monuments.
Yet the tower’s height isn’t its only draw. From the ground up, it strives to showcase the best of the city. At the base, the visitor information centre furnishes newcomers with city guides that point to popular attractions, and at 155 metres, the elegant Sky 360 restaurant fans romantic sparks as it completes its 360-degree rotation every hour.
Sundance Balloons' vibrant hot-air balloons float adventurous passengers over scenic landscapes. Each one-hour journey commences as sojourners greet their flight crew at a pre-determined location, receive a briefing on what to expect during the excursion, and observe their balloon as it swells to more than 10 stories in height.
The woven gondolas glide 1,000 feet above the ground but can sometimes gently skim treetops or cornfields when wandering over the countryside. Since balloons drift with prevailing winds, there is no wind chill and travellers feel only a slight sensation of movement. As is tradition for ballooning, explorers of the appropriate age end their flight with a champagne toast to tranquility, beauty, and neighbourhoods that appear as giant smiley faces only visible from the air.
Blades humming, the helicopter from Rockies Heli Tours Icefield rises up from the heliport and soars away over the valley, crossing skies hung between tall mountain peaks. Rising to 9,500 feet, trips take tour-goers over the Cline Pass to breathtaking views of six glaciers, a 900-foot waterfall, and mountain lakes. Passengers watch all of these breathtaking panoramas glide smoothly by underneath during their 20-minute flight, content to let their expert pilot guide them on a leisurely loop before returning to base. Guests with more adventure in mind can also opt to land for a one-hour wilderness stop, taking a wilderness walk through an old growth forest that leads up to Twin Falls before flying away again.
The owners at Canadian Rockies Adventure Centre have journeyed through the Canadian wilderness for a combined 50 years, and they now put their expertise to work unveiling the secret beauty they've discovered to tour groups. Exploring the Canadian Rockies and the Kananaskis River, they brave rapids and take in sights from roaring ATVs or whispering ziplines. All of their excursions bring guests face to face with natural beauty, wildlife, and hidden corners of the Canadian Rockies.
The staff at Soul Ski & Bike fit frames and spout knowledge of local terrain to send riders cruising river pathways or bounding down rocky mountains. Bikers themselves, the owners are turf-savvy and stock hardtail- and full-suspension pedals to handle jagged landscape with the skill and grace of a classically trained billy goat. Rubber rolls across uneven dirt and down slopes with the Cannondale Trail 5, a mountain bike suitable for coasting the Spray River Loop or hitting Tunnel Mountain trails (a $42 value/day). The full-suspension Cannondale RZ One20 4 catapults across Bow Valley roads, using back-tire bounciness to pivot around boulders and breakdance in basins (a $53 value/day). All rentals include a helmet, lock, pump, and patch kit.
At Catch & the Oyster Bar, the first floor’s casual, neighbourhood environment resounds with friendly chatter and the crackle of shells being shucked amid the oyster bar’s sandstone walls. The second floor, on the other hand, offers a more sophisticated restaurant setting, where industrial-chic elements, such as metal shelving and lofty ceilings, serve as conversation pieces as guests dive into a dinner menu of artfully assembled seafood entrees. No matter where diners prefer to sit, they can experience Catch & the Oyster Bar’s continent-spanning cuisine, including Nova Scotia lobster, dungeness crab from British Columbia, and coastal fish that arrive daily by plane or T-shirt cannon.
In the kitchen, Executive Chef Kyle Groves keeps his culinary approach simple by allowing natural ingredients—such as herbs harvested on the restaurant’s rooftop garden—to speak for themselves without being muddled by too much complexity. The chef’s creations and mastery of European cooking techniques have earned the restaurant multiple awards for its seafood, and a top-five spot on Calgary's Top 10 Restaurants of 2012 in Avenue magazine.