K-Country Calling: Kananaskis makes it easier for Albertans to return to their beautiful backyard with collaborative online gateway

It really is odd how majesty can be made mundane by proximity and omnipresence.

We see, we understand, we appreciate, but it’s easy for Albertans to take what we have in our own backyard for granted.

Take the picture-perfect postcard that is Kananaskis, but an hour’s drive west of the city, where the foothills meet the Rockies and the eyes, frosty-lashed or not, can capture pristine wilderness in all its panoramic glory.

You can see, you can stay and you can play in one of the world’s most mind-blowing spots. But while it shouldn’t be, it’s easy to forget what we have, what is so close.

Not for Émilie Pageau-Bisson.

While, yes, it may be part of her job, one that takes her into its heart several times a week, the director of brand marketing for Pomeroy Lodging properties in Kananaskis Village isn’t quite yet jaded enough to not appreciate what’s all around her.

“You know what? I’m still in awe of the location,” Pageau-Bisson says on a beautiful and sunny fall Tuesday after the season’s first snow. “Even just driving today, I was just floored at how beautiful the region is.

“And it changes so quickly and so often…that it’s just never the same. I’m still completely in awe of the region…I consider myself just extremely lucky.”

Now, Pomeroy and its partners in the valley are hoping to remind the rest of the residents of this province how sweet they have it.

After COVID all but killed the tourism season, every destination spot is looking to rebound, looking to get back what they lost when the world shuttered.

While Pageau-Bisson is quick to point out that things in the summer of 2020, much like the landscape from season to season, looked much different, she says that Kananaskis is hopefully set to not just rebound but build in a meaningful way over the coming winter months.

“We’re happily surprised with the summer we’ve had. It was definitely a very different season as what we’re used to and for sure we’re not going to downplay not having group business or having international visitors,” Pageau-Bisson says, also noting the regrets about having to say goodbye to staff during the shutdown. “But all in all, I think we’ve been pretty lucky. We’ve had great support from Albertans, people using our destination as a staycation. So … we’re pretty pleased with the summer that we’ve had, considering everything.”

Actually, she says, the indifference some may be feeling towards the region pre-dates COVID, going back to the floods that dramatically changed and affected the area in 2013.

“After the floods, Kananaskis sort of fell to the back of the minds of Albertans as a mountain destination in favour of the other mountain towns … They fell out of the habit of coming to Kananaskis, people started forgetting about the valley per se, so we really wanted to put Kananaskis back on top of mind of Albertans first, and remind them that this is right in their backyard and completely accessible and a quick drive from Calgary — even Edmonton; it’s the same distance to go to Jasper, to go to Kananaskis.

“So we’re excited to invite people to rediscover the region and discover a new way to see the Rockies.”

To make that easier, partners in the Kananaskis valley have joined together to provide an easy portal — a new, collaborative online website and social media platform called Explore Kananaskis. It’s the one-stop spot for all things Albertans need to know about getting away while not going too far, including accommodations, drinks and dining, shopping and recreation. Of course the latter — along with that scenery — is the biggest draw, with a pair of ski hills and the Canmore Nordic Centre nearby, as well as what’s just outside any door you exit. That includes being part of an Alberta Parks network of trails, offering hikes for any level of ambler, from the stroller friendly to a little rockier, with the snowshoeing and cross-country skiing options almost as plentiful. Almost.

“Cross-country skiing is a bit contentious this year because the government wants to stop maintaining the trails,” Pageau-Bisson says. “So we’re in negotiations to try to see how we can keep the trails open…But snowshoeing, the trails are fairly accessible and any hiking trail can be snowshoed, pretty much.”

The new virtual gateway also features blog postings about what else to do and see, such as the best Instagram spots in the area, as well as deals and specials at local businesses — all of whom are working together on the Experience Kananaskis initiative.

With the village not being an actual village –all of the amenities are not as easily onhand as, say, Canmore or Banff —  one of the biggest industries that sets K-Country apart is that in and around the lodgings (Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Crosswaters Resort, Mount Kidd Manor and Sundance Lodges), there’s a wealth of dining options. Those range from pub food (Two Trees or Woody’s) and Italian (Forte) to a summer-launched adventure dining program at the Pomeroy, where you can pick up an eco-friendly picnic lunch and hit the trails (it still runs throughout the winter for the heartier/crazier mountain diner).

“We have quite a range of different dining experiences,” Pageau-Bisson says. “You can be in Kananaskis for a while and not eat at the same place.”

Dangerous, yes, but as she says, “you can walk it off after.”

And you can do so with the knowledge that all of the properties involved in Experience Kananaskis are going above and beyond when it comes to COVID protocols, from the restaurants to the hotels to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa — now fully functional, including the steam rooms, saunas and pools. An immediate regard for the health of visitors is how you’ll be welcomed back.

“It’s always been top of mind,” Pageau-Bisson says, noting they’ve been working closely with AHS, “so that we’re always over the requirements and making sure that we’re going the extra mile so that people feel safe, our team feels safe…it’s super important for us.”

As important as ensuring that one of Alberta’s getaways is a go-to again. And not taken for granted.

“The partners of the valley really came together to help build Kananaskis up as a destination again, so even though I’m talking to you today and I’m employed by the lodge, it’s not only about getting people to sleep at the lodge, it’s really getting people to experience everything that Kananaskis has to offer.

“That’s something that’s really important for us, to put it back on top of mind of Albertans and get them to experience their own backyard.”

(Note: With any of the properties or restaurants in Kananaskis, please call ahead to see if there have been any changes in COVID protocols.)