As Alberta towns go, Drumheller has the “Best Theme” category all wrapped up. Dinosaurs: They’re fossilized in the looming desert hills, preserved as skeletons in the nearby Royal Tyrrell Museum and represented in fibreglass on every street corner.
Most Albertans visit this hotbed of paleontology as part of a summer holiday. Few, however, choose to venture to the badlands town in winter. True, the cacti aren’t in bloom and combing the hoodoos for prehistoric relics isn’t as fruitful in snow boots. But where else can one ski a coulee by moonlight?
Every full-moon night throughout the winter, the Badlands Ski Hill turns off the lights and opens its slopes until midnight. The experience, says hill manager Zrinko Amerl, is a “mix of magic and thrills.” Guests access the three runs – beginner, intermediate and expert – by a quad chairlift that Zrinko promises never has a lineup. And since the snow is mostly artificial (this is a desert, after all) one can always count on favourable conditions. Even so, it’s hard not to appreciate the eerie contrast between the fleeting pleasure of a moonlight ski and a landscape billions of years in the making. (403-823-5006 or Ski Drumheller)
The most charming place to stay in Drumheller is the Inn and Spa at Heartwood (below). Ten rooms and a guest cottage offer antique furnishings, whirlpool tubs and local artwork. The common lounge, with its wood-burning fireplace, is the perfect place to snuggle up with a post-ski glass of wine. Owners Patrice and Zeke Wolf are passionate about all things Drumheller: The couple regularly hosts art shows and Zeke can wax poetic about the local golf course (where he gives lessons as part of the inn’s stay-and-play packages). Even in wintertime the scenic back nine, which takes advantage of the badlands’ irregular elevation, is worth a stroll.
Meanwhile, the inn’s second-floor spa facilities offer massages (therapeutic or hydrosonic), facials, manicures and pedicures. Spa director Margo Masse is professional, congenial and dedicated to using first-rate European products. (1-888-823-6495 or Inn and Spa at Heartwood )
The Inside Track
Big bad bones: 2010 marks the 25th anniversary of the Royal Tyrrell Musuem). To commemorate, 25 of its most significant specimens will be on display, including “Black Beauty,” a shining T-Rex skull. Badlands baklava: Athens Greek Restaurant, for its 11 kinds of pita bread. (403-823-3225). Après-ski triage: Badlands Leg Circulation Restorer massage at the Heartwood spa or a soak in your room’s whirlpool tub with locally made bath salts. Hoodoos to go: local art from Badlands Gallery)