There are many good reasons to live in, or visit, the city of Calgary, Alberta. However, with all due respect to my friends and family who live there, I’ve always wondered why anyone would have initially settled that part of the world. You’ve got some of the most beautiful landscapes on the entire planet less than an hour’s drive west. You can see the mountains out your window. Pristine wilderness; lakes, streams and postcard-worthy vistas around every turn.
Offered the opportunity to attend the recent grand and opulent opening of the four-star Malcolm Hotel in the heart of Canmore, I made arrangements to pick up a 2018 Lincoln Navigator Premium in Calgary and explore the area. The newly redesigned Navigator shares underpinnings with the Ford Expedition, but piles on the amenities and is visually distinctive enough not to make you wonder where that extra money is going. Unlike previous attempts at luxury which came off as cheap and gaudy, the Navigator’s interior is genuinely lavish and well appointed.
Years ago, if you wanted a three-row behemoth SUV, your options were pretty limited. Even more limited still if you wanted to opt for one which treated all passengers to a smooth, comfortable experience rich with fine leather and opulent amenities. The segment has subsequently become filled with options for those looking to buy a large luxury land yacht, each manufacturer looking to lure customers with their particular brand of indulgence.
A 10-way adjustable driver’s seat comes as standard equipment, with the option of 24-way or even 30-way seating with thigh extensions and Active Motion massaging seats. Strangely it wasn’t until after my initial drive that I read about Lincoln’s claim of the Navigator offering the “Perfect Position Seats.” For the first hour of driving, I was constantly adjusting each and every which way, struggling to find a comfortable position. Naively, I didn’t save the settings with the multiple memory function, so as soon as I shut the ignition off, everything reset and I had to start from scratch. Lesson learned.
Ride quality is top notch. The suspension somehow manages to strike a keen balance between being smooth and supple, but also firm and responsive. The interior is quiet and very well insulated from road noise of any kind. Steering is precise and well-weighted while on the open road, while the turning radius in a tight parking lot or underground garage is impressive for a vehicle of this stature.
While you can see the grandeur of the mountains from afar, it isn’t until you approach Kananaskis, that the terrain starts to get interesting, the scenery changes and the roads become entertaining. The last time I’d traveled this part of the world was on two wheels, so the experience couldn’t be more different. Rather than being open and exposed to the elements – vulnerable to every fluctuation in temperature and bump in the road, the Navigator soaked up every imperfection, letting me arrive at my destination well rested and relaxed.
Quiet, secluded and self sufficient, it’s an easier place than most to slow down and recharge. The first traditional hotel to be built in Canmore within the last 20 years, the luxurious $43 Million Malcolm Hotel pays tribute to the town’s Scottish history by honouring the legacy of King Malcolm III who reigned from 1058 to 1093. Interestingly, he was nicknamed “ceann mo’r” or “Canmore”, which in Gaelic means “Big Head”. You learn something new every day.
Managing to blend contemporary design with regal Scottish decadence that embraces its unspoiled surroundings, the hotel offers casual and fine dining, a year-round outdoor heated pool and two outdoor hot tubs where guests can enjoy the spectacular views. Many of the materials used to develop unique design elements were sourced locally, with resident contractors and craftspeople providing many of the high quality finishing touches, including reproduction prints from local artist Michael Vincent in each room that depict iconic historic buildings in the area.
There is no shortage of outdoor activities in the region. The hotel may be off the beaten path, but Canmore’s eclectic collection of restaurants, cafés, pubs, artisan galleries and boutique shops are just minutes away. There is also a Nordic Centre, dog sledding, cave exploration and river rafting all within relatively close proximity depending on the season and your level of appetite for adventure. Thanks to shockingly recent amendments of the Province’s liquor laws, microbreweries such as Half Hitch Brewing, Grizzly Paw Brewing, and Canmore Brewing have popped up in the area, along with the Wild Life and Raw Distilleries.
People in Alberta are friendly, the air is fresh and the scenery is world-class. The roads in and around the area offer smooth, serpentine tarmac free of traffic lights, or, what a Torontonian would consider traffic, for that matter. Weaving through the hills and mountains, the views changes from turn to turn. Referred to at the Vista Roof, the Navigator’s glass ceiling brings light into the cabin and allows for passengers to take in scenery that would otherwise be marred by metal. Highway 40, or Kananaskis Trail as it is also known, leads towards the Highwood Pass, which is credited as being the highest elevation of paved road in Canada at a height of 2,206m (7,237ft). The pass is understandably closed for much of the year due to treacherous road conditions and to ensure animal sustainability, so plan ahead.
Offering the opportunity to accommodate up to eight passengers, the Navigator’s turbocharged 3.5L V6 mated to a 10-speed transmission churns out 450hp and more importantly 510 lb.-ft. of torque as low as 3,000 rpm, allowing this stately SUV to go from naught to 100km/h in 6.2 seconds. It makes easy work of highway passing and steep grades. If you’re looking for a full-size luxury SUV, chances are good you aren’t overly concerned about prices at the pump, but I suppose every little bit helps. The combined city and highway fuel mileage is rated as 14.9 L/100km, but this number will vary widely based on weather, road and driving conditions.
Hopping on the Trans-Canada for a few minutes will bring you to the adorably quaint town of Banff. As many tourists and travelers seemed to be doing, I decided to experience the Banff Gondola. Recently completing a $26 million revitalization, the cable cars take you to the 1,267 metre summit in a matter of minutes. Lake Minnewanka is only a few minutes out of town and is definitely worth the drive. The breathtaking mountains and vibrant bright blue coloured lakes reminded me of past travels through the Swiss Alps. How lucky we are to live in such a vast, diverse and peaceful nation. That kind of beauty can’t help but make you calmly reflect.
I then continued on to Lake Moraine, situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Visitors may recognize the view from being immortalized on the former Canadian $20 bill that went into circulation in 1960. Lake Louise isn’t far down the road and is more commonly visited by tourists due to its unique vibrant turquoise colour. Fed by six glacial lakes which grind the rock beneath them into a fine powder called rock flour, the water absorbs all colours of light except for the ones seen by the human eye. The famous view is beautiful enough to attract people from around the world.
Postcards always seem to feature blue sky and sunshine, but the weather can, and often does, change quickly. The locals have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” One can experience four seasons of weather in a single day, so dress accordingly. The Navigator offers six distinct selectable drive modes at the twist of a knob depending on driver preference and driving conditions. From Winter mode to Excite, each selection has a number of deliberate settings that reconfigure its behaviour by modifying algorithms for throttle response, adaptive suspension, four-wheel-drive traction allocation, transmission shift points and displays.
Rain and fog do create a unique ambience however, and there’s nothing fresher than the air in the Rockies after a rain. The scents are so vibrant and intoxicating that you wish you could bottle them to take home. And when the sun was shining, it’s like heaven on earth.