Published Oct 11th, 2011

By Steven Sandor

Good As Golden

A recent makeover and new gourmet restaurants woke up the B.C. sleepy town

In one of the most enduring episodes of The Simpsons, the town of Springfield, in an effort to keep up with neighbouring Shelbyville, gets behind a monorail project. The townsfolk’s determination to build the monorail becomes more than a matter of civic pride — it’s an obsession.

Like Springfield, Golden, B.C., a two-hour drive west of Banff on the Trans-Canada highway, no longer wants to just another town. Once a whistle stop on the Canadian Pacific rail line, it has a plethora of  skiing and adventure-sport opportunities and is home to an array of restaurants. The town has united in order to make this known. It doesn’t want to play second, even third fiddle to the mountain towns on the Alberta side of the border.

But, unlike Springfield, there is no sign that Golden’s plans are going to turn to dust.

Developments are emerging throughout the town, on the shores of the ice-blue Kicking Horse River and up the mountain. Travel across a rickety wood bridge and up a mountain road and, among the black bears and evergreen trees, you’ll find $1-million-plus homes, all built within the past 10 years.

Ken and Lori Chilibeck are prime examples of the boom that’s happening on the mountain.

In 2004, they opened their 10-room Vagabond Lodge, a stone’s throw from the Golden Eagle Express Gondola, which whisks skiers in the winter and mountain bikers in the summer 2,300 metres to the peak of the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, where the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant is perched, serving gourmet entrees like the bison short ribs, cheese plates and charcuterie. Once a rugged extreme course, Dutch developer Ballast Nedam has transformed it into an alpine village with all the amenities.

The Chilibecks’ rustic, charming lodge offered a change of pace for the couple. “We skied the resort in the first year and we saw the potential for this area. There was a real opportunity here,” said Ken, who left his job as a TSN reporter on the Oilers and Eskimos’ beat to pursue his Golden dream. “And, before that, the family, including my sons Kori and Shane, used to come camping in the area.”

It was the great outdoors that lured the Chilibecks west, and it’s still the town’s major drawing card. From camping and mountain-biking in the summer to skiing and snowboarding in the winter, Golden has plenty of sporting opportunities.

When the resort got its makeover a decade ago, cross-country trails were built a short sprint away. Trail designer Don Gardner, best known for designing a course in Canmore for the 1988 winter Olympics, was brought in to create a plan for more than 30 kilometres of routes in Golden.

“We get the people who want to ski away into the wilderness and we have those who really want to train,” said Golden Nordic Ski Club President Jeff Dolinsky. “We have members from Calgary and as far away as Ottawa.”

From March 11 to 17, Golden Nordic hosts the Canadian Masters Championships (for entrants 30 years and over), as the organization has begun the process of soliciting major events.

And it’s not just about snow. Cyclists can either scoot down the course at the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort before the snow flies, or simply take a leisurely ride through town. In town, visitors can rent bikes from an automated kiosk.

Golden sees a future where the logging trucks that come down in clouds of dust from the gravel roads that surround town will be replaced with tour buses and cars with ski racks on the roofs. They see a future where their town’s name will be mentioned in the same breath as Lake Louise and Banff.

But they want to do it their own way. They want to preserve the history of the town and not get lost in a sea of mini-malls and chain stores that has turned Banff into more of an upscale shopping town than a park town.

Bill Usher, director of the Art Gallery of Golden, moved to the town from Toronto nearly 10 years ago, and believes that the town has tempered its growth with a strong sense of identity. “We have a very liberal and supportive town council, who can see what can happen,” he said. “The key is to attract the tourism business, but to keep the authenticity of the town.”

The art gallery just hosted “Golden, We Call This Home,” which featured artist Lia Golemba doing modern takes on early 1900s Canadian Pacific Railway posters that promoted Canada as the ideal immigration spot. Usher also coordinates Summer Kicks, a series of weekly downtown concerts.

The town core is populated by a series of high-end eateries, such as Eleven 22, which proudly promotes its ale-infused lamb stew, and the Cedar House, which heartily recommends its salmon filet served with coconut cakes. Both restaurants serve a new upscale clientele that are moving into the town as vacationers and/or part-time residents.

Springfield had a monorail, but Golden has eateries, sports and fantastic views. Banff has a lot more to be worried about than Shelbyville did. 

Plan Ahead

Golden, B.C. is right on the Trans Canada Highway, about two hours west of Banff. The road winds and there can be delays in winter, so be prepared,

>>Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has a variety of lift prices, depending if you want to ski, bike or simply grab lunch at the Eagle's Eye Restaurant. (kickinghorseresort.com)

>>Skiing the trails at Golden Nordic Ski Club costs $10 for adults, $5 for children, $25 for families. (goldennordicclub.ca)

>>Vagabond Lodge rates for the ski season range from $225 to $280. Book before Oct. 31 to get the early-bird rate and save 10 per cent. Stays include breakfast and hot lunch (home-made chili, bread, Guinness stew, pasta, soup and sandwiches)

>>Vagabond Lodge stay and ski packages start at $182 a day per person, with a two-night minimum. It includes lift tickets at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. (vagabondlodge.ca)

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