This winter, the Banff Gondola offers a whole new way to experience the summit after sunset

The sun has set and the sky is completely dark. It feels strange to be boarding a gondola at night. The doors close and the tram takes flight, beginning its ascent up Banff’s Sulphur Mountain. Eagerly, I anticipate what wonder will be revealed at the top. Little do I know, the adventure has already begun.

I’m about to experience Nightrise – a recently launched, fully-immersive experience of the senses located atop the Banff Gondola. Created in partnership with Montreal’s Moment Factory (creators of Vallea Lumina in Whistler) and the Stoney Nakoda Nation, and presented by Pursuit, this laid-back lumina event invites guests to view night differently; experiencing moments in nature in a “new light” where darkness is the backdrop.

After a moment sitting in darkness, ambient lights fill the gondola and the mesmerizing voice of Cherith Mark, a Stoney translator, speaks softly over a speaker. “You are about to live an immersive evening at the top of Sulphur Mountain, Mînî Rhûwîn, a sacred summit within the traditional lands of the Stoney Nakoda, Blackfoot and Tsuut’ina Nations.”

As the story continues, words in the traditional language of the Stoney Nakoda People are blended with English, prompting self reflection and an open minded perspective on what’s to come.

“At the top of this mountain, Îyarhe, there are mysterious fleeting wonders awaiting in the dark… Cosmic Rays, Apenene Garharhagach, Diamond Dust, Wiyapta Ptach, Alpenglow, Aîthîya Eya, Frosted Waves, Yowatha,” the narration continues, hinting at Nightrise’s four levels to be explored at the top. As the story ends, music fills the air. We approach the summit and the music dramatically amplifies; we’ve arrived.

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Stepping out of the gondola, I’m immediately transported to a dark room littered with tiny lights. This is “Cosmic Rays,” the first floor of the multi-level, multi-sensory excursion. Strolling through the space, I discover places to sit and ponder, and intriguing illuminations that invite me to interact. I’m reminded of Mark’s words spoken in the gondola, encouraging me to let my senses guide me. “Look, Akida, listen, Anâorptâ, lounge, Eberhegiya, repeat, Ake,” she says.

On “Frosted Waves,” the top floor, I step outside and fluffy snowflakes tumble from the sky. On the ground the words “Listen to the view” are illuminated. I’m drawn to a series of glowing megaphones and as I walk toward them, I see a sign titled Whispers of the Northern Lights. I press my ear against the megaphone and I can hear them: the Northern Lights singing in the sky.

When I’ve finished wandering on my own, I meet up with my group in the Sky Bistro and we share our experiences. We’ve all found hidden highlights or been touched by a different element of the experience, but one feeling is universal: the stories of the Stoney Nakoda Peoples, shared through spoken word, visual effects and movement shine brighter than any star on this dark night.


When you go:

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Be sure to pre-book your Nightrise tickets online. The experience runs daily from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. until March 12, 2022. To get there, take the free Banff Gondola shuttle, which runs Fridays and Saturdays, every hour, to and from lk + Avenue Hotel, Banff Park Lodge and Fairmont Banff Springs