The landscapes that can be viewed while travelling in the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury train that covers four routes in western Canada, are the chief attraction to travellers from around the world. Intermittently, at points of interest during the journey, members of the guest experience team pick up a mic to tell anecdotes and convey snippets of information.
That aspect of the two day First Passage to the West journey, from Vancouver to Banff, impressed me because the presentation styles of guest experience team seemed so fluid and natural. Not one of the team working in the bi-level GoldLeaf car that I travelled in gave the impression that they were reciting a script.
“We’ve got core stories that everybody learns and, piece by piece, add our own spin,” revealed Ira Young, Guest Service Manager, who is now in his fifth season aboard the Rocky Mountaineer.
“Injecting your own personality is intrinsic to the host roll. A lot of the host team members identify with a particular part of the history, the geography or the flora and fauna, and add that spin to it. You have hosts that are really into wildlife – their commentary about bears, they really add a lot to that. So everybody has got their own speciality,” added Ira as we sat and chatted.
“I’m here to look after the guests and make sure all their needs are met. We’re generally responsible for two cars and oversee the house team in those cars…and ensure that any concerns or questions people have about their journey are take care of,” he explained.
GoldLeaf and SilverLeaf on the Rocky Mountaineer
Ira began his career on the Rocky Mountaineer as a host working in both the GoldLeaf and SilverLeaf cars. SilverLeaf cars have just a single level and the GoldLeaf cars have two. Meals are served on the lower level while the upper level has dome windows.
As we pulled out of Kamloops Ira picked up the mic and explained that the train had been given permission to travel at top speed over the next few kilometres of track, something known as ‘highballing’. That’s a historic rail term derived from signalling lanterns that, long ago, were hung at three different levels from the pylons by the side of the track. If the lantern was hung from the highest one the drivers could accelerate.
“I’m a big fan of trains. I’m named after my great-grandfather, Ira, who drove the royal train [carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth] across the country in 1939. Trains are in my blood,” explained Ira, about his passion. He rides trains in his free time. Last November, after the Rocky Mountaineer’s season had come to an end, Ira travelled to Japan to ride the Shinkansen, the bullet trains, and recently travelled the west coast of America by train.
The railways in Canada
“Especially after working for Rocky Mountaineer I realised how important the railway was to the foundation of Canada and specifically the west coast of Canada. It very easily could have gone the other way, and we could have been part of the United States, had the Canadian Pacific Railway not been built,” he said.
“You can see how important the railroad is to each of these communities we travel through. If you look on a map you see there are only towns along where the railway is. It’s really important to our country. That really resonates with me. We’re a relatively new country but the railroad is part of our foundation. This country was built on the rails,” said Ira pointing out of the window.
Traversing the countryside by train meant plenty of photo opportunities. They include the Cisco Crossing, the 247-metre long arched bridge where the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway lines meet, and Castle Mountain in the Rockies, which juts 2,766 metres into Alberta’s sky.
The scenery of Kicking Horse Canyon
“I really enjoy the section along the Kicking Horse Canyon as we wind along the Kicking Horse River through the Kicking Horse Pass. It’s one of my favourite spots. Another one is Pyramid Falls, on the line that goes to Jasper, just outside of a little town called Blue River, which is really famous for heli-skiing. There’s a beautiful, 90-metre waterfall right beside the tracks that can only be seen from the train,” said Ira about his favourite locations along the lines travelled by the Rocky Mountaineer.
“We go through the Rockies, on the Rocky Mountaineer, but what I think a lot of people don’t realise is that we wind our way through some amazing desert canyons on the first day. They have some big sky vistas. That was a big eye-opener for me, the amount the scenery changes,” he added.
One of my favourite moments was spotting a grizzly bear walking in snow by the side of the track close to Banff National Park.
“I still get excited about seeing bears. That is one of the things I love about working here. If we see bears I’m still just as excited today as my first day onboard,” said Ira, who admits he still looks forward to coming into work.
Having viewed the landscapes of western Canada from the train’s panoramic windows I can see why.
The Rocky Mountaineer runs on four separate routes. The First Passage to the West is between Vancouver and Banff, with an overnight stop in Kamloops. For more information about the train and to book a journey visit the Rocky Mountaineer website, www.rockymountaineer.com. Alternatively, call free-of-charge, on 0800 0606 7372, from the United Kingdom, or +1-877-460-3200, from North America.
See the Destination Canada website for travel information about Canada and ideas about things to do and see in the country.
Photos illustrating this story are by Stuart Forster.
Declaration: Stuart travelled as a guest of the Rocky Mountaineer but had full editorial freedom in writing this post.