The next morning, as I washed the last of the glitter from my hair and unpacked my silly Christmas sweater, I thought about all the amazing memories I had of Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s Christmas In November. I realized that what I had previously expected to experience at CIN was in no way what I had experienced at all. Sure, I had expected a gorgeous wintry wonderland nestled in the Canadian Rockies, some eggnog, some sugar cookies and merry tunes but what I witnessed and became a part of was a whole lot more.
From the moment our bus entered the grounds and Santa hopped aboard our bus to give us our room keys, to the final wave good bye from the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge staff, it was pure magic. Within six feet of the front door, I was immersed in Christmas with every sense I have; I smelled the wood smoke from the roaring fire, tasted an eggnog & rum, and listened to the beautiful Christmas melodies performed by the Willows Trio. The warmth of the lodge was so welcoming after coming in from the cold, and I was suddenly very eager to get in on my first ever Silly Christmas sweater party.
From those beginning moments of Christmas In November to the very end when the presenters and staff of Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge gathered to wave goodbye, I fell in love with Christmas all over again. I would love to share with you some of my very favourite CIN moments.
The Flaming welcome reception Fire Cocktail with Pinnacle vodka and cherry brandy. While I sat in awe as Sue the bartender (yes we ended up on a first name basis) lit my cocktail glass on fire I noticed that I wasn’t the only one watching. Flare bartender, CIN presenter, and partial elf, Micah Dew was filming my drink being made and afterwards, we had a nice chat about the upcoming cocktails we would create during his cocktail session. His co-hosting commentary during the whole CIN event was entertaining and I could tell that he loves meeting people and helping them to have a great time.
The people. Everyone was there to have a good time, whether or not they had arrived all by themselves or with a huge group of friends and family. During the weekend, I took some time everyday to sit with as many different CIN attendees as I could. At breakfast one morning I met a 14 year CIN attendee who was accompanied by a group of other ‘less experienced’ friends, including a couple of first timers. I sat with a couple who had traveled from the Toronto area at dinner that first night. They had heard how great CIN was from a friend and couldn’t resist becoming a part of the festivities. I chatted with two celiac ladies just prior to Christine Cushing’s session. They were so excited that Christine had taken the time to make them a special ‘gluten free’ version of her sweet potato gnudi with fried sage and chestnuts using rice flour instead of all purpose flour. Oh, and then there were the jolly food writers that closed the hotel bar down every night…we’ll just leave it at that!
The entertainment. From the beautiful three way harmonies, to their always matching and festive outfits, the Willows Trio were a treat at every dinner and reception. When it was time to party a little bit harder, Edmonton band, The Counterfitz really had a lot of great tunes (accompanied by vocals that just blew me away!) that kept people dancing. Of course, no CIN would be complete without a visit from the big man himself! Gala night got a little crazy for some of the presenters but I don’t think anyone ended up on Santa’s naughty list.
The setting at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is within a gorgeous Rocky Mountain valley, beside the shores of Lake Beauvert. When we arrived, there was no snow on the ground but it began gently falling the next day, as if on cue. I was blessed to be staying in a cozy lakefront cabin with a king sized bed all to myself and I felt so spoiled as every time I called #55 on my phone, the front desk person addressed me as ‘Ms. Hill’. I think a word or two needs to be said here about the staff at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. They were so attentive and organized, with just the right amount of professionalism mixed with mischievous fun. I could see that they all work so hard during the long hours of CIN, yet they still found time to chat or make jokes. I enjoyed meeting everyone from the cleaning ladies who showed me how to use my in room coffee gadget, to the kitchen chefs who were there to help the presenters, Uwe Walter (Director of Sales & Marketing who shared my table for the majority of the weekend, Angela Moore (Fairmont regional public director), and Teresa Marshall (Marketing & Public Relations, FJPL). I particularly enjoyed seeing Executive Chef Christopher Chafe let loose on the dance floor and taking the time to speak with so many people. He looks like a chef that is comfortable both in and out of the kitchen, and he was entirely comfortable leaving the food preparation to his amazing kitchen staff.
The presenters. I signed up for all the food related sessions (and still couldn’t get to them all!) and was fortunate to be able to meet most of them again during ‘downtime’ over the course of the weekend. They all were very friendly and always willing to post for a picture. Emily Richards and Elizabeth Baird really had to be two of my favourite presenters. Their presentation was set up in the private dining room overlooking the lake and I walked by them every morning on my way to my scheduled presentation. Every time they would wave and I would wave back and carry on walking. Finally, one evening at dinner, Elizabeth Baird stopped to ask me (!) when I would be IN the session instead of just floating by it! Yep, I was pretty tickled to meet this great lady of Canadian cuisine, 2014 recipient of the Governor General of Canada award for her contribution to the history and continuation of Canadian Cuisine.
Some of our local food chefs, Julie van Rosendaal, Connie DeSousa, and John Jackson love coming to CIN because they are able to enjoy quality family time with their families during the 9 days of CIN. I was excited to be able to add a few more ‘chef selfies’ to my growing photo album…
The Food. It appears that I have saved the last. I have to say at this point that I am usually pretty careful how much I eat at our Christmas family gatherings. There are just too many great things to eat during the holidays and if I let loose, I just may never stop. Well, I’m afraid that this was the case during CIN…I ate way too much! Each of the presentations I attended ended in a tasting of all the amazing dishes they had made and I tried almost every dish. On the second day I started ‘presentation hopping’ so that I could try as much of the presenter’s food as I could. So let’s say, for example I tried all of the delicious pastries that Emily Richards and Elizabeth Baird had made…then ran down the hall to where Connie and John had just finished up their Charcut vs. Charbar presentation to try the truffle poutine and seared meats with seafood. True story. You may now be able to understand why I was so full for the majority of every served lunch and dinner at CIN. I felt bad because the meals that Chef Chafe and staff had prepared were the best I’ve ever had in a hotel, especially during a conference of 450 people! Each course was specially timed so everyone at each table was served at the same time. The food was piping hot, well presented, and delicious. The traditional turkey dinner we enjoyed for lunch on the first day was something quite special, indeed.
Mustard grilled pork chops (Michael Olson), Buttertarts & Gorgonzola/onion tart (Emily Richards & Elizabeth Baird), Crispy Pork Belly Vietnamese style sandwiches & Pineapple Pork Skewers (Anna & Michael Olson), Sweet Potato Gnudi with Sage and Brown Butter (Christine Cushing), Candy Cane Macarons (Duchess Bakeshop)
The chef presenters supplied everyone with copies of the recipes they had made for the presentations and now I feel more than prepared to host Christmas at my house this year! Here is a great recipe for sugar cookies from Anna Olson which uses cooked egg yolk to add texture and stability.
This year Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is celebrating 100 years in the Rocky Mountains including 27 years of Christmas In November. CIN is planned down to every last twinkling light by the heated outdoor pool, their longevity is a testament to their attention to detail and amazing service. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is open year round and is the perfect getaway for couples, families, and friends alike. It is even pet friendly! They host many great events throughout the year, including many special events marking their Centennial year.