Driving an Electric Car from Calgary to Fairmont Hot Springs

For the record, Alex drove the electric car. I was her support, in case something went wrong.

A couple of years ago, we decided it was time to ditch our diesel Jetta. It was gathering too many repairs and VW’s diesel history was … less than stellar. We wanted an electric car.

Alex beat me to the punch and found a VW e-Golf. While I have a certain distaste for VWs (it’s a longer blog post, but I’ve developed an almost allergic reaction to them), she had found a used one at Go Electric, a place that specializes in finding used electric cars. Buying a used car is one thing, buying a used electric is different. That might seem a bit “well, duh”, but you have to remember that the core of any electric car is its battery, and it’s very expensive to replace. If the battery capacity is reduced from use, you won’t get anywhere near the range you expect. Naturally, we had it tested.

We’d done the Calgary to Fairmont Hot Springs trip many times before, always in a dinosaur car. It’s a trip we know fairly well. This trip was a bit different, though, as the kids and I were going to continue out to Ruskin … Alex, however, had to return to Calgary to work.

My first thought was to drop her off in Cranbrook so she could fly. But she didn’t want to deal with flights and airports for such a short flight. We would take both cars – electric and dinosaur.

The e-Golf has, at best, 250km of range. And while Fairmont Hot Springs is a mere 150 km southwest of Calgary, there’s at least two mountain ranges in between, and the route is about 300 km as a result. The worst section is the Banff-Radium segment, which is 140 km between charging stations; nearly 100 km of it is on Hwy 93, which is a complete cellular dead zone without any gas/charge station.

But Alex had it planned out. And we put the plan into action. Well, after I had worked for the day and Alex had finished her school work. We packed into our two cars – Monkey and Alex in the e-Golf, Choo Choo and I in the dinosaur – and hit the road.

We drove to Canmore, which Alex’s app had suggested was the best place for her to charge up, giving her enough juice to get to Radium. The estimate had her arriving with 11% of her charge. The charging station, an Electrify Canada location, had 350 kW chargers that could top up a vehicle in very little time – certainly not the 8 hours of Level 2 we witness at home. After we ate, we hit the road again, this time to tackle the Vermilion and Kootenay Crossings.

When I drive on highways, I use cruise control. I don’t do that for laziness (though I will admit that not worrying about my speed allows me to pay more attention to driving), it more for efficiency – it is nigh-impossible to maintain a consistent speed with one’s foot that won’t use more fuel. The same applies to battery power. So I was a bit frustrated by Alex, who hates the cruise control, as her speed changed constantly.

I was frustrated because I wanted her to be as efficient as possible. We’d never driven our used electric car out of the city, never mind into the mountains in the fading light of a summer day where a breakdown would be a tricky thing to deal with. I wanted her to get to Radium without issue. I bit my tongue and hoped for the best.

The trip was, thankfully, uneventful. The trip down Hwy 93, even more so. But I wasn’t remotely relieved until we hit Olive Lake, which is the start of a long 8 km drop into Radium Hot Springs. Why was I relieved? Because most electric cars – including ours – have regenerative braking, charging the car’s battery. It worked so well that by the time she got to the junction with Highway 95 (which takes us to Fairmont Hot Springs), she had nearly 90 km of range.

Suffice to say, I am impressed. And, perhaps more importantly, educated about how well the available charging system works. For years, I had believed that that it just took too long to charge cars that weren’t Teslas so you could go longer distances in reasonable periods of time. Newer cars can do 80% charges in under 20 minutes, but older cars are another matter.

What I’ve learned is that they can handle it. Not on regular bases, but certainly when needed. And with a 350 kW charger, a 25 minute charge is a possibility. Which, really, isn’t bad at all.

That said, the e-Golf will likely remain our city car, even when the dinosaur is retired in favour of a longer-range electric. And with many manufacturers switching to Tesla’s electrical format, it means greater standardization and less cost to maintain for cars. And less of a concern about going for a Sunday drive, not spewing pollution.

Well, it’ll be better once we get the solar panels installed… but that’s another blog post.