Touring the Columbia Ice Field is not for the faint of pocketbook. Prior to getting into line, it is worth researching your purchase options, as there are 12 for each person in your group (a family of 3 has 36 possible combinations). This resulted in a 55-60 minute wait at the ticket desk, before waiting in lines elsewhere on the voyage. The full package (Skywalk, Banff Lake Cruise, Banff sky tram, and the Icefield) is the cheapest as long as you plan to do three of the four events.
Once your tickets are purchased, there is a place for lunch upstairs, which can often serve lunch or a snack inside the wait time people have before they board their buses. Once on the buses, there is no rest facilities available, so one should use the tiolet just before boarding. You take one regular bus to the drop off point where you take the Glacier coach onto the glacier. You spend approximately 10 min on the glacier before returning by the same shuttle schedule. Total round-trip time is around 90 minutes.
For the faint of heart, the glacial coach (the one with the big wheels) does drive you down a 32 percent grade incline onto the glacier. There are two degrees of safety involved, as the buses are certified to not tip over unless the road reaches a 35 percent grade. The steepness of this section is eyeopening.
Once out on the glacier, you stand on 770 feet of ice (when we visited 12 years ago it was over 1000 feet), and you are able to capture and witness some of the glacial melt. The water on the glacier is potable and is suitable for drinking. The last time that ice saw atmospheric contaminants was around 20,000 years ago, so it is likely more pure than anything available anywhere else.
The trip is entertaining. Good guides help you learn and get something out of the trip.
Note to visitors: Only an imbecile wears open-toed shoes when climbing onto a slab of ice 770 feet thick. Your feet will tread through a slush layer on top, the ice is cold (around 0 degrees), and the air temperature on the glacier is about 10 Celsius degrees below that at the visitor center..or about 20 Fahrenheit degrees. Jackets or other outwear are appropriate. Snowball fights do break out. Be ready, and enjoy.
Bottom line -- a waiting line that moved glacially (while in theme) was irksome enough and caused serious overcrowding in the visitors' building to make this less than a 5-star experience. The Glacier is worth seeing, however.