You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

10 of the best winter activities to do in Alberta, Canada

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 09/01/2019 Annie Ross

a man riding skis down a snow covered forest: Annie fat biking through the forest above Canmore with Rebound Cycles (Exerk.com) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Annie fat biking through the forest above Canmore with Rebound Cycles (Exerk.com) It’s from the air that you truly grasp how vast the Canadian Rockies are. The jagged white peaks stretch in all directions, each one an adventure-lover’s paradise.

On the ground, sleds, skis, snowboards, snowshoes and fat bikes navigate the terrain from November through to March.

Flying direct from London to Calgary, a two-week trip exploring the province of Alberta is a brilliant teaser of what the dream Canadian outdoor-sy life could entail.

The national stereotype of friendliness prevails – “We have very little time for negative energy here,” Cameron Wood from Travel Alberta tells me. And the hassle-free infrastructure throughout the Rockies makes the trip one big breath of fresh air. Quite literally.

Download the Microsoft News app for your Android or iPhone device and get news & live updates on the go.

Start planning your visit with our guide to the best winter activities in Alberta.

1. Snowshoeing

a person standing on a snow covered mountain: Annie Ross (L) snowshoeing at Fortress Mountain (Annie Ross) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Annie Ross (L) snowshoeing at Fortress Mountain (Annie Ross) What it’s like: The first few steps in snowshoes are bizarre. We quickly develop confidence though and fall into a comfortable stomping rhythm. We hook a left off the groomed pitch, sinking into fresh powder, navigating our way among the silent trees.

Snowshoeing is a great way for people of all fitness levels to explore the mountainside so make sure you give it a try. You strap the snow shoes around your winter boots so make sure you’re wearing something sturdy.

Where to do it: Hitch a ride on a snow groomer (a “cat”) to venture up to Fortress Mountain, the landscape chosen for the filming of The Revenant, Inception, Planet of the Apes and The Bourne Identity. White Mountain Adventures will kit you out with snowshoes and keep you warm and well-fed with hot chocolate and cookies.

Video: Japan snow festival leaves visitors in awe (Associated Press)

UP NEXT
UP NEXT

2. Dog sledding

What it’s like: As the two of us start pushing the sled, shouting "Hike up, let’s go" to the six dogs harnessed in front of us, I realise it’s playtime – not work as I had assumed. We whistle along the forest trail, only pausing when we catch up with the sled in front. It was quite the adrenaline rush, suitable for children and adults alike, and a great insight into how many did, and still do, travel over snow and ice.

a dog sitting in the snow: Dog sledding with Mad Dogs and English Men, Introducing our lead dogs - Whiskey and Miller (Exerk.com) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Dog sledding with Mad Dogs and English Men, Introducing our lead dogs - Whiskey and Miller (Exerk.com) Where to do it: Mad Dogs and English Men run their dogs on forest trails near Banff and Canmore, next to the historic Boundary Ranch. We were introduced to each of our dogs by name and learnt about the love and work that goes into making sure they stay happy and healthy.

3. Star gazing

a house covered in snow: Star gaze from the comfort of an outdoor heated pool at Kananaskis Mountain Lodge (Annie Ross) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Star gaze from the comfort of an outdoor heated pool at Kananaskis Mountain Lodge (Annie Ross) What it's like: With its population of just over four million spread out over 256,500 square miles, Alberta has vast empty spaces. Team that with the ‘dark sky preservation’ efforts made in towns such as Jasper, and the sky is your oyster.

The Jasper Planetarium experience brings the night sky to life with charismatic story telling by astrology experts. After an indoor dome tour of the universe, we head outside to peer into the night sky through professional telescopes. Campfire stories of black holes and the naming of constellations, with hot chocolate and smores (chocolate, melted marshmallow, biscuit sandwiches) make this particular star gazing experience an unforgettable evening.

Where to do it: Don your snowshoes for a fun post-dinner activity at the outstanding Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge where there is also an exceptional spa you can star gaze from too. When you’re in Jasper, be sure to visit the Jasper Planetarium.

4. Ice climbing

a couple of people that are standing in the snow: Ice climbing with Yamnuska (Exerk.com) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Ice climbing with Yamnuska (Exerk.com) What it’s like: Ice falls drip into existence as Albertan temperatures drop below freezing. Not satisfied with looking at them from afar, intrepid ice climbers can get up close and personal with the beautiful solid blue structures.

Supported by anchors screwed deep into the top of the ice wall, you harness up and - with sturdy boots, sharp crampons and two pick axes - the guides coax you up the wall with technique tips and encouraging calls. Focusing on getting a good purchase with your toes, you scramble up the ice fall as far as you feel comfortable, before abseiling back down. An adrenaline-filled experience for beginners and experts alike.

Where to do it: In Alberta, you are spoilt for choice with guided trips to Johnston Canyon near Banff, as well as Jasper’s multi-pitch waterfalls. If you’re more experienced, dare to try the famous competition grade Weeping Wall on the Icefields Parkway. Seek local expertise from Yamnuska for courses and guiding.

5. Ice walking

a man riding skis down a snow covered mountain: Ice walking in Johnston Canyon with Discover Banff Tours (Annie Ross) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Ice walking in Johnston Canyon with Discover Banff Tours (Annie Ross) What it’s like: Scaling the ice is one thing. Walking on it is quite another. More accessible in terms of extremity and fitness levels, with crampons strapped onto your shoes, you can plod up frozen canyons, spying rock paintings and being awestruck at the geological marvels.

A short hike though trees gives nothing away of what awaits at the frozen creeks. Among snow and ice formations, in one canyon the rock walls, smooth and curved by the water over hundreds of years, reach up above us, so narrow at the top that we can only glimpse a slither of light from above.

Where to do it: Grotto Tours is best experienced with Discover Banff Tours sharing the history of the rock paintings and geological marvels. Having loved that experience, I booked another ice walk to the otherworldly Maligne Canyon near Jasper with Sundog Tours.

Gallery: Have you heard about these amazing cities? (EasyVoyage)

6. Fat biking

What it’s like: Fat bikes are similar to mountain bikes but with oversized studded tyres to help with traction on sand or snow, the latter being our terrain in snowy March. You get warm pretty quickly so dress appropriately.

Where to do it: We pop into the charming mountain town of Canmore for a fat bike tour with Rebound Cycles along the river banks and forest trails, up to the Canmore Nordic Centre – a hub for Winter Olympic contenders. The cycle certainly got my heart pumping – a fun day out and a great way to explore.

7. Helicopter tour

a view of a snow covered mountain: Helicopter tour with Alpine Helicopters (Annie Ross) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Helicopter tour with Alpine Helicopters (Annie Ross) What it’s like: A helicopter ride is any child’s dream. And this one above the Rockies makes it most adult's too. Gaining further altitude allows you to grasp the scale and beauty of the landscape you are playing in. The results of thousands of years of plate movements pinched together into the folds of sedimentary rock that form the Rockies, all the way down to Colorado in the US.

A mountain goat was spotted navigating the slopes of an otherwise static landscape, with Mount Assiniboine, the highest peak in the Southern Continental Range of the Rockies an impressive backdrop.

Where to do it: Alpine Helicopters near Banff and Canmore make this unbeatable perspective possible with their tourist flights. Their helicopters and pilots are part of the emergency services so you know you are in good hands.

8. Caving

a man in a red rock: Caving in Grotto Canyon with Canmore Cave Tours (Exerk.com) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Caving in Grotto Canyon with Canmore Cave Tours (Exerk.com) What it’s like: Kitted out in boiler suits, helmets, head torches and harnesses, we crawl through a slither in a rock face, shimmy into the darkness and find ourselves in a cavernous hall. We explore the underground maze, stopping to learn about nubbins and other rock formations. Nobody in our 10-person group felt claustrophobic, even when we chose to turn our head torches off and crawl through pitch-black darkness – just for fun.

Where to do it: The underground world of Grotto Mountain is one of the wildest caves in the world. It is still being explored, with its 4km network of known caves expected to stretch for a lot further. Led by Tiffany, another exceptional guide from Canmore Cave Tours, we got a feel for the immensity of the geology and adventure inspired by caving.

9. Back country skiing

a group of people riding skis on top of a snow covered slope: Ski touring with Yamnuska near Lake Louise (Annie Ross) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Ski touring with Yamnuska near Lake Louise (Annie Ross) What it’s like: Back country skiing, or ski touring, is essentially hiking with skis on. It is a brilliant way to access and ski down remote mountainsides, as well as get warm. We have avalanche training, before sticking the ‘skins’ on the bottom of our skis to stop us from sliding backwards. We unclip our ski boot heels from the special touring bindings, and so begins the hike uphill.

Skinning up amongst glades, through an open valley and zigzagging our way up the side of a slope, we find ourselves with a panoramic view and perfect powder run that made the hike worthwhile. I will certainly be doing more ski touring in the coming years.

Where to do it: Grant and Jesse from Yamnuska were the guides who kept us animated and safe on our ski touring day trip in the back country of Lake Louise ski resort.

10. Skiing

a snow covered mountain: Annie Ross (L) snowshoeing at Fortress Mountain (Annie Ross) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Annie Ross (L) snowshoeing at Fortress Mountain (Annie Ross) What it’s like: This activity is the epitome of ‘last but not least’. The skiing in Alberta is exceptional; varied and vast, you are spoilt for choice. The views are spectacular and the terrain exciting.

Where to do it: The Big3 ski resort around Banff – made up of Lake Louise, Sunshine and Norquay – is a great hub. Sunshine Valley is the all-rounder, with something for everyone, including piste-side accommodation at Sunshine Mountain Lodge. The Sunshine Valley ski school and guiding is world class – a lesson with Mark gave me the leverage to neaten up bad habits picked up over the years. Lake Louise has more options for the more advanced skier but with a Big3 pass you can explore each of the resorts and find the best one for your and your group.

Marmot Basin in Alberta’s Jasper National Park is a great ski resort for all the family, particularly with the new advanced face that is open for the 2018-19 winter season to expand the resort terrain. Shaped into a large mountain bowl, Marmot offers double blacks through to beginner slopes, often from the same lifts. If skiing with mixed abilities you can travel up together, split up to ski to your ability and meet back at the bottom of the lift.

Plan your trip with Travel Alberta. Follow @travelalberta for winter travel inspiration.

Annie Ross is the co-founder of Team-52.com the community platform making it easier for people to join forces, take on active challenges and stick to their best intentions. Follow @annieross5252 and @team52challenge.



Search on Bing: More about Japan

Search on Bing: More about Japan
AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Evening Standard

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon