Winter Activities of the Canadian Rockies
Wintertime offers an exciting array of mountain adventures and experiences: skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, telemarking, skating, curling, toboganning, ice fishing, dog sledding and so much more. Snowcapped mountains, frozen lakes and rivers surround hundreds of fine shops and restaurants in the Banff townsite and the exquisite luxury hotels and mountain lodges of the Banff and Lake Louise area.
What better way to see Banff than by helicopter? Tour operators will fly you into the mountains, weave in and out of snow-capped peaks, skim the tops of glaciers and land you safely back on the launch pad in trips lasting from 20 to 60 minutes. For those who like the ground beneath their feet, several companies offer dogsled tours with classic northern dogs, such as Malamutes and Siberian and Alaskan Huskies, pulling you through a magical winter landscape. A sleighride is a traditional and romantic mode of transportation through the snowy woods of Banff and Lake Louise.
An abundance of snow and outstanding ski facilities make a day on the slopes a must for downhill skiers and snowboarders. Banff and Lake Louise are famous for fabulous skiing. Covering 4,000 acres, Lake Louise is the largest ski area in Canada. Eleven lifts whisk skiers and boarders up four mountain faces offering a variety of easy and challenging runs. Sunshine Village Ski Resort, eight kilometres west of Banff on the TransCanada Highway, has the best snowpack in Canada getting an average of more than 34 feet of natural snow per year. Mount Norquay overlooks the Banff townsite and offers night skiing for those diehards who can’t get enough of it during the day.
Cross-country skiers have literally thousands of miles of trails to choose from in Banff and the surrounding area, including Kananaskis Country. In addition to the ten groomed Nordic trails near the Banff townsite, there are 11 easy to moderate trails maintained in the Lake Louise area and some of the best cross-country trails in Canada are at the Canmore Nordic Centre, site of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Beginners can learn on the golf course in Banff, or try an easy 2 to 7-kilometre loop along the Bow River. The Lake Louise shoreline is a popular route—follow it out to find a frozen waterfall. Intermediate nordic skiers should try the Lake Minnewanka trails, or go for longer and steeper, like the strenuous Upper Telemark Loop.
For a romantic escape, a weekend at remote Skoki Lodge is a perfect treat for a tough, but beautiful 11-kilometre ski tour from Lake Louise. From the lodge you can explore more backcountry, or stay in and enjoy the comforts of this historic retreat. Pack light since most of what you need is there—not phones, televisions or modern-world distractions, but candlelight meals, some wine by the fire and the serenity of the mountains in winter.
Take a quick jaunt to Kananaskis Country for an extensive network of track-set trails near Nakiska, and for the Canmore Nordic Centre—a world-class cross-country ski facility built for the 1988 Winter Olympics. The Canmore Nordic Centre is a great year-round facility with excellent nordic skiing in the winter, offering numerous trails for all ability levels. Some trails have snowmaking so conditions are usually reliable, and grooming/tracksetting is done regularly for both classic and skate skiing. Equipment rentals and guided tours are widely available, and Parks Canada produces a detailed low-cost guidebook to nordic skiing in Banff National Park, which can be found at most Visitor Centres.
If its fishing you’re after, lake and rainbow trout will nibble the line through the ice, and fishermen cast for brown trout in the Bow River year-round. As in the summer, a fishing license is required, but easily obtained from the Park Information Centre and the Banff National Park Warden’s office.
The views from mountain roads and passes, whether from the top of Tunnel Mountain overlooking the Banff townsite, or the edge of the glacial mass of the Columbia Icefields, will inspire you, to preserve the mystical feeling of that moment, experienced only in the awesome presence of nature—that’s winter in the Canadian Rockies!