Anyone who has visited the Canadian Rockies - or has a friend who has and can't stop talking about it -already knows that it's a world-class travel destination. This dramatic range of snowcapped peaks that spans the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta harbors a rugged and exceptionally rare natural beauty. And among some of the most jaw-dropping vistas you'll ever see are a plethora of exciting outdoor activities and festivals plus luxurious accommodations to retire to at day's end.
Strangely, like many of the world's travel hotspots, this little stretch of western Canada sees dramatically fewer visitors during the winter season than in the summer. When the winter snow has buried the mountain tops ... and slopes ... and valley floors ... those who do venture to this special place are rewarded with a plethora of winter sport activities, festivals that showcase skills unique to an area blanketed in snow and the chance to explore what is seemingly a brand new location every year - even if you've been here before!
I've lived in the mountains of Canada for over two years. As an avid hiker and snowshoer, I've had the remarkable experience of exploring the same trail during both the summer and winter seasons. Like many, I continue to be blown away when I happen to hike a winter trail that I thought I had already fully appreciated. It's an entirely new and magical experience. Snow dramatically alters the landscape : mountain features look completely different, lakes are frozen over and the background noise is muffled, creating a serene wilderness experience. If you're able to get out on the trail after a recent snowfall, you get the real "fresh tracks" experience. There's nothing quite like breaking a trail through fluffy new snow, knowing that although you're probably not the first person to ever hike there, at least you're the first to blaze the trail that day.
If your interests extend beyond winter hiking, there are plenty of other seasonal adventures to be had in the Canadian Rockies. The Canmore Nordic Centre in Alberta, having hosted the 1988 Olympic Nordic events, is considered by locals as THE PLACE for cross-country skiing. There are also fat-tire biking, dog-sledding and heli-skiing nearby. And of course, if downhill skiing is your sport of choice, there are three resorts in Banff National Park plus several more in the surrounding area.
When you need a short winter's break from your exhilarating outdoor pursuits, you can visit one of the annual festivals in the Canadian Rockies. My personal favorite is the Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival, that takes place each January for 12 days. Artists from around the world converge on the hamlet of Lake Louise to create magical ice sculptures. You can watch these artists at work in a variety of competitions or wait until the end of the festival to view the completed masterpieces. Evenings are particularly quiet time during the festival, when you can view the sculptures in the glow of the gentle lights of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Renting ice skates from the hotel or at the local Wilson's Sports Shop quickly outfit you for a game of hockey or figure skating on the iconic frozen lake. Other festivals include Banff's Snow Days and January and Jasper where you can partake in events like "Learn 2 Curl" and avalanche awareness education. There are also exciting events like a fat bike race series and street party punctuated by fireworks.
Personally, I think the best part about winter in the Canadian Rockies is the chance to truly get off the beaten path...because in most areas of the park in winter, there simply isn't a beaten path. Even the most popular locations like Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise are relatively quiet on all but a few of the busiest days of the winter season. Nearby, several lesser known parks offer even more opportunities to get out on your own and explore areas that are on par with the beauty of their more famous national park counterparts.
Whether you're looking for a new place to try out your favorite winter sport or you're simply looking for a quiet getaway, winter here is a special time for any visitor.