What a delight the Pigeon Mountain hike near Canmore turned out to be. Once you…
Alberta is famous for its sunshine, blue skies & snow – all perfect excuses for getting outside on all but the coldest days in winter.
If you’re looking for winter fun check out these 10 exceptional activities in Alberta in winter that really showcase the best the season offers. All are personally tested save a couple of the festivals. Just be sure to dress for the weather in layers. Keep eating and drinking so you stay warm. And if you’re driving in poor conditions be sure to you’ve packed an emergency survival lit.
Alberta in winter means fabulous cross-country skiing
In Alberta we are spoiled for choices when it comes to cross-country skiing in the mountains. The trails at Bragg Creek after a fresh snowfall are fantastic, especially so since they’re only 40 minutes from Calgary.
The network of trails in and around Lake Louise are outstanding, particularly because of the amount of snow and the long season. Check out the Pipestone Trails just west of Lake Louise immediately off the Trans-Canada Highway, one of my favourite places to go.
Other top picks for cross-country skiing include Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Cypress Hills Provincial Park and William A. Switzer Provincial Park near Hinton.
Try some downhill skiing and snowboarding
Alberta is a great destination for fans of downhill skiing and snowboarding. Close to Calgary is Nakiska Ski Resort.
In Banff National Park three resorts vie for your attention – Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village – home to Canada’s first heated chairlift and Lake Louise Ski Resort with its exceptional scenery and vast choice of terrain.
f you make it to Jasper National Park check out Marmot Basin, a well-designed resort that is a particularly good choice for families.
There are a couple of small ski resorts that cater to local markets including Rabbit Hill Snow Resort near Edmonton, Canyon Ski Resort in Red Deer and Pass Powderkeg Ski Area in Blairmore with fun night skiing here especially for kids.
The most southern ski resort in the province Castle Mountain – bills itself as a mountain, not a ski hill that believes in deep powder and challenging terrain.
Did you know that there’s cat skiing in Alberta?
Castle Mountain is the place to go if you want to try cat skiing. Strap on a pair of fat skis, head out with a guide for the back bowls with “secret powder stashes” and enjoy an awesome day floating on air. Cat skiing is only offered on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Be sure to book a pair of fat skis when you reserve.
Go skating on the prettiest rink in the world
There are some exceptional skating rinks in Alberta. The standout – and probably the prettiest skating rink in the world is the one at Lake Louise. You can rent skates, play a game of shinny and warm up by an outdoor fire.
The lagoon in Calgary’s Bowness Park and the oval in Cypress Hills Provincial Park (where there’s a slight downhill on one section which only adds to the excitement) are also excellent choices.
In Edmonton try Hawrelak Park skating rink, located right in the heart of the River Valley or skate out in front of the pretty city hall. If you’re in Jasper the oval rink at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a must-do activity.
Indoors you can never go wrong with the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary but check the times for when they’re open to the public.
It may look terrifying but ice-climbing is a lot of fun
From a distance ice climbing looks scary, even intimidating but I can tell you that both rappelling into Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park and then climbing the frozen waterfalls with Rockaboo, a local company is tremendous fun, even empowering.
It doesn’t take long to learn the basics of ice climbing and then with a little practice, a couple of ice axes and a pair of crampons you’ll be at the top of a giant icicle with a massive smile on your face.
Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park and “The Junkyards” at Grassi Lakes are also good choices and easily accessible from Banff. Sign up with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures for those ones.
Go snowshoeing in Alberta
There are heaps of places to snowshoe in Alberta so it really boils down to where you’re staying. Close to Calgary I love the extensive network of snowshoe trails in the West Bragg Creek area. Chester Lake in Kananaskis Country will take your breath away with its beauty on a blue bird day.
In Banff National Park you can try the easy trails along the Bow River that start at the Cave and Basin area, the Spray River Trails starting a few hundred feet away from the Banff Springs Hotel or the Ink Pots Trail near Johnston Canyon.
In Jasper try the Watchtower Trail via Medicine Lake or the easy trails around the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. If you’re in the Edmonton area head for nearby Elk Island National Park where you can spend a delightful day snowshoeing – and looking for bison.
Exploring the winter landscape on a fat tire bike
Whenever I’m out on a fat tire bike I get stopped because people are so curious about the sport. It’s expensive to buy a bike but there are now loads of places to rent fat tire bikes including Soul Ski and Sport in Banff, Kananaskis Outfitters, and Revolution Cycle in Edmonton.
To have a pleasant experience on a fat tire bike you need packed, not fresh snow. The Marsh Loop up to Sundance Canyon along the Bow River is perfect for first time fat tire bike riders if you’re in Banff.
There are loads of trails with some nice downhill sections (brakes work well on snow) before you hit the Nakiska Ski Resort in Kananaskis Country and there are lots of bike-friendly trails around West Bragg Creek. In Edmonton, the river valley is the place to go while in Calgary you can explore the bike paths in winter or places like Nose Hill Park once the snow hits.
Go dogsledding – winter fun for the whole family
Dogsledding is extremely popular as it appeals to all ages; it’s both family friendly and romantic at the same time. Many tours are just a couple of hours long and for most people that’s enough.
But it is possible to do full day tours which I love as it’s so much fun being out with the dogs. And these dogs love to run. I like the experience of driving the dogsled myself so check with each company before you book to see if that’s an option.
Dogsledding companies abound.
There are three alone in Canmore – Howling Dog Tours, Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours and Mad Dogs and Englishmen Expeditions. In Lake Louise there’s Kingmik Dog Sled Tours and in Jasper Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding. Take your pick depending on your location.
Enjoy a winter festival in Alberta
There are oodles of great festivals around the province to make winter even more interesting. In Lake Louise the Ice Magic Festival is always a huge hit. In fact it’s so popular now you really need to plan your day so you spend time up at the lake and not in your car. It’s always in January.
The Flying Canoë Volant, a cultural event celebrating local history in Edmonton’s French Quarter is on from March 1 – March 6, 2021 and for cross-country skiing aficionados Canada’s largest ski event, the Canadian Birkebeiner takes place from February 12 – 21, 2021 and offers three courses – one that’s 31 kilometres long, another that is 55 kilometres and an easier one at 13km.
Experience one of Alberta’s fabulous backcountry lodges
One of the nicest ways to enjoy winter is to ski or snowshoe into a backcountry lodge. There are quite a number to choose from in Alberta. Near Banff try Sundance Lodge as it’s one of the few that allows one night stays and it’s a relatively easy ski in.
Skiers with more experience will love the coziness and excellent food at Skoki Lodge. Shadow Lake Lodge makes a great base for more exploring on skis while Tonquin Valley Lodge in Jasper National Park requires a long ski in so it’s best left to those with lots of backcountry experience.
In Waterton Lakes Provincial Park, families can check out Cameron Hut, run by the Alpine Club of Canada.
For later in the season, hard core skiers will love the four to five day Wapta Traverse that starts at Bow Lake.
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A few things to bring on a winter trip in Alberta
When the temperatures in Alberta nosedive, as they tend to do for a few weeks every winter, it really pays to have the right clothes and gear with you – even if you’re on a road-trip with no intention of doing anything adventurous outdoors. I’d recommend putting together an emergency kit so you’re never caught in a nasty predicament. This isn’t an all-inclusive list but it will get you started.
Include a roadside emergency kit, a blanket or two (or an old but warm sleeping bag), hats and mitts for everyone, a thermos with something hot to drink, non-perishable food and warm winter boots. A powerful flashlight can be very handy too along with some hand and toe warmers. If there’s a winter storm you can’t avoid, let someone know where you’re going and your expected time of arrival.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially if you end up in a ditch waiting for a tow truck. I’ve been lucky but I do consider my safety every time I go out. And if driving conditions are bad, I’ll wait till they improve, whenever I have the choice.
Further reading on Alberta in winter
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Thank you to Travel Alberta for making this post possible.