Great Winter Activities in the Canadian Rockies

I previously posted 10 great summer hikes in the Canadian Rockies, but as it’s winter at the moment I thought I should provide a ‘top 5’ of winter activities in the area around Banff National Park.

1. Johnston Canyon

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Icicles near the Upper Falls of Johnston Canyon

This place is amazing in winter and summer…just go there. But be prepared, it can be cold, really cold! It’s about 30 minutes west of the Town of Banff, near to Castle Junction. It’s a series of walkways in a canyon which is frozen over in winter – it’s a stunning trip in summer too!

2. Watch the FIS downhill Skiing at Lake Louise Ski Area

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The finishing line as seen from Glacier Express Quad Chair

The FIS downhill skiing at Lake Louise Ski Area is a  brilliant event to see. If you’re on skis too, you can take the Glacier Express Quad or Grizzly Express Gondola which goes past the finishing line and gives a great view of the racers. Being on skis (or snowboard) is also a good idea, as there can be a little bit of a wait time between racers, so you could go and do a couple of laps of the front side whilst you wait – it saves getting cold!

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Media commentary huts by the finishing line

As the events are on a weekend, it can get busy, but there’s also training runs going on on weekdays too when the ski area is much quieter.

3. Take in Sulphur Mountain and the Upper Hot Springs in Banff

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Views over Tunnel Mountain and the Town of Banff towards Cascade Mountain

It’s so much quieter up top than in summer – the view’s different too! Either you can hike up or take the gondola and then there’s a short walk, from the upper terminal of the gondola, along a series of board walks to the top of Sanson’s Peak to gain a better view and see a century old meteorological observatory.

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Boardwalks on the way back down from Sanson’s Peak

Once finished up top, hike or take the gondola back down and then head over to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The hot springs pool looks over the Bow Valley, and steam from the hot pool drifts upwards. It’s a great way to relax if you’ve done the hike or for an evening trip up from town as the hot springs usually stays open until about 10pm (check before you go!).

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Meteorological Station on Sanson’s Peak

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A view towards the west end of Mount Rundle

4. Learn to Ice Climb

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Haffner Creek

I did an introduction to ice climbing course last year. It is really worth it, it gets you out into other places of the parks where you probably wouldn’t go in winter. I went with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures based in Canmore on a 2 day learn to ice climb course. The tuition was really great and equipment was included. We went to the ‘Junkyards’ near Canmore on the first day and then to Haffner Creek near Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park.

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Haffner Creek

If you’ve rock climbed before, you’ll probably enjoy ice climbing. I liked the fact that, unlike rock climbing where you’re searching for holds in the rock, with ice climbing you are creating the holds with ice axes and crampons. There’s still the need to be careful where you’re placing your feet and ice axes so that your movement is efficient, but I felt a little more secure having the knowledge that if you needed to you could easily stop where you were without having to worry so much about being just out of reach of a hand hold.

5. Visit Lake Louise

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Frozen Lake Louise beneath Mount Victoria

Take in the views or go for a skate on the lake. It’s truly stunning and totally different to summer – there are still some tour groups, but it’s nowhere near as busy. If you’re heading there just before the holidays you couldn’t really go anywhere more festive than the Chateau Lake Louise – the deli there is a good stop off to warm up with a hot chocolate. If you’re looking to do a short hike here, the shoreline trail is a good one to do as the trail is usually already compacted.

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The snowy shoreline trail

If you’re skiing at the Lake Louise Ski Area you can catch a shuttle bus from just outside the Lodge of the Ten Peaks up to Chateau Lake Louise.

What winter activities are you planning to do?

© Rockiesoutdoors 2014

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