Scotland on Sunday Travel – Why Alberta is the Ultimate Winter Vacation for an Off the Beaten Path Adventure
Alberta is famous for its pristine wilderness and postcard-perfect scenes of snow-capped Rocky Mountains towering over glassy lakes.
It’s a popular summer destination for tourists and landscape photographers, but it can be difficult to get around in high season, with some of the most iconic viewpoints – like Lake Louise – causing long traffic jams and a struggle. for parking spaces.
This is why winter is slowly becoming the best time to travel to the province. The region becomes an empty playground for adventure seekers when the temperature drops, offering thrilling winter sports and spectacular frozen views. (Just be sure to pack your thermals and prepare for a few blizzards.) Here’s how to spend a week exploring Alberta this winter.
Alberta’s capital, and its second largest city, is more than just an overnight stopover en route to wilder areas. I spend three days in this bustling urban city, immersing myself in the adventure lifestyle and discovering a smart vacation destination in its own right.
Less than an hour’s drive from town you’ll find Elk Island, a national park where you’re guaranteed to spot majestic bison, elk, moose and white-tailed deer roaming free (admission Â£ 4.33 for adults) . The park has higher densities of hoofed mammals per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world, and is an important part of bison conservation history in Canada.
Edmonton itself is a young and creative city with great coffee, hyper local food spots, and Instagrammable street art. Food-wise, you’re spoiled for choice, and highlights include the Situation Brewing (situationbeer.com), Strathcona Spirits hipster gin distillery (strathconaspirits.ca), Little Brick Brunch Paradise (littlebrick.ca) and the alcoholic restaurant Baijiu (baijiuyeg.com) for small Asian-inspired plates and great cocktails.
Dig into the JW Marriott in Edmonton’s hottest new downtown, ICE District. With designer interiors, impeccable service and a destination cocktail bar, this is the perfect place to enjoy a luxury R’n’R.
Make Jasper your adventure base
It’s a scenic four-hour drive from Edmonton to Jasper, the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies with 11,000 square kilometers of unspoiled wilderness. One of the largest accessible dark sky preserves in the world, you will be able to appreciate the twinkling constellations and, if you are very lucky, the Northern Lights. I recommend an evening photography tour with Jasper Photo Tours (Â£ 86.53 for two hours; jasperphototours.com).
For car rental, go for a four by four with snow tires and you will need to be an experienced driver, as the roads get hairy if the weather changes.
Ice climbing is one of the most unusual winter thrills you can try in Alberta. Rockaboo Mountain Adventures offers day trips (Â£ 129.75 per person for six hours; rockaboo.ca) which involves a hike through Jasper National Park to a hidden frozen waterfall, where you can safely try to climb onto the rugged patch of ice using crampons and ice axes. Intoxicating and terrifying, this is one of those incredible travel memories that you will talk about for years to come.
I spend another memorable day trip on an Ice Bubbles Tour with Pursuit Adventures (Â£ 72.11 per person; pursuitventures.ca), walking to Abraham Lake and the narrow Cline River Canyon, where ice bubbles trapped beneath the lake are an incredible natural phenomenon to be observed against a dramatic backdrop.
Jasper itself is a cute little alpine town with lovely shops and cafes, and there’s even a wellness center (jasperwellness.ca) with yoga and meditation classes. When it’s time to go to bed, head to the Mount Robson Inn, a small motel with outdoor hot tubs and views of spectacular mountain ranges.
Skiing and Snowshoeing in Banff and Lake Louise
I continue my journey south towards Banff and Lake Louise, a paradise for anyone looking for a true Canadian adventure. Known for having one of the best powder skiing in the world, Banff is Canada’s first national park (named in 1885) and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The three hour journey takes a whole different beauty covered with a layer of fresh snow.
The iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the place to stay, a luxury mountain resort that overlooks the frozen lake and its surrounding mountain peaks.
With an average annual snowfall of 13 feet, the snow-covered trails around Banff National Park are the perfect place to try out snowshoeing, a laughing activity that involves wearing shoes that resemble two mini-skis (l hotel can arrange for Â£ 37 for three hours). The idea is that the weight distribution shoes keep you from sinking into the snow, but there are some hilarious slips, skids and erasures.
I also try to ski at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, with 4,200 skiable acres of gentle slopes for beginners, to the falls, glades and ravines for experts. I rent equipment from the SkiBig3 Adventure Hub in town, where you can also book lessons and buy lift tickets (Â£ 69 day lift ticket).
With incredible views of the Rocky Mountains and brilliant blue skies, the resort – which boasts endless powder snow – is a memorable place to get your ski legs back. Less than a morning of lessons, I navigate the slopes of the rabbits with ease and I can’t wait to take on steeper challenges.
Elsewhere, Banff has its own gondola (Â£ 30 return) that takes you to the top of Sulfur Mountain with panoramic views of the Rockies. If you can handle the vertigo, make a reservation at the Sky Bistro (banffjaspercollection.com) – a dining sanctuary in the sky with local meats and produce, and an extensive wine list (main course from Â£ 18).
Before making the last trip to Calgary Airport, an hour and a half by car from Lake Louise, there is one last winter challenge: snow tubing which involves sandwiching yourself in a rubber ring. inflatable with up to three others and to hold you for dear life as you launch down a snowy hill.
Expect yelling and swearing, but plenty of laughs if you choose to end your trip with a visit to Mount Norquay (Â£ 22.50 per person for a two-and-a-half-hour session; banffnorquay.com).
Summer is perhaps the most popular time to photograph Alberta, but winter is the best way to experience it. Whether you’re sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or tubing, it’s an exhilarating breath of fresh air that you are sure to want to revisit.
Have a good trip (bon-voyage.fr; 0800 316 3012) offers an 11-night airplane vacation in the Canadian Rockies from Â£ 2,395 per person, based on two adults traveling. Valid for travel in February 2022, the package includes room-only accommodation, return economy flights from London to Calgary, certain activities and rental of a 4 Ã 4 car.
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