Alberta is known for having the ‘most comfortable’ climate in Canada, including the mildest winters, lowest humidity and most hours of sunshine. A combination of bright days, feather-light snow and the majestic Rocky Mountains makes for an ideal winter sports destination.
In the winter, the province is transformed into a wonderland and playground for winter thrill seekers including some of the best ski slopes and resorts in North America. Because of its dry continental climate, there’s plenty of feather-light snow revered by skiers and snowboarders.
Skiing isn’t the only winter activity to get your teeth stuck into however, there’s also heli-skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, skijoring, snow-tubing, ice-hikes and much more.
Skiing & Snowboarding
Alberta is renowned for having some of the best skiing slopes and resorts in North America. There are resorts and slopes across the province: excellent skiing is not confined to the Rocky Mountain region.
There are beautiful and legendary resorts in the protected national parks of Banff and Jasper. The slopes offer exceptional skiing for experts – where they can meet the challenges of their dreams in bowls, pipes and chutes of the Rockies. It’s also got a long season, with skiing between November – May.
Ski the big three resorts in Banff National Park with one tri-area lift ticket giving you access to all: Mount Norquay, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village that are all just an hour and a half from Calgary National Airport.
In the north, try Fort McMurry’s Vista Ridge for the best non-mountain recreation in Alberta. Also further north is Jasper National Park – travel there to ski the Marmot Basin in the Canadian Rockies.
An ancient way of getting about in the snow, snowshoeing involves wearing shoes with a large and expansive surface area allowing you to travel across terrain that would otherwise be inaccessible such as ultra-deep snowdrifts. If you’re looking for a workout this is for you: the sport burns up to 600 calories an hour. If you enjoy hiking, you’ll love snowshoeing.
For an easy introduction, try out an afternoon’s snowshoeing tour of the village Lake Louise in Banff National Park. Try the Lake Louise Ski Resort for a guided tour to lead you into the park’s wilderness. Discover Banff Tours leads a great tour from Banff, on which you can see moose and wolf tracks, and Paint Pots, a sacred area for Alberta’s First Nation Peoples.
If you’re eager to explore the distant mountainous regions, try heli-snowshoeing. There are some adrenalin-pumping tours of Jasper National Park available via heli-snowshoeing company Jasper Vacations – soar high above the Canadian Rockies then trek through the park’s wilderness with a guided tour beginning at Mount Robson and Berg Lake.
Skijoring and cross-country skiing
Skijoring is an on-trend winter sport in Alberta. The sport is cross-country skiing assisted by the power of a dog or dogs that are strapped to you and pull you along.
Experience the hybrid sport in Alberta by starting at Barrhead – a township 120km northwest of Edmonton. Hook two dogs onto the belt around your waist and grip on while you try to maintain your balance on a pair of cross-country skis. In Barrhead, try out Pet Adventurers to lead your trail.
If you’re in the Edmonton area, Edmonton and Area Skijoring Enthusiasts’ Club offers great advice on getting started with skijoring with your family or dog. Or, try the Canmore-based Mad Dogs and Englishmen, an hour west of Calgary that offers tours and lessons.
For cross-country skiing, try Edmonton’s cross-country ski trails that wind through the snowy river valley. There’s also Canmore Nordic Centre that’s based in Canmore Provincial Park.
You can’t get a much more authentic Albertan sport than dogsledding – a traditional First Nation Peoples way of travelling. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and is quintessentially Canadian. Wrap-up in your blanket and snap pictures as cool, crisp air gusts past, or grab the reigns and mush the dogs with guidance from knowledgeable guides.
Banff National Park in the Rocky Mountains has some brilliant dogsledding options. Try the Power Hound Express Dogsled Tour that gives you the opportunity to drive a team of Canadian huskies through the picturesque mountain scenery. Also in Banff, there’s the Spirit of the Dog Society at the base of the Goat Mountains that offers breathtaking views of the Goat Pond and Lake Louise.
Get a privileged view of the rugged Rocky Mountains’ backcountry on a dogsledding tour of Kananaskis Country. Alternatively, take a full-day guided tour of Jasper National Park with Jasper Vacations.
Snow Tubing and Ice Walks
Snow tubing is a great winter activity for children and adults alike. It involves sitting in a rubber tube and hurtling down a hill – like tobogganing. Mount Norquay in Banff National Park is an excellent destination for snow tubing – slide down the slopes solo or with a group of friends.
For a non-mountain resort, try Canyon Ski Resort – Alberta’s largest. The only one of its kind in Central Alberta, the park has a dedicated snow-tubing lift so you don’t have to walk back up the hill, and two lanes with banked corners.
For a beautiful way to enjoy Alberta’s stunning winter scenery – with towering waterfalls plunging down steep rock walls, completely frozen in place and surreal-looking ice sculptures backlit in blue and green, try ice walking.
Hike along Johnston Canyon near Banff, or witness the once-in-a-lifetime cascading icefalls of the Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. Grotto Canyon near Banff is popular for ice walk tours – the frozen creek is decorated with pictographs created by the Hopi people some 500 – 1300 years ago.
Winter Festivals and Train Journeys
Visit the Ice on Whyte Festival in Edmonton; it’s a full ten-days of winter activities including ice-carving lessons and ice sculptures by international artists. It runs from January – February.
If you’d rather relax than get stuck into some serious physical activities, take a winter train tour of Alberta. Snuggle down in your glass-domed carriage to watch the winter-wonderland slip-by outside, either exploring the majestic Rockies, or taking a tour of Alberta’s prairies.
Try the Rocky Mountaineer, boarding in Calgary and heading towards Banff National Park to vistas inaccessible by car that slows down at the most scenic areas so that you can photograph the wildlife and landscape.