Winter fun in Alberta
By Laura Gelder | September 2018 | 3 minute read
Alberta’s winter season isn’t just for skiers.There's a whole host of options, both up in the mountains and down in the towns and cities.
The big picture on the big freeze
I arrived in Alberta as a 'ski virgin' and left a week later, hooked. But my enthusiasm wasn’t just for the ski slopes. I was left with warm memories of a frozen, fairytale landscape which evoked the same fuzzy feelings I had reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child.
OK, so I didn’t meet any talking beavers or visit an ice palace, but I experienced a real winter wonderland. I watched elk graze frosty fields, glimpsed a solitary moose disappearing into silver pine trees, saw a horse-drawn sleigh glide past ice sculptures and twirling skaters at Lake Louise, had a hot chocolate next to a frozen waterfall at the side of an icy canyon, ate fondue in a cosy log cabin with a roaring fire and gazed at starry velvet skies from a steamy hot spring.
If your clients ski then Alberta almost sells itself, but if you can sell the full winter experience then you’ll find a larger market and more commission from added activities.
The ski areas around Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper are world class and boast one of the longest ski seasons in North America (open until May). There are 65 ski hills across the province, from huge areas with multiple gondolas to small 'locals' hills'. Whether you’re booking a group of ski exprts or a family with differing levels of skills and interests Alberta is perfect – book an all-out powder trip or a winter-themed tour.
The SkiBig3 pass gives great-value access to Lake Louise, Sunshine and Norquay, near Banff, offering a mix of gentle greens runs, challenging blacks and advanced off-piste action like Sunshine’s new Delirium Dive.
Jasper’s Marmot Basin has 86 runs equally split between all levels, a homely feel and a huge learner’s slope. Castle Mountain is a hidden gem with challenging terrain and Nakiska is a family-friendly resort ideal for beginners. Smaller ski areas for those who want to 'dip in' include Rabbit Hill, Edmonton and Hidden Valley, Cypress Hills.
Every ski area has a range of winter activities to entice. Norquay is famous for its atmospheric night skiing; Lake Louise has a huge snow tube park; Marmot Basin is popular with boarders for its terrain park of jumps, rails and half pipes; and Sunshine Village has a schedule of activities including snow-shoeing, tobogganing, scavenger hunts, smores by the fire and hot tub bingo.
Away from the ski lopes there are activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling, bobsleighing, tobogganing, snow tubing and ice climbing offered by several operators. Must dos include ice walking into the frozen Maligne Canyon, photographing the jewel-like frozen bubbles under the surface of Lake Abraham or star-gazing under a blanket at the top of the Banff Gondola.
Even flat areas offer snowshoeing through the forest, cross-country skiing in the prairies, romantic sleigh rides, ice skating on natural lakes and, of course, star gazing.
You don’t need to be in the wilds for winter fun. Just outside Calgary, former Olympic park WinSport has facilities for skiing, skating, tubing and hockey. You can bob sled, luge or skeleton down the run made famous by the Jamaican bobsled team and see Eddie the Eagle's ski jump.
Sports fans can always catch the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers or Canmore Eagles ice hockey teams in action.
Fun festivals include Edmonton’s Ice on Whyte Festival, where artists carve up over 70,000kg of ice into quirky art, whilst Jasper in January is a three-week party embracing the cold with fat bike races, hockey games, fireworks and wine and food tastings. SnowDays festival in Banff sees ice beer gardens, an ice maze, live music and winter sports demos take over the town.
Where to book it
Ski Independence has a 10-night ski trip, departing December 3 2018, is fom £1,365pp for two sharing. It includes five nights B&B in the Canalta Lodge and five nights room-only at The Crimson, Jasper (both 3.5-star) plus economy flights with Air Canada (Heathrow and Calgary) and shared transfers.