Welcome to the best place to experience winter in all of Canada. Banff National Park, Canmore and Kananaskis provincial park, otherwise known collectively as “The Bow Valley”, are packed with adventures and activities for every kind of explorer out there, even if your kind of exploring consists of window shopping and hunting down the best hot chocolate in town.
Before we get to the fun stuff, it’s important to highlight that most of the activities we cover are in avalanche country. Proper avalanche knowledge, training and equipment is needed to enter these zones. More on that below.
Ski & Snowboard
If shredding blower powder is on your mind, then you’re in the right place! Banff National Park is home to three of Canada’s most iconic ski resorts: Lake Louise Ski Resort, Sunshine Village & Mt. Norquay. All three resorts offer world class terrain and because of the dry temperatures of the Canadian Rockies, the snow here is rarely wet and heavy. Shredding here feels like riding on a cloud or what locals like to call: champagne powder!
All three resorts open in early November and remain open until mid May, making this area home to one of the longest ski season in the world! You can find out more about each resort over at SkiBig3.
If you’re a little more free spirited and chairlifts aren’t your thing, the Bow Valley is stacked with ski touring options. Because our starting elevation in the valley is already pretty high, getting into the alpine takes no time. From big epic lines to glacier traverses to gnarly tree runs, the valley has it all.
Do know that the second you leave the ski resorts boundary lines, you are entering avalanche terrain. Having your proper gear, AST (Avalanche Training Safety) and knowing the current avalanche forecast are instrumental to getting into the backcountry.
Just because the trails are covered in snow, doesn’t mean your hiking boots need to hit the shelf. Although some of the bigger hikes are best done in the summer months, some trails are arguably more enjoyable covered in white!
Our list of must do winter hikes in the Bow Valley include:
Don’t forget to pack your crampons though! Oftentimes, the trails get covered in slippery packed down snow making walking on flat ground a challenge in itself.
Canmore is a hub for all things cross country skiing. With the construction of the Nordic Center for the 1988 Olympics, the world-class trail systems are groomed daily. With towering mountains looking down upon you from every twist and turn, these may just be the most scenic cross country ski trails you’ll get to ride.
Another must do for nordic ski enthusiasts, is the ski up Moraine Lake road. Every winter, the access road to Moraine Lake shuts down to vehicles and is groomed for cross country skiers. Although the trail isn’t groomed all the way down to the lake, you’ll find yourself just a kilometer away with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
Biking in the winter? That’s exactly what fat biking is, except your tires are 2-3 times fatter (wider) then regular summer tires. This allows you to float and grip on the snow much better. What better way to get to know these famous winter towns than biking around them! You can find rentals for Canmore here and Banff here.
Most people have gone skating on local rinks but very few have experienced the magic of skating on a glacier fed mountain lake. Every winter, the lakes around the Bow Valley freeze over and become this mirror like sheet of ice, including Lake Louise! Because the water is so clear, you can often see straight through to the lake bottom making it for a truly unique experience. Do be aware though that the ice needs to be thick enough for you to skate on. Read up about skating on frozen lakes here.
If skating on top of a lake sounds a bit daunting to you, we also have a private skating rink at our Baker Creek destination. Tucked away in the forest of Banff National Park, Baker Creek is one of Banff’s best kept secrets!
Fun for the whole family and a great way to experience the magic of the Canadian rockies. With a few options to choose from, dog sledding in Bow Valley may just be the experience you're missing from your bucket list. On your tour, you’ll learn about the mountains and the history of dog sledding in the area as well as getting to know the dogs and breaking misconceptions about dog sledding.
Although it’s easy to get stuck in the “go go go” mindset when surrounded by so many things to do, there’s nothing wrong with slowing down and exploring these small mountain towns. Both the town of Canmore and the town of Banff are full of quaint shops, galleries, restaurants and most importantly coffee shops/cafes!
If you’re hunting for the best coffee or hot chocolate, make sure to check these spots out:
- Eclipse Coffee Roasters in Canmore
- Beamer’s Coffee Bar in Canmore
- Good Earth Coffeehouse in Canmore
- Wildflour Bakery in Banff
- Evelyn’s Coffee Bar in Banff
- Whitebark Cafe in Banff
As mentioned, avalanches are real in the backcountry of the Bow Valley. Planning your day accordingly and understanding the dangers are crucial to remaining safe.
avalanche.ca does a great job forecasting danger levels each and every day of the winter season. Here you can find information on how the snow has been acting, the forecasted risk ratings per zone, as well as a plethora of information to get you up to speed about avalanches and how to mitigate the likelihood of getting caught in one.
If you plan on going backcountry skiing, make sure you have the required training and proper equipment. Avalanche equipment can be rented at GearUp Mountain Sports in Canmore or Ultimate Sports in Banff.
Getting into the backcountry can seem a little scary if you haven’t built up the experience and knowledge yet. Good thing there’s a handful of local guides in town who can take you beyond the resort boundaries, show you the best powder pockets all while mitigating risk and giving you pointers on how to access these zones safely. You can check out Yamnuska Mountain Adventures and MTN Guiding for more information!
After a day spent exploring the Canadian Rockies there’s no better feeling than winding down in our roof top hot tubs or curling up by the fire in our spacious suites. With six locations to choose from across the Bow Valley, Basecamp Resorts is your hub for exploring the Canadian Rockies this winter!
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