Northern Exposure

Since I had traveled half-way across the world to get to Canada, I (possibly foolishly) wasn’t about to let a bit of winter get in the way of some sight-seeing. From Vancouver I was off to the province of Alberta to explore the Canadian Rockies.

I flew into Edmonton and back to Vancouver from Calgary, using various transfer companies to travel from Edmonton to Jasper and then down the spectacular Icefields parkway for a few nights in Banff. Both Jasper and Banff are cute but very touristy mountain towns. Jasper is the quainter and quieter of the two (and home to the excellent World Traveller Fraternity hostel, although in winter both are reasonably quiet anyway.

Jasper streets
Views from the Icefield parkway
Sunrise in Banff

I arrived in Jasper in the middle of an outrageously cold snap, with temperatures approaching -30 centigrade. The weather put something of a crimp in my sight-seeing style and almost resulted in sense of humor failure once or twice. There is some gorgeous hiking around Jasper, although I didn’t go more that 2 or 3km out of town on my own for fear of dying of hypothermia in the woods where no one would find my body until spring. I did an excellent guided hike along the frozen bottom of the Maligne canyon with Sun Dog tours ( who provide you with spikes for your boots and invaluable advice on which ice is safe to walk on. The canyon walls are karst and the water which seeps out of them creates spectacular ice formations making this a must do trip in Jasper in winter. There is plenty of wildlife to see en route including the possibility of coyotes and wolves (I saw what I think was a coyote). I also managed a day of skiing at Marmot basin, although most of the day was spent hiding indoors with hot chocolate, talking about the temperature with all the other idiots who were attempting to ski in -30 something.

Hiking views
More views
Frozen was more glamorous than this
Ice climber in Maligne canyon
Avoid exposed skin at all costs

By the time I got to Banff, the weather had warmed up to a balmy -15 or so, so skiing was more realistic. Ski resorts in the Canadian Rockies tend to be small but well set up with plenty of on- and off-piste options. You generally catch a bus to the resort, with the bus ticket included in your lift pass. Although the resorts are small, you can mix up which ones you visit so that you have good variety. I spent time at both Sunshine Village and Lake Louise and had a ball at both thanks to fresh powder and the excellent free ski tour guides at both.

Fresh powder at Lake Louise
Sun trying to shine at Sunshine Valley
Alberta countryside

I can highly recommend the Rockies in winter, for spectacular scenery and great skiing. Dress warm though!! Next stop: home for a bit, and then a road trip along the Kwazulu-Natal coast back in South Africa


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