The seasonal shift to winter in Banff is an annual tradition well-loved by locals. When the snowflakes fly, Mother Nature opens the door to a whole new realm of activities. Here are eight local favourites that await in Banff National Park.
No planning, preparation or extra gear are needed for a walk through our true winter wonderland. Grab your toque and mittens and treat yourself to a locally-sourced coffee and a morning stroll along the frosty riverside as the alpenglow lights up the surrounding peaks. To go further afield, snow crampons can be easily rented in town to make the trek up the well-packed trail on Tunnel Mountain. Banff National Park’s smallest official summit is a short hike that still offers stunning views of the snowy valley below.
The age-old technique of snowshoeing has evolved in some ways, but will never lose its cultural connection to the wilderness. Rent snowshoes locally and explore one the many trails near town to follow in the footsteps of the Canadian Rockies’ early explorers. For next-level adventuring, guided tours traverse untouched powder at Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise ski resorts.
A short drive from the townsite of Banff lies a deep canyon that is transformed into a work of art in wintertime. Carved over centuries by rushing waters, Johnston Canyon is a natural marvel that’s delightfully accessible thanks to a system of trails and raised catwalks. Guided tours provide all the necessary equipment and bring hikers deep into the canyon past hanging curtains of emerald blue ice.
Banff National Park is renowned for alpine skiing, and for good reason. But even those who’ve skied here countless times find new secrets on the slopes with every visit. With nearly 8,000 acres of skiable area, the park’s three resorts offer up a tantalizing selection of ski terrain that’s turned many a planned half-day session into a full day of some of the Rockies’ best skiing. First-timers and powder hounds alike come together at Mt. Norquay, Banff Sunshine and the Lake Louise Ski Resort.
The ski hills of Banff National Park are also home to an entirely different form of sliding on snow. With all the childlike thrill of tobogganing and none of the breathless effort (thanks to mechanized “magic carpets” to transport you up the hill) tubing is an activity for the young and the young at heart. It’s impossible not to let joy bubble out as you ride a giant tube down the professionally groomed slopes, and pure happiness is evident at the end of every run. Both Mt. Norquay and the Lake Louise Ski Resort maintain a tube park with runs ready for racing.
Banff National Park offers countless incredible views, but taking in the vistas over the heads of a pack of sled dogs is truly unique. The energy and enthusiasm of the dogs - who love to run as much as their riders love to let them - is invigorating. The communicative howls of the sled dogs cease abruptly as their musher steps onto the sled rails behind well-bundled passengers, and is replaced by the sound of the sled gliding effortlessly along the frozen track.
Those looking for more of an aerobic rush in Banff will be able to embrace the fine art of Nordic skiing. Affectionally known as “skinny skis” by locals, cross-country skis offer a way to move quickly through the mountains, get in a great workout and still experience some downhill thrill. There are several groomed trails around Banff National Park where you’re just as lucky to run into a local Olympian out for their morning ski as you are a snowshoe hare bouncing across the tracks.
Lacing up a pair of ice skates is a quintessentially Canadian feeling. The early winter season is a skater’s paradise in Banff National Park, when the many lakes in the region turn into vast arenas of smooth ice. The clarity of the lakes often makes for stunningly transparent ice and impressive methane bubbles frozen below the surface. Skating areas are maintained throughout the winter season, and skates can be easily rented in town for a peaceful spin on the lake or a boisterous game of pond hockey.
The culmination of a perfect day of snowy adventure in Banff is an afternoon après session. On your average winter’s day, laughter echoes around Banff’s bars and restaurants as the late-afternoon sun slides across the mountains. Stories make their way in from the alpine and pair perfectly with hand-crafted cocktails and tasty fare inspired by the elements of the season.