Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies is a rare, beautiful and pristine experience that combines the benefits of exercise with a rare chance to get incredibly close to the winter wilderness. Great for the whole family - as well as for smaller groups of more energetic speedsters – snowshoeing the Canadian Rockies is just plain special, and cost-effective too! This article will provide you with a brief outline of how you too can go snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies.
Getting your Snowshoeing Group Together
While it can be a wonderful solitary activity, snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies is best experienced with at least one friend. The Rocky Mountains are wilderness territory, and as a result, you are always best to go in a group for safety's sake. Also, the experience of the mountains is only magnified with other perspectives and shared memories.
Provided you snowshoe with caution, particularly your first few trips, snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies is a great activity for pretty much anyone, young or old. Family and friends make a great snowshoeing team. There are also a wide-variety of online resources for people looking to make new friends (use caution, of course!).
Making Preparations for your Snowshoeing Trip
Take Standard Wilderness Precautions
As you're venturing into the wilderness, every snowshoe trip to the Canadian Rockies should take some standard precautions:
First, as discussed above, don't go alone. A team is just a more safe way of travelling, especially in lesser travelled areas.
Second, tell someone where you're going and when you expect to return. Make an arrangement to check-in with that person on your return, or have them contact the search and rescue authorities if you don't call.
Third, visit the local Alberta or Canadian government park rangers at their parks stations, which are conveniently located near many popular snowshoeing areas in the Canadian Rockies. These wonderful people are an excellent resource on suitable trails and avalanche information. You're strongly cautioned to check-in with these folks for advice and guidance before launching your trip.
Finally, while cell phones are a wonderful invention and not a bad idea, you should never rely on them for your snowshoeing trip. For one, they can break when they get covered in snow. Also, cold temperatures often rapidly deplete battery life on your phone. And finally, the vast, vast majority of the Canadian Rockies will have no cellular reception. Maps, guides and notes should be kept on paper and in waterproof containers. In short, while a very accessible sport, snowshoeing is an activity that should be carefully and safely planned in advance.
What to Bring
If you're snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies, it's probably going to be a bit cold! So dress appropriately, in warm-weather clothing. It's best to also dress in layers of clothing, as snowshoeing is a good way to work up a sweat, so you will want to be able to shed layers as you warm, and put them back on when you're moving a bit less. You should use standard outdoor gear, with an emphasis on covering your whole body with good synthetic or natural waterproof materials, which will keep you warm even when covered in snow or water. Fleece and wool make excellent under layers, while breathable waterproof shells are ideal as an outer layer.
Also, be sure to bring supplies: there are certainly not going to be any cafes or snack stands at your trail head! For snacks, either stock up on your drive in, or bring a selection from home, of typical hiking foods. Historical Alpine tradition revolves around bringing cheese and cured meats, while the more modern folks include trail mix, snack foods and everything under the sun. Just remember: your food will be cold.
For drinks, water in a typical plastic bottle will tend to stay non-frozen, even at quite cold temperatures, as your movement will keep the liquid from freezing. A nice cup of coffee or soup in a thermos will also stay warm for quite a long period of time. Avoid eating snow, as it can dangerously lower your core temperature...as well as lead to some very unfortunate intestinal issues!
Pay Your Park Fees
Much of the Canadian Rockies, and in particular some of the best hiking and snowshoeing trails, are located in provincial or federal parks. As a result, if you're stopping in the park to do some snowshoeing, you'll have to be sure you have a valid parks pass. These can be purchased by days in the park, or a transferable yearly pass obtained, by visiting a park's station which are generally located as checkpoints on the roads into the parks themselves.
Where to Go in the Canadian Rockies
There are a wide-variety of great snowshoeing trails in the Canadian Rockies. Two great areas that are a reasonable drive from Calgary, Alberta are Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country.
Banff National Park
Located about 120 kilometres west of Calgary on Highway 1, Banff National Park is a massive 6,641 square kilometre outdoor play land. The park has a hugely diverse range of terrain, including mountains, glaciers, forests, rivers, meadows and hills. The park is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the first national park in Canada. The federal government also maintains a wonderful series of hiking trails, many of which are excellent snowshoeing trails in the winter and fall.
The best way to identify a suitable snowshoeing trail - in order to take into account weather, avalanche danger and trail status - is to check with the park rangers and employees at the federal government's park station located in the city of Banff, Alberta.
Slightly closer, about 70 kilometres west of Calgary on Highway 1, Kananaskis country is a very large series of provincial parks that have been organized in a variety of multi-use recreation regions according to the natural landscape. A wonderful region, Kananaskis has something for everyone and the whole family.
Enjoy the Majesty of Snowshoeing the Canadian Rockies
Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies is a low-cost, high-reward activity that is fun for young and old. A truly majestic experience that keeps one closer to nature than the traditional ski vacation, shoeshoing in the Canadian Rockies should be on everyone's must-do list.