Travel

Beyond the slopes in Banff National Park

With frozen lakes, dramatic mountain trails and clear skies, Banff National Park is the ultimate all-round winter destination.Saturday, 28 September 2019

By Banff and Lake Louise
Skating on Two Jack Lake

World-class ski resorts, breathtaking surrounds and one of the longest ski seasons — running from early November until mid-May — make Canada’s Banff and Lake Louise the stuff of any skier’s powdery dreams. However, come winter’s first snowfalls, finding your feet in this region of the Rockies — a mere 90-minute drive from Calgary — doesn’t necessarily have to involve strapping them into a pair of skis. When you’ve finished barrelling down the mountain, there are plenty more activities you can try for a change of pace in the region.

Explore the Rockies by dog sled

There are few creatures as enthusiastic about snow as Alaskan huskies — and when you’re out with a pack of them, that enthusiasm is infectious. Rooted in Canadian tradition, dog sledding was originally used as a means of transport by the Inuit people and early settlers. Today, it’s one of the most exhilarating ways to explore Banff’s wide, open spaces while tapping into the region’s rich cultural heritage. You can leave the panting to the pups and bundle up in a pile of warm blankets to be ‘chauffeured’ along the slopes of the Rockies. Alternatively, or you can take the wheel, so to speak, and try your hand at mushing your highly trained team. Kingmik Dog Sled Tours offers options ranging from its popular 30-minute Narnia tour to the unforgettable full-day Great Divide tour, which combines dogsledding, snowshoeing and sightseeing around Lake Louise.

Join a moonlit snowshoe tour

With the warm Chinook winds sparing the area some of the season’s bite, Banff’s cool, dry winter days are made for taking to the snow — and so are its nights. While nature’s brilliant white blanket demands attention from dawn to dusk, the skies take their turn to dazzle after dark; the thick swathe of the Milky Way seems to reflect the glimmer of the snow and, on the right nights, ghostly auroras waltz across the sky. This is when it’s time to swap your skis for snowshoes. With senses heightened by the dark, and only the satisfying crunch underfoot to be heard, Lake Louise Ski Resort’s moonlit snowshoe tour allows guests to immerse themselves in the tranquillity of the northern night. Lasting for 90 minutes, the tour includes a guided walk, head lamp and snowshoe rental, and refreshments — plus some of the planet’s most spectacular stargazing thrown in for good measure.

Skate on a frozen lake

A major summer draw card, the lakes dotted around Banff National Park remain just as inviting when the temperatures drop to their winter lows. If you’re looking to have the ice to yourself, Vermilion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, Johnson Lake and Two Jack Lake are nature’s perfect rinks when conditions are right. More popular, and ideal for skaters of all ages, Lake Louise is lauded as one of the most beautiful ice skating spots in the world. Floodlights illuminate the well-maintained rink late into the night, so you can skate under the stars before warming up in the heated shelter.

The chill factor

Banff and Lake Louise have endless ‘no-skis-required’ opportunities for adventure, but a trip to this part of the world should also be about taking it easy and chilling out. Here are three top picks for slowing down after an active day:

Take a dip. Revive travel-weary and ski-tired limbs in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Geothermally heated waters reaching up to 47C mean it’s always swimsuit weather here.

Sample the finest flavours. Banff’s burgeoning foodie scene means you’re never far from a cosy dining room and world-class cuisine. Try The Grizzly House for its legendary fondue.

Relax and unwind. Trade the apres-ski hangover for an invigorating treatment. The spa at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers more than 20 treatments and services, each designed to leave you blissfully refreshed.

Essentials

Getting there: Multiple airlines, including American Airlines, Air Canada and British Airways, fly direct from Heathrow and Gatwick to Calgary. Banff and Lake Louise is a scenic 90-minute drive from Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway.

To plan your autumn holiday to Banff and Lake Louise, visit banfflakelouise.com/fall

Published in the Adventure 2019 supplement distributed with National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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