It’s not just shussing. Here are a few of the other winter attractions in and around Canada’s first national park.
Soak It Off in the Hot Springs
It was the attraction of a good hot soak that led to the development of Banff National Park, which was originally called Banff Hot Springs Reserve. Workers toiling on the Canadian Pacific Railway “discovered” Banff Upper Hot Springs in 1883, but before that, Indigenous peoples had been using the waters for healing and wellness. A potential draw for prospective tourists from soak-loving England (you’ve heard of Bath, right?), the springs were commercially developed posthaste. At 5,200 feet, the highest-operating hot springs in Canada get their heat as their waters run through thrust faults in Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle, coming out at a cozy and therapeutic 98 – 104 degrees. A soak in the mineral-rich waters here is a little like going to a steamy hot pool complex complete with bathhouse, showers, changing rooms, and bathrooms — that is, if your local pool had an inspiring view of a valley flanked by the Rocky Mountains. You can score a free ticket to soak with the purchase of a three-day SkiBig3 lift ticket.
“Eat the Castle”
Nothing works up the appetite like a day on the slopes. Feed that hunger with the Eat the Castle tour at the Fairmont Banff Springs. A newish offering from Alberta Food Tours, the nosh-and-learn experience gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making the iconic property’s multiple kitchens run — and you get to eat in some of its lauded venues. Walk, talk, and dine with a storytelling guide who will take you to Stock Food and Drink, the Vermillion Room, the cellar room at Grapes Wine Bar, and the 1888 Chop House. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy grazing and learning about the history, art, and architecture of the “castle.” But you do have to come up with $175 (Canadian) for the ticket.
Snowshoe Lake Louise Backcountry
On downhill skis, things can go by in a blur. To slow down the scenery and savor some of the most breathtaking vantage points in the Canadian Rockies, strap on a pair of snowshoes and head out on a guided interpretive tour at Lake Louise Ski Resort. You’ll tromp outside of the ski resort boundaries to explore snow-covered territory with guides who know the best spots and can tell you all about the flora and fauna. There are full- and half-day options on beginner, moderate, and advanced trails. Tours include experienced certified guides, equipment rental (snowshoes, boots, and poles), transportation from Lake Louise (ski resort and local hotels), hot chocolate, and a snack.
Dine by Starlight and Candlelight at 7,000 Feet
On select dates in February and March, you can take a starlit ride on Mount Norquay’s North American chairlift to the iconic Cliffhouse Bistro. At 7,000 feet, you’ll settle in by the roaring fire for a candlelit evening of chef Morne Burger’s alpine-inspired five-course meal and wine pairings.
Skate the Lake
With Victoria Glacier as its breathtaking backdrop and its iconic carved ice castle as its featured centerpiece, Lake Louise easily earns its reputation as the most beautiful ice rink in the world. Open for skating from mid-December to mid-April (or while the weather is cold enough), it’s lit at night. During January’s annual Ice Magic Festival, you can walk among amazing ice sculptures carved by world-class competitors in the International Ice Carving Competition, when safety-goggled ice sculptors chain saw and whittle 300-plus-pound frozen blocks. Chateau Ski & Snow on the main level of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers skate and other equipment rentals.
Walk the Ice
About a half hour from Banff on the Bow Valley Parkway, you’ll find Johnston Canyon, a favorite place from December to April for ice walking and ice climbing. The Upper Falls freeze during the winter, and outfitters in Greater Banff and Lake Louise — including Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, Banff Adventures, Discover Banff Tours, and White Mountain Adventures — offer instruction and guided climbs for all skill levels. If you’d rather stay on the ground, outfitters can also equip you and take you on snowshoe tours. If you’re experienced in backcountry exploration, you can rent or buy snowshoes and ice-walk crampons in Banff at Snowtips-Bactrax.
Find more information about activities, attractions, and accommodations at banfflakelouise.com.
Photography: Images courtesy Reuben Krabbe/Banff & Lake Louise Tourism