Mountains covered in snow in Alberta
At the end of last year, Lisa Sanders and her husband, Steven, packed their suitcases and embarked on a holiday with Canadian Affair to Alberta. Now, as winter approaches yet again, she reflects on her experience in this spectacular winter wonderland and what makes the province so special at this time of year.
Tell us, what were the highlights of your trip?
Honestly, there are too many to name!
In Banff, it was the wonderful Lake Louise and the experience of having afternoon tea whilst overlooking the frozen lake dotted with ice skaters. Simply being there and witnessing the enormity of the majestic mountains all around us was amazing.
Dog sledding in Jasper was another highlight and the perfect way to immerse ourselves in the stunning scenery. We mastered our own sled, keeping behind a team of very experienced professionals who kept ensuring we were warm enough; it gets incredibly cold – hand and feet warmers are an absolute must! Whilst the cold weather was rather extreme at times, it was totally worth it, not just for the scenery but also seeing how much the dogs enjoyed it. Whilst ‘mushing’, the dogs were so quiet and you could have heard a pin drop, but as soon as we stopped, they became incredibly noisy and were clearly so excited to get going again. We also had the opportunity to pet and feed them once the tour had finished, which was a lovely way to top off this wonderful experience.
I’d also like to mention our private Icefields Parkway tour as another highlight. This 5-hour drive, which took us from Banff to Jasper, included some of the most mesmerising scenery I’ve ever seen. We made several stops along the way to admire the glaciers and soak up the scenery. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and lots of sunshine.
These organised activities were all incredible in their own right but it’s also possible to be caught completely off guard by a magical moment. For us, this happened when we saw elk roaming in Jasper, having come down from the mountains. Some of them were enormous and it was so surreal to see them wandering through the town.
What other adventures did you have?
It’s actually amazing how much we managed to fit in!
Riding the Banff Gondola to the top of the mountain was certainly an adventure. Once up there, a challenge awaited us – following a boardwalk which took us across the mountain range and up to the summit. We enjoyed a 360 degree view encompassing Banff, the snow covered peaks and stunning blue skies – all I can say is ‘wow’, the views were absolutely sensational.
On another day, we enjoyed a guided tour of Johnston Canyon in Banff. The trip lasted for a couple of hours and involved donning ice cleats and tracing a walkway through the canyon to admire wonderful ice falls. Despite the frozen landscapes, you could still hear the sound of the water rushing through the canyon under sheets of ice. The walk took us as far as an ice fall with water thundering behind the large solid icicles, which provided the perfect location to stop and admire the scenery over a cup of hot chocolate and maple cookie – delicious!
A very different type of adventure awaited us at the Jasper Lodge, where we took part in an astronomical event. This involved looking through super powerful telescopes at the various stars and planets, which was pretty awe-inspiring. Jasper National Park is the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world, so the perfect place to indulge in a little stargazing.
Alberta is well known for being home to a diverse range of wildlife. Did you spot any wildlife on your trip?
We saw plenty of incredible wildlife, including coyote, bald eagles, and a moose with her young calf.
One particularly memorable moment was when we spotted a winter fox on a thick snow-filled lane. We decided to follow it, keeping our distance of course, and staying very quiet. To our surprise, the fox was in hunting mode and we were able to witness (and capture) this beautiful creature leaping into the air and pouncing into the snow to pull out its prey – some sort of rodent. It was amazing – I felt like David Attenborough!
What were the locals like?
The locals were all so lovely and helpful. On one occasion, we were standing at a bus stop in Banff waiting for the bus to take us to Lake Louise. There was a bus near to where we were standing but we didn’t realise that it was ours until a local came and told us – whoops! Thank goodness for her help.
We also felt very safe all the time, which isn’t always the case when you’re travelling and out of your comfort zone. We had some lovely post-dinner evening strolls in Banff and Jasper and, although it was incredibly quiet in the streets, the restaurants were buzzing. Having said that, it was never crowded – the winter season is definitely the right time to go and enjoy this snowy paradise without masses of tourists.
What advice would you give to someone else looking at visiting Alberta during winter?
If you’re looking for a winter adventure, encompassing amazing wildlife and incredible scenery, you must visit Alberta in the winter! The first time we visited Alberta was around 25 years ago – we had an amazing time but didn’t spend that long in Jasper and Banff and have been longing to go back ever since. In December 2022, we finally made that dream a reality and it certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, we would say that this was our best holiday EVER, with some incredible experiences that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
We thought heading back to Alberta after 25 years would satisfy our curiosity, but we’ve come away with an itch to go back again, as we just had the best time!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Some possibly would argue that holidaying in Alberta in December is madness given how cold it is, but don’t let this put you off! As long as you’re clothed appropriately (with lots of layers) and take tours with those who know and understand the extremities, you will have a truly wonderful time. We cannot wait to go back again someday.