The Alberta You Ought to Meet

From gliding along isolated glaciers on cross-country skis to dogsledding across miles of frozen lake at breakneck speeds, Alberta has a heck of a lot more to offer than oil derricks and cow country. Get reintroduced to one of Canada's most downplayed natural treasures.
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Bow Lake
Bow Lake: Gateway to Bariff National Park's Wapta Icefields  (Courtesy, Travel Alberta)

Driving east from Calgary’s airport, I watch a monochrome landscape of housing developments, parking lots, and shopping centers pass by our van window, followed by the bleak Canadian grasslands. I can’t help but wonder how much Alberta, best known for its thriving oil and cattle industries, really has to offer the active traveler. But within an hour the Rockies suddenly rise out of the monotony in spires and hulks of granite and gneiss. The snowy summits flash pearly against a cobalt sky as my friends and I wind deeper into the soaring landscape. By the time we pass the mountain burgs of Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise and enter Banff National Park, about two hours from Calgary, we are wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Blue-cool glaciers hang from ridgelines strung between steep peaks. Frozen alpine lakes glitter in the cool sunshine, and the side of the road is piled high with immaculate powder.

We stop at Bow Lake, load up our packs, and strap skins onto our alpine-touring skis. Here, we spend the next five days traversing the Wapta Icefields of Banff National Park, traveling along spacious glaciers and through spiny peaks, without a hint of civilization in sight. At times, on these wide white glaciers, it feels as if we’re skiing off the edge of the earth. At our last hut, I examine the undulations of snowfields in the evening light from the window. They look like the smooth-skinned curves of hips or a waist in a black-and-white photograph. Alberta may not have been love at first sight, but by the end of my first trip, I am spellbound by its raw winter beauty.

After this first jaunt to Alberta, I vow to return and explore. Most visitors to Alberta’s Rockies come in summer to ride bikes, hike through wildflower meadows, and climb a preponderance of rock. But visiting in winter affords an entirely different view of the province, often forgotten in the shadow of its ski-happy neighbor, British Columbia. The following January, I convince my friend Tim to follow a route from Castle Mountain near the Montana border, north through Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise, and concluding in the northern hamlet of Jasper.

Published: 30 Apr 2007 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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