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Winter wonder in the Canadian Rockies

A group skating in Alberta, Canada

Winter wonder in the Canadian Rockies

This article originally appeared in the first issue of Boundless Magazine in November 2020.

Writer | Jody Robbins


It’s not the crisp night air that induces me to shiver slightly, but the vastness of it all. I expected to feel invigorated. I never anticipated the sense of wonder. There are few places in the world where the landscape can move you. Alberta, where the Rockies loom large, is one of those places.


But I’m not here to carve through epic slopes. Imposing sheets of ice tower high above as I make my way into a deeply cleaved canyon. The frosty silence is broken only by the gentle crunch of snow under my feet. I’m exploring Jasper National Park’s Maligne Canyon. In the dark. On ice! Forget walking beside a gorge with the occasional glimpse in. I’m right on the canyon floor, taking in ice sculptures designed by nature, not a chainsaw. Viewed during daytime, it’s impressive. At night, ethereal.


A headlamp and the moon are the only sources of light illuminating the constantly evolving icy waterfalls. Turning off my headlamp, I peer into the night sky. I’m in one of the world’s largest dark sky preserves, where diamond-like constellations and shooting stars are out in full force.


Credit: Erik McRitchie

The singularity of winter’s touch upon this landscape hits me again while cruising the Icefields Parkway days later. The route is one of the world’s most scenic drives, connecting Jasper with Lake Louise in Banff National Park, and is riddled with imposing glaciers and frozen lakes framed by snow-quilted forests.


But to truly appreciate this winterscape, you have to get out of your car. Standing amid these rocky giants is intimidating, but not as much as skating on a natural ice surface for the first time in your life.


Friendly locals recommended I head to Gap Lake, south of Banff. Here, I feel so free, gliding across glinting ice, over the top of frozen ice bubbles, with a pine-scented breeze on my face.


Rosy-cheeked and overflowing with endorphins, I decide to awaken my senses further at Willow Stream Spa, nestled within Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies” at Fairmont Banff Springs. Modeled after the spas of Europe, water cascades into three plunge pools encircling the Kur bath. After surrendering to the mineral-rich water, I nod off to the rhythmic pounding of the indoor waterfalls, awaking more refreshed than I ever thought possible.

Credit: Travel Alberta
Credit: Travel Alberta

Just when I think my adventure is complete, I’m swept into the Lake Louise landscape. Snowcapped peaks frame the turquoise lake, so regal, an ice castle sits upon its frozen expanse.


Sipping an aromatic mulled wine at an ice bar anchoring the lake, the glow of bonfires casts a romantic light upon crystal-clear tables carved of ice, while the jingle of sleigh bells on an actual horse-drawn sleigh, floats by. It’s a scene straight from a storybook, but here, I’m finding it very real to be enveloped in winter’s warm embrace.


It’s a fitting ending to this adventure. This vacation is so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. True luxury, I think to myself, has nothing to do with thread count and everything to do with feeling as though I am part of something more universal. Unexpectedly, I’ve become a part of this winter wonderland, or maybe it’s become a part of me.


Discover more about the Canadian Rockies at Travel Alberta.