Norquay's tubing park is a great thrill for young and old.
BANFF, ALTA. - While it’s nice to plan a mountain visit to coincide with a kid-friendly festival such as Christmas in the Rockies, there’s plenty to do in Alberta’s winter wonderland all season long. Here are our Top 5 favourite ways to spend a winter day in the snowy outdoors.
Skiing or snowboarding doesn’t have to be an all-day commitment at Mount Norquay. The small family-friendly hill, a 10-minute drive from Banff townsite, offers skiing by the hour. On a recent trip to Banff we checked our five-year-old son into the on-hill daycare then spent three hours exploring the new-to-us terrain off of the Mystic Express chair with our seven-year-old daughter. We loved the fresh powder on Banshee and I couldn’t get over how relatively empty the slopes were in comparison to other ski resorts — we felt like we had the mountain all to ourselves, complete with fantastic views of Rundle Mountain towering above Banff. There is also a tubing park which is priced separately from skiing.
No winter getaway to Banff National Park is complete without a trip to the iconic Banff Upper Hot Springs, where natural spring water bubbles up hot from a thrust fault in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Our kids love splashing around in the 40C waters with views of snow-covered peaks in every direction. It’s the best body break on a snowy day after a trip up Sulphur Mountain on the nearby gondola.
There’s something magical about being pulled in a sleigh along the frozen shore of Banff National Park’s most famous lake while watching giant snowflakes twirl down from the sky. Last winter we took the kids on a Brewster Adventures sleigh ride at Lake Louise and they quickly fell under the spell of the giant but gentle Percheron horses that pulled our heavy sleigh 2.5 kilometres to the end of the lake. I think their favourite part was petting the horses after the ride was over.
If you have a little princess, she will love skating around the sparkling ice castle that gets built every winter in the middle of a rink on Lake Louise adjacent to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It’s a pretty spectacular setting — probably the best real estate in Canada for strapping on your blades. Ice skating is free and runs from mid-December through April, depending on conditions (rentals are available inside the hotel at Chateau Mountain Sports).
Several companies offer winter walks into Johnston Canyon (such as White Mountain Adventures) to view the spectacular frozen waterfalls that form as winter’s icy grip grinds their flow to a halt. I recently hiked the canyon with some girlfriends and marvelled at its beauty draped in white snow. Because of the slippery footing and distance covered the walk is recommended for children eight years and older.
Head to Banff National Park and experience the winter season! Carve some early season turns, catch the Lake Louise World Cup, enjoy the magic of Christmas, decorate cookies, take an old-fashioned wagon ride or watch the Santa Claus Parade of Lights down Banff's main street.
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