By Peter Zimmerman
Parks Program Supervisor,
CPAWS Southern Alberta
Living so close to Lake Louise, Sunshine, Norquay and Nakiska tends to makes skiing and snowboarding the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks us about winter activities in our national and provincial parks. Second on the list, we might see cross-country skiing, which is also popular and available in Banff National Park, or more locally at the Canmore Nordic Centre, Bragg Creek, Shark mountain, and a number of other locals.
While downhill skiing has much to offer, it is not for everyone. The cost, frequent traffic, lift congestion, or physical demands can distract from this form of recreating for many.
Less often thought about is the solitude that can be found in snowshoeing. It has long been my winter sport of choice, as it can be done almost anywhere – no groomed trails or slopes required. In fact it is more enjoyable off trail, or at least off the main trails used by cross country skiers…who don’t generally appreciate you walking on their trails anyway. Snowshoes offer a safe winter form of uber-quiet recreation at a very low cost, and is a traditional method of winter travel. It is also an excellent form of low impact, high calorie burning exercise that can be tailored to any age or fitness level. My daughter started when she was 6 years old.
My snowshoes are the traditional wood and gut strung ones. They are made by an aboriginal community in Quebec, and available online through a dealer in Ontario. While they are heavier than the new plastic and aluminum high-tech models, and require a bit more maintenance, they perform easily as well if not better in deep snow, flat surface conditions. I also like the fact they pay tribute to Canada’s aboriginal heritage and support an aboriginal craftsman and business.
For the last few years I have frequented the Bow Valley corridor between the 1A Highway from Banff to Lake Louise; there is the Bow river, train tracks, power-line (currently being upgraded) and portions of an old tote road that weave together to provide ample of opportunity to shoe in stunning scenery, only a short distance from the highway, and free of any avalanche danger. The area is frequented by elk, wolves, deer, and very rarely a bear taking a short break from winter hibernation.
One of my most memorable moments was un-expectantly coming across a bull elk kill and having two huge wolves jump out of the trees, only yards in front of me, who must had been feeding on the carcass. They stopped when I whistled, turn their great heads to look at me and we locked eyes for a few moments, before they louped off into the trees. A moment forever seared into my memory…and one I am sure I’d never replicate on a ski slope. This event stands in my memory as an example of how snowshoes can provide an accessible and low-impact opportunity for almost anyone to enjoy our parks on an intimate level.