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Just back from: Alberta, Canada

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19 August 2023 by Andy Austen

Wexas Travel's Andy Austen travels to Alberta in Canada, courtesy of Travel Alberta, to experience a host of exciting winter activities.

Our trip began with an Air Canada flight from London Heathrow to Calgary in the spectacular Canadian province of Alberta. In Calgary we were treated to all kinds of delights including a visit to Chinook Blast, Calgary's signature winter event.

From Calgary we hit the highway and headed west into the heart of the Rocky Mountains. After the flatness of Northern Alberta's prairies, the feeling as we moved closer and closer to these giant snow-clad peaks was amazing. Our first stop was Canmore is the winter play ground for Calgarians, offering downhill and cross country skiing, ice climbing and caving and dog sledding. Our first night in the Rockies was spent in Canmore at The Malcolm, a beautiful resort hotel with a Scottish heritage in Banff National Park and an ideal stopping point on the way to the better-known resorts of Banff and Lake Louise.

We left Canmore behind and headed further west to the mountain resort of Banff. Our first stop was The Banff Gondola, which is just five minutes from the town centre, on the shoulder of Sulphur Mountain. The upper gondola terminal offers spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below and is one of the best vantage points in the region. We were blessed with gorgeous winter sunshine and blue skies, which made the visit even better. The views were breathtaking and I would recommend the gondola for anyone visiting Banff, regardless of the time of year you choose visit.

View from Sulphur Mountain, Banff, Canada

Another must-see attraction is the Banff Upper Hot Springs, a natural outdoor hot spring set against beautiful alpine scenery. Travellers have been visiting the historic bathhouse for centuries to "take the waters' and enjoy the mountain landscapes. The water is 100% natural mineral water and the temperature is kept between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius, making this the perfect spot to relax and soak away the aches after a long day enjoying the region's many winter activities.

Banff town itself is a great base for a winter break in the Canadian Rockies. There are plenty of non-ski winter activities on offer such as snowmobiling, winter wildlife tours, snowshoeing and sleigh rides, as well as some adventurous winter walking tours such as the Johnston Canyon ice walk, where you take to a series of steel catwalks for views over the dramatic natural ice sculptures in the canyon below. If skiing is your thing, Banff is close to the Big 3 of Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay, offering some of the best skiing in North America. Shuttle buses connect Banff to the resorts and it's possible to get a tri-area lift pass, allowing you to experience all three resorts. The town centre of Banff offers a village charm and is packed full of quirky shops and superb restaurants. Make sure you eat at Ticino, a Swiss-Italian restaurant, which speciality that all-time mountain classic, cheese fondue.

After Banff, our journey continued to Lake Louise, one of the most iconic places in the Canadian Rockies. Here we met up with a local dog mushers for a husky safari to the Great Divide, the vast continental divide that cuts through the heart of the Rockies from north to south and runs from the Bering Strait in the north to the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. The temperatures here dropped to cool -20 degrees Celsius, but we needn't have worried as we were tucked in to a sleigh and covered with an Arctic expedition-strength sleeping bag, keeping us nice and toasty throughout. The tour was excellent, taking us from Banff National Park to Yoho National Park through the Kicking Horse Pass at the Great Divide and across the border into British Columbia, passing jaw-dropping view after jaw-dropping view, while sitting back and letting the team of huskies do the hard work.

Following the safari we headed to the finest hotel in the area, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, where we checked in for a one-night stay. The hotel is set right on the shores of the lake, and in the summer has famous views of the green, glacier-fed water, framed by mountains and the magnificent Victoria Glacier. The winter vistas are just as stunning, with the lake is covered in a thick blanket of ice and snow, surrounded by magnificent, frosted mountain peaks. The day ended with us watching the changing colours of sunset against the surrounding landscape. For those wanting to see the mountains in the morning, the hotel also offers sunrise wake up calls.

There's a great selection of activities on offer at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and our early morning start saw us depart on a snowshoeing trip to across the frozen expanse of the lake The views of Victoria Glacier and the surrounding mountains were spectacular and a perfect ending to an unforgettable trip.

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