Five fun winter activities that don’t involve skiing

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With the Canadian Rockies so close to Calgary, there are all sorts of ways to embrace the winter months that don’t involve soaring down a mountain at 70 km/h. Whether you’re simply looking for jaw-dropping views or to try new adventures, here are five ways to have fun in the winter that don’t involve skiing.

Hike through a frozen canyon

Hiking through a canyon is always a beautiful experience but it’s taken to the next level at Banff’s Johnston Canyon. Walking next to the frozen river at the bottom of the canyon, you’ll pass through a snow-covered forest, caves, and frozen waterfalls, some of which have ice climbers making their way up. Although popular and normally open to the public, the road to access the canyon is closed due to Covid. However, it is still open to guided tours, so although the visit will cost more than it typically would, it will also be much quieter. Another incredible frozen canyon is Maligne Canyon, which is one of the most popular things to do in Jasper. This one is still accessible to the public but a tour is recommended as there are no signs telling you where to enter and you’ll learn a lot more about the area with a local guide.

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Ice bubbles trapped in Abraham Lake. Courtesy, Caitlyn Giorgio and Travel Alberta
Ice bubbles trapped in Abraham Lake. Courtesy, Caitlyn Giorgio and Travel Alberta Calgary

Admire the ice bubbles

Thanks to Instagram, the frozen methane bubbles beneath Abraham Lake have become an Internet sensation. Regardless of the social media platform, however, the ice bubbles are incredible to see up close. Located at Abraham Lake, which straddles Highway 11, the ice bubbles are super easy to see, as long as the snow has been cleared off the lake by the fairly consistent strong winds. All you have to do is park the car and walk about five minutes down to the shoreline, where you’ll start to see the bubbles frozen beneath the ice. Although many visit with just their boots, I highly recommend wearing ice cleats or microspikes to avoid slipping on the ice, especially during high winds. You’ll want a good hour to truly admire all the different layers and sizes while trying to find that perfect angle for your next viral photo.

Rockies Heli Canada offers heli snowshoe tours for two or groups. Courtesy, Rockies Heli Canada
Rockies Heli Canada offers heli snowshoe tours for two or groups. Courtesy, Rockies Heli Canada jpg

Take a helicopter tour in the Rockies

Without a doubt, the Canadian Rockies is one of the most beautiful places and we are so lucky to have it in our own backyard. Whether you’re just driving through and admiring them from the windshield or skiing down one of the many world-class ski resorts, the mountains are always mesmerizing. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re incredible to see from the sky! Helicopter tours are always fun, but it’s a whole different experience when you’re soaring over mountains, glaciers, and lakes. There are a number of helicopter tours in Banff and Jasper, but one of our favourites is Rockies Heli Canada out of Cline River. Located not far from the Icefields Parkway, this makes a great stop on the drive from Banff to Jasper and is a great place to see all sorts of glaciers, as well as canyons, lakes, and rivers. I’ve experienced both their short 20-minute tour as well as their epic 55-minute tour and they’re both fantastic. They also offer the opportunity to go snowshoeing in the winter, bringing you to a secluded lake where you can get out of the helicopter and take a one-hour snowshoe tour through pristine wilderness.

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Take a gondola to the summit

Even if things like skating, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing are just not your cup of tea, you can still appreciate the beauty of winter wonderland by taking a gondola to the top of a mountain! One of the most popular things to do in Banff is the Banff Gondola, which takes visitors to the summit of Sulphur Mountain in less than 10 minutes. From there, you’ll find an interpretive centre, theatre, and restaurant, but most importantly, a boardwalk that offers 360-degree views of Banff National Park from a variety of different angles. While the gondola provides an easy way up, there’s also a two2-hour hike for those who prefer exercise.

Climb a frozen waterfall

If you’ve ever visited a frozen canyon during the winter, you’ve likely seen ice climbers making their way up a frozen waterfall. Although this might seem like a fairly extreme winter sport, it’s actually quite manageable for those that are reasonably fit. My wife and I have witnessed ice climbers making their way up a frozen chunk of ice many times, but we never actually considered doing it until this year. With more time on our hands to explore Alberta, we decided to give it a try and ended up going out towards Crescent Falls to go ice climbing with Girth Hitch Guiding. Our guide, Tim, was incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about climbing and made us feel safe and comfortable as we tried the sport for the first time. He got us equipped with the necessary boots and crampons, as well as a harness and helmet. It was reassuring to know that if we did manage to lose our grip or become too tired to continue upwards, that we were safe to just lean back or go back down. If you’re looking for a new and exciting way to enjoy the winter or just looking for a way to test muscles you never knew you had, try ice climbing with a knowledgeable guide.

Matthew Bailey is a Calgarian and the founder of mustdocanada.com, a website and YouTube channel about the best things to do across Canada.

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