March is the most beautiful segment of winter in the Rockies (it’s warming up!). Snow-clad peaks cast against the clearest blue skies, followed by short snow storms that bring another dump of snow for the many visiting winter recreational enthusiasts.
Activities in the snow is, after all, why people come to this part of Alberta. The highlights of what to do in the mountains and "in town" follow…..so jump on your board and cruise along!
The Bow Valley gives you access to many winter activities: alpine and cross country skiing, snowboarding, dog sledding, waterfall ice climbing, skating, snowmobiling, ice fishing and ski-jouring. The towns of Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise provide easy access to the regions five major world-class ski resorts in the Alberta Rockies:
In addition, just a short drive to the west takes you to some awesome BC ski resorts: Fernie, Panorama, Whitetooth and Kimberly. From March 1-4 check out the Export ‘A’ Extreme Freeskiing Challenge at Sunshine, and on March 30 ski with host Karen Percy-Lowe (Gold Medal Olympic Downhill Skiier) and team mates for charity on the slopes of Mount Norquay.
The Canmore Nordic Centre (home of the 1988 Olympic Nordic Ski Events), offers cross country skiing on 60 km of groomed trails. It is located in Kananaskis Country, and you require a day or season’s pass. Pick up your ticket at the day lodge. Grab some lunch and sit by the fire when you’re finished your ski! On many weekends there are races in cross-country and biathalon, from regional events to World Cups. Take in the excitement, but be sure to check the schedule if you plan to ski, as some trails will be closed to the public. You can rent or buy equipment, and take a ski lesson from Trail Sports.
Banff National Park, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Kananaskis Country have numerous groomed and backcountry mountain trails. Stick to the valley bottoms if you are unprepared for travel in avalanche terrain. Before you head into the high country, check out the avalanche bulletins for K Country and Banff.
For all trips in the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies, prepare yourself properly. This includes: making sure your vehicle is secured (you haven’t left your lights on!); carrying adequate clothing, equipment, food and
liquids; and, arming yourself with good knowledge of trail conditions (links above), the weather forecast, and avalanche conditions.
Also, let someone know your plans, including: the trailhead you are parked at, your intended route and when you will be back. You can also sign out with the national or provincial park visitor centres. Yes, there are people to call if you get in trouble, but cell phones are not reliable or are completely useless in the mountains in Western Canada (especially with frozen batteries). Getting help usually involves one of your party going out to the road for assistance. Therefore, in the Rockies we have four little words of wisdom: DON’T GET IN TROUBLE!
There are many opportunities to experience the Rockies with local adventure outfitters. This is the best and safest way to see the Rockies to their fullest, if you lack the skills or time to prepare properly for outdoor adventures in a true wilderness environment.
For a less physical, but equally Canadian experience, go for a ride on a horsedrawn sleigh along the lakeshore of Lake Louise, go ice fishing, visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs or take a ride on the Sulphur Mountain gondola.
The Canadian tradition of ice skating can be a great way to explore the Rockies on frozen ponds, lakes and oxbows (Bow River) and at the recreation centres in Banff and Canmore. Local Junior "A" hockey games can be great entertainment for the evening. Call the Canmore Recreation Centre at 403-678-5597 or the Banff Recreation Grounds at 403-762-1235 for schedules.
After you’ve had your fill of winter adventures, mountain scenery and vigorous living, get your dancing shoes on and come into town. The Bow Valley is extremely fortunate to have cosmopolitan entertainment, dining and shopping amenities minus the big city hassles.
The Banff Centre for Arts brings world-class talent in all mediums of the arts for performances, study and teaching. The "Centre" offers everything from pay-what-you-can informal recitals to world class performances. Because it’s situated in the little mountain town of Banff there is no dress code and ticket prices are affordable. Call or email for tickets, 762-6301, or 1-800-413-8368, or order on-line. March is going to be a great month, and here are some of the samplings:
Banff has the only cinema in the Bow Valley. The Lux Cinema Centre is found at 229 Banff Avenue, has four theatres with the new releases running a couple of weeks behind the big cities. Tuesday is cheap night, and matinees for the kids are offered on weekends and holidays. Call for features of the week and playing times: 403-762-8595.
Many of the area’s restaurants, bars and nightclubs have live music and special events on a regular basis. Check out all the happenings in a free publication called The Wild Life or pick up a copy of the Canmore Leader and the Banff Crag ‘n’ Canyon, our award winning local
The Bow Valley generously and tastefully shares it’s human and natural history. In Banff, visit the
Banff Park Museum National Historic Site,
the Cave and Basin National Historic Site,
the Luxton Museum of the Plains Indian,
the Natural History Museum and
the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.
Also visit the Centennial Museum of Canmore (behind the old coal cars).
Both the provincial and national park visitor centres are huge sources maps and brochures, as well as educational and entertaining. Be sure to visit the Lake Louise Visitor’s Centre in the Samson Mall, the Banff Visitor’s Centre in downtown Banff, and the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre just inside Kanananaskis Country on Highway 40 South. Travel Alberta Information Centre is located in Canmore at the west end of the Bow Valley Trail.
More than 20 art galleries, Canadian in theme, can be found in the three town centres and within the large hotels (particularly the CP Hotels). Local artisans and photographers display and sell their work, as well as generously contribute their talents to the local school and community art programs. Canmore is known for distinctive craft shops, which can be found on the main downtown street (8th Street). If you want to try your hand at painting pottery yourself, visit Great Bowls A Fire (403-678-9507).
Shop ’til you drop!
You’ll see what I mean. Despite the overwhelming array of T-shirt and trinket shops, there are stores for the people that actually live here, owned and operated by people that live here too. The more technical shops (bikes, ski/snowboard gear, outdoor gear, etc) make it worth your while to shop locally (rather than run into Calgary).
Next month check out the Bow Valley Survival Guide for more info.
Copyright 2000 Wendy Rockafellow. Reproduction of this work in whole or in part, including reproduction in electronic media, without documented permission from the author is prohibited. Photographs property of The M.W. Guide’s Office Ltd collection.
Welcome to the Bow Valley nestled within the beautiful Canadian Rockies, on the western edge of Alberta. Our most well-known landmark is Banff, and in particular, Banff National Park.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, this part of the Canadian Rockies is unparalleled in it’s wilderness appeal and stunning scenery.
If you ask the locals, we’d say that we have one season: the snowy one. But there’s a lot more to it than just snow…
Whether it’s by air or via the world’s longest paved highway, the Trans-Canada, there’s a way to get here. Just be careful on the roads.
Once you’re here, it helps to have your own vehicle, but public transport has gotten a lot better in the last few years.
There’s an amazing choice of international cuisine for all palettes, complete with award-winning chefs to prepare it for you.
No matter what your budget, the Bow Valley has something you can afford or splurge on.
About the Author
I grew up in ranching country of southern Alberta, and moved to the mountains when I was 21.
An Alberta pioneer by genetics, I was one of a very few women to work as a Park Warden (Banff), Park Ranger (Kananaskis) and professional Ski Patroller (Jasper) in the 80’s.
A keen climber since the age of 16, I met my husband on-the-job when I started mountain guiding in 1986. We have climbed and skiied, worked and holidayed in many other mountain areas of the world, and always come back to the Bow Valley.
We live in Canmore with our three young children, and enjoy every mountain activity and blue-sky day the Bow Valley has to offer.