Banff Stories and Tips

Snowshoe New Year's Eve

Our destination Photo, Banff, Alberta

When we settled on spending three nights at Storm Mountain Lodge, switching our reservation from the stratospherically priced Chateau Lake Louise, we thought we’d have an equally special stay and save nearly $900 in the bargain. Nonetheless, given the $270 CDN nightly price tag, I thought I’d ask if they had any packages. Not over the holidays, they said, but we do take our guests snowshoeing every New Year’s Eve. At no charge, I asked? That’s right, she replied.

That sounded fantastic. Even though it wasn’t perfectly free (the $8 rental per shoe set was added to our tab), heading out under the stars with someone who knew what they were doing seemed like a great way to experience another quintessential northern activity. We pulled in from Lake Louise about 6pm, lit a fire in our cabin, and broke out the cheese and crackers and light dinner we’d picked up at the small grocery before heading back down Canada 1. Just before 10pm, we walked up to the lodge, enjoying the perfect winter scene of fir trees weighed down by snow. In back of the lodge, about 20 guests were gathering, measuring their feet against the snowshoes and getting their new gear strapped on.

These weren’t the large, classic wooden snowshoes with leather straps: these had largely rectangular frames of aluminum tubing, with nylon fabric stretched partially across the opening, a web for holding the front half of your boot, and a nylon strap that tightened around the back of your ordinary footwear.

Steve, our host, had already broken this trail that headed north from the lodge in the direction of Boom Lake. That was about 8 km, but we were only going out for 2-3 km, and then looping back to a bonfire. The night was calm and cool, but between our clothing and our exertions, we stayed perfectly warm (love those Sorel boots!).

Snowshoeing proved easier than we expected; you just needed to compensate a little for your newly expanded foot size. But although some of the romance may be gone from the aluminum shoes, they must be a whole lot easier to maneuver, since their footprint is significantly smaller. Every now and then someone would step on their own shoes and go down, or get to close to the person in front of them and take them down, too. But that was rare, and by the time our 90-minute trek was over, we all had the hang of it.

Our group included a group of five friends from London who’d come for a two-week holiday, a friendly family from Calgary, and a retired couple from elsewhere in Alberta who’d RVed all over North America and loved retreating to their own Albertan mountains. Steve pointed out tracks in the snow, described the animals who’d left them (including deer, moose, pine martens, and others), and generally showed that he’d spent a lot of time in the woods and wilderness.

After correcting a wrong turn (Steve let someone else lead for a bit), we came out upon a clearing and a roaring bonfire. The staff of Storm Mountain Lodge and nearby Castle Mountain Lodge joined our New Year’s celebration, and we mingled while waiting for the midnight hour. A few folks towed the toboggan up the small hill behind the fire, some rowdy but friendly Scots from Castle Mountain offered everyone the use of their hip flask, and just before midnight Steve broke out champagne from some coolers that had been hauled up earlier. With fire roaring and the stars overhead, it was a beautiful way to welcome 2009.

Snowshoes for you, too?
A number of tour companies will take you snowshoeing for $60. You get transportation, a guide/instructor, and usually hot chocolate at the end. If you’d like to give it a try, get a recommendation for a good trail and just rent a pair from a local outfitter. There’s really nothing to learn, and in no time you’ll be off in the woods. And you can buy your own hot chocolate.

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