When we think of snow adventures, the first thing that comes to mind is skiing. However, what if you are like me and aren’t fond of hurdling out of control downhill towards trees? I missed the boat when it came to skiing for some reason, it never really appealed to me. So this winter I set out to find great winter adventure alternatives to skiing. My snowy homebases were the little ski towns of Banff and Canmore in the Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada.
It’s hard to ignore skiing in this area since there are three wonderful ski hills that serve the area and a plethora of ski shops. But I just walked by all of those temptations and stayed focused on trying to find other snowy activities.
If you’ve ever ridden a bike, then you can probably do fat biking. Fat biking is gaining popularity for those who love to bike, but want to do it year round. Normally you wouldn’t be able to take a bike out in the winter in deep snow as it’s like trying to peddle in sand and causes a lot of trail damage. However with the right fat tires, you can actually ride in that snow! Generally the tires must be 3.7 inches or wider and are on a typical mountain biking frame. The idea is that the wide tires with low pressure will help you float over the trails rather than sinking in. I went out with a guide at the Canmore Nordic Provincial Park and we biked along the cross-country ski trails as well as off trail through the woods in the deep snow. The fat tires with low tire pressure handle great in the snow and soon you’ll be working up a sweat peddling!
More Info: Canmore Nordic Provincial Park
— Sherry Ott (@ottsworld) February 20, 2015
The Canadian Rockies are full of surprises, and for me the biggest one was that in addition to going to the top of the mountains, you could also go inside the mountains. The temperature in Rats Nest Cave is 41°F year around which means it’s a great winter activity for those looking to get down and dirty. After a short hike up to the cave, we dawned our jumpers, hard hats, and headlamps and repelled 60 feet into the dark cave.
This is the moment where you pretty quickly figure out if you are claustrophobic or not. Luckily, I wasn’t claustrophobic; in fact it turned out I loved crawling around and scooting through little openings and chutes with our guide. However I can’t say that I’d want to be in there alone exploring new nooks and crannies! This was a wild cave meaning there were no interior lights, handrails, walkways.
We covered about 400 meters of the cave in 4 hours, so it’s slow going and requires a lot of crawling and climbing. However it was an exhilarating way to see what’s going on below the surface of the snowy Canadian Rockies.
More Info: Canmore Caving Tours
While in Canada in the winter, why not throw some stones in houses; curling stones that is. Yes, the sport you see ever 4 years in the Olympics and go “Huh?” is another fun winter activity you can do. It’s a little less adventurous, but don’t mistake that with being easy! I took lessons from Hugh at the Canmore Curling Club (also referred to as a ‘curling house’) and learned that the name of the game in Curling is balance, precision, and strategy.
Curling (or gliding) the 40-pound granite stone along the ice was much harder than it looks, mainly because it takes a lot of balance. This is where all of those yoga and Pilates classes pay off! I started off pretty shaky, but after an hour or so, we actually started getting the hang of it!
More Info: Canmore Curling Club
Even though snowshoeing requires strapping two objects to my feet, it’s completely different than skiing! I love hiking, so a natural winter transition is snowshoeing. And the great news is that if you can walk, you can snowshoe. I tried a number of different varieties of snow shoeing while in Alberta from heli snowshoeing to remote long distance snowshoeing, to guided backcountry snowshoeing. The most educational and rewarding was my snowshoe with Great Divide Nature Interpretation Guide Nadine. She was sort of like Bill Nye the Science Guy, but for snow. Under Nadine’s tutelage, I learned snow is way more complex than I ever imagined. We analyzed snowflakes, learned about how the trees and wildlife survive in the snow pack, and we even learned about why avalanches are an important part of the growth cycle. The setting was like the Narnia fairy tale as we plowed our way off-trail through the winter forests in Lake Louise working up a sweat.
— Sherry Ott (@ottsworld) February 12, 2015
“It’s called fishing not catching, ” Big Jim, my ice fishing guide, said. I figured he had used that line before, but it was a good way to set the expectations for my first day of ice fishing. I was skeptical at first about sitting around all day on a frozen lake fishing, but as Big Jim told me, “It’s about the journey.” Luckily we had a picture-perfect, sunny, winter day on the lake for our ice-fishing journey.
As I jigged the line in the hole, Jim cooked up a feast of beef steak sandwiches in the shanty. The day flew by as we caught 8 fish and kept 2 to cook up for ‘fish dessert’. “A day outside, a beef fry, fishing, a fish fry, a warm shanty – what could be nicer than that?” Jim asked me with a smile. I had to agree with him, it was the most fun I had on ice in a while! And I left with a full belly!
More Info: Big Jim the Ice Fishing Guide
A bucket list item for many – everyone dreams of driving their own dog sled, but few get to do it. Anyone can go for a sled dog ride while their guide drives the dog team, overshadowing the entire experience. However, my experience with Canmore based Snowy Owl Dog Sled Tours was different. Everyone has the opportunity to get hands on, as they are one of the few companies in Canada who provide tourists with the thrill of driving their very own dog teams.
We intently listened to the dog sledding instructions from owner Jeremy learning all of the correct commands and tones in which to control the team, as well as tips on how to slow down, go around turns, and stop quickly. Just as important as what you said, it was how you said it and how you encouraged the team. The most important thing to remember though – hold on! And the best part – there’s plenty of time to play with the dogs after the work is done.
More Info: Snowy Owl Dog Sled Tours
Bio: Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She has been blogging about her travels on Ottsworld: Travel and Life Experiences of a Corporate America Runaway since 2006. She’s a co-founder of Meet, Plan, Go!, a website and national event offering career break or sabbatical travel inspiration and advice to mid career professionals. You can follow her travels live on Instagram @Ottsworld.