Exploring Bow Valley's Winter Wonderland: A Skiing Guide for All Enthusiasts

Downhill Skiing Delights:

Are you ready to carve your way through some of the most breathtaking slopes in the world? Look no further than the Bow Valley, home to premier downhill skiing destinations like Nakiska, Norquay, Sunshine, and Lake Louise.

  • Nakiska Ski Area: Host to the 1988 Winter Olympics, Nakiska offers 79 runs for all skill levels and a tube park, set against the stunning backdrop of Kananaskis Country.

  • Mount Norquay: Located near Banff, Mount Norquay boasts challenging terrain across four mountain faces, along with panoramic views of Banff National Park.  Norquay offers tubing for those not looking to hit the slopes but want a quick adrenaline hit and night skiing on weekends.

  • Sunshine Village: With abundant snowfall and vast terrain, Sunshine Village promises unforgettable powder days and thrilling chutes.  Sunshine also offers some great ‘slack-country’ skiing so if you have Avalanche training & equipment, bring your skins & beacon to head out of bounds when safe to do so.

  • Lake Louise Ski Resort: Nestled in Banff National Park, Lake Louise features diverse terrain across 4,200 acres, making it a favorite among skiers and snowboarders alike.

Cross-Country Skiing Serenity:

While the Bow Valley is renowned for its downhill skiing, it also offers a haven for cross-country skiing enthusiasts, with the crown jewel being the Canmore Nordic Centre.

  • Canmore Nordic Centre: Situated just minutes from downtown Canmore, the Canmore Nordic Centre is a world-class facility that hosted the Nordic events during the 1988 Winter Olympics. Boasting over 65 kilometers of meticulously groomed trails, the Centre caters to skiers of all abilities, from beginners to elite athletes. With its stunning mountain backdrop and variety of terrain, the Canmore Nordic Centre provides a picturesque setting for a day of cross-country skiing.

  • Banff National Park: For those seeking a wilderness experience, Banff National Park offers an extensive network of track-set trails that wind through pristine forests and meadows. From easy loops to challenging routes, there's something for everyone to enjoy amidst the breathtaking scenery of the Canadian Rockies.

  • Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (PLPP): Venture into the heart of Kananaskis Country and discover the beauty of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. With well-maintained trails that traverse a diverse landscape of forests, lakes, and alpine meadows, this park offers an ideal setting for cross-country skiing adventures.

  • Mount Shark: Located south of Canmore, Mount Shark is a hidden gem for cross-country skiers. With its remote location and stunning mountain vistas, Mount Shark provides a peaceful escape from the crowds, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the backcountry while exploring its groomed trails.

Whether you're gliding through the manicured tracks of the Canmore Nordic Centre or exploring the pristine wilderness of Banff National Park and beyond, cross-country skiing in the Bow Valley offers a serene and rejuvenating experience amidst some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Nordic Pulse is a great resource to see current grooming and trail conditions.

Backcountry Bliss (with Caution):

For those seeking a more adventurous skiing experience, the Bow Valley and Canadian Rockies offer unparalleled opportunities for backcountry ski touring and splitboarding. However, it's essential to remember that venturing into the backcountry requires advanced skiing abilities and a thorough understanding of avalanche safety.

Before embarking on any backcountry adventure, be sure to familiarize yourself with avalanche awareness and practiced rescue knowledge, proper equipment, and always check the Avalanche Forecast & Weather Conditions before heading out. With the right skills and precautions, backcountry skiing in the Bow Valley can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience, allowing you to explore untouched powder and breathtaking landscapes far from the crowds.  AST1 is a must and AST2 is recommended, click here for current course offerings.

Whether you're drawn to the adrenaline rush of downhill skiing, the serenity of cross-country skiing, or the thrill of backcountry exploration, the Bow Valley offers something for every winter enthusiast. So grab your skis or snowboard, and get ready to discover the winter wonderland that awaits in this spectacular corner of the Canadian Rockies.

Please note for Nakiska, the Canmore Nordic Center, PLPP & Mount Shark, a Kananaskis Conservation Pass is required to park your car at any of these locations.  For Norquay, Sunshine, Lake Louise and any cross-country trailheads in Banff National Park (including the Town of Banff & Lake Louise Village & Lake), a Discovery Pass is required to park in any of these locations.  Passes for both Kananaskis and the National Parks can be purchased ahead of time or on the way to your location.  At the time of publishing this blog post, a daily family National Park pass is $22 or annual is $151.25 so if you are going to go into any of the National Parks (Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, etc.) more than 7 days in a 12 month period, it’s best to buy the annual pass and the Kananaskis Pass is $15 for the day or $95 for the year so again, you only need to go 6 days in a 12 month period to make it worthwhile just to buy the annual pass.  If you are visiting both areas, you need both passes - the Kananaskis Conservation pass and the National Discovery Pass are independent of each other - which is especially fun if you’re hiking to Assiniboine via Sunshine to Mount Shark and you car drop at both locations.. and have to have both park passes.


Cycling Highwood Pass: Canada's Highest Paved Road Adventure

Highwood Pass, located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, is not just any ordinary cycling route. This 34-kilometer out-and-back paved ride, stretching from the north winter gate to Highwood Pass, offers an exhilarating and challenging experience for cycling enthusiasts. As Canada's highest paved road, sitting at an impressive elevation of 2,206 meters above sea level, it promises breathtaking views, remarkable uphill climbs, and a thrilling ride back to your starting point. However, it's important to remember that the road is closed for a significant portion of the year due to heavy snowfall and wildlife migration. With careful planning and an adventurous spirit, cycling Highwood Pass becomes an unforgettable road cycling adventure.

The Challenging Uphill Climb: The journey begins at the north winter gate, where cyclists embark on a 17-kilometer uphill climb, gaining a total elevation of approximately 635 meters. The initial stretch offers a gradual ascent, with 3 small recovery dips along the way (remembering these will be little uphill pushes on the way home), allowing riders to warm up their legs and enjoy the surrounding mountain vistas. As you pedal through the pristine wilderness, keep in mind that the weather can change rapidly in the mountains, so it's essential to be prepared with appropriate clothing and gear.

As you approach the final 2 kilometers, the road becomes steeper, presenting the most challenging part of the ride. The incline demands perseverance and mental fortitude, but the sense of achievement upon reaching the summit is unparalleled. Take a moment to catch your breath, marvel at the panoramic views of the rugged peaks and sprawling valleys, and appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Wildlife Encounters: Highwood Pass is not only a haven for cyclists but also an important wildlife corridor. The road closure during the winter months facilitates the migration of various species, ensuring their safety and minimizing human interference. As you pedal along, keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of wildlife such as elk, bighorn sheep, and even the occasional black bear. Remember to maintain a respectful distance and never approach or disturb the animals. Observing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat adds an element of wonder to the cycling experience.

The Ride Back: After conquering the challenging uphill climb, the return journey provides an opportunity to revel in the thrill of a speedy descent. With gravity on your side, the ride back to your starting point is a joyous and exhilarating experience. Admire the scenic landscapes that seemed like an uphill battle just moments ago as you effortlessly glide down the mountain. However, it's crucial to exercise caution and control your speed, as the road can be winding and there may be other cyclists, wildlife or Alberta Parks vehicles sharing the route.

Tips for a Memorable Adventure:

  1. Assess Your Fitness Level.  Cycling Highwood Pass requires a good level of physical fitness due to the challenging uphill climb and the overall distance of the ride. Before embarking on this adventure, make sure you are adequately prepared and have trained to build the necessary endurance.

  2. Plan your ride during the period before the road opens to vehicles on June 15th. This way, you can fully enjoy the tranquil surroundings without the presence of cars or motorcycles.  Please remember the fact that cyclist are allowed is a privilege that could be revoked if abused so respect the wildlife and pack out everything you brought with you. The outhouses at the trailheads along the way are locked as the area officially is ‘closed’ and are not serviced until the 15th of June so bring a your own toilet paper and baggy & shovel should nature call…

  3. Check weather forecasts and dress in layers to accommodate changing conditions. Remember that mountain weather can be unpredictable, so it's wise to bring a waterproof jacket and warm clothing.

  4. Carry essential safety equipment, including a helmet, repair kit, spare tubes, and a pump. Additionally, bring plenty of water and energy snacks to stay hydrated and fueled throughout the ride.

  5. Respect wildlife and their habitat. Observe from a distance and refrain from littering or leaving any trace of your presence.

  6. Inform a friend or family member about your cycling plans, including your expected route and estimated return time, for safety purposes.

Cycling Highwood Pass is an adventure that showcases the beauty and challenges of Canada's highest paved road. The breathtaking scenery, the sense of accomplishment on reaching the summit, and the thrilling descent all combine to create a truly memorable experience.

*Note:  Starting at the North Gate to Highwood is the most popular route because of the proximity to Calgary but it is ‘short’ and steep.  You can also bike from the South gate coming from Longview which a longer distance (32.5 KM to Highwood pass) but a gentler climb as the vert is stretched out, it’s a total distance of approximately 75 KM as an out and back. The 3rd option is to go gate to gate which would require some logistics with a car drop/ride to one end or the other and would be a total cycling distance of 50 KM, you could start & finish in either direction but would require quite a bit of driving as you’re not ending at your start point. The last option for the ambitious, cycling enthusiasts would be a 100km roundtrip ride from gate to gate and back starting in whichever direction you prefer and I have no advice one this one because I value my sanity ;).

Data is supplied by Pillar 9™ MLS® System. Pillar 9™ is the owner of the copyright in its MLS®System. Data is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed accurate by Pillar 9™.
The trademarks MLS®, Multiple Listing Service® and the associated logos are owned by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and identify the quality of services provided by real estate professionals who are members of CREA. Used under license.