Snowshoeing in Alberta: Step off the beaten path with confidence
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By Joanne Elves
Strap a pair of snowshoes to your feet and let the topographic boundaries of winter in Alberta drift away. Step away from the resorts and the paved pathways to discover solitude and silence in some of the best untracked snow in the prairies. Best of all, Alberta has a lot of snow to spare – so you can pretty much go in any direction!
Interesting fact: The invention of the snowshoe is attributed to the Indigenous people of North America. The Inuit designs are round or triangular for walking across the tundra, the Cree made narrow shoes almost two metres long to walk through dense forests and the First Nations peoples of the Prairies learned to run after bison wearing snowshoes.
So, if the people over a century ago could chase bison wearing big clumsy heavy handmade snowshoes, why after three strides wearing lightweight streamlined modern snowshoes was I face down in a snowdrift? Thankfully, I wasn’t chasing supper. I was only out for a fun day exploring the forest near Banff.
Going snowshoeing with a guide is a great way to learn about the topography and any animal tracks along the way.
Take a guided tour
If you are new to Alberta or new to snowshoeing, consider spending time with a guide. We met a guide at the Lake Louise Ski Resort who took us up the gondola to hike through the powder tucked between the trees. New Canadians on the tour just could not get enough of the spectacular views. White Mountain Adventures offers tours through Sunshine Meadows, where you cut your own trail through endless beds of fresh snow.
The fun of snowshoeing is forging your own path, letting the gear do the work of keeping you afloat on the snow.
Go out on your own
Let’s get one thing straight about snowshoeing. You don't need to follow a packed down path like you would with regular shoes. Go on, meander the meadows and the forest trails that you forgot about when the snow fell. The purpose of the snowshoe is to keep you floating on top of the snowpack so marching along a trodden path is unnecessary. Spread out on the trails and have fun. Look for footprints in the snow and see if you can guess what creature was there before you. When we trekked (or fell) in the meadow under Castle Mountain we found prints from moose, deer, mice and lots of rabbits.
Want to get a little more gnarly? Take an avalanche safety course and become aware of the nuances of the backcountry before you head out. Avalanche Canada can help you out with that!
You never know what you'll learn or see on a guided snowshoe tour.
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