News flash: Skiers and snowboarders do not own all the fun in the world, nor even all of it at the resorts dedicated to their passion. In fact, there’s plenty of merriment to go around at the legendary playgrounds of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, where recent years have seen an explosion of delights aimed at non-skiers.
But why bother to hit a ski resort when you can enjoy many of those activities on the valley floor, which in itself supplies a reliable winter-wonderland motif? Simple. Ski areas are where they are because of their high altitude and extra-spectacular settings. Throw in lift-assistance, and you’re guaranteed to take your recreation to the next level.
Consider snowshoeing, Canada’s centuries-old method for traversing the deep snows. Nowadays, lightweight gear makes it easy to learn for anyone who can walk. At the introductory level you simply rent snowshoes at the lodge and strike out on designated trails, making loops as long or as short or as uphill as you choose. If you want to get more serious, choices abound. At multi-sport meccas like Lake Louise Resort in Banff National Park, the guided-tour offerings range from half- to full-day and even night sorties for the sporty and headlamp-equipped. (Note that the resort also rents all manner of clothing for those in need.)
Some tours are specifically designed for wildlife viewing, while others employ the occasional boost by gondola or chairlift in order to explore the mountain from bottom to top. Once you tromp your way to the seemingly infinite wilderness view from Lake Louise’s summit, you’ll understand why it’s a bucket-list moment that should not be reserved exclusively for the snow-sliding community. By the way, inclement weather is much less of a spoiler than it is in summer. For one thing, it virtually never rains in Alberta in winter. It therefore becomes a toss-up as to which circumstance is more enchanting — blazing blue sky or the soft swirl of a constant snowfall.
Meanwhile, down at Castle Mountain, Alberta’s most southerly Rockies ski resort, there are even more ways to explore the alpine zone. Its network of snowshoe trails is shared with the latest conveyance to wheel its way into snow country: ultra-fat-tire mountain bikes. Available for hire in the lodge, you’ll be astonished how well their studded tires let you cruise through both packed and powder snow.
There’s yet another option at Castle. As Alberta’s only mountain resort that is not in a national or provincial park, Castle offers guests a unique opportunity for high-elevation adventure: an end-of-day tour in a heated snowcat (sort of like a tracked mini-bus). The adventure starts with a chairlift ride just as the skiers filter off the mountain, and then continues as the cat whisks you to epic sunset views over the Continental Divide. As darkness falls, you’re delivered back to the base area, where you’ll find the T-Bar Pub aglow with après-ski revelry.
Should all this seem a bit sedentary, fear not. For fans of thrills, spills and any opportunity whatsoever to shout “Whee!” like a 10-year-old on her first roller coaster, we’ve got you covered. At Lake Louise, Banff’s Mt. Norquay, Nakiska in Kananaskis Park and Winsport in Calgary, the sport of tubing delivers adrenaline-pumping excitement that’s easily on par with what all those shredders are doing. A magic carpet lift (basically a conveyor belt for humans) takes you and your tube up to the start zone. Since each lane has U-shaped walls and safe run-out zones, you can let ’er rip, either solo or arms linked with your buddies, spinning wildly.
Lastly, don’t ignore a sedate but time-tested method for non-skiers to have fun: sitting around cozy lodges eating delicious food. At automobile-free Sunshine Village, for example, walkers can arrive via gondola for a reduced ticket price, which includes an additional bump up the Angel chairlift to the panoramic views from Mt. Lookout. Cap your adventure with cheese fondue in front of the fireplace in the recently renovated Sunshine Mountain Lodge. By the way, why not consider booking at the only on-mountain accommodation in any national park ski area? Canadian skiing’s finest hot tub awaits you, as does the Verde Day Spa.