View Full Version : Winter Travel in the Canadian Rockies
A couple of years ago I spent three weeks camping and photographing during the month of July in the Canadian Rockies. I want to go back during the winter months. My questions are regarding travel conditions during the winter, specifically around Banff and Jasper National Parks. Is the Icefields Parkway generally snow-plowed and kept passable? What about the secondary roads? My main purpose for the trip would be to photograph the mountains in snow conditions. I'm thinking February or early March. Or, with respect to travel conditions, would I be better off traveling a little later, say, in late March or early April? Also, would Calgary be the best place to fly into? And how would the road conditions be from Calgary to Banff? Responses will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Highway 93 North (to Jasper) is generally kept open during the winter months. However, weather can change rapidly in that area, and if a storm rolls in, they will close the road. Depending on where you are, you will either have to retreat to Lake Louise/Banff, head on to Jasper, or, if you're really unlucky, you'll be stuck at the Saskatchewan River Crossing. There is *nothing* there during the winter months - if the storm lasts for a few days, you'll be *very* bored :-)
Secondary Roads on Highway 93? There really are none, short of the highway to Rocky Mountain House. It's treated the same as '93 - they'll plow it if they have to. I would also recommend that you try and get snow tires on a rental if you're going to spend your entire time up near Jasper. Better safe than sorry.
Snow is already starting to collect in the mountains, so anytime from early November on till April will be fine. Keep in mind that January through early March can be bitterly cold in the Canadian Rockies, so make sure you bring lots of clothes :-)
Calgary is the best place to fly into - major center, not that far away from Jasper - with good road conditions, it's about 90 minutes from the western edge of Calgary (where I live) to the turnoff to 93 North. Again, depending on the weather, the road between Calgary and the turnoff can either be really good, or absolute crap - it of course depends on the weather. You could fly to Edmonton, but I think the roads from that direction will be more questionable than from the south.
Any way you cut it, if the weather cooperates, the Icefields Parkway is one of the most magnificent places to go during the winter months. I probably drove down 93 10-12 times in the last year, during all sorts of weather conditions. Each time different, each time wonderful.
Drop me an email when you're on your way - perhaps we can go out and photograph for the day!
Just remember three words: "Mush, you huskies."
Ken, when I mentioned secondary roads I was thinking, for example, the road to Moraine Lake. Also, I assume one would be able to get around Banff, since there is skiing at Lake Louise.
Darn it all, I thought I had posted a reply, but I guess I didn't click twice :-(
The road to Moraine Lake is closed in the winter - it's a narrow, twisty road, with some pretty dangerous drop offs. You may be able to x-country ski in, but I wouldn't advise it due to avalanche risks.
The road to Chateau Lake Louise is open all year round, so you could always photograph Lake Louise - been done a few times already tho, me thinks :-)
I've been a couple a times on the icefields parkway road in winter, and I always found it open. However, I would
think it would be more interesting when the lakes are at least partly free of snow cover. The lakes are, in my opinion the essence of the landscape there.
You'll be confined to the highways/roads: the usual pull-outs, rest areas etc will be unaccessible due to snow shoved aside by the snowploughs. Once you climb over these dikes of snow you may find yourself in waist deep snow. This may be OK if you use snowshoes (try walking a few steps backwards on those!). So you'll have to be careful how/where you park your car.
Your tripod should have spikes and/or some way of preventing them from sinking into the snow (I use skipole baskets).
It can be a bit cold especially if you are standing around for a while. Liner gloves can make a difference in keeping your fingers alive. Just read up on cold weather photography if your are not used to it.
If it gets really cold, you can shoot your horse, carve out its guts, and get a warm night's sleep AND dinner. Just get on your way before the wolves smell the fresh meat.
Frank you forgot to mention that eventually our friend will be saved by a tough woman. I think it happens in the 2nd chapter, forgot.
Good point Quang. Maybe I would be better off going in mid- to late-April or even early May. I suspect the mountains and landscape would still be basically covered with snow and the travel conditions likely much easier to get around and safer as well.
P.S.--If anyone's interested, you can see some of my LF images from my July '02 trip to the Canadian Rockies here: http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=401178. It is a folder of monochrome landscapes, nine of which were from the Canadian Rockies. (I hope that wasn't inappropriate. If so, moderator, feel free to delete this post.)
There's snow in the mountains in that area well into June and perhaps even into July. However, since it snows less and less, the snow does get 'grimy', and isn't as photogenic as it is in the 'real' winter.
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