There’s so many of us in the Rockies that you’ll meet more Aussies than Canadians. When it comes to travel, we certainly do have good taste. The Rockies are just like you’d imagine them to be. Enchanting snow-capped mountains with adjoining lakes so pristine they perfectly mirror the mountains – if it’s not already frozen over, of course.
Aussies are no strangers to Canada. Our adventurous spirits are drawn to Canada’s stunning natural playground. And while we have a lot to satisfy us back home, consistently great slopes and snow activities isn’t one of them.
The incredible landscape of the Rockies. Image by Anderson Vacations
Where are the Rockies?
Canada’s Rockies stretch nearly 5,000 kilometres from British Columbia to Alberta in the country’s west. Dramatic wilderness, freezing temperatures and stunning scenery make this region famous for winter sports. But don’t worry, if you can’t ski or snowboard, you will still love the Rockies.
I can ski but, by no means, do I glide gracefully down the mountain. If you love hiking, can handle the cold (just) and want to see landscapes that you’ve only dreamt of (or seen in Narnia), think about a wintery Rockies adventure.
The Rockies are known for winter sports. Image by Fresh Adventures
Planning your Canadian Rockies trip
If you read my previous story about visiting Toronto, you’ll remember my number one tip for us warm-blooded Aussies: layer up. And this is even more important for your Rockies adventure.
Whether or not you plan to have fun on the slopes, you’ll need to pack the same items.
What to bring
I recommend thermals, thick socks, a warm coat and of course, your ski gear. Even if you’re planning to hike, it’s a good idea to wear snow pants and a jacket that’s waterproof (just in case you slip and slide, like I did).
This brings me to my next point: shoes. Invest in a good pair of snowshoes that you can explore in, without fear of falling over.
As for your skiing, snowboarding, sledding or hiking gear, it’s best to hire that on the mountain.
You’ll need all your cold weather gear for a trip like this! Image by Columbia Sportswear
My Rockies adventure was never going to be complete without Banff National Park… or more specifically, Lake Louise. My friend and I flew from Vancouver to Calgary which was a stunning flight soaring over mountain peaks.
Heads up: If you’re coming in from Australia, the cheapest route is still via Vancouver.
The flight in boasts some incredible scenery. Image by Amanda Smith
Getting to Banff National Park
From Calgary, we organised a shuttle bus to our hotel in Banff. You don’t need to plan this in advance. Expect to pay around C$60.
Eager to get to the mountains, Calgary was simply our transit point. The town of Banff is quaint and charming, and the place where most mountaineers stay.
One long street cuts through the heart of town and you’ll find dozens of hearty restaurants, spas, adventure stores and the obligatory distillery.
Enjoy the Upper Hot Springs in Banff National Park. Image by Jesse Ferreras
Jump on Booking.com and pick your favourite hotel or guesthouse. Bonus points if you can find one with a spa as we did. The best way to end a day on the slopes is in the spa, nourishing your mind and body.
How long should you stay in Banff?
I suggest staying a week in Banff, so you can get a few days exploring two or three of the ski resorts. We relaxed the first two days, enjoying the laid-back vibe of the town and chilling out in an outdoor natural hot spring.
If you don’t have much time, take a taxi 10 minutes from the centre of town to Banff Upper Hot Springs, hot mineral springs with all-encompassing mountain views.
Take your time to enjoy Banff by staying at least a week. Image by Kevin Gawenus
Three days of treating ourselves to R&R was capped off with a day spa at nearby Sunshine Village. The bus picked us up and dropped us back at our hotel. Make sure you get an early start so you can make the most of your day pass. This is easy to organise once you get to the bottom of the mountain.
All up, we paid between $100-120 for the pass and the ski and shoe rental. If you’re staying longer, you can buy week or season passes.
My favourite part? It was the beginning of the season (the second week of November), so we basically had the runs to ourselves. This was great for me as a beginner because I could mess about a bit without fear of dodging pro boarders.
The day pass was also at a discounted rate, so if you’re a newbie skier or boarder, head on over at the beginning of the season.
If you go at the start of the season, it’ll be less crowded. Image by Noel Hendrickson
We only planned for five days in the Rockies, but this was too short, especially if you’re coming off an international flight. After our days exploring Banff and a day skiing at Sunshine, we had two free days left and one very important must-do: Lake Louise.
With sore muscles but an adventurous spirit, we decided to book a day trip there to eat lunch at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and follow the hiking trails that wind up to the Lake Agnes Tea House for that famous bird’s-eye view of the lake. This is where your good snowshoes come in handy. Although the hike isn’t strenuous, you need shoes that’ll support you.
And if the thought of spending a day marvelling at one of Canada’s most famous tourist attractions appeals, imagine what you can discover off-road or without Google Maps? Let me introduce you to something I wish I knew about: Rocky Mountaineer.
Take in the scenery from the Rocky Mountaineer. Image by Robin Rowley
See the Rockies, Canada’s most breathtaking scenery, in the comfort of a luxury train. You can pair ocean cruises to craft your dream journey. It takes you to all the places I visited – Vancouver, Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise – plus Jasper, Kamloops, Quesnel and Whistler. Very cool, right?
You can also visit in summer and have a great time. Image by Jesse Ferraras
When to go
When I think of Canada, white Rocky Mountains always filled my vision but this is not to say you can’t visit in the warmer months. If the cold isn’t for you, there’s plenty to satisfy your Canadian curiosity between April and October.
Think about what you’d like to do there – carve mountains or canoe in lakes. Both sound pretty incredible to me, so you can’t really go wrong in my books.
By the way, let me tell you a secret. Even after seeing the almighty Rockies in the winter time, I didn’t get to see the spectacle I had always dreamed of. Lake Louise’s glacier-fed lake glistening a crystal-like turquoise.
I guess there’s no wrong time to visit Canada, ey?
Do you have a snowy, wintry adventure planned any time soon?
About the writer...
Amanda Smith is a freelance journalist, cultural correspondent and copywriter. Her bylines are found in outlets such as VICE, News Corp, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Singapore Airlines (SilverKris), and South Australia Tourism. Amanda covers culture + society, travel, immigration, LGBTQ+, freelancing and business… bridging cultures, challenging perceptions, and reading in-between the lines of what we see.