Canmore, located just 5 minutes east of the Banff National Park boundary, is the gateway to the Canadian Rockies. It’s not within the park, so there’s no park entry pass required.
At the heart of the snow action sits the Canmore Nordic Centre. Built for the 1988 Winter Olympics, it hosts international cross-country ski tournaments and serves as the training ground for Canada’s national cross-country ski team. The Canmore Nordic Centre provides miles of cross-country and snowshoe trails for snow lovers of all skill levels and offers a complete rental shop to gear up for these winter sports.
The best way to enjoy winter here is to start early, especially if you’re renting equipment – mornings are less hectic at the Nordic Centre rental counter. Early risers will be rewarded with great views of the alpenglow – the pinky-orange light that touches the mountain peaks at sunrise.
Grab a pair of snowshoes and drive further into the mountains to the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes trail or venture further west to the trails circling Johnson Lake. You can even rent a fat tire bike specially designed to glide over the snow-packed trails, normally reserved for cross-country skiers.
Downhill skiers and boarders are spoilt for choice. You can head to Mount Norquay 20 minutes west of Canmore, which offers the only night skiing in the region. Eighteen miles west, Sunshine Resort is a particular favorite of boarders. And further afield, the slopes at Lake Louise are worth the trek. Or just 30 minutes from Canmore in Kananaskis Country, try Nakiska, which hosted alpine skiers during the 1988 Olympics.
Three different dog sledding companies in Canmore will let you become a dog musher: bond with the huskies while traversing stunning mountain trails. One company, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, offers skijoring, a Scandinavian sport that combines dog sledding with skiing.
Whatever your choice of snow sport, remember the days are short here. The winter sun starts to dip behind the mountains in late afternoon. At the end of the day, head to the nearest hot tub to watch the sun set over the mountains – best enjoyed while sipping a warming beverage – before heading out for dinner at one of the 90+ restaurants in Canmore.
“Where’s the best place to eat in Banff?” “Canmore,” is the usual response. You’ll find highbrow as well as lowbrow here – and all of it delicious. For finer dining and regional specialties, look to Rocky Mountain Flatbread, Sage Bistro and, especially for breakfast, Chez Francoise.
For a more casual environment, look to the Miner’s Lamp Pub, which feature old photos of the town’s coal mining past, or the Iron Goat, named for the train that transported the coal from the mines.
Proximity to the Nordic Center and great food and drink choices aside, Canmore makes an excellent base from which to explore the Canadian Rockies. Accommodations are plentiful and offer better value than those at Banff, 20 minutes away.
Book a one, two or three-bedroom condo at Rundle Cliffs Mountain Lodge from Spring Creek Vacations. Situated at the base of Mount Lawrence Grassi, adjacent the Three Sisters mountains, all units are equipped with fireplaces, balconies and barbecues with direct mountains views. Enjoy your apres snow activity in front of a fire with a steaming cup of organic coffee, green tea or perhaps a local brew from Grizzly Paw or a glass of British Columbia red wine.
Need a break from the snow? Other activities of note here include a visit to Elevation Place, for a swim in the indoor pool, and a shopping trip to the Ammonite Factory, where you can interact with the artisans who make jewelry from these rare gems of southern Alberta. Previously published in USA Today 10 Best