Castle Mountain is known for powder-packed, uncrowded runs. // © 2010 Travel Alberta
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Whether driven by a passion for winter sports or a determination to embrace the holidays, visitors to Southern Alberta will find locals awaiting the season with open arms, mitts and toques.
Southern Alberta’s vast outdoors take on a certain splendor in the crisp winter temperatures and a blanket of sparkling snow. The region, flanked by the Canadian Rockies and adjoining foothills, offers a wide variety of winter delights. Downhill and cross-country skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers can find a haven in the Crowsnest Pass, the Waterton Lakes area and in the expanse of the region’s prairies.
Skiers and snowboarders will find cold smoke powder, long runs and uncrowded slopes of Castle Mountain, southwest of Pincher Creek. They will be challenged by the expert terrain as well as novice and intermediate runs. Castle Mountain is a powder paradise and one of the best-kept secrets of Western Canada.
The pro shop at Castle Mountain offers a full line of gear, accessories and clothes. In addition, rentals of skis, snowboards, snow blades, cross-country sets, boots, poles and helmets are available. Arrangements can be made for private or group lessons.
Castle Mountain’s lift ticket rates range from $64 for adults, $50 for seniors and juniors and $30 for children ages 6-12. Kids under the age of 5 ride for free. It opens for the season on Dec. 11.
The whole family can enjoy Pass Powderkeg, a ski resort located at Blairmore in the heart of Crowsnest Pass. Skis or snowboards at the ready, snow enthusiasts can spend a full day at this popular resort. They can test the challenging 1,200-foot vertical terrain, enroll in ski or snowboarding school, try out a few tricks at the terrain park or opt for a night-skiing experience (for $25). Rates at Pass Powderkeg run from $30 a day for adults, $27 for students, $25 for seniors and juniors, $18 for children, while children under age 5 are free.
Skiers who prefer a cross-country adventure will find five locations across the south that offer several miles of snowy trails. At the western end of the Crowsnest Pass, the Allison-Chinook Recreation Area contains more than 15 miles of well groomed cross-country tracks and trails. The Syncline Provincial Recreation Area, near Castle Mountain, offers a nine-mile course, left behind by the 1975 Canada Winter Games. Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, on the road between Pincher Creek and Castle Mountain, has a seven-mile ski route. Far to the east in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, there are eight miles of cross-country trails set aside. Visitors will find Cypress about 40 miles south of Medicine Hat.
In the very southwest corner of Alberta, beautiful Waterton Lakes National Park is also home to a variety of winter activities. Novice cross-country skiers and families can enjoy the two circuits along the upper Akamina Parkway, which involve some four miles of trails.
Not everyone, however, is up for an intense cross-country workout. Those who prefer a more leisurely pace but still want to soak up the Southern Alberta scenery might find that snowshoeing around Bertha Falls or Crandell Lake is a better fit.
Though snowmobiling is not allowed in Waterton Park, there are more than 750 miles of unrivaled trails just around the corner in the Crowsnest Pass. Winter sportsmen can start testing their machines in the Carbondale Snowmobile Area near Beaver Mines, with 28 miles of marked trails. Groomed trails run south from Coleman to York Creek, to Lynx Creek and to Lost Lake. More adventurous snowmobilers have followed these trails and beyond to Castle Mountain.
In the Crowsnest Pass area, top-of-the-line Ski-Doo snowmobile rentals are available through Mountain Memories, a 14-year-old family-owned snowmobile rental company and campground, for $325 per person, per day. Novices are advised to take a training session before going out on a rental machine and are discouraged from venturing out without an experienced companion. To try this thrilling sport, riders must be at least 18 years old.
Winter also brings with it plenty of opportunities for ice fishing on the many lakes in the region. A popular site for trout is Police Outpost Lake, 18 miles southwest of Cardston. Out on the prairies, closer to Lethbridge, winter fishermen favor the catch in the Ridge Reservoir, south of Raymond, at Grassy and Keho lakes.
Whatever your clients look for in a winter getaway, Southern Alberta has them covered — and then some.