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At first, the snowkite sails appeared as colored specks against Alberta’s Canadian Rockies. Within seconds, though, the specks were revealed as 225-square-foot sails connected via fly line to humans on skis. They ripped along the frozen lake’s surface a tick above 50 miles an hour.
As if that kind of wind-driven propulsion wasn’t adrenaline-pumping enough, one snowkiter rose 20 feet above the lake icy surface for about a dozen seconds, before landing and disappearing into the morning sunlight.
I was sitting inside a shed with one open side, and I, too, was attached to a line — 90 feet of it — only mine extended not up but deep into the lake by way of a fishing pole. The shed housed only four fishing poles, two upside-down buckets for chairs, a small heater and an FM radio. It was a charmingly primitive setup compared to my opulent lodging at Fairmont Banff Springs, a 45-minute drive away.
I had been told by my guides from Wapiti Sports & Outfitters that the lake trout from Spray Lakes was the best in Canada because of the water’s purity. As my poles hung limp in the icy water for more than an hour, I wondered if I would ever find out for myself.
Nick Schlachter, owner of Wapiti Sports & Outfitters, reminded me to be patient as he handed me a hot cider. And within a half hour, we were outside Wapiti’s “cook shed,” eating copious freshly caught trout on the frozen lake.
That morning was the perfect example of my winter journey through Alberta from Banff to Jasper: relaxing soft adventure amid unfathomable beauty and high-octane thrill-seekers. During summer season, Banff and Jasper are among the world’s busiest natural wonders, but during my well-timed winter getaway, Alberta’s Rockies felt entirely my own.
Banff is a massive national park covering more than 2,500 square miles, and it connects to Jasper National Park to the north. So, the next morning, after a breathtaking sunrise complete with swirling chinook clouds crowning Banff’s famed Mount Rundle, I headed north.
If travelers follow the speed limit, the epic drive along the Icefields Highway from Banff to Jasper should take three hours. But if they do it in less than six, they’re doing it wrong. Even in fog and snow, I stopped again and again, with the penultimate stop at Athabasca Falls: a 75-foot, partially frozen tumult of powder-blue glacial melt, surrounded by humbling summits.
Once at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, my first outing was early morning stargazing with local photography guide Jeff Lewis. As Jasper’s millions of stars gave way to sunrise, perhaps the only thing as striking as the sky and the purple hues of snow-covered Medicine Lake, was the silence. (Jasper is the world’s second-largest dark-sky preserve, and it hosts the Jasper Dark Sky Festival in October.)
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s adventure center offers snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating and fat-tire biking. However, I opted for a walking tour with Sun Dog Tours through Jasper’s ice formations of Maligne Canyon, which was akin to stepping into a frozen fairytale. In summer, the 150-foot-deep canyon roars with glacial melt, but by winter, as lake waters freeze, the water level in the canyon drops — turning grottos carved over millennia into a virtual Narnia that thrills ice hikers and climbers alike.
My day ended in Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s Emerald Lounge, where I looked out over Lac Beauvert and Whistler Mountain beyond.
“You should see this place in the summer,” I heard one guest say to another. “The lakes are amazing.”
I watched as stars began to reveal themselves above Whistler’s snowy peak. Though Beauvert was frozen, I liked Alberta just how it was.
The DetailsFairmont Jasper Park Lodgewww.fairmont.com/jasper