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guided tours

Snowcat Snowshoe Adventure with White Mountain Adventures

I love snowshoeing. I also love the mountains covered in thick, fresh powder and the amazing scenery of the backcountry. So when I was discussing different tours with the wonderful staff at White Mountain Adventures, I asked what they had for an adventurous snowshoe: something you couldn’t get “in town”. Their immediate response: The Snowcat Snowshoe Adventure. A full day of backcountry snowshoeing at Fortress Mountain, accessed by a bus ride and a snowcat. Awesome.

 

Mountain Scenery

Spoiler Alert: It was awesome!

 

My day started at the Coast Hotel in Canmore, because White Mountain picks you up! Our van arrived and I was greeted by our friendly guide, Marc. He made sure everyone on the tour was dressed correctly – winter coats, snow pants, hats and mitts/gloves are required. They tell you all about this when you register. We already had a couple people from Banff and we picked up four more at the Stoney Nakoda Resort. Then it was off to Kananaskis!

 

Marc stopped to put on snow chains before unlocking the gate at Fortress and heading up the hill. You know it’s a good day when the driver has to chain the tires! The sun was just beginning to rise, defining the mountains with angled shadows. “The snow is like makeup for mountains,” said one of the guests, “it defines their features and brings out their beauty.” The combination of the fresh snow and the early morning sunshine definitely made for some stunning scenery as we drove past the old ski lodge at Fortress Mountain.

 

Tire with snow chains

You know is going to be a good day when these babies go on!

 

Marc gave us all snowshoes and double checked that we had the necessary clothing. Because the day was sunny and relatively warm, we ran the risk of sweating. We had to make sure we weren’t overdressed for the conditions. Marc explained, “You don’t want to sweat. Your body cools down by sweating, but if we have to stop for some reason, your sweat will cool you down too fast and you could get hypothermia. If you are starting to sweat, remove a layer so your body doesn’t overheat.”

 

Our snowcat operators gave us a quick safety rundown before we loaded into the machine. They had a lot of experience with different movies filmed at this location, including The Bourne Legacy, Inception and The Revenant. They were preparing to shoot a film, which meant they would be doing some avalanche control during the day. We could expect to see helicopters and hear the bombs. With any luck, we might spot a few avalanches as well.

 

Then we were off! For anyone who hasn’t experienced a snowcat before, it is the ultimate machine for moving through deep snow. With a large track underneath and a plow out front, there was nothing that could stop us as we were transported to the best area given the day’s conditions.

 

KPOW snowcat and mountain

Nothing can stop a Snowcat!

 

We stopped at the top of a rise, 2300 meters above sea level. The snowcat drivers pointed out where different film sets used to be. They also shared some juicy stories about actors and directors as we put on our snowshoes and prepared to set out. They wished us well before heading back to the lodge to meet the incoming helicopters.

 

We were on our own for most of the afternoon. We had about three feet of fresh powder in the trees, which was our playground. The new snow had piled high on the branches, creating the perfect winter wonderland to explore. We were long past cell service at this point. There’s something special about being disconnected in the wilderness surrounded by trees and mountains.

 

Heavy snow on trees

It was a winter wonderland!

 

We had lots of photo opportunities as we bounded through the fresh powder. Marc told us about the different trees in the area as well as any tracks we discovered. He showed us the basics of snow layering and avalanche safety, although he assured us we would not be venturing into avalanche terrain during our trip.

 

We went through the trees and followed no set trail. Marc asked that we stay together, but we could venture on our own lines if we wanted. Most of us were happy to let him break trail and follow where he led. The further back along the line, the easier the trek becomes as the people in front work to pack down the snow. I broke trail in a few places, but I was also happy to let Marc take on the hard work! Everyone had a few moments of falling in the snow, and we all laughed as we struggled to regain our feet in the deep powder.

 

Our fearless guide, Marc!

Our fearless guide, Marc!

 

About halfway through our adventure, we stopped for tea, hot chocolate and cookies. It was a delicious snack that refueled us for the rest of the afternoon. Marc explained that the best way to ward off the cold was to “feed the fire,” or feed ourselves in this case. As we stood around enjoying our snack, we could feel the cold creeping up after our exertion. It was a warm, sunny day and we were all sweating a little bit. We were also wet from falling in the snow on difficult sections.

 

Because everyone in the group had experienced snowshoeing before, and we were all game for an adventure, Marc was able to take us to some pretty incredible places. The “wall” of Fortress Mountain was certainly impressive, and it showed how this place got its name. A few remnants of movie sets were still in place, although most of them had been completely dismantled after filming. There were some open areas for cat-skiing, which some enthusiasts still do at the resort. At the moment, the lifts are eerily still, a reminder of what was once a favourite ski hill for many locals.

 

Chairlift frozen in time

The lifts were eerily still

 

In the afternoon, the helicopters arrived. Although they were bombing far from where were snowshoeing, the explosions echoed throughout the valley. We could see the helicopters and a few of the explosions, although the avalanches were tumbling on the other side of the rise. As we made our way down a ski run to the snowcat at the end of the day, the helicopter circled overhead. At the cat, we were able to watch as they triggered avalanches in the area where we were dropped off earlier that day. We learned a lot about avalanche bombing from Chris “Chevy” Chevalier, the president of the K-POW team, who picked us up in the snowcat.

 

After the excitement of the helicopter action, we all piled into the snowcat to head back to the van. We were smiling from ear to ear with the excitement of the adventure. On our way down, we were starting to feel the cold creep up once again. We added some extra layers back at the van before settling in for the drive back to town.

 

We all shared stories of different life adventures on the drive back. Marc kept us entertained with some of his wild backpacking stories and advice on excellent summer backpacking trips. We returned home feeling tired from the exertion, but otherwise elated from having experienced such an amazing adventure.

Mountain Scene

We were all elated from our adventure.

Bottom Line: if you’re looking to experience the beauty of the backcountry in the Canadian Rockies, try the Snowcat Snowshoe Adventure from White Mountain Adventures. You will experience some of the best backcountry snowshoeing that the area has to offer with zero hassle. They provide the transportation, equipment and expertise. All you have to do is have fun!

Banff & Jasper Wildlife Tours

By Afton Aikens & John Strugnell

This summer, check spotting wildlife in the Canadian Rockies off your bucket list on these guided tours. (If you’re wildlife watching on your own, just make sure it’s from a safe distance!)

Photo: Courtesy of Discover Banff Tours

Photo: Courtesy of Discover Banff Tours

Wildlife Safari

Grab your camera and join Discover Banff Tours’ Evening Wildlife Safari—their most popular excursion. This two-hour small group experience visits multiple Banff National Park locations; over 95% of trips spot wildlife. You’ll learn lots too, like how bighorn sheep horns are formed. (Spoiler alert: tiny hairs grow tightly together).

(more…)

Hot Attraction: One of the Top 10 Spookiest Buildings in the World

Who goes there? The Ottawa Jail Hostel is both a place to rent a room, and a former jail.

If you visit Ottawa on a budget, you just might find yourself spending a night in jail — by choice. The Ottawa Jail Hostel was once a working jail (and is a good choice for those who want a cheaper stay and an experience to write home about). Guests have their choice of a solitary or double jail cell, and Haunted Walks holds a one-hour “Crime and Punishment” tour for the public that includes the old death row. No wonder travel experts at Lonely Planet named this spot one of the top 10 spookiest buildings in the world.

13 Ostentatious, Decidedly Touristy Attractions Worth Visiting

By SHANNON KELLY

West Edmonton Mall (Photo: courtesy West Edmonton Mall)

You know the ones: they have lines around the block, tacky souvenirs for sale, overpriced everything and/or locals warning you to stay away because they’re tourist traps. We beg to differ. These attractions and events may be big, bold, brassy and firmly marked on every tourist map, but they’re also unique experiences not to be missed. Plus, they’re just plain fun, if you don’t let a too-cool-for-school attitude get in the way. (more…)

Hot Attraction: Exploring the Stately Parliament Hill

The Hall of Honour is just one of the historic sites you'll see in guided tours of Parliament Hill. Photo credit: Copyright Library of Parliament / Mone Cheng.

Still got visitors in town? Take them to Parliament Hill for an inside look at this Canadian landmark (and iconic Ottawa site). Enjoy free guided tours of Centre Block, which is home to the Hall of Honour (featured), the Senate, the House of Commons, and the Library of Parliament. Explore the role of the country’s national legislature, as well as its rich history and architecture, and be sure sure to check out “The Games: A Moment of Pride” in the Library of Parliament. This  Olympic display showcases a pair of torches and two sets of medals that were gifted to the Canadian people to commemorate the success of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. See website for holiday schedule.

Hot Attraction: Soundwalk Offers Guided Tour to Music

The Ottawa Convention Centre is one of more than 10 buildings included on the Polytectures walk. Photo credit: © Ottawa Convention Centre/Centre des congrès d'Ottawa.

Experience a city like never before with Polytectures, a unique “soundwalk” that is part of the Electric Fields festival taking place this weekend. Here’s how it works: Starting this past Wednesday, you can download the 45-minute audio guide to your phone/mp3 player from a mobile Internet site (temporary rentals of mp3 players are also available at the Bytown Museum). The audio will guide you to capital landmarks with voice-over narration and specially commissioned music pairings from Canadian bands and musicians. Buildings on the tour include the Ottawa Convention Centre (featured), the National Arts Centre, and the Government Conference Centre, while featured artists include Tribe Called Red, Crush Buildings, Math Rosen, and more.