Winter in Calgary and Banff

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Winter in Calgary and Banff
Calgary and Banff offer the best of the winter season. Hit the slopes at one of three world-class ski areas, strap on snowshoes for a walk in an urban park, or cross-country ski where Olympians train.
Photo by Harry Nowell/age fotostock
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    The World's Fastest Ice
    Nowhere is speed skating bigger than in Calgary, home to the “fastest ice in the world” at the rink at the Olympic Oval. The Oval, located on the University of Calgary campus, opens its doors for public skates as well as for international competitions between the world’s best speed skaters. Since the venue was christened at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, the ice here has been the site of many record skates.
    Photo by Harry Nowell/age fotostock
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    Hit the Slopes without Leaving the City
    One of the best things about Calgary is the winter playground in the city. Canada Olympic Park, on the western edge of the city, features a ski hill, terrain park, cross-country trails, an Olympic luge track, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, and a glass elevator that takes you to the 1988 Winter Olympic's biggest ski jump, as well as skating facilities and restaurants. It also offers private and group lessons, so you can brush up on your sport where World Cup and Olympic athletes train. Plan a day to hit the slopes, or forget the skis and come explore the park's less strenuous attractions that celebrate winter.
    Photo courtesy of Canadian Tourism Commission
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    Walking in a Winter Wonderland
    Calgary’s abundant green spaces turn white in winter and offer plenty of snowy fun. After a big snowfall in the city, there’s nothing like strapping on snowshoes to explore Calgary's dozens of parks. Canada Olympic Park offers the best facilities and lessons. But if you want to see the glistening Canadian Rockies as well as the blanket of snow covering the city, take your snowshoes for a stroll up Nose Hill Park in northern Calgary. If you're looking for something a little more adventurous, the University of Calgary leads snowshoe outings all over Kananaskis Country and Banff.
    Photo by Ryan Creary/age fotostock
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    Cross-Country Skiing over the Greens
    Cross-country skiers in Calgary don’t have to head to the mountains to glide through the snow: They just have to find the nearest city golf course. Throughout the winter, volunteers maintain cross-country ski tracks at two courses in the center of the city: Shaganappi Point Golf Course south of the Bow River, which overlooks the Calgary skyline, and Confederation Park Golf Course in the north. From kids learning how to work their equipment to veteran Nordic skiers, you'll see everyone out enjoying a sunny Saturday on the golf course—in the middle of winter.
    Photo courtesy of Canadian Tourism Commission
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    Ice-Skating with the Locals
    Ice-skating is one of Canada's favorite pastimes. In Calgary, you can lace up and join the hordes of skaters spinning around the lagoon in Bowness Park, stopping every now and then to drink hot chocolate and warm your hands at the bonfires along the ice. You can also head downtown to Olympic Plaza to skate across from City Hall. If you want to see how the locals do it, head to the Hillhurst neighborhood across the river from downtown. Bring your stick and join players of all ages who drop the puck to play shinny (informal ice hockey). Or go to the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary to skate around the same indoor track where world-class speed skaters win medals.
    Photo courtesy of Canadian Tourism Commission
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    Become an Olympian at the Canmore Nordic Centre
    Regardless of how well you ski, you can get a sense for what it's like to be an Olympian at the Canmore Nordic Centre, just over an hour west of Calgary. The vast facility—with nearly 45 miles of trails to suit all levels—was created to host cross-country events during the 1988 Calgary Olympics. With its own snowmaking equipment, the Nordic Centre attracts skiers all winter long, regardless of whether it has actually been snowing. Hit the trails or cheer on your favorite athlete in a cross-country race or biathlon event. Check out the Olympic trials in December and January.
    Photo by Barbara Beck
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    Lesser-Known Wilderness between Calgary and Banff
    Between Calgary and Banff you’ll find Kananaskis Country, a giant park system in the foothills where in-the-know locals come with their skis and snowshoes to escape the city. There is one downhill ski area, Nakiska resort, as well as the Canmore Nordic Centre; both facilities were built to accommodate skiing events for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. But the true charm of Kananaskis Country is its size (more than 1,600 square miles) and its huge variety of cross-country and snowshoe trails, which range from easy to difficult. (Some trails also welcome dogs.) An hour or so west of Calgary, Kananaskis encompasses a number of provincial parks and recreation areas as well as a nature reserve.
    Photo by Michael Interisano/age fotostock
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    Downhill Skiing in Banff
    Not only does Banff National Park have three world-class ski areas, but the region, just 90 minutes west of Calgary, features one of the longest ski seasons in North America—lasting from mid November through late May. Sunshine Village receives about 30 feet of snow annually across its three mountains and 3,300 acres of terrain. At Lake Louise Ski Resort, experts love the chutes, bumps, and bowls, and beginners play on gentle slopes and long runs. Just 15 minutes from the town of Banff, Mt. Norquay offers night skiing and the exciting Banff’s Backyard Terrain Park.
    Photo courtesy of Paul Zizka/Banff Lake Louise Tourism
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    The Beauty of the Backcountry
    Experienced skiers wanting to connect with the tranquil backcountry of the Canadian Rockies have more than a few touring options. Cross-country skiing in the backcountry is not, however, for beginners. Those new to the sport will want to book a guided excursion away from the crowds and the avalanche risks. You can head out for a day in Kananaskis Country, between Calgary and Banff, or venture further into the mountains for a multi-day trip that visits such backcountry lodges as Shadow Lake or Skoki Lodge, a National Historic Site. Book ahead for either the simple lodges to which you bring your own food or for the luxury options that prepare dinner while you're out skiing.
    Photo by Jerry Kobalenko/age fotostock
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    Sparkling Walls of Ice in Johnston Canyon
    Bring your ice cleats for a breathtaking walk through Johnston Canyon’s sparkling walls of ice. In the summer, this canyon near Banff is full of rushing water, but in winter it freezes over, creating icicles and slick cliffs. You can head out on your own or book a guided tour of the canyon. If you’re feeling more adventurous, get your crampons and ice pick to find out why ice climbers from all over the world flock to Banff National Park. A guide is highly recommended, since ice climbing can be extremely dangerous. Or if you'd prefer a peaceful walk, snowshoe along any number of mountain trails; try Johnson Lake Trail for an easy outing, or Tunnel Mountain Trail for a more strenuous trek.
    Photo by Matt Long