Skiing the Fairview Trail

Alright… I’ll admit it… the weather here has been exceptionally cold lately, with -25C to -30C days (that’s -13F to -23F in American). I’ve always embraced the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather; just bad dressing.” But I’ve had enough of it. Even I found it challenging to see the beauty in the hoar frost crystals…. the ice feathers that form on a crust of snow when the air gets colder and colder and drier and drier, and the water is wrenched out of it in a deathly, icy battle. IMG_0423.jpgThis week we had an ever so brief respite, and Bill & I headed out to Lake Louise to make the most of it.

When we started out, it felt as if we were stepping into an Ansel Adams photograph… the sun was hiding, the day was grey, and wisps of snow were softly falling, making the entire landscape etch itself into a black & white print on the mind’s eye.IMG_0447.jpgThe Fairview trail lies tucked in behind Fairview Mountain, the many-times photographed peak that lies on the south-east shore of Lake Louise. In the summer it is a bike trail, but in the winter… in the winter it is a special jewel. Track-set, it lies in an area that is at a higher elevation than the town of Canmore. Nestled as it is, within the mountain range, deep up the Bow Valley, it sees far more snow than the outer mountains.IMG_0451.jpg(For my warm weather readers….) When a trail is track-set, a snowmobile pulls a machine that chews up and spits out the snow, fluffing it up, while carving out lines, the width of a pair of cross-country skis, in a packed trail behind it, like you see in the photo above. This makes for very smooth, easy, gliding skiing. It puts a trail for travel in both directions, so you don’t need to step out to let people pass. Not many like the stomping snowshoe action of breaking trail with skis on in deep snow (I’m an exception… I grew up doing it and love it! I guess it’s sort of like hiking!). Most love smooth, freshly track-set trails, and that’s what we were blessed with on this day.

Now I’m not the best skier, but you can get a sense of just how smooth it is here (I’m not even polling in this video, just balancing)… there’s an ever-so-sweet slope to the trail on the way out that has you gliding effortlessly in the tracks.

IMG_0448.jpgThe mountains played hide & seek with the clouds as the snow fell lightly around us.

Frost crystals coated every branch, every tree trunk, and even lichen in the neatest geometric shapes.IMG_0453.jpgGreat big globs of snow clung to branches, weighing them down. As the sun came out, and the temperatures warmed up, ever so slightly, they slid off the trees, making the craziest “Woomph” noises. (The short branches are a special adaptation in areas of heavy snowfall, allowing this to happen, and the branches to remain intact and not break in the process.) You can see the rounded mounds of snow piles that lie at the feet of the trees in this meadow where previous days’ clumps have woomphed to the ground.IMG_0480Little trees bowed alongside the trail, their snow-capped tops curled into fiddle heads and question marks.IMG_0488.jpgAnd streams tried valiantly to avoid the cloying pillows of snow on their banks, making deeply cut scars through the otherwise pristine snowscape.IMG_0467.jpgFinally, the sun came out to play and the bluebird sky brought colour, once again, to the landscape.IMG_0468

There were a few sections like this along the trail. You know you’re in for a treat when you see one of these signs… it means you have a wonderful (sometimes thrilling) downhill section coming. This can be tricky for the novice in long skis on a trail that twists and curves around the trees of the forest. But it’s great fun… even if snowploughed slowly! (For my warm weather readers, a snowplough happens when you come completely out of the tracks, and then put the tips of your skis almost together, and the ends of your skis splayed wide out the back, all while angling your ski blades slightly up on the side to dig into the snow and slow you down as you slip and slide your way down a steep incline).IMG_0469.jpgThe Fairview Trail ends at the Moraine Lake Road. This is the road that we took to do the amazing Paradise Valley, Eiffel Peak and Valley of the Ten Peaks hikes in the summer time. It’s closed in the winter time and track-set part way up (the tracks end about 6km up the road, before the avalanche risk areas begin).IMG_0481.jpgWe skied this trail as an out-and-back and on our return, the sun bathed the flanks of Fairview Mountain in a beautiful, warm light.IMG_0490.jpgAt the end of our adventure, we decided to take a side trail over to Lake Louise itself, hoping to ski along the lake to catch a glimpse of the glacier thereIMG_0491.jpgSpoiled as we are, and used to finding places without crowds in the mountains, we tried to ski a bit here, but there were hundreds of people on the ice… so we headed back the way we came, avoiding the hordes, the dogs, the kids running wild across the tracks and huge family groups, walking in packs, blissfully unaware of our clumsy ski-trapped feet…. we left all this for the sanctity, the serenity and the wintry bliss of the forest once again.


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If you go…

  • Lake Louise is about 45 minutes, on a good weather driving day, from Canmore. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time and a good dose of patience if the roads are snow covered and icy. Have a full tank of gas. And make sure you have a blanket in the car, should something happen, as there’s no cell service between Banff and Lake Louise.
  • Park in the lower lot of the Lake Louise parking lot. Make sure you have a valid Park’s Pass on your vehicle (available at the park gates & at the visitor centre in Banff) as they often do spot checks at the parking lot entrance.
  • Bring a thermos of tea or coffee and snacks as you’ll want them on a cold day here after exercise like this. It’s far too crowded at the Lake Louise Hotel’s snack bar… trust us on this one! You could wait 30 minutes or more in line!
  • Then, come prepared to add-on to your adventure, should the day be beautiful. There are plenty of trails in the area that are all connected. You can do a river loop down by the Lake Louise Village. You can head on up Moraine Lake Road. And if it’s morning, and not afternoon when the crowds build, you can head on out over the surface of Lake Louise itself (just avoid the avalanche slope to the left/SE… it’s signed, but many people miss it).
  • The Fairview trail is rated as moderate and really, is quite easy on fresh snow. If the trail has iced up, however, the downhills can be quite challenging. If you are a novice skier, do this on a fresh snow day, or look online at the trail maps and at info on the Parks Canada site, and pick a green/easy trail like the river loop to do. You’ll still have amazing beauty surrounding you.
  • Lastly, for up to date conditions, check in with local Skier Bob.

Don’t let winter stop you… get out there and embrace it!

21 Comments on “Skiing the Fairview Trail

  1. Beautiful! Just too much cold this year, even in Minnesota. You have good snow, I wish we did. In the end, you get what you get and just need to be prepared for it. I know, easier said than done. I froze today trying for a few hours of snowshoeing… it was tough! But there’s always tomorrow!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I imagine there’s a certain serenity that comes with being out in that monochrome landscape, away from the crowds, with the curves of the snowpack eating up any noise or chaos. I only tried cross-country skiing once, years ago, before I learned to downhill. Not sure why I never tried it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I sure love seeing winter scenery from a much warmer couch, in this case, in Taipei. Thanks for educating me, a warm weather guy, about winter activities, Sheri. It’s fun to read and watch video clips. Growing up in Thailand I never heard of Winter Olympics until much later in my school years. Now it’s another thing I look forward to.

    Liked by 1 person

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