Southern Alberta has seen a mild winter, but after this weekend snowfall, the first of 2024, winter tourism has an opportunity to thrive.
In Waterton Lakes National Park, Dallas Meidinger with Parks Canada says the warmer weather has played a role in bringing people out to enjoy the off-season.
“Our winter visitation is very weather-dependent, but we did have a really nice December,” said Meidinger.
“We had about 10,000 people come to the park in December, which is up 39 per cent, year over year, and 23 per cent from the year before that.”
With the fresh snow, outdoor enthusiasts can now enjoy some classic snow-filled activities.
“Snowshoeing is a very popular winter activity as is winter hiking, if the conditions allow for it and we do groom some of the trails for cross-country skiing here in the winter.”
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Meidinger shared that Alkimina Parkway is a popular recreational area.
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Keith Robinson, co-founder and president of Dark Sky Guides, says not only are there interpretive night tours and stargazing opportunities, but soon also snowshoeing tours.
“A lot of our snowshoeing tours we kind of focus on people that are new to snowshoeing,” said Robinson. “People that have perhaps never gone snowshoeing or want to give it a try, maybe they don’t have snowshoes and they don’t want to invest in the equipment, and they just want to get out and give it a try once or twice.
“We provide all the equipment and a little bit of instruction to allow people to give snowshoeing a try.”
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Robinson, who also doubles as the town’s vice-president for the Waterton Park Chamber of Commerce, says visiting Waterton in the winter is a fantastic opportunity to see the national park without the hustle and bustle of the summer months.
“Because there’s no downhill ski resort, there traditionally hasn’t been a whole lot of recognized activities or things to do unless someone is super back country-savvy. So, we felt this was a new opportunity for us to expand our operations and really enhance the visitor experience here in Waterton Lakes National Park.”
This past November, Dark Sky Tours opened a planetarium in the town site offering an opportunity for guests to get a virtual 360-degree view of the night sky in an inflatable dome located inside the Falls Interpretive Theatre.
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With winter tourism on the rise, Alberta Minister of Tourism and Sport Joseph Schow says this is a great time to enjoy the outdoors.
“Well, I think winter tourism is essential for Alberta,” said Schow.
He said the province committed $211.3 million in Budget 2023 to expand outdoor recreation and amenities over the next three years.
“We want to make sure that if people want to come to Alberta and they want to experience this province, they can do that with as little barriers as possible,” explained Schow. “So our government is investing in tourism operators around the province so they can expand their businesses and welcome more visitors.”
As the frigid temperatures begin to settle in, Parks Canada wants to remind visitors that it’s important to be prepared for the conditions by checking the avalanche reports online and bringing the proper equipment before heading out for a winter adventure.
Meidinger added, “If you’re venturing into avalanche terrain, make sure you’ve got the training and equipment needed to recreate safely, that includes having a beacon, a probe, and a shovel; and ideally an avalanche training safety course.”
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