Taking the waters at Kananaskis Nordic Spa (photo: Mike Seehagel/Travel Alberta)

Community Watch: Kananaskis Country

By Jennifer Allford

Nestled in the foothills of the Rockies, Kananaskis Country is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. With several parks and campgrounds—plus two alpine ski areas, a Nordic spa and hiking trails—it’s the place to be when the snow falls.

Relax: Soothe weary muscles after a day on the trails at Kananaskis Nordic Spa. The outdoor hydrotherapy circuit is said to eliminate toxins and reduce stress. Start in the hot pool or steam cabin, move to the warm pool, and then plunge into icy water; repeat. 1 Centennial Dr.

Eat: Expect to work up an appetite? Mount Engadine Lodge happily obliges. Book a table for dinner or brunch, or drop in for afternoon tea overlooking the Rockies. On Sundays, indulge in an extra treat: fresh-baked Swiss strudel. 1 Mount Shark Rd.

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Ski: Meaning “to meet” in Cree, Nakiska Ski Area was built to host alpine events at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Today, you can downhill and cross-country ski, snowboard, snowshoe and go tubing. AMA members save on lift tickets. 2 Mt Allan Dr.

Do: Bundle up and venture onto the frozen Spray Lakes Reservoir for some excellent ice fishing. It’s best to book a guided trip to ensure proper ice conditions and licensing. Or catch some fun on Family Fishing Weekend (Feb. 16-18), when no licence is needed.

kananaskis country trail skiing
Kananaskis Country’s trails are among the most scenic in Alberta (photo: Travel Alberta)

Cross-country skiing, fat biking, snowshoeing, ski touring—there are many ways to explore the hundreds of kilometres of trails around Kananaskis. AMA sat down with Debra Mucha of Alberta Parks to get the 4-1-1 on spending a day in the mountains.

Any advice for first-timers to the area?
Be prepared. Visit albertaparks.ca for trail reports and advisories. If you’re heading into the backcountry, check the daily avalanche bulletin. There are several spots here with no cell coverage, so always let someone know where you’re going, with whom and when you’re returning.

What should people bring with them?
Pack water in insulated containers to prevent liquids from freezing. Wear layers and bring extra clothing that wicks sweat away—you can get very cold after sweating. We also suggest bringing a first-aid kit, extra food, flashlight, emergency blanket, whistle, GPS, compass and maps. It’s also a good idea to bring waterproof matches, duct tape, toilet paper, a knife or multi-tool, hand/foot warmers, sunglasses and sunscreen.

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What about trail etiquette?
You can’t do all activities everywhere in Kananaskis, so check what’s permitted and where. Snowshoeing is allowed almost everywhere. But only certain trails have been approved for fat biking, while others allow dogs. For multi-use trails with groomed ski tracks, don’t walk, snowshoe or cycle on the tracks. If you need to stop when skiing, step off the track and let others pass, yielding to cross-country skiers coming downhill.

What kinds of wildlife should visitors be aware of?
It’s a long list: moose, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, grey jays, snowshoe hares, coyote, weasels, lynx and several species of birds and owls. Cougars, wolves and wolverine are here as well, but it’s rare to see them. Though most bears hibernate during winter months, you should nevertheless carry bear spray in shoulder seasons, as they may be entering or exiting their hibernation. And regardless of season, always keep your dog on a leash.

kananaskis country ice fishing spray lakes
Ice fishing on Spray Lakes (photo: Travel Alberta)

Getting there: Head west on the TransCanada from Calgary, turning south on Highway 40. Make sure you have winter tires, as weather and road conditions can be unpredictable in the mountains.

Stay: Built to house athletes competing in the 1988 Olympics, the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge Autograph Collection recently underwent a complete reno. Its luxe rooms, indoor pool and roaring fireplace make it the ideal home-away-from-home. AMA members save 5% or more, and earn Marriott Rewards.

Things to do: For a breath of really fresh air, take a Kananaskis Country snowshoe tour. During the five-hour guided day trip, you’ll ascend 300 metres to a sub-alpine lake and stop for lunch. From $70/person.