As the sky transforms from inky black to brilliant shades of warm pastels, I strap on my crampons and walk towards the ice covering Abraham Lake.
It’s -20C, making the snow around the lake sound like Styrofoam beneath my feet. Tiny ice pellets form on my eyelashes due to the scarf covering half of my face. Soon my fingertips start stinging from the bitter cold.
But this is winter in Alberta — a time of year when some people hibernate while others bundle up with 10 layers of clothing to go outside and play. I am one of the adventurous (or foolish) souls crawling around at sunrise on a frozen lake in the Alberta Rockies. And it’s all because of bubbles — hundreds of bubbles that look like a work of art.
Located between Banff and Jasper National Park in David Thompson Country (three hours west of Edmonton), Abraham Lake is one of those places that mainly the locals go — even though it’s only a half hour drive from the famous Icefields Parkway, which is usually crawling with tourists in the summer. The ski resorts surrounding Banff National Park still draw big crowds during the winter, which is what makes coming to the peace and quiet of Abraham Lake even more special.
The turquoise artificial lake on the North Saskatchewan River was created in 1972 with the construction of the Bighorn Dam. In the winter, the lake forms hundreds of unique looking ice bubbles that freeze and stack on top of each other. The bubbles are frozen pockets of methane gas created from decomposing organic matter, such as dead plants or animals, at the bottom of the lake. The same bubbles can be found in other lakes throughout the Rockies, but they’re more visible on Abraham Lake due to strong winds brushing away the snow.
But the lake isn’t the only special place to enjoy winter in this part of the province. Nearby, the narrow Cline River Canyon is a magical place to snowshoe and the frozen double waterfalls at Crescent Falls look even more spectacular locked in winter’s icy grip.
Another one of my favourite places to enjoy the magic of winter is Jasper National Park, where it’s easy to get off the tourist trail without having to venture too far into the backcountry. The winding 46-kilometre Maligne Lake Roads travels through some of the finest winter landscapes in the Rockies, with the journey ending at the spectacular Maligne Lake. Stretching 22.5 kilometres in length, Maligne Lake is the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies and a fantastic place to go cross country skiing. The open space on the lake provides jaw-dropping views of rugged snow-covered peaks and because it’s so big, crowds aren’t an issue.
When the sky transforms back into inky black, Jasper offers another good reason not to head indoors. Encompassing more than 11,000 square kilometres, the park is the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world, making it one of the best places to stargaze in the Canadian Rockies. The Dark Sky Preserve designation was given to the park in 2011 by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada due to its limited light pollution that creates ideal conditions for dark sky viewing. Some of the best locations for stargazing include Pyramid Lake, Maligne Lake, Old Fort Point and the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. If you’re lucky, you might even witness the wonders of the northern lights.