Adrenalin-filled Alberta

Australian Natural Health

September/October 2014


Snow sports involve a lot more than just downhill skiing when holidaying in the beautiful Alberta province in Western Canada, writes Tatyana Leonov.

When holidays roll around, most of us escape to a beachside location to lounge about swimming, reading and snacking on local produce. Adventure aficionados might go for a more active approach, incorporating trekking and rafting in a remote destination. Then there are those who see holidays as a way to invigorate and shock the body while having the time of their lives. These people go to the Alberta province in Canada.

Travelling to picturesque Alberta is for those seeking a break, an adventure and a widely exhilarating experience. The winter surroundings are reminiscent of Narnia (completely and utterly fairytale-like), the activities are awe-inspiring (home to some of the best Northern Lights viewing spots in the world) and the snow sports are plentiful and fun, offering the kind of holiday you can claim bragging rights to for years to come.

Getting there

Most international flights will land in either Calgary or Edmonton and from either city it’s an easy drive into the Canadian Rockies or the mountain towns of Banff, Lake Louise, Canmore and Jasper. Whichever city you fly into, there’s a high probability you’ll be met with an aerial view that’s predominantly white. For those who’ve never travelled to the Northern Hemisphere during winter before, this will be the first shock of the constant adrenalin-filled surprises this destination holds. The second shock will be the cold, with the average low temperature around the -10 to -15 degree Celsius mark. It’s these beyond freezing temperatures that provide the kind of snowfall creating stunning natural scenes.

Snow preparation

Snowfall is no excuse for not fitting in a killer workout. Alberta’s snow creates an ideal base for snow sports and is one of the best reasons to travel to Canada. Unlike the relatively short Australian ski season, the Canadian season stretches on for months, with snow sport enthusiasts taking advantage of runs from as early as mid-November and continuing through to mid-May. That being said, learning to dress for the weather and preparing your body is crucial for both health and enjoyment during your stay. Fortunately, exercising in the cold can be highly beneficial to wellbeing. In fact, research suggests working out in cold weather is ideal for endurance athletes, particularly in temperatures ranging from five to 11 degrees Celsius. “An endurance athlete benefits from exercising in such temperatures because they rely more heavily on burning carbohydrates. When exercising in the cold, the body actually burns an increased amount of carbohydrates and less fats to keep it going,” Geoff Brown of Geoff Brown Personal Training explains.

Through preparing for exercising in the snow, your body will be better equipped to handle using muscles in cold temperatures, making for a much more pleasant snow season. “The main benefit of working out in the cold is that the body will burn more energy in order to keep itself warm,” says Brown.

Some of the year-round activities that can help in preparation include cycling (cycling specifically works the thighs, which are often heavily relied on in snow sports), plyometrics (a great way to get the legs ready) and core exercises such as planks to strengthen the core muscles. Rochelle Finch, expert in home fitness solutions and franchise owner of Elite Fitness Equipment Maidstone, recommends holidaymakers work on their fitness before hitting the slopes. “Cross trainers are the best piece of equipment for cardio because they activate the calf and gluteal muscles. Incorporating interval weights and dynamic resistance (for example, training with kettlebells) will also help prepare for the slopes,” she says. “Most snow sports require a lot of legwork and loading up the quadriceps. The quadriceps are the biggest muscle in our body and they require a lot of oxygen – so the fitter we are, the better the oxygen and blood flow in the thighs.”

Alberta snow sports

Skiing

What’s not to love about racing down snow- topped mountains taking in spectacular views all day long? Alberta’s ski fields offer diversity in terrain as well as a spectacular range of outlooks to take in while on the chairlifts. Skiing is almost always referred to as downhill skiing in Canada, as cross-country skiing is so popular the two need to be differentiated.

Locations to try out: Marmot Basin could well be Alberta’s best-kept secret. Located in the Jasper National Park, there is rarely a line for the chairlift, even in peak season. The busier Lake Louise is Rocky Mountains’ biggest ski resort and the often-proclaimed number-one ski destination in Alberta.

Muscles worked: The core muscles get an intense workout when skiing as the abdominal muscles are continually working to help maintain balance. The legs, particularly the gluteal muscles, work very hard too.

Cross-country skiing 

Glide, walk, climb and do it all over again with cross- country skiing. This vigorous sport provides an intense physical workout in stunning snow-draped surroundings. The terrain in Alberta offers great and diverse topography far beyond the conditions on offer in Australia.

Locations to try out: Alberta has over 70 Nordic ski areas with many of them found in the Rockies. Banff and Jasper offer hundreds of trails for keen explorers while Edmonton’s river valley trails are especially scenic and easily accessible from the capital.

Muscles worked: Unlike downhill skiing, where the core and lower body are predominantly used, cross-country skiing employs the whole body and is considered one of the most dynamic winter sports.

Snowshoeing

If you’re an avid bushwalker keen to take in Canada’s winter forest scene, snowshoeing is ideal. The sport is self-explanatory – you walk in the snow wearing special wide shoes that are designed to aid with distributing weight over a larger area – so essentially your feet don’t sink into the snow. Snowshoeing is a centuries old walking method first used by trekkers as an efficient mode of transport. Modern-day snowshoeing is a skill that’s easy to acquire and it’s one of the cheapest snow sports around. Walks undertaken with a guide are a great option for beginners to learn the technique and discover the best trails, but after the initial learning, it’s as easy as simply heading out in the bush for a snow stroll.

Locations to try out: Hogarth Lakes, south of Canmore, is ideal for beginners as it offers relatively flat terrain. There are also hundreds of trails around Banff and Jasper to explore.

Muscles worked: The legs are the main workers here. The quadriceps work hard during climbs; hamstrings are utilised when ascending. When poles are incorporated into the workout, the arms, chest and back muscles are also active.

Ice climbing

Picture a massive frozen waterfall – then forget that it was ever water and visualise it as a rock. Having this image in mind will help you tackle one of Alberta’s most interesting and wild winter sports – ice climbing. As the name suggests, the sport is climbing up ice as if it were a rock face using crampons and ice tools to ascend. Although it looks tricky, even beginners can participate given the right level of preparation and fitness. Learning to climb with an expert initially is mandatory.

Locations to try out: Although there are plenty of locations to ice climb around Alberta, an ice-climbing specialist will recommend which ice faces are best to climb at specific times. The Maligne Canyon in Jasper and its surrounds are a particularly beautiful area to explore and there are a number of frozen waterfalls here that are popular with beginner ice climbers.

Muscles worked: The whole body gets a workout, but newbies will especially feel the burn in their forearms, shoulders and back.

Fat tyre biking

Did you know you can cycle in the snow? Fat tyre biking is just that – taking to the snow in bikes with cartoon-like large tyres specifically designed to trundle smoothly through the slippery terrain. The wide-tyre bikes were originally used in Alaska as a mode of transport, but the sport-loving Canadians have more recently used them for snow fun. The sport’s popularity has since surged, particularly among Canadian locals.

Locations to try out: Head straight to the source and check out the Fatbiking Alberta Google+ group to chat to locals about the best spots in season.

Muscles worked: The primary muscles used are the gluteal muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles. As is the case with all snow sports, the upper and core muscles are engaged, too.

If all else fails...

If these sports don’t sound appealing, you can always try ice hockey, dog sledding, skijoring or tobogganing. And if your preferred activity is watching snowflakes fall through the window of a luxurious hotel room while sipping a decadent hot chocolate, that’s totally fine, too. NH

For further information on snow activities in Alberta, visit travelalberta. com.au. For general information on travelling to Canada, visit canada.travel

Ed’s note: The journalist was a guest of Travel Alberta and the Canadian Tourism Commission.