Wild Ice Skating On Alberta’s Frozen Lakes

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For some, the shoulder season is a bit of a drag. Most mountain activities are either “summer” or “winter”. But for a couple of weeks in between, there’s a shoulder season activity that I can’t get enough of – wild ice skating. Usually at some point in November the lakes begin to freeze and wild ice skating becomes one of the best ways to experience the mountains!

When the lakes freeze over, you can access parts of the lake or the lake’s shores that would otherwise take hours if not days of backcountry travel to see! It’s not uncommon to be able to travel 10’s of kilometres on skates in less than an hour. Not to mention it’s the best way to discover the elusive methane bubbles dotted through-out the Canadian Rockies lakes.

Where To Go Wild Ice Skating in Alberta

Of course all the lakes in the rockies freeze over at some point. But there are a few lakes that are usually especially great for skating. It’s always totally weather dependant and conditions can change from season to season and even hour to hour. But here’s a list of a few of my favourite lakes for wild ice skating.

Lac Des Arcs

Lac Des Arcs freezes very early into the season because it’s located directly in a wind tunnel from the Bow Valley out towards the prairies. The wind cause colder temperatures allowing the ice to freeze rather quickly. The wind also keeps snow off the surface of the ice for much of the winter.

Spray Lakes

Spray Lakes is also a early season spot. Unlike Lac Des Arcs, Spray Lakes isn’t nearly as windy. Once the snow comes in at Spray Lakes, wild ice skating season is over (at least for this lake).

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Goat Pond

Goat pond is a great lake for skating. There are really interesting trees right under the clear ice. It’s a really cool experience having all the roots right below you as you skate around the shallow lake. Be careful not to go too far out at goat pond early season. The ice close to shore is skate-able long before the ice further away from shore near the north-west side.

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka is in a league of its’ own for skating. In fact I have a blog dedicated just to this one lake here. Lake Minnewanka is Banff’s largest lake and when she freezes over, you can have yourself a real wild ice skating adventure and skate all the way to Devil’s Gap on the other side! If I could only wild ice skate on one lake, it would have to be Lake Minnewanka.

Lake Minnewanka is unique because it too has a wind tunnel that pushes out towards the prairies. The wind is much more temperamental though. A big snow dump could mean end of season for wild ice skating, or it could be a waiting game until a really windy day comes through.

Vermillion Lakes

Vermillion lakes is nice for wild ice skating all winter long. The lake is extremely shallow which provides a lot of piece of mind if you’re new to wild ice skating. It’s also heavily trafficked so there are often fellow skaters clearing off the surface of the lake with shovels. It’s so iconic skating on Vermillion Lakes with mount Rundle in the background.

Tips For Photographing Wild Ice Skating in Alberta

Wild skating in Alberta is one of the most photographic activities in the Canadian Rockies. What’s more Canadian then wearing a hockey jersey on a frozen lake in the Rockies?

Things to consider, understand your photography fundamentals and apply them to your photos. I’m constantly thinking about foreground. Frozen lakes create some of the most mesmerizing foregrounds. Try looking for unique shapes, methane bubbles, leading lines or cracks in the ice.

At some lakes like Goat Lake, the subject matter under the ice is the most fascinating. Try different angle like from really high to get more of the ice in your frame.

Wild Ice Skating Safety and Disclaimer

Wild ice skating is dangerous and should be approached with extreme caution. Seek out your own safety training and protocols for skating on Alberta’s frozen lakes. Know before you go. This article does not endorse unsafe ice skating. Skate on Alberta’s frozen lake at your own risk.

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