Winter Driving in the Canadian Rockies

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Written by Administrator posted on Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Getting around the Canadian Rockies year ’round

The Canadian Rockies winter driving conditions aren’t really that bad, if you don’t mind riding behind eight harnessed caribou, bundled in a parka on the way to the igloo you’ll be sleeping/freezing in. But seriously, roads in and around Lake Louise, Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, Golden and Canmore are top-notch.

The Canadian Rockies’ roads are well-maintained and passable all year round. Yes, there is the occasional bad snow storm, but it’s a small price to pay for world-class scenery and recreation.

You may be surprised to find out that you don’t even need four-wheel-drive to get around here. Overall, the roads are great, just use extra caution during the winter, and if the roads do feel a little slick, the best advice is often to just slow it down a little. Remember, you’re on vacation. Take it easy and you’ll get to where you’re going.

Winter Q & A

Q: Are the roads leading to the Canadian Rockies very snowy, with lots of black ice? Do you need snow chains almost everyday? Are the roads closed during winter?

A: Most roads will have some degree of snow cover and perhaps some ice – though black ice is rare in this area. Rental cars come equipped with all season tires which are sufficient for normal travel on highways – again – highways are maintained.

While the roads throughout the Rocky Mountains will be open there may be temporary closures due to winter storms or avalanche safety work. Roads are maintained throughout the year – the only time they close is in very bad storm conditions due to lack of visibility.

Q: Are places like the Icefield, Lake Louise and Maligne Canyon still accessible using a normal vehicle?

A: Yes, though places like the Icefield Centre will not be open during the winter.

Q: I have a 4 wheel drive, does that mean that I do not need snow chains?

A: Most driving challenges here do not involve slippery conditions but rather visibility conditions.

Four wheel drive only provides assistance with forward motion – it does not help with stopping, sliding, etc. Slowing down is the only option no matter how equipped your vehicle is.

Q: Will all attractions be open in the winter?

A: Some, but not all. The hot springs in Radium (Kootenay National Park) and in Banff will be open. Ski hills will be open, the Banff Gondola will be open, and most museums will be open. Roads to more remote attractions, if not open are, often turned into cross country ski trails.

Q: What is the the biggest challenge of a driving tour of the Canadian Rockies in the winter time?

A: Your main challenge is that the drive from Vancouver to Radium/Banff/Lake Louise/ Jasper/Edmonton and back. It is a very long one, so you may want to allow yourself some more time. It can be done but you are not going to be able to do a lot of things other than quick stops and scenic drives.

Your second challenge is going to be the short daylight hours – during that time frame you are going to be experiencing very short days – approximately 8 – 9 hours of daylight only – from 8 a.m. to about 5 p.m.

The first part of your drive through Britsh Columbia (BC) is going to be the most populated area – once you enter the national parks you are going to be driving through wilderness areas.

Most of the activities around here focus on outdoor recreation – ice skating, skiing, dog sledding, snowmobile touring.

Things you should have in your Car

Because you are traveling in a remote area, cell phones will not always, tow trucks are usually hours away ,and some roads may not be very well traveled other than by the occassional snow plow. Therefore, you should be prepared to wait.

Emergency Survival Kit

Common sense, preparation and planning are key to your safety.
A few basic precautions can help ensure the safety of you and your loved ones on the road. First, make sure your car is fit for travel—get a complete check-up before you go anywhere.

You should keep an emergency survival kit in your vehicle at all times. Keep one kit in the trunk and make sure you include the following items:

  • Shovel
  • Traction mats
  • Warning light / triangles or road flares
  • Emergency food pack
  • Booster cables
  • Road maps
  • Matches and a “survival” candle in a deep can (to warm hands, heat a drink or use as an emergency light)
  • Sand, salt or kitty litter
  • Tow chain
  • Cloth or roll of paper towels
  • Extra clothing and footwear *** – very important – if nothing else throw a blanket in the car
  • Axe or hatchet
  • Ice scraper and brush – if you rent a car ensure it has one of these.
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Methyl hydrate (for fuel line and windshield de-icing)

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