Robin Laurenson @motherpixels
The Canadian Rockies are famous for their wild mountainscapes that attract millions of people from all round the world, year after year. In the winter, the snow beckons. Whether it’s carving up fresh powder at the hill, creating first tracks through an untouched blanket of white, or simply sliding down a snow-covered hill before sipping a warm hot chocolate, the snowy months bring a hint of magic to the mountains.
But there’s more to this winter wonderland than just captivating views and excellent winter sports. The Canadian Rockies are home to an important ecosystem that affects the landscape both near and far. The natural environment in and around these mountains provides many Canadians with fresh drinking water, helps with climate regulation through carbon storage, and provides spaces for nature-based outdoor recreation. Research from Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative along with the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, and the Universities of British Columbia, Carleton, and McGill outlines the areas where these benefits exist, and they show hotspots along the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies.
It’s inspiring to think about how much this landscape can give, and it is key to realize all the small things we can do to help protect it. “It’s really important to remember we’re a part of nature, not apart from it,” says Ali Wines, Executive Director of Protect Our Winters (POW) Canada, an organization founded by pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones focused on mobilizing the snowsports community on climate action. “By returning to that sense we have as a kid about how awe inspiring these places can be, it can awaken and inspire a desire to protect it.”
Taking steps to protect the mountain environment doesn’t have to be a gargantuan effort, and it doesn’t have to be riddled with guilt. According to POW, the biggest source of emissions in outdoor recreation is the transportation used to get to the destination. And this is an easy thing to mitigate. In the Canadian Rockies, the ski hills have shuttle transportation that can carry you, your friends, and all your gear to the hill and back to town, and you don’t have to white-knuckle it on icy winter roads. What’s more: these shuttles are free. So save some stress, some money, and the wilderness by taking a ski hill shuttle.
Even if you’re not here to ski, there are ways to get where you’re going without getting behind the wheel. ROAM has service between Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise, as well as local service within Banff and Canmore. Companies like Banff Airporter, Brewster Express, and SunDog Transportation provide excellent ways to get to the mountains while leaving the vehicle at home. There’s no reason to drive on mountain roads this winter.
Beyond making a massive change by leaving your vehicle behind, there are other things to consider when enjoying the Canadian Rockies. POW suggests looking into sustainable wax sources for your skis and snowboards, since all that wax ends up in the freshwater sources when the snow melts. If you’re hiking or snowshoeing, pack in what you pack out. That apple core is not going to biodegrade the way you might think, and it certainly doesn’t belong in this ecosystem.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect the mountain landscapes is to add your voice to an organization that shares similar values. “Just finding an organization you align with and supporting their work is a powerful thing to do,” says Wines. “It’s easy to feel small, but when you add your voice to a chorus of people, it’s really significant.” Some organizations doing great work for conservation and sustainability include Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Protect Our Winters, Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Guardians of the Ice.
We hope you are inspired by your time on the rugged peaks of the Canadian Rockies. And we want to you know there are very attainable steps we all can take to make sure these mountains continue to take our breath away for years
What You Can Do to Protect the Mountains
Knowing about the importance of the mountain ecosystem makes it easier to take steps to help protect it. We can all do our part to keep our winters snowy and magical. While visiting the Canadian Rockies, here are some simple things you can do to help preserve this amazing ecosystem for generations to come.
1) Take transit. Driving in the mountains can be stressful anyway. With the varying road conditions and traffic on the weekends, it can take forever to get where you want to go. Take ROAM between Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise. To reach the hills, try a shuttle. SkiBig3 has free shuttles to the major three hills in Banff National Park, while regional shuttles access Marmot Basin and the hills in BC.
2) Take a walk. The downtowns of mountain communities are designed to be walkable, and they have many delightful shops and restaurants to stop and warm up if the weather is chilly. In the same vein as taking transit, walk around town to get where you’re going this winter, and take a moment to breathe in the beauty surrounding you.
3) Support local and proactive businesses. There are many places to get your outdoor gear, but shopping local and shopping responsibly are great ways to help reduce emissions from the manufacturing process. Smartwool is a supporter of POW, so is Mountain Hard Ware, available at Bear Street Outfitters. Brands like Helly Hansen have professional clothing designed with sustainability in mind.
4) Learn from Indigenous communities. The First Nations Peoples of this country have lived in these landscapes for millennia, and their cultures and beliefs can help us learn to live harmoniously with the land.