Make a run for the mountains when the meetings and trade shows are through, but for three weekends starting in early February, go no farther than Canmore’s charming Main Street. That’s when the stretch is closed to traffic and filled with almost 1,000 cubic metres of snow for dog sledding and cross-country races — part of the annual Canmore Winter Carnival. The nearby Civic Centre Plaza hosts ice carving and log sawing contests, there’s curling on the 7th Avenue pond, and the streets smell of the wood-fire pits built on many corners to keep you warm (although the brews at the carnival’s beer gardens can help with the same). Between Main Street skiing and other events, roam the town’s sundry boutiques and outfitters, and cap off the day at the trendy fusion restaurant Crazyweed or the quiet, cozy Tapas, touted as “the most romantic restaurant in the Rockies.”
The world’s finest winter athletes came to Calgary for the 1988 Olympics, and all cross-country skiing, biathlon and Nordic combined events were held on Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park’s sparkling trails. Besides churning out its share of world-class competitors since the games, the facility is a vast playground, with 65-plus kilometres of first-rate trails and days’ worth of snow-bowl tobogganing, ice skating, orienteering and a nine-hole winter disc-golf course — all stretched out beneath the many peaks of the Rundle range. The centre’s a five-minute drive from town, or make a 45-minute trek and cross a Bow River footbridge en route. Cross-country ski passes are $10 for adults, free to $7.50 for kids, and most other activities are free.
When the Bow Glacier retreated for the last time from the Bow Valley, glacial meltwater stopped gushing through the great limestone caves of Grotto Mountain. Today, about 13,000 years later, Canmore sidles right up to the mountain’s western flank, and the caverns remain drained and mostly dry — and open year-round to explorers of all skill levels. Rat’s Nest Cave, as it’s called, gives new meaning to “going to ground,” especially in winter. More than four kilometres of explored but unaltered passages are a constant 5 C, no matter the weather outside. Experienced and reassuring guides from Canmore Cave Tours outfit you and assist as you squeeze between chambers and slither down chutes. Tours are four or six hours long (short hike to the cave entrance included) and cost $95 to $145 per person.