A cold snap gave us a break, so we headed up to Shadow Lake in Banff National Park. The parking area is just off the TransCanada Highway about 30 minutes west of Canmore, AB. It was about -15C when we started out a 11 AM on a Thursday in early January.
The trail was trackset sometime ago, but in pretty good shape. So far, the winter has been rather stingy on the snow, and heavy on the polar air. So starting out, there was a fair bit of pine needles, but that quickly diminishes as you ski up into the hanging valley of Red Earth Creek. We saw one other couple coming down (early risers!), and after that, nobody. At about 6km, after a bridge crossing, you come to a backcountry campground. The trail is trackset for about another 1-2 km, and then it's just been snowmobile packed. At about 11km, we had a quick bite with tea, then bootpacked up the Shadow Lake trail until it levels off (about 150m). Much easier!
The remainder of the trail rolls up and down to the Shadow Lake Lodges (not opened as yet for the winter months). Alpine touring skiers with fairly fat skis had been up and down this trail recently, which was kind of nice for our longish straight BC 65 (metal edge) skis to fit into. The snow along those tracks was about 25-40cm deep, and very unsupportive due to the cold weather we've had. Your poles often went to ground.
It was five years ago that Carol and I got engaged on the deck of Shadow Lake Lodge. We were lucky to have some solar warmth, and perhaps -8C on that deck to enjoy some tea, cookies, and maple whiskey. There were old tracks headed towards the lake from the lodge, but we were fairly content to sip the fortified tea and enjoy the views of Mt Ball in the distant.
From there, we backtracked down the trail, onto the fireroad, and back into the Bow Valley. All tolled, it's a 28km return trip (5.5 hours with our short breaks), and a terrific way to spend a chilly January day in the Canadian Rockies.