Yesterday I had the pleasure of being invited by a good friend Tanya to a snowshoe guided tour in Marble Canyon. She had purchased a deal on Teambuy online paying just about $100 for two to go on this tour hosted by Discover Banff Tours. In comparison to the company's normal prices listed online where the price for an adult is $62.00 (13 years and older), the deal did save her twenty some dollars. However, this is still a hefty price to pay, in our opinion, to go walk around a canyon that has a well-padded down trail and could be done even in winter boots. Granted, you would not get the delicious maple toffee and hot chocolate or our funny guide but even renting out snowshoes for the day or two from MEC in Calgary and bringing up your own snacks, comes out a lot cheaper than a tour.
We arrived in Banff at 12:30pm, an hour earlier than the bus to Marble Canyon was supposed to leave. As usual, many of Banff's public parking lots were full but we lucked out finding a spot down the street, south from the meeting spot. We had enough time to get our backpacks ready and bundle up. Although it is a guided tour and it turned out that the guide had extra mitts and clothing to make sure we all stayed warm, it's a good idea to bring a small backpack with you to put your water and small snacks in.
In the email that was sent from the Discover Banff Tours, we were told that the bus would pick us up from behind the Mount Royal Hotel; it would have been helpful to have an address sent along with the hotel name but thankfully we live in a day and age where we can quickly google that on our phone! Since there were only 4 of us on the tour, the minimum required for a tour to head out, we took a smaller Discover Banff Mercedes Sprinter with enough room for all of us to sprawl comfortably, if we wanted to. The other two that were on the tour were a couple from Ontario, both in the military and both with a fun personality who were ready to have some fun, including face washing! Our guide, Lydia, was informative and bubbly.
On the drive to Marble Canyon, which took about 40 min, she gave us a quick rundown of the history of snowshoeing. According to her, snowshoeing has been around since 13,000 years ago, which is crazy to believe! During the last ice age, there was a strip of land where the two glaciers covering upper North America were not quite touching. This bare strip of land, found on the west of the Canadian Rockies, is where the Natives first settled and where the snowshoes were first made to help travel across the snow. We were told that the invention of snowshoes were more important than the invention of the wheel as travel was difficult in the snow with people just sinking straight through the snow! She passed around photos of how snowshoes have changed over the years. Apparently, the snowshoes in northern Europe kept being made longer and narrower and eventually that is how skis came to be made on just long wooden planks. What played an important part to the invention of the snowshoe was looking at how animals were so easily able to cross the snow. Natives looked at the paw prints of hares and lynxes and how the design and width of their paws in comparison to their bodies, made travel so easy for the critters. Slowly but surely, wood and animal hinds were put together and so the snowshoe came to be!
We arrived at Marble Canyon and it was obvious that we really lucked out with the day. There were clear skies, sunshine and not too cold. Our guide, Lydia, said that from all the days she went out and did this tour, that this was the sunniest and clearest day she ever had. Lucky us! We climbed out of our Sprinter and she grabbed the snowshoes from the back. She handed us a pair of red MSR Evo's, they were super light. I had brought my own with me but decided to leave them in my car and experience the full tour, snowshoes and all; my friend did pay for the tour after all. There weren't enough poles for everyone so Tanya and I ended up having a pole each, which was fine for this particular trail since it was fairly level and easy. Lydia explained how to put our snowshoes on and went around checking each of us after to make sure we had them on the right away, with the right amount of tension. Since Tanya forgot her gloves, Lydia gave her a pair of some fun, bright, red mitts. We made our way to the beginning of the Marble Canyon trail and were asked to try walking backwards; guess we weren't as entertaining as Lydia hoped since none of us fell back or tripped! We followed the padded down trail through Marble Canyon, which looks gorgeous at this of year. Frozen water hung from the walls on Marble Canyon and we were told a bit about the history of the canyon and the geology of it. We even lucked out with seeing some climbers climb the frozen waterfalls along the wall of Marble Canyon.
When we reached the end, where the waterfall is, Lydia played the role of the photographer taking photos of us all. We then proceeded above the trail which you can find as you head north from the final bridge overlooking the frozen waterfall and headed west in to the forest. While she found a spot to make some snacks for us, we got 10 minutes to wander off the trail and play, warning us of tree wells and to look out for branches sticking up from the snow. After Tanya and I fell and got stuck no more than 10m from the trail we wandered back and were ready for some hot chocolate. That's when we discovered that we were being treated to Maple Taffy. Lydia explained that it is a popular treat in Quebec during their winter carnival. Basically you boil the maple syrup and let the water evaporate from it so that it does not fall through the snow. When it was ready, she poured the boiled maple onto the snow and with our popsicle sticks, we rolled the maple up so that it was almost like a lollipop. This was the most delicious snowshoeing snack ever! After 3 rounds of pure sugar and my head being stuff into the snow as I was trying to lick off some of the maple covered snow, we made our way back and followed the trail above and parallel to the canyon back the parking lot. As we made our way back, we found some moose tracks and even 2 padded down spots of where they must have slept overnight. We even found moose pee and frozen moose poo, which our guide never looked so happy about! This was really neat and Lydia knew a lot about moose and what they eat and how their long legs allow them to easily habitat in deep snow where packs of wolves cannot get them.
We found our way back to the parking lot and spent our drive back laughing at our memories and looking at photos. We really lucked out with our small group. We even pulled over on the side right before the turn off to highway 1 so we could get a photo of the sun setting on Castle Mountain. After being dropped off at the pick-up spot behind Mount Royal Hotel back in Banff, we finished the evening off with some all you can eat sushi at the Inns of Banff, recommended to us by Lydia.
All in all, it was a great day. The tour was beautiful and the guide was awesome. Again, the price is hefty. Yes, snowshoes and transportation is provided and you pay for 4 hours. What they didn't mention is that the 4 hours includes travel time, 40 min to and 40 min back between Banff and Marble Canyon so you only snowshoe for a couple hours really. For those who can afford it, they are a great tour company and we really had a great time but a lot of their snowshoe tours to Marble Canyon, Grotto Canyon, Johnston Canyon, all can be easily done with a friend and rented out snowshoes but we will let you decided how you want to experience these gorgeous trails in the winter.
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