From the bottom up (photo gallery)

Children are like electricity — they are pretty much pure energy and they will always take the easiest route to get to the ground.

Winter is the only time one can safely take a close look at the water-sculpted walls of Maligne Canyon. In some places

Winter is the only time one can safely take a close look at the water-sculpted walls of Maligne Canyon. In some places

Children are like electricity — they are pretty much pure energy and they will always take the easiest route to get to the ground.

During the winter months, the walking path leading to the base of Maligne Canyon is covered in thick layers of snow and ice, making the walk extremely treacherous unless you are wearing a good pair of ice cleats.

As I slowly and carefully followed our guide down the path to enjoy a canyon ice walk, I was passed by three kids who had removed their ice cleats and were sliding on their bottoms. All questions of how they wear out their snow pants every year were answered in one moment.

Jasper National Park’s Maligne Canyon is one of the most spectacular gorges in the Canadian Rockies and in wintertime, it offers one of the world’s most stunning ice walks.

An interpretive trail winds its way across six bridges to the base of the canyon, where you can slip through the guard rails and onto the frozen Maligne River.

That’s when the real fun begins.

Swirling, churning water and the effects of frost have shaped the limestone canyon walls into fascinating geological formations.

At some points, the canyon is only two metres across and more than 50 metres deep and even though the view from above is fascinating during the summer months, nothing compares to standing on the frozen river and looking at the canyon walls from the ground up.

From the bottom, we got a closer look at tiny fossils embedded millions of years ago in the limestone walls. Some geologists believe that parts of the canyon were originally deep caves that have since been uncovered by water erosion and glacial scraping.

The Maligne Valley contains one of the most extensive karst systems in the world. A karst is a geological system of caves above and below the ground. As rushing water has eroded the limestone, it uncovered these underground caves and created some amazing geology — especially when viewed up close.

As we wandered along the frozen river, our guide related the history of the canyon and pointed out its most significant geological formations.

We walked past fascinating natural ice sculptures, including towering waterfalls that stretched more than 30 metres up the canyon walls. On most days, you can watch ice climbers carefully edging their way up the sides of these frozen sheets of ice. The Queen of Maligne and Angel Ice Falls are two of the most popular ice climbs in the Rockies.

Seeing the climbers seemed to inspire the children, who took to climbing in and around ice formations and onto large outcroppings in the rocks. They even slid down a small waterfall.

When it was time to go, we reluctantly made our way back up the path and found a place to stop to enjoy cookies and hot chocolate.

Since we were going uphill on the return trip, everyone made good use of the ice cleats provided.

Although the climb up and out of the canyon wasn’t as exciting for the kids as the slide down, it was a lot easier on their snow pants.

Save money when you visit Jasper

• The Canadian Rockies Express Card offers savings on hotels, lift tickets, restaurants and at retail shops in Jasper. The card can be purchased online for $20. For more information, visit

• Jasper in January takes place from Jan. 15 to 31, 2010. During this annual winter festival, you can enjoy reduced rates on hotels and lift tickets as well as many special events designed for families. For more information on Jasper and the Jasper in January special events, visit the Jasper Tourism and Commerce website at or call 1-800-473-8135.

If you go:

• Maligne Canyon is a magical place at any time of year, but especially in winter. Be sure to wear good snow boots, warm winter clothing and ice cleats if you plan to explore the trail above the canyon on your own. The canyon bottom is not as straightforward and it is safest to go with a guide if you plan to explore the frozen creek at the base of the canyon.

• There are several companies that offer guided icewalks of Maligne Canyon between December and March months in Jasper. A tour typically lasts three hours and will require you to hike about 3.5-km round trip on ice cleats. Guiding companies typically provide transportation, cleats, a certified guide and a snack. Our tour was arranged with a local guiding company called Overlander Trekking and Tours. A guided ice walk will cost $55 for adults and $27.50 for kids ages six sto 14. For reservations or information, call 1-780-852-0167 or visit their website at

Note: For even more adventure, try the ice walk after dark.

Cool ideas for family fun

When the mercury plunges and nature wraps itself in a thick, snowy blanket, it’s only natural to slip into hibernation mode.

Yet as anyone who has ever attempted to wait out winter knows, this strategy is a sure route to cabin fever, SAD and winter blues.

The only way to enjoy this season is to get out and embrace its special delights — snow and all. So put away those visions of hunkering down for the next four months and learn to make friends with Old Man Winter. Grab your tuque and try some of these winter-loving ways to spark some enthusiasm about the icy season.

Because as every true Central Albertan knows, cold can be cool.

• Snowshoe at Kerry Wood Nature Centre — It’s just $2 per person to rent snowshoes and explore the woods outside the centre. Find more info at

• Go skating — Bower Ponds is now open for public skating. If you bring your own skates it’s free, or you can rent a pair for a small fee. There are also a number of community rinks that are great for a game of shinny hockey.

• Ice sculptures — Check out the ice sculptures and the Christmas decorations at Parkland Nursery.

• Go tobogganing — There are a number of great toboggan hills throughout Central Alberta.

• Cross-country skiing — Central Alberta has wonderful groomed and un-groomed trails. The local tourism centre can direct you to trails in your area.

• Canyon Ski Area — With a 164-metre vertical, five lifts and 13 runs, Canyon has a slope for almost every skier. The lighting system makes it possible to ski under the stars. Learn to ski packages with rentals and lessons are also available. More info at

• Heritage Ranch Hay Rides — You can arrange a one-hour hay ride at Heritage Ranch for $150 for a group of up to 16 adults. To make a reservation, contact the ranch at 403-347-4977.

• For more information on fun winter activities and events in Central Alberta, check out the Red Deer Tourism website at

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, T4R 1M9.