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How Cold Are The Canadian Rocky Mountains?

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

A while ago, there was a commercial advertising that a certain brand of beer was "As cold as the Rockies" which says little about the beer but begs the question "How cold are the Rockies?"

Covered in snow through most of the year, the Canadian Rockies were known to the Blackfoot people as the Shining Mountains. They stretch for almost 1500km from north to south, terminating in the cold tundra of Canada's Yukon Territory, but our focus for this article will be the Bow Valley: Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise.

Frosty hair on a cold day, snowshoeing with high camp banff tours, marble canyon Kootenay National Park
Frosty hair from snowshoeing in -30°C

On cold days the peaks in the Bow Valley advertise themselves in bright swaths of morning alpenglow while trees, mountains and lakes are covered in the pure white sheen of fresh snow. These mountains are the icon for cold weather, but how cold does winter really get here in Banff? Average temperatures in the winter months are recorded around -7°C but this is only part of the picture: you can reliably expect to face -30°C for days at a time in midwinter cold snaps.

Seeing the mercury drop to -30°C or less can be a unique and exciting experience, however it can make planning a vacation difficult. Weather becomes hard to predict beyond ten days. Preparation is key: while extreme cold can be dangerous, safety and comfort are guaranteed with proper clothing, day planning and experience of a professional guide.

Arun with frosty hair in Banff's upper hot springs, high camp banff tours
Frosty hair in Banff's Upper Hot Springs

Outdoor activities like skiing, dogsledding and sometimes even gondola rides can be cancelled due to the harsh weather. Some activities like bathing in Banff's Upper Hot Springs are made even more fun as loose strands of hair freeze a shining white. At -30°C, most people elect to stay inside but in doing so miss the steam rising from rivers and the persistent Dipper-Birds that dive into icy water for their meal every day of the year.

These cold snaps can be attributed to a dense front of cold arctic air flowing south. This happens when the jetstream, an atmospheric air current that circles the arctic, weakens enough to set the blustery cold front free. It is not a new phenomenon, but these Polar Vortex events are gradually becoming more common. To prepare for any Banff winter, you must first pack lots of layers: thermal undershirts and pants with warm (preferably wool) socks. Then have your fleece sweater to go under a thick jacket and snowpants. Goose down insulates best in brittle cold but can be damaged if the fill gets wet. Modern synthetic materials are light, warm and sustainable through all seasons.

After all this, do not forget warm boots, hats and gloves. Even if you don't visit during our short cold snaps, you and your family will have the proper gear to explore. See what makes Banff and Lake Louise truly beautiful on our Lake Louise Winter Tour. Or hike safely and comfortably on our Snowshoe Tours of the most amazing canyons in Canada. Our expert guides equip you with hand warmers, hot chocolate and heated car seats for when the hike is done. Frozen beer sold separately.

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