Canadian Rockies Winter - February 2020

In February 2020, I had the opportunity to spend a week creating landscape photographs in Banff and Jasper National Parks with my good friend and talented photographer, Jordan Ek. It was amazing to be surrounded by so much snow and ice and to see the landscape completely frozen. The temperatures ranged from -30 to 0 degrees Celsius, but we were both able to stay warm despite being out in the elements all day. During our trip, we had no set itinerary and simply spent our days chasing the light and searching for subjects and scenes that inspired us. It was an incredible place explore through photography and we can't wait to go back again in the winter.

Rising from the Mist

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50

Late afternoon light and misty clouds create incredibly atmospheric conditions near Saskatchewan Crossing in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. In winter, the sun angle is very low in the sky which can create conditions like these at any time of the day. I used a telephoto lens here to get close enough to the mountains to capture a panorama. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Travel and photography tips:

  1. Clothing and Gear - The cold weather in the moutains is no joke, especially if the wind is blowing. For your own saftey, good winter gear is a must! My layering system included, liner socks, wool socks, wool blend baselayers top/bottom, fleece jaket and fleece pants, down jacket, shell pants, shell jacket, neck warmer, balaclava, beanie, liner gloves, lightly insulated windproof gloves, insulated mittens, hand warmers, insulated winter boots. Other gear I used included snowshoes, hiking poles, microspikes. If you are interested in knowing exactly what gear I use, I'm happy to let you know, but I wanted to keep this from looking like a sponsored post, because it's not!
  2. Driving - I recommend getting an SUV with all wheel drive (AWD) and snow tires. Tires with the M+S or snowflake symbol are required to drive on the Icefields Parkway from November 1 to April 1. The roads in the parks are almost always covered in snow and ice, but with the snow tires and good winter driving skills you should be able to keep yourself out of the ditch. Be aware that Alberta Transporation can close the road suddenly due to avalanche danger. For more information about driving the Icefields Parkway in winter, click here. Several rental companies offer cars/SUVs with snow tires at the Calgary Airport, but it is very difficult to add this option when you are booking online. The winter tires add $20-25 CAD per day to the cost of the rental, but it's worth it in my opinion. I ended up booking through Dollar/Thrifty website and then calling the Calgary location to arrange the winter tires. The company would not guarantee a vehicle would be available with winter tires, but I had no problem getting one when we arrived.
  3. Gas/Fuel - The only places to get gas in the winter are in Banff/Canmore, Lake Louise and Jasper. Saskatchewan Crossing is closed for the winter so don't rely on it for gas. If you are from the United States you usually have to go inside the gas station to pay with a credit card. If the gas station is not open, you will not be able pump any gas. We learned this the hard way early one morning before the gas station opened. After doing some quick estimates and calculatations we decided that we had just enough gas to go out shooting for the day. Our estimation was a bit off and we had to drive 25 kilometers with the gas light illuminated on our way back to Lake Louise! We made it back, but it was close!
  4. Cameras - If possible, try to make sure you have a back up camera. We had a Nikon D810 that simply stopped working on one of the -30C degree mornings. The camera got too cold and froze up. After warming it back up in the hotel everything functioned appropriately but in the cold it was useless. If you have a back up camera body, you are less likely to miss out on a special moment due to cold related camera failure. For what it's worth, the Nikon D850 and Z7 did not have any issues in the cold.
  5. Batteries - It's important to make sure you have lots of extra camera batteries and charge them up every night. I stored all of my batteries in the chest pocket of my fleece jacket to keep them warm.
  6. Tripods - When using a tripod, be aware that if you get water/snow on the legs and then you close up the tripod, it's going to freeze shut and you will be unable to move it until you can thaw it out in the car/hotel.

The images below were my favorites from the trip. The full gallery is available here. I hope you enjoy them. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.

Updated: July 25, 2020

Banff, National Park, Canada, Mount Chephren, snow, stream, ice, sunrise, winter, mist, , photo

Sparkle and Fade

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - Shimmering sunrise light illuminates a snow covered Mount Chephren in Banff National Park, Canada. This was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen! Everything was glowing with pink and yellow light. During the previous week, it had been snowing steadily and when the weather finally cleared, everything was covering in a soft blanket of white. On this extremely cold winter morning (-26C), intricate ice patterns lined the edge of the stream and a thin layer of mist rose above the water. It was a chilly morning to be out in the wilderness, but it was definitely worth it to see this place! ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Jasper National Park, Canada, winter, Tangle Peak, ice, stream, sunrise, photo

Tangled

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - Tangle Peak rises above a small stream and intricate ice formations during a winter sunrise in Jasper National Park, Canada. The temperature on this morning was -20C (-4F) which created the delicate foreground ice along the stream. I was drawn to how the peak sits like a lone sentinel watching over everything in the valley below. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, Mount Fryatt, sunlight, ridges,, photo

Fluted

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50 - Sunlight illuminates the fluted ridges on Mount Fryatt in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Abraham Lake, Canada, Alberta, Canadian Rockies, ice, cracks, bubbles, abstract, frozen, photo

X Marks the Spot

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - An abstract image of ice bubbles and ice cracks on the surface of the frozen Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada. I was really inspired by the geometric design of this scene. During my trip to the Canadian Rockies, I spent several hours searching for these interesting scenes. This was one of my favorites since I think it looks like lightning shooting through the ice. It was incredibly cold that day with wind chills below -30 degrees F. Good winter gear is essential for staying on the ice for any length of time and you can't have any skin exposed. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Abraham Lake, Canada, Alberta, Canadian Rockies, ice, cracks, abstract, snow, frozen, photo

Ice Lightning

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - An abstract image of the ice crack formations and blowing snow on the surface of the frozen Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada. During my trip to the Canadian Rockies, I spent several hours searching for these interesting scenes. This was one of my favorites since I think it looks like lightning shooting through the ice. It was incredibly cold that day with wind chills below -30 degrees F. Good winter gear is essential for staying on the ice for any length of time and you can't have any skin exposed. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Jasper National Park, Canada, Alberta, Athabasca, River, Valley, Winter, panorama, mountains, snow, winter, sunrise, photo

Athabasca Dawn

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - Warm sunrise light fills the Athabasca River Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. Multiple images were combined here to create this 180 degree panorama. The snow covered mountains in this area are absolutely beautiful when illuminated by the winter morning light. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Banff, National Park, Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada, snow, mountain, fog, morning, steam, winter, photo

Triumph

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - Early morning light shines upon a mountain and small stream in the backcountry of Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. About 30 minutes before I captured this image the entire scene was engulfed in thick fog and snow. I was almost about to leave but decided to wait just a bit longer to see if the clouds would clear. Luckily the fog quickly dissipated and revealed this amazing winter scene. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Canada, Abraham Lake, Winter, Sunset, ice, methane, bubbles, frozen, clouds, bacteria, Canadian Rockies,, photo

Crystalline Light

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50 - Colorful clouds passing above a frozen Abraham Lake at sunset on a cold winter day in the Canadian Rockies. The ice bubbles that form in many of the lakes in the Canadian Rockies are one of the most interesting natural phenomenon I've seen. The bubbles form when organic matter (mostly plants growing near the shore) falls to the bottom of the lake. When the organic matter reaches the bottom, bacteria begin to break it down and methane gas bubbles are released during the process. These methane bubbles then rise up through the water and get trapped under the surface of the ice. As the ice freezes deeper, these bubbles become encased in the ice. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Banff National Park, Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada, winter, ice, abstract, rock, stream, photo

Frozen in Time

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50 - A thin layer of nearly transparent ice covers a small stream and colorful rocks in the wilderness of Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This formation was incredibly delicate which made it quite a challenge to photograph it with out destroying the ice. The temperature rarely exceeds 32F (0C) during the winter in the Canadian Rockies, which leads to the creation of infinite patterns on the surface of the ice. I was absolutely fascinated by the different formations that can be found in the ice and spent several hours each day searching for the most interesting patterns. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, Canadian Rockies, winter, ice, abstract, rock, photo

Sheltered by Ice

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50 - A small rock surrounded by a beautiful ice formation in the wilderness of Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The temperature rarely exceeds 32F (0C) during the winter in the Canadian Rockies, which leads to the creation of infinite patterns on the surface of the ice. I was absolutely fascinated by the different formations that can be found in the ice and spent several hours each day searching for the most interesting patterns. ©2020 by Scott Smorra

Canadian Rockies, Banff, National Park, Twilight, star, alpenglow, sunrise, winter, mountain, snow, photo

First Blush

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - The first touch of sunrise alpenglow illuminates the summit of a large mountain in Banff National Park below a starry twilight sky. During the previous week, it had been snowing steadily and when the weather finally cleared, everything was covering in a soft blanket of white. On this extremely cold winter morning (-26C) intricate ice patterns lined the edge of the stream and a thin layer of mist rose above the water. It was a chilly morning to be out in the wilderness, but it was definitely worth it to see this place! ©2020 by Scott Smorra