In February 2020, I had the opportunity to spend a week 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 to visit and we can't wait to go back again in the winter.
Travel and photography tips:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.