I have always wanted to see Alberta. Ever since my elementary school days, I remember completing research projects and hearing about the great national parks of the Rockies and knew that one day I would have to visit them. I just never thought it would be in the winter. We were fortunate enough to get vacation together and made our way to the great province of the strong and free. One of the best ways to trek through this winter wonderland is by snowshoe. Sarah and I set out to the woods around Lake Louise to have our go at traditional snowshoeing. Our guide, Paul, works at the Chateau Lake Louise, and has been leading trips through Banff for the past 30 years. He was a knowledgable man who had great respect for nature, ecology and the First Nations people. For the First Nations people who originally lived in the area, snowshoeing was much more than recreation, it was a way of life.
Paul emphasized, “there is no such thing as a perfect tool”. Each type of shoe was designed by different tribes who lived in different environments. The western prairie snowshoes were very wide allowing for the greatest distribution of weight. The people of these regions did not have to worry about navigating through trees and dense forests. The Algonquin and Ojibwe people however, made their shoes longer and more narrow to weave in and out of trees.
The temperature was actually quite warm for the region at about -15 celsius, with fresh snow falling. As we made our way through the trails, I was surprised at just how well the shoes worked. We glided through the forest with ease and comfort. Fir trees towered all around us and we trekked kilometers in peace and quiet with the magnificent sight of the Rockies all around us. I was also surprised to learn that Paul constructed several of his own shoes. These beautiful shoes were not only pieces of art, but more importantly for the First Nations people, an essential tool for survival during the harsh Alberta winters.