The train to winter

Ride the rails to snowy bliss in the Canadian Rockies and beyond

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The cloudy weather meant I missed 12,969-foot Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. But since that mountain is only completely visible about 14 days a year, I instead held out hope that the clouds would part in time to spot Seven Sisters Mountain. About 30 miles away, after Moose Lake, its uneven, spiny top came into view out the train's west side. Fortunately, I thought to look back in time to see the morning sunlight dappling its northern face.

Before I knew it, we had traversed Yellowhead Pass, one of the lowest in the Continental Divide, yet, at 3,718 feet, the highest point the train crosses. Nearing Jasper on the descent, one couple had their noses glued to the glass. As we chugged by the prairie, they caught a rare glimpse of a moose, standing next to the tracks. The rest of us had to be satisfied spying elk grazing farther off in a nearly frozen marsh.

After a weekend of snowshoeing and ice-skating in Jasper, I got back aboard the Canadian and continued east. Now I had a chance to spot wildlife in the Athabasca River Valley. The area is called the Elk Range for the large herd that grazes there. Beyond the valley, I could see the Canadian Rockies rising on all sides.

A pair of snowboarders in front of me played Scrabble and the train guide tried to entice us into a hole of golf on his roll-out putting green, but I was content with the view of the bold, 1,000-foot limestone cliff that stood out to the south as Roche Miette. When the tracks curved as we left the peaks and descended into the winter-white plains around Edmonton, I craned around in my plush seat, holding onto the perfect panorama of the Front Range circling frozen Lac Brûlé, and I thought that, at least on a train, winter was my favorite season of all.


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