Warm up to winter in Rocky Mountain House
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Getting outside on a gorgeous Alberta blue sky winter day for a bit of ice fishing is so much better – of course when the fish are biting – but also if you’re hanging out with someone you really enjoy being around and your toes and fingers are warm.
That’s Sienna Dawson’s take on a winter activity she’s fairly new to. Dawson, who moved from Vermilion and grew up on the prairies, and her boyfriend decided to set down roots in Rocky Mountain House in 2019, after she’d finished massage therapy school. They both found employment, with Dawson, opening her own business, Elevate Massage Therapy. Business has been steady since she opened her doors in May, with some of her clients looking to knead out the kinks after a day out on the many cross-country ski trails in the area.
The couple gravitated to the area at the confluence of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan rivers and the Rocky Mountains all around after having visited a few times. “We’d been to Abraham Lake (about an hour away) a couple of times and really loved the area; it's so close to the west country.”
Along the way, she’s getting into some new winter activities, like ice fishing with her partner. They’ve sussed out a number of lakes in the area where they like to dangle their lines and set up their pop-up tent, complete with an auger and a heater.
“It’s so cosy.” But what she enjoys most is the relaxed social time away from her business Elevate Massage Therapy. And when the water is clear, and then “you feel that little nibble on the end of the line.” (Put Crimson and Birch lakes on your ice fishing list too, according to local anglers. Or check out MyWildAlberta.ca for a long list of stocked local fishing holes.)
Dawson recently got out on Nordic skis for the first time and was pleasantly surprised by the benefits, even though she was a little nervous about falling. “Holy, was it ever a workout. It’s very good exercise and I could definitely see myself doing it again.”
Another local winter enthusiast, Laura Button, could certainly introduce Dawson to all the cross-country ski opportunities around Rocky Mountain House. She’s an avid Nordic skier and program coordinator of the Rocky Mountain House Cross Country Ski Club. "Cross-country skiing in Rocky Mountain House is an exercise in adventure," she says. "We don’t have manicured trails or heated clubhouses, but we do have an enthusiastic crew of volunteer trail-setters and groomers that emerge after every snowfall!"
Dawson’s inaugural cross-country ski experience took place at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, one of Button’s favourite spots. The grounds, with fantastic views of the river, are open in winter for walkers, snowshoers and skiers. The track set trails start just inside the gate at the Bison paddock and there are two 3-km loops winding through the fields and along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Button says the trail is excellent for beginners because of the flat terrain. And those views!
Button has plenty of other favourite haunts for cross-country skiing in the area, such as Pony Club/Twin Lakes Trail, Crimson Lake Provincial Park, Nordegg Golf Course and Shunda Creek campground.
All that outdoor fun would make anyone ravenous. Rocky Mountain House has a number of excellent spots for classics like an Alberta steak and a couple of hip new places, too. Grillers, located in the Walking Eagle Inn, is where you can enjoy your big steak, fries and Caesar salad.
Dawson is a fan of Cucina, an interesting fusion of Korean and Italian fare, Rocky Mountain Mudd, a cute drive-thru operation that makes a mean cuppa joe. Copper Creek Café is where to head for specialty coffees and sweet, baked treats. “They make amazing cupcakes,” Dawson says.
But the icing on the cake for Dawson is Rocky’s constant surprises – and so many trees for someone raised on the Prairies. “I just really enjoy the small-town feel of Rocky. Everything is in close access. There are so many places to discover … you find somewhere new every time.”