The Peyto Lake Snow Chase

Our drive on the Icefields Parkway from Jasper National Park back down to Banff National Park seemed interminably long. That was before the scattered snow showers lifted, revealing an absolutely stunning landscape. We stopped a couple of times for quick roadside photos (like the above), but were otherwise on a tight schedule trying to get back down to Emerald Lake for sunset.

We reached a breaking point, though, when we got near the Peyto Lake Overlook. We had already stopped at this spot the first night of the trip in the hopes of a sunset that never quite materialized, and we couldn’t resist the temptation to return a second time. It helped that we knew right where to go, and that the parking lot at Bow Summit was right off the road, with only a short paved trail standing between us and one of the most breathtaking views imaginable.

As such, it seemed like a no-brainer to take a quick, “half hour, tops” stop to grab a few quick shots of Peyto Lake. The thing we all realized (or should have) is that Photographer Time is like reverse dog years: you only count one in every seven minutes…

Part of this was no one’s fault. When we got out of the car, the clouds had broke. You could see blue sky and even some sunshine. It seemed like we had the perfect window of opportunity, as the snow that had just fallen on those trees would probably melt within the hour. In fact, the weather was so “nice” at this point that I left my coat in the van.

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Upon making the short hike (a quarter-mile easy hike, at the very most) to the spot we had previously staked out, we left the trail and emerged through a layer of trees that should have revealed what many consider one of the best views in Canada. Only, we couldn’t see much of anything.

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It turns out the clouds had reconvened (or had never left this area to begin with) and were clinging to the mountains in the distance. We could barely see Peyto Lake, much less the more distant peaks. On top of that, it was freezing, and started snowing. Here I am like some dummy getting snowed on while standing there in my t-shirt. That’s one way to stop photographers from lingering at a scene…or so you’d think.

I met back up with a couple of the other guys within only a few minutes, and we headed back to the car. Since we had all more or less scattered looking for our preferred spots, not everyone met back up at the same time. Given the scene, though, we expected everyone would be back pretty quickly…or so you’d think.

What I’ve learned in taking trips with Bill McIntosh is not to think. Err…to expect the unexpected. Bill can find the beauty in any scene, and while the rest of us sat in the car like dummies, he was no doubt capturing something amazing the rest of us had missed. Rather than continue waiting, I put on my coat and headed back out to look for him and/or see what he was seeing.

I did not find Bill, but I did return to find that the cloud cover had lifted, at which time I went crazy firing off shots.

What I saw was stunning. The clouds had incredible depth to them, and the way the white of the snow played off of the deep blue sky (and green-blue water of Peyto Lake) was absolutely stunning.

This was still a far from perfect scene. The distant peaks were obscured by clouds, but there was enough that was clear in the foreground to make for an incredibly photogenic scene. You’re never going to have all of the stars align perfectly, so you just sort of have to make the most of what you have, when you have it. (Something for which Bill has an incredible knack.)

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Had I shot this tighter with a 24-70mm lens, the scene would look less impressive. You wouldn’t have as much of the blue sky, and the mountains in the distance that are blocked by the clouds would be much more prominent. By using the fisheye, I’ve minimized the relative significance of those distant (and cloud-covered) mountains, and instead drawn attention to the snow covered trees, blue sky & clouds, and the sunburst.

The downside is that the stunning Peyto Lake is also smaller in these frames, but I think that’s an acceptable trade-off given the circumstances.

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I don’t recall how long I ran around here firing off shots, but at some point I ran into Bill, who basically appeared out of nowhere. I don’t know what Bill had been shooting before the sky cleared (I’m sure he found something awesome), but I know we were both pretty ecstatic about what that clearing storm presented. While we had some good sunrise and sunset scenes in the Canadian Rockies during that trip, I’d put that clearing snow storm right up there with some of the best photography conditions of the trip.

Finally, we got back to the car and left the Bow Summit parking lot. We were still on a tight schedule, “needing” to get to Emerald Lake before sunset, so it was time to floor it without further stops at that point. When I looked at the clock as we drove out, I noticed we spent less than 60 minutes there, all told. Not too shabby for 30 minutes of Photographer Time. 😉 We’ll cover our wild race against the clock in the next installment of this quasi-trip report…

If you’re planning a visit to the Canadian Rockies, I recommend picking up a copy of The Canadian RockiesIt’s by a photographer, so there are a ton of inspirational photos in addition to the normal tips (you’ll also find trail maps and other sound advice).

Your Thoughts

Have you visited Banff National Park or elsewhere in the Canadian Rockies? What did you think of the experience? Do any memorable hikes or see any gorgeous vistas like this? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does visiting Canada interest you? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

19 replies
  1. Raisa Kassam
    Raisa Kassam says:

    Hey we’re these pictures taken last week? My friend and I wanna go this weekend but we’re unsure if the lake would be frozen over!

    Reply
  2. Jessica Poskozim
    Jessica Poskozim says:

    Thanks for writing the 2 blogs – I enjoy reading them both although I don’t comment much. I’m debating where we should travel next fall and am enjoying reading about some of your destinations. If you have not been to Italy, I would highly recommend it for you and Sarah. I was there in November and it was an amazing trip. Beautiful country, amazing people.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Italy is high on our list of places to visit, but I’m not sure when it will happen. My preference would be to visit some Scandinavian countries first, whereas I know Sarah would like to head this direction…

      Reply
  3. Lyn
    Lyn says:

    wow! ididn’t know canada had this to offer! i’ve only been to and from vancouver and whistler during the winter (and have mostly slept during the car rides ?). your pictures are stunning!!

    Reply
  4. Karyl
    Karyl says:

    I’m visiting from your disneytouristblog.com and I’m so glad you’ve got another travel site going. Your adventures inspire us to travel more! Your photos of Banff are beautiful — the unpredictable weather is part of its “charm” (snowstorm in May!) — and I’m looking forward to digging into the rest of this site. Your shameless plug = win-win.

    Reply

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