With recreational cannabis consumption set to become legal in exactly four weeks, this Mostly Amazing series explores 11 places across the land that are best experienced with a buzz.
“Do you want to jump?”
I wouldn’t usually accept this invitation when standing on an alpine lookout 280 metres above a rushing river. But I jump anyway … and again, and again. Turns out my guide and I both have to keep hopping to achieve the desired effect: Making the new Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park tremble like a suspension bridge.
This isn’t the first thrill I encounter on the award-winning catwalk, a cantilevered structure that juts 30 metres out from the cliff face. It takes me a minute or two to venture out onto the shiny glass floor, which, like the ones at the CN Tower in Toronto and Grand Canyon Skywalk in Arizona, delivers the disconcerting impression of stepping into thin air. It’s also one of the few lookouts in the world where visitors will immediately stare at the floor, rather than out a window or over a railing at the beauty beyond.
Here along the Icefields Parkway, the 230-kilometre ribbon of asphalt linking Banff and Jasper, that beauty is world-renowned. Each year, about a million travellers come by car, bus and bike to admire its glacier-clad peaks, turquoise lakes and rushing waterfalls. Thousands of these visitors venture deep into the surrounding wilderness, but they are the exception. According to Parks Canada, less than a third leave a paved surface.
Fostering deeper connections with the outdoors is one of the main goals of the Skywalk, explains David McKenna, president of Banff-based Brewster Travel Canada, which owns the new attraction. “We’re luring people into nature in a very controlled, safe environment that also educates and cultivates respect for the park,” he says, adding that the Skywalk allows visitors to explore independently and “take a step into the wilderness that feels a little bit daring.”
The 300-metre-thick Athabasca Glacier isn’t quite visible from the Skywalk, but no matter: Directly under my feet, the Sunwapta River surges past striated cliffs, while dozens of frozen waterfalls, visible through the glass safety railings, catch the late-morning sun as they cascade down the canyon’s far side. To the right, a procession of peaks stretches to the horizon. To the left, a snow squall envelopes the Andromeda and AA glaciers, Athabasca’s neighbours. Looming up ahead is Snow Dome, Canada’s only hydrological apex, where the meltwater from this 3,456-metre summit eventually flows into either the Pacific, Arctic or Atlantic oceans. (At least, that’s what it said on one of the interpretive stations along the 400-metre walkway leading to the lookout.)
READ THE REST OF THE STORY IN THE GLOBE AND MAIL