Tom and Kathleen Kjaersgaard
Sailing in the Splendor of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains
When we (an Ontario couple) both raised sailing on the Great Lakes and Lake Simcoe, decided to pack up and move our lives and careers to Cochrane, Alberta (minutes West of Calgary) in 2013, our rationalization banter went a bit like this:
“OK, considering that it’s Alberta…not a boating paradise… let’s just embrace the change. Sell the boat (our much loved Olson 25) and then we’ll just move-on and pursue other hobbies. How about golfing more maybe? We’ve pretty much ignored golf for the last 15 years right? So we agree - we’ll replace the boating with golfing and who knows what other Alberta adventures on the weekends.”
Seems reasonable right? Well…not quite. Apparently denial runs deep in both of us.
In doing pre-move research, we’d heard of Ghost Lake; it’s 25 minutes West of Calgary and only 15 minutes West of Cochrane, our new hometown. However, as the “lake-snobs” that we had evolved into over the years, we discounted Ghost Lake as an option based on what we now know was some pretty suspect information.
We heard that Ghost Lake isn’t a natural lake; it’s a dammed section of the Bow River. We heard about the Ghost Lake Hydroelectric Dam there, and how this helps safeguard Calgary from flooding. The lake (like the Bow River itself) is glacier-melt fed, and the water struggles to break about 12 degrees most summers. Then combine all of that crazy mountain wind, on a lake that’s not much more than maybe 10 km in length…hmmm, not really a sailor’s dream, is it?
“No way, that’s not for us. We’ll take a few golf lessons, play some great courses, and just get back in touch with a life lived on land.”
Since the day we arrived in this wondrous place, Alberta has changed all of our preconceived ideas about the province, so it’s not surprising really that our perception of Ghost Lake would change too. What were we thinking?
Albertans (being a wonderfully resourceful bunch) have turned this 11.5 sq. km lake, into a watersports playground. With stunning mountain views to the west, pastoral views of the Alberta foothills on the south bank (land that is in fact part of the Morley Reserve), a historical small village of homes along the north bank, and now a beautiful residential community/resort called CottageClub Ghost Lake. CottageClub has even been designed as an environmentally low-impact community, with an emphasis on the natural surrounding beauty. The community delivers some captivating mountain views that sweep west across the lake
Ghost Lake is a fun, unique and worthwhile boating destination. It’s also a popular place for Albertans to ice-boat, wakeboard, fish, windsurf, paddle board, kayak and canoe.
Wow! A nearby nice place to sail (an Alberta rarity), but darn it all – now we`re boatless!
That’s when good fortune turned west-ward and smiled our way.
Just over a year after arriving in Alberta, and a year and a half after leaving Excalibur behind (with fantastic new owners back in Ontario) we were able to reconnect with them, and given a chance to buy-back our now lovingly refurbished boat. OK - AGREED!
The deal was made. Buyer and seller agreed, we would split the hauling of the boat, and we’d meet halfway. That meant a 3,500 km round trip for each of us - we budgeted for 1,750 km each way. (FUN FACT: The halfway point between Central Ontario and Calgary – is STILL IN ONTARIO!) Fast forward to meeting-up in May in a snowy parking lot of the Canadian Tire store in Kenora, Ontario. We hooked up the boat and headed back west to our “little lake nearby”.
Next we arranged for a mooring-ball through Ghost Lake Recreations, Ghost Lake’s only marina/camping facility of any sort. The Ghost Lake Marina there is a really well-run facility, with a great little chandlery. They have about 50 mooring balls (sold seasonally), feature about 40 power boat slips and have two boat launch ramps. They also manage the boat storage area and campground, and it’s a great place to meet with fellow boaters and swap stories. The working/launch areas of the facility all have CanDOCK modular floating docks. There are even keelboat sailing courses and clinics offered by the Ghost Lake Sailing Academy.
When spring arrived and launch approached, we had to make some quick adjustments in a few ways. Our experience was always with marinas, docks and lifting cranes, so we had to learn the ins and outs of doing a “trailer-launch and retrieval”. With a 4’6” draft, it really is an art, but one that Mike, the Operator of Ghost Lake Recreations, helped us with every step of the way. Now instead of coasting into a dock, we moor on a mooring ball for the season (practice for future Caribbean adventures), and now when leaving shore, we have to make sure we take-along everything that we need in our newly acquired dinghy. We’ve even mastered the windy-day dinghy approach and graceful embarkation - with gear in tow - no problems!
The water at Ghost Lake is cold (it is glacier fed after all) but it is beautiful in colour, it’s clean and in the warmer days (closer to the shore,) it really is nice for a refreshing dip. Due to Ghost’s geographical location, the winds tend to pick up in the late morning and can be shifty, keeping you on your toes while sailing. And yes, some days it is possible to sail upwind toward the majestic Rocky Mountains, tack and sail upwind again in the opposite direction! (It’s primarily a spring thing - when the shiftiest winds blow through). Overall, the sailing conditions are great. We have had many relaxing sails where we enjoyed the beautiful views of the Rockies, and have also had fun flying the spinnaker.
Even though the boating season is a shorter one compared to other places in the country, the daylight hours in the summer here are long (sunrise at 5:30 am, sunset at 10:30 pm in the Calgary area) which enables you to go spend time in the Rockies (or doing whatever else you feel like doing) and then go for a great sail, without one compromising the other. Our favourite summer day outing is a variation on breakfast at home, a morning/mid-day walk around Banff or Canmore and an evening sail on Ghost Lake.
With the sails safely stowed, our gear put away, we’re all tidied up and just 15 minutes after we leave the dinghy dock – we’re back home again!
Editor’s Note: In two years, Tom and Kathleen have golfed exactly twice…and have no plans to hit a fairway anytime soon.
Photo 1 - Ghost Lake offers boaters beautiful mountain views and pastoral scenery. Credit: Don Stengler
Photo 2 - The convenient location of the lake draws many day-trippers from Calgary. Credit: Don Stengler
Photo 3 - Keelboat moorings are in a somewhat protected and very scenic setting. Credit: Don Stengler
Photo 4 - Ghost Lake draws a diverse group of watersport enthusiasts. Credit: Brian Oblak
Photo 5 - Excalibur on an extended beam reach from Ontario to Alberta. Credit: Tom Kjaersgaard
Photo 6 - Mastering the art of the dinghy approach. Credit: Tom Kjaersgaard
Photo 7 - Ghost Lake draws a diverse group of watersport enthusiasts. Credit: Don Stengler
Photo 8 - On calm days Ghost Lake offers boaters a chance for reflection. Credit: Tom Kjaersgaard