Tuesday, September 16, 2014

All Aboard for Winter Adventure - Are you Ready?

Let's start with a winter-themed pop quiz!  Ready?

  1. Where is the best place to go snowshoeing with kids near Calgary?  How about near Edmonton for you folks up north? 
  2. How does one go about choosing a good safe trail for the family that doesn't enter avalanche terrain?
  3. What kind of snowshoes are the best for those wanting to get into this sport as a family?
  4. At what age can you introduce snowshoeing to children?  And how do you find snowshoes for tiny feet?
Snowshoeing is a great winter sport for the whole family

This fall, Campers Village in both Calgary and Edmonton wants to make sure you have all the knowledge required to safely get your family out snowshoeing this winter.  We've had our son on snowshoes since the age of 3 and it's been a great way to spend quality outdoor time together as a family.

You can't tell me this doesn't look fun!

Campers Village will be holding information sessions on Snowshoe Expeditions in both Edmonton and Calgary this October.  For information on the Calgary session and to register, click on the Calgary link.  For information on the Edmonton session and to register, click on the Edmonton Link.  In the sessions, you will get tips for the right gear to get started, get suggestions for destinations near your city, and get valuable information on what you'll need for your next snowshoe trip.

Snowshoeing is a LOT of fun! Seriously!

And bonus - the snowshoe classes are FREE!  You can even bring the kids with you!

Never too young to start snowshoeing

Let's continue with our pop quiz and see how much you know about embracing the cold and staying safe outside in the winter:

  1. How can you convince reluctant children to actually fall "in love" with snow and cold weather?  Is it even possible???
  2. What are the best ways to stay warm outside, avoid hypothermia, and stay safe when playing outdoors in freezing temps?
  3. Do you know how to tell when you are in avalanche terrain?  And do you know how to stay safe when you are??
My child used to hate winter with a capital H.  He has grown to love it.  For real!

Again, Campers Village wants to help you and your family get prepared for the upcoming winter season. They will be hosting information sessions on embracing the cold, geocaching, insulation and layering, and avalanche safety this October in their Calgary and Edmonton stores.

Kids can learn to love snow.  Really!

For me as a parent, raising a child who would love winter and embrace the season didn't come easily.  However, with a bit of perseverance and help from other outdoor families we have succeeded in creating at least a fond appreciation for snow and the fun activities that you can do in snow.  In fact, off the top of my head, I can think of 10 fun things to do in the snow with kids.  Can you?  If not, you definitely need to check out the "embracing the cold" sessions at the Calgary and Edmonton Campers Village stores.

Biking is on our list of top ten fun things to do in the snow.  Is it on yours?

For a complete list of all the info. sessions that Campers Village is offering this winter with dates and times, check out the poster below and visit the Campers Village website to register. 

As mentioned earlier, all sessions are completely FREE, including the Avalanche safety session where you'll hear from experts who have seen and experienced avalanches in action, and can tell you some amazing stories!

Snowshoeing in an incredible place - that I wouldn't go near without basic avalanche awareness training

I hope to see you out at some of these sessions and while you're on the Campers Village website registering for classes, check out the Outdoor Guide Blog which is updated with fresh new stories twice a month. Recent stories include:
Get Prepared, Get Educated, Get Out There, And have FUN this Winter!

This story was sponsored by Campers Village but all photos are my own and clearly show that we love winter! I hope you'll join us on the trails and in the snow banks this winter.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Best Autumn Day Hikes in the Canadian Rockies

There’s so much snow outside my window as I write, it’s hard to believe it’s actually early September and not December! However, the snow will melt, the sun will come back, and autumn is going to be glorious – just as always! So, seize the day folks and color it golden!!

The Best Fall Hikes in the Canadian Rockies - Lake O'Hara's Opabin Plateau

In my newest story for Campers Village I've listed all of our favourite fall hikes in the Banff and Kananaskis areas.  Including this gem below.  Know where it is?

The BEST Family Fall Hike in Banff for Golden Larches - Larch Valley, Lake Louise

To read my story and find out what our favourite hikes are, please follow this link to The Best Autumn Day Hikes in Banff and Kananaskis

Autumn Scenery doesn't get much better than this at Sunshine Meadows, Banff

Happy hiking and I hope to see you on the trails this fall.  Remember that the golden larch trees are at their peak the third week of September and it's coming up!

Autumn Perfection at Lake O'Hara in the Opabin Plateau
Views from Saddleback Peak above Saddleback Pass at Lake Louise
September at Highwood Pass, Kananaskis

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finding Balance as an Outdoor Family

Camping, mountain biking, hiking, paddling, stand up paddleboarding, mountaineering, rock climbing, backpacking, skiing (cross-country, downhill, backcountry...,) skating, snowshoeing - and... did I miss any?? These are the sports we pursue as a family.  And it gets a bit exhausting trying to fit it all in!!

Just another multi-sport weekend for us

I once said that as a family we would try to focus on one sport for summer, and one for winter.  HA!  When did I ever think that would work for us?  I've even encouraged other outdoor families to keep it simple and choose a few outdoor sports to keep gear costs down.  Meanwhile, you should see my basement!  And garage.  And backyard.  We've actually had to start selling stuff because we just can't store (or use) it all.  Hence, bye bye canoe that we never used.

Bye Bye Canoe.  Hopefully we found you a good home.

So, how does a family balance a wide range of interests?  And how do you balance the individual passions and hobbies within your family?   In our family for example, my husband loves rock climbing while I hate it.  I tried it when we were first married and bought all the starter gear, only to discover that I really didn't enjoy it as a sport.  I preferred climbing to the top of a mountain rather than going up and down the same canyon wall for "fun." 

Meanwhile, I love stand up paddleboarding and it's safe to say my husband is not going to be jumping "on board" this sport! And young Noah, yeah well he doesn't exactly love some of the same sports mom and dad do.  Cross country skiing for example is mostly torture for him and he would rather ride his bike most days than go for a hike.

Dad teaching his little buddy to climb

Here is how we "attempt" to find balance.  

One - We try to find a way for each member of the family to participate in an activity - at their interest or ability level. 

For paddling, this means that while I ride my board, my husband and son paddle in a tandem kayak.  They enjoy kayaking and I enjoy SUP.  Win win for everybody.

Finding a way to all paddle together

When we plan a ski weekend, we try to make sure there will be opportunities for everybody to do something they enjoy.  We'll go for morning snowshoe hike or x-country ski tour, spend the afternoon skating, and then go downhill skiing the next day.

Discovering that Noah LOVES downhill skiing

Two - We compromise!

In an ideal world, Noah would spend a winter day downhill skiing, my husband would be skiing down a mountain in the backcountry and I'd be off cross country skiing or snowshoeing.  And we could arrange our weekends this way.  Or we can compromise, take turns, and spend time together.  We choose to play as a family. This means that sometimes Noah has to go cross country skiing when he'd prefer to be at a ski resort.  My husband agrees to go snowshoeing for a day and I slap on a pair of downhill skis to accompany Noah on some easy runs.

We enjoy snowshoeing together

Three - We learn when to move on and say goodbye to former passions and hobbies

This summer I went on my annual mountaineering trip with my husband and friends, and realized that my heart just wasn't in it anymore.  It's not that I was scared, worried, out of shape, or unhappy on the trip.  However, I was sad that we weren't together as a family and I missed Noah.  I regretted leaving him for a whole long weekend while we ran off to have fun - without him.  And I knew in my heart that we should have taken him camping, all together as a family.

The annual summer mountaineering trip

I still think there's value in taking some "rest" time away from the kids but for me, it's not going to be in the middle of our shortest most glorious summer season anymore for a whole weekend.  I'm hanging up my climbing harness and crampons for now.  I'm sure I'll pull them out again in the future but for now, I'm moving on.  And I'm ok with that.

Bye Bye Crampons.  I'll see you again some day.

Four - We do a LOT of multi-sport weekend trips

When we go away camping in summer, we bring our boats, our bikes and our hiking boots. In winter, we'll bring snowshoes, skis, skates, sleds - and everything else that fits in the car!  We'll never be professional skiers or advanced paddlers practicing so many sports but we have fun.  And that's what matters.

I started mountain biking for Noah - and now it's my favourite sport in the world!
Every summer we do bigger and better hikes together!  I can't wait till next year.

Five - We keep a very well scheduled calendar

People are always astonished that I can have our whole calendar already planned out 6 months in advance.  In my defense though, it's the only way to make sure we schedule time for all of our passions and outdoor pursuits.

Our overnight paddle trip wouldn't happen if we didn't schedule it in!

We sit down with the calendar in January and start plugging trips into weekends from May through October.  Overnight paddle trip - check.  Family backpacking trip - check.  Mountain biking weekend in Banff - check. And on it goes until we've found a spot for every type of trip we want to do and have made room for all of our sports and hobbies.

Overnight hut trips are very important to me - so they get scheduled early!

Then again mid-summer we start over again planning out next winter's trips to make sure we get to all of our favourite huts, hostels, lodges, and ski resorts.

The annual Hilda Creek trip - that gets planned at least 6 months in advance (if not earlier)

How do you find balance as a family with different hobbies, interests and passions?  Do you head outside together or do you split up so that everybody does their favourite thing all of the time? And please tell me I'm not the only person who plans way in advance, trying desperately to fit it all in.  ;)

Whatever we do, we do it together. 

Whatever we do, we do it together as much of the time as possible because in Noah's words, "We're a family!" and in his mind, that's what families do.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Rocky Mountain Style Spin on "Girls Night Out"

Earlier this spring, I sent out an email to a dozen girlfriends suggesting the idea of a weekly girls’ night out. I explained that I didn’t want to go out for coffee, start a book club, or watch movies together. I wanted to climb mountains and figured we could catch up on the week’s gossip and parenting challenges on the drives out to the trailhead.

What resulted was this:

Lisa climbs her FIRST mountain ever.  While pregnant.  Yay Lisa!
New Friends Were Made.
A New Group of Friends Was Formed! 
We discovered that climbing mountains was so much more rewarding than going out for coffee!
We Grew Stronger With Each Hike We Did!!
We Perfected the Mountain Selfie!
We found some pretty sweet places to hang out and chat!
We Worked on Team Work!  A lot of group effort was required to get to this viewpoint!
We got a break from kids, families, work and life.
And somehow we always got back down by dark. 

I've written all about our adventures and provided  some tips on how to form your own girls' night out hiking club in my newest story for Women's Adventure Magazine.  To read the full story, go to Girls Night Out, Women's Adventure-Style.

I'll also keep you posted on our big ski weekend this coming winter!  So far we have 27 girls signed up to come and we've booked an entire hostel for our adventure. 

Pretty Awesome Way to Spend a Summer Evening!

Big Thanks To Keen Canada for making my summits possible with a great pair of boots.  I tried a couple pairs of boots out this summer but quickly settled on the Marshall Mid WP boots and was blister free 90% of the time - which is saying a lot for my feet!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

My First Via Ferrata Tour - And It Was Awesome!!

Last week I got the chance of a life time to do the all-new Via Ferrata at Banff's Mount Norquay ski resort.  From the top of the North American Chairlift and Cliffhouse Bistro, I climbed to the summit of Mt. Norquay with the aid of a professional guide and a fixed anchoring system of cables and ladders.  I even got to cross a 30 metre long suspension bridge across a chasm on our climb!

Suspension Bridge on the Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata
Full Exposure and an Awesome Day in the Mountains!!

What did I LOVE about my trip?  

The exposure and the pure awesomeness of being able to do something completely terrifying and scary - without risk! 

Yes, I could have taken a small fall, could have bruised myself up a bit, and without the cable system I would never have been climbing Mt. Norquay!  But thanks to the Via Ferrata system, I felt 100% safe while hanging off the side of a cliff.  So freakin' awesome!! (and I said that a LOT on our climb.)

The climb was actually pretty easy as well.  I don't have a lot of upper body strength so I was a bit scared that I'd struggle with climbing the ladders bolted into the side of the cliffs.  I didn't have any problems though as all hand and foot holds were well spaced and easy to climb.   This isn't wobbly rope ladders you're climbing. Everything was stable, solid, and firm beneath my feet.

KEEN Ambassador on location at Mt. Norquay

I was also a bit nervous about how much leg strength would be required climbing a mountain using ladders and metal foot holds.  This was not an issue in the slightest though!  Mt. Norquay seriously built a tour with the average tourist, outdoor enthusiast, and every-day person in mind.  I never had to take gigantic steps or haul myself over a cliff with yoga-like finesse.  I think it's fair to say that this tour could be done by any fit person, regardless if you have ever climbed a mountain in your life or not.

My friend and model for the day - showing what the tour is all about!

The Journey

I chose to do the four hour Ridgewalker Route because doing a Via Ferrata had been on my life bucket list forever!  And Banff is a heck of a lot closer than Italy so I was stoked to try this out!  On our tour we'd get to actually summit Mt. Norquay (which the two hour tour does not get to do) and we'd get to climb all three Memorial, Sunrise and Vista buttresses on our way to the top.  Of course, we'd also get to do the epic suspension bridge that both tours must (get to) cross.

It all starts with a chair lift ride to the Cliffhouse Bistro

We met at the North American Lodge on the Mt. Norquay ski hill.  Here we met our guide, received our climbing gear (all supplied with the tour) and proceeded to the sightseeing chairlift for our ride up to the Cliffhouse Bistro (base of the climb.)  You can see the Bistro in the photo above behind the chair lift and you can see Mt. Norquay behind us.  While it doesn't look very impressive, high, or mighty in this photo, I can assure you that it felt pretty awesome while climbing straight up those cliffs in the photo!!

Viewing Platform outside the Cliffhouse Bistro below our climb

Next we received a very short but informative lesson in how to use our climbing leashes, how to clip into the fixed cable system, and how to move around on the Via Ferrata. Then it was a bit of easy hiking to get to the base of the cliffs.

Hiking to the base of the cliffs (suspension  bridge seen at the top of the photo)

We hiked to the first cable section and right away our guide was able to determine who would be able to continue and who would not have what it takes in terms of fear of heights, exposure, and maybe even general fitness.  Fortunately 90% of the people who come out for the tour make it past this point and don't have to turn around.  (most people do know after all if they are absolutely terrified of heights.)

The first section of the climb - You jump right in!
I may have done this without a cable for protection but it was sure nice to have it!

From here, it just went up, up, up until we reached the suspension bridge that both the two and four hour tours get to cross. 

Upwards and Onwards on the Via Ferrata
Alannah climbing the fixed ladders

Is this not awesome?!!!
I especially LOVED the part where we got to cross a narrow 2x4 type piece of wood across a small rock chasm.  Freakin' Awesome!

About half way to the top, we left the Explorer route and began the final portion of the Ridgewalker route.  It wasn't really any harder.  Just longer.

There was one section however where we got to choose between two lines up a cliff and my whole group chose the harder line.  It didn't have any of the metal foot holds and you had to do actual scrambling (finding your own foot and hand holds.) 

This was probably the most challenging part of the tour for me as the rock was a bit slippery here and I found it hard to gain traction on the rock.  No matter though, we all made it up, nobody fell (even the beginners) and we were quickly back on easier terrain with the metal foot/hand holds.

Taking a break on the way up

We got several chances to take a quick rest break on stable ground with no exposure and there was even one spot where I quickly pulled out a granola bar from my pack.  I found that you got quite hungry on this tour and I'd recommend everybody bring snacks to quickly stuff in your mouth when you get a chance.

Climbing higher and higher on exposed cliff faces
Another Cool Balance Beam we got to cross

We got rest breaks where the route was simply steep climbing on a well maintained trail and as we reached the ridge top we didn't have to clip into the cable anymore.  I liked this about the tour because it felt like I was really hiking on a typical trail in the Canadian Rockies.  It wasn't hard and any novice hiker could have done the full upper section.  A good fitness level is highly recommended though as I was out of breath on some of the hiking sections.

Upper section of the Ridgewalker Route on the Via Ferrata
I don't recommend looking down unless you love heights
Alannah finishing one of the final Via Ferrata sections high above Mt. Norquay
Hello Mt. Norquay ski resort - WAY below us.
The final ridge walk section - off cable
Reaching the Summit of Mt. Norquay

The Summit

We reached the summit and took a long break while we rested and had snacks.  The tour information I received didn't mention anything about bringing a lunch along but I'm sure glad I at least brought some snacks or I would have died up there. 

Lunch and Snack Break on the Summit of Mt. Norquay
My Summit Shot on Mt. Norquay
Keen hiking shoes and boots - the footwear of choice for this tour.

The Descent

The way down was a bit loose and steep but certainly not as exposed as the way up.  We still got to clip into a hand line to make sure we didn't take a big fall but personally I didn't need it.  Hikers with experience scrambling would find the hand line a bit excessive in spots but it was good for the beginners in the group.

Making our way down from the summit on a good trail
Using the cable on the way down for added security
Easy scrambling on the way down
Looking down on the Cliffhouse Bistro  below us with the hiking trail


Lunch at the Cliffhouse Bistro

We reached the Bistro and some of us chose to go inside for a late lunch and drinks.  We were disappointed though in the menu.  It was extremely over the top in its choice of "fancy" food that it served.  I didn't want to eat beef tartare (made out of brussel sprout  kimchee) and I didn't really feel like eating green beans and asparagus.   There was a cheese platter for $30  and a charcuterie platter for another $30 but personally, if I just finished climbing a mountain and wanted cheese, I'd rather have it on a pizza or plate of nachos please! 

I finally chose a salad with roast duck and Asian noodles to go with my beer but it just didn't go down as well as a club house sandwich would have.  We even named it for you:  The Cliffhouse Club.   I do have to say though that the Village Brewery Beer was amazing and I have since bought some for enjoyment at home.

Overall, go for the Ferrata but then go into Banff for lunch or dinner.  Unless, the Cliffhouse decides to revamp their menu, I can't really recommend it to those of us "ordinary" folk who want a bit of sustenance for our $30 dish.  For that price, I can order ribs or a steak in town.   I admire the vision of the Bistro to have a gourmet menu but I can think of several ways to make a gourmet pizza, sandwich, or quesadilla for that matter that might appeal to a wider audience. 

Riding the Chair Lift back to the parking lot


Why you should try the Norquay Via Ferrata 

  1. It's a chance of a lifetime opportunity whether you live in Calgary, the Bow Valley, or have come from afar to visit the Canadian Rockies.  Seriously, if you don't do it here you'll have to go to Italy or some other far off place (and I don't have $ for airfare to Italy.)
  2. SO MUCH FUN!!!!
  3. Safe and Exciting!  Just don't look down.
  4. You can start with the 2 hour Explorer route and then if you like it, go back next time for the 4 hour Ridgewalker route.   
  5. Any fit person can do it!  No experience required.
Fun AND safe!

What you should bring for your day trip

I found that the information on what to bring was a bit lacking on the Mt. Norquay website so here's my personal list of what you should bring:
Having fun on the Via Ferrata
  • A hydration pack - water bottles are just too hard to pull out of your backpack and you will get thirsty on the sun baked slopes of Mt. Norquay.
  • A small backpack loaded with snacks, extra layers if you get cold, a light rain jacket, gloves if you choose to use them, and maybe a knit hat or tuque. (gloves are provided if you forget.)
  • Sunblock
  • Sun glasses
  • A small camera that you won't lose!  You'll notice that I took a LOT of photos.  That's because I wasn't using a fancy SLR camera or my phone.  I had a small point and shoot camera that clipped to my backpack and had a strap around my neck.  My friend and I passed it back and forth among us so that we each got shots of one another.
  • Good hiking shoes or boots.  Some members of our group had running shoes on but personally, I recommend good outdoor footwear.  (you can rent boots from Mt. Norquay if you don't have any)
  • Long pants - it could hurt if you fell and scraped your legs up against the rock.

For More Information...

Climb On!

Visit the Mount Norquay website for all information on the tour. 

Please note that while my tour was graciously taken care of by Mt. Norquay, I wasn't paid to write this story or prompted to write a certain message.  All words are my own and my opinion is mine.  I LOVED the tour and you can't pay me to say that unless it's 100% true!  In fact, and this may get me in trouble, but I have to say - this was the BEST tour I've ever done in the Canadian Rockies and it was the Most awesome day I've had in the mountains all summer!!  Maybe all year.

I can't wait to go back!!