Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Search of the Ultimate Backcountry Ski Lodge (on Snowshoes)

I’m fortunate to live a short hour outside the park gates of Banff National Park where opportunities for both skiing and snowshoeing are abundant. Backcountry lodges are also plentiful for multi-day trips but tend to cater to skiers who will either ski in to the lodge (and maybe explore the area further on snowshoes once settled in) or else will fly in via helicopter and spend their days seeking out turns in the high alpine. Meanwhile, options are slim for those of us wanting to access backcountry cabins and lodges on snowshoes via an easy to moderate winter hiking trail.

In search of the ultimate backcountry ski lodge - on snowshoes

Most of the lodges I’ve looked at in the Canadian Rockies encourage visitors to either ski or snowshoe in. Further research however would reveal that nobody really chooses to snowshoe unless there’s a limiting factor. For example, friends have told me of trips taken on snowshoes because a party member didn’t know how to ski in the backcountry, and I once took my mother into a lodge on snowshoes because I knew there was no way she’d be skiing up and over a mountain pass without breaking a leg.

Choosing to snowshoe to a backcountry ski lodge in Banff National Park

Devout skiers will still disagree with me, but I have found a backcountry lodge in the Canadian Rockies that I actually find pleasant to reach on snowshoes. Sure, it’s not as fast without skis (that’s a given), but the scenery en route to the lodge is drop-dead beautiful and you’ll be hiking on an honest to goodness trail (the same trail that summer visitors hike in fact.) You will climb over two mountain passes and across the middle of a large alpine lake as you travel to this lodge, and you will work for that afternoon tea waiting for you upon your arrival.

Reaching an awesome backcountry ski lodge -  on snowshoes

To read more, please continue to my newest story for Snowshoe Magazine:  In Search of the Ultimate Backcountry Ski Lodge (on snowshoes)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

5 Days in the Mountains - with no kids (WOW)

Over the past week and a half I've spent 5 days skiing and snowshoeing in Banff National Park - with no children!  I hiked over two mountain passes and crossed a backcountry lake to stay at Lake Louise's historic Skoki Lodge for two nights, and I spent two days ski touring with a great group of girlfriends (in fact, there were 28 of us together for one crazy weekend!)

The face of happiness and freedom
I still want children to play a vital role in my adventures and believe strongly that my son should get to come on any trip that he has the skill and endurance for.  In fact, I'm still slightly bitter that I was dissuaded from bringing him to Skoki Lodge with me because I know he's a trooper and he would have made it! 

Family adventures aside, sometimes it's really nice to get away without the kids, to take a bit of a break, and to ski or hike at an adult pace without having to dole out candy every 10 minutes to motivate the herd.


28 moms, a wilderness hostel, and two days of glorious skiing

I try to plan an annual girls' ski trip each winter and so far numbers have gone like this:

And now I'm really curious about next year because honestly, where do you go after a ski trip with 28 girls?? I can't imagine finding a place big enough to fit 30+ girls for a weekend.  (if you know of one, let me know.)

28 Girls at the Castle Mountain Wilderness Hostel, Banff  (photo: Jen Sollid)

Also, in case you're wondering just how popular I am that I could find 27 other moms to go away with me for the weekend, remember that the first year started with just 6 girls.  And it's kind of exploded! 

Skiing at Lake Louise on our girls' ski weekend  (photo: Jen Sollid)

It's actually not that hard to find moms desperate to get away for a weekend.  I started with my Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Community (600 members strong) and a few friends I knew from Banff.  Friends invited their friends, who invited their friends, and so it went.  Until there were 28 of us!!

Banff and Calgary Moms Unite in Banff for a weekend

So, what did we do for two days away from the kids?  Well, of course there was a lot of wine consumed, great conversations, way too much food, and it got a tad noisy in the hostel.  Other than that, we skied.  We split into groups each day and went out for tours ranging from easy nordic skiing to advanced backcountry ski touring, easier ski touring (more my speed,) skate skiing, and even downhill skiing.  In the evenings between glasses of wine there was more skiing and even some night hiking at nearby Johnston Canyon.

Skiing across Boom Lake, Banff
Exploring frozen waterfalls at the far end of Boom Lake
Beautiful Paradise Valley, Lake Louise (awesome for light ski touring)

To see more photos from the trip (because there is no way I could post them all here), visit my Google+ album:  Castle Girls' Trip Photos.  I'd love to hear your comments as well so please let me know if it looked like we were having fun.

3 Days in the Backcountry at Skoki Lodge

This adventure deserves a story all of its own!  Fortunately it's coming and you'll be able to read it soon in Snowshoe Magazine.  I'm a true multi-sport kind of gal and so after 2 days of ski touring with my girlfriends, I spent 3 days snowshoeing beyond Lake Louise with a base camp at Skoki Lodge.

Skoki Lodge, Lake Louise, Banff

And in case you're wondering about the photo above, yes, we finally got a Go-Pro!  And isn't the camera awesome!  I'll be posting lots of photos this winter with the new camera on my Instagram account so make sure you're following me there if you aren't already.

The pathway to Skoki Lodge (and why you should go summed up in one photo)

While Skoki Lodge is definitely family-friendly, my son is at that challenging age where he's too big to pull in a chariot or pulk, but not old enough to ski 11 km into a backcountry lodge while climbing over two mountain passes.  Hopefully soon though. 

This girl has spent a LOT of time with me in the last couple of weeks.  (thanks Alannah)

I hiked into Skoki Lodge with my girlfriend Alannah, one of the new owners of the Campsite Blog.  She graciously accepted to hike into the lodge with me for my snowshoe story and now I think I probably owe her another ski trip because former ski racers don't generally choose to "hike" into a backcountry ski lodge!

Snowshoeing to Skoki Lodge with Deception Pass in the background (the crux of the trip)

I will let you all know when my story is live for Snowshoe Magazine so that you can hear about the whole trip.  In the meantime, more photos!!! Go to my Google+ Account to see all the photos from the trip to SkokiAnd again, comments make me happy.

Beyond Lake Louise en route to Skoki Lodge

That was just a short summary of 5 amazing days spent playing in the backcountry of Banff National Park on skis and snowshoes with fabulous girlfriends. The rest of the winter will be spent playing with my Pook (now 6 years old!!) and he gets his own backcountry ski trip at the end of February when we ski as a family into Shadow Lake Lodge.  Much more on that one to come.

Parting shot of the happy Mama in the backcountry of Banff

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ice Skating on the Ghost Lake Reservoir

There's a magical window in the Rockies where some lakes freeze solid enough for skating before they become snow covered.  This usually happens in mid to late November.  This year we were fortunate to get out to Johnson Lake in Banff twice during this window and it was incredible, as always!

Natural Ice Skating in the Rockies

"Secret" Lake Skating in the Rockies

There are plenty of beautiful places to skate in the Rockies but I'm always looking for that "secret" spot.  That spot that does not have zillions of other skaters on it.  Perhaps, that spot where I even to have to do my own measurements and determine if it's safe enough to go out on the ice.  I also like beautiful scenery and it doesn't cut it for me to go skating in the middle of the town of Banff.  I like to skate on lakes that get no grooming, no professional care, and are completely wild and natural.

This is Ice Skating at its BEST on the Ghost Reservoir

Is it Safe??

Is it dangerous?  Possibly!  Do we still skate on mountain lakes?  Definitely!  We just make sure that we see evidence that others have gone before us.  Ice boats out on the Ghost Reservoir - good sign that it's safe!  Other skating tracks and figure eights out on the ice - good sign that others have skated here and hopefully not fallen in!  A cleared off hockey rink - very good sign because somebody obviously got out on the ice to clear off their patch of heaven for skating.  And again, hopefully did not fall in!!

Noah loves being blown down lake by wind

Searching for a new place to skate in December

We were out in the mountains skiing in December and I asked if we could come home to Calgary via the Hwy 1A through Morley and Cochrane because I wanted to see if the Ghost Lake Reservoir was frozen or not.  We'd checked back in November and it most definitely was not frozen!  But by mid-December I had hopes that this gigantic lake would be frozen and snow free since it had been many a week since we'd had fresh snow.

Skating on the Ghost Lake off the Hwy 1A

Approaching the Reservoir I knew we were in luck because I saw members of the Ghost Lake Ice Sailing Club out on the lake.  (the link is to the club's Facebook page if you want to follow them and find out when the ice is clear.)  Here's a video of ice sailing too because I think it's super cool to watch!

Ghost Lake Reservoir - Great for Ice Sailing and Skating

Sunset Skating on Ghost Lake

The experience skating on the Ghost Lake was surreal!  It was beautiful and we were the only ones out on the lake skating as sun set fell over the foothills on the night of the Winter Solstice.

Sunset Skating on the Ghost Lake Reservoir
Celebrating the Winter Solstice on Ghost Lake

Round Two of Skating on Ghost Lake

I was so overwhelmed by the experience of skating on the Ghost Reservoir that we dropped everything a couple days later to go back for round two. We managed to convince some brave friends to join us (who showed up wearing life jackets, lol.)  Nobody fell in though and we all had a blast!

Kids skating on Ghost Lake
No  better skating rink than this!
Skating under the bridge was really cool!
Skating under the highway on the Ghost Reservoir


Video of Skating on the Ghost Lake Reservoir


Additional Resources and Information on Skating in the Rockies


Ice Skating in Banff National Park - National Park website

Carrot Creek:  Banff's Secret Skating Spot - By Jody Robins

Embrace Winter - Skating on Lakes - By Run Bikes YYC

8 Memorable Places to Skate in Banff National Park - By Meghan Ward for Real Banff

November is my Favourite Month to Visit Banff - Story on my blog about skating Johnston Lake

Skating Season in the Rockies - Story on my blog about natural skating in Banff

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Winter Wilderness Trips - The Method and the Madness

Want to guess how many winter wilderness trips we have planned over the next 4 months??  TEN!! And our son gets to come on six of the trips - which means we have to be really efficient at packing, preparing, and organizing.

Below is a quick preview of where we'll be exploring this winter with tips on how to prepare for your own winter wilderness adventures.

The First Wilderness Trip - Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel

This trip is already finished now but I'm still counting it towards our ten trips since it happened just before Christmas and involved two nights spent in a small cabin in Banff surrounded by snow.  We love the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel and try to make an annual trip here every winter.  This year we reserved a full dorm room for 12 people and travelled with two other families.  We spent two days cross country skiing and snowshoeing and thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Icefields Parkway.

This is Mosquito Creek and there's no flying insects here!! Just Pure Beauty and snow!

More information (and photos) can be found here at Five Reasons to Take your Family to Mosquito Creek this Winter.

Playing in the snow outside the Mosquito Creek Hostel

Karen of the Play Outside Guide has also written a couple of stories about our trip:  How to Weather a Wilderness Hostel with Kids in Winter and Get Closer to Nature at Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel.

Mosquito Creek in Winter

The Next Nine Trips - Where We're Going This Winter

Our trips will be divided into front country outings at wilderness hostels, and backcountry trips at cabins or lodges that we'll ski or snowshoe into.  The Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel will be a combination of both front and backcountry since it's set so far off the highway you have to wear snowshoes to reach the cabins. It also has no running water so we'll have to use all of our winter camping skills for this trip!  Otherwise, the hostel trips are pretty easy and we don't expect to suffer too much.

Girls' Trip this weekend in Banff! 28 Girls, one wilderness hostel, and two days of x-country skiing at the Castle Mountain Wilderness Hostel.  This trip will be pretty comfortable with indoor plumbing and electricity.  Hardly "wilderness" but still set in the mountains far from the city.

Paradise Valley where we hope to be skiing at least one day this weekend

Girls' Snowshoe Trip to Skoki Lodge!! Skoki Lodge is an historic backcountry ski lodge in Banff dating back to 1930.  I'll be joining my girlfriend Alannah of The Campsite on this incredible two night tripAnd we certainly won't be suffering at this catered lodge!

Skoki Lodge, Banff National Park (I'll be here next week!!!)

Family Trip to Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel in Banff.  We'll spend another weekend on the Icefields Parkway in Banff with two other families.  This time though, we'll stay at the Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel.   We've never stayed here before so we are excited to explore another corner of paradise in Banff National Park.

Gotta Love the Icefields Parkway in winter!

February long weekend in Jasper!  We'll be spending three nights at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Hostel in Jasper where we plan to spend lots of time exploring the frozen canyon on ice cleats.  We'll be joined by two other families and this is another new wilderness hostel for us.

Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

Dad's weekend out and backcountry ski trip to Roger's Pass.  This is my husband's weekend away and he's excited to be spending a couple nights at the Wheeler Hut in Glacier National Park, BC with some other friends.  Gotta let Dad out of the house occasionally for a solo trip or two!

We're also letting Dad have a second weekend away for some backcountry skiing at the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel on the Icefields Parkway. 

Playing around at Hilda Creek

Family weekend in Kananaskis.  We like to spend a weekend at the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel close to home once a winter.  We'll do that this spring and enjoy some downhill skiing at Nakiska next door.  The Kananaskis hostel is one of the more comfortable wilderness hostels with indoor plumbing and microwaves!  It's much more decadent than the other hostels we'll be staying at.

First trip to the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel

Family weekend at the Hilda Creek Hostel!  The Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel is much more than just a ski hut!  It's also a fun family base camp where we'll spend Easter this year snowshoeing, building snow forts, and playing in the warm spring snow.  It's also borderline "Backcountry" and we expect to be boiling snow for drinking water and practicing many of our winter camping skills.

Our paradise at Hilda Creek

Lake O'Hara Family Backcountry Ski Trip!  We were supposed to do this one last weekend but it was way too cold!  So April it is and it better be warmer.  We'll be staying at the Elizabeth Parker Hut which is next to impossible to get space in.  Come April though there are a lot more spots available. It is an 11km ski in so it's going to be a big challenge for our six-year old son but we're up for it!  Let's hope he is too.

The Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara


Packing and Planning for Backcountry Winter Wilderness Trips

There is a LOT I could say about packing and planning for a winter wilderness trip.  And it very much depends on whether you are going into the backcountry or if you are staying in a front country wilderness hostel (that may even have indoor plumbing.)  90% of our trips this winter will be in the front country and will require a very different kind of packing.  Still, below are some tips that I've picked up over the past couple of years.

One - There is NO guarantee that your winter wilderness trips will happen!!  Be prepared to cancel last minute, to forfeit your booking reservation (up to 50% of your entire booking with the Alpine Club,) and to change plans last minute.  Already this winter, we've rescheduled for Rampart Creek and Lake O'Hara because the weather was too cold for both.  I also got sick right before Lake O'Hara.  Things happen and in winter, you have to expect that some trips just won't happen!  Plan for them but be prepared to stay home and huddle in front of the fireplace instead.

One of my favourite photos of us hauling our gear (and son) into a backcountry cabin

Two - Always go with friends.  Everything is more fun with friends in the backcountry or in the wilderness at any time of year.  In winter it's especially true though.  Cold temperatures make it hard to motivate the kids to get outside.  Add a couple of friends though and most kids can be tempted to get out for a quick hike or to build a snowman.

Kids at Mosquito Creek (they could have spent hours playing outside the hostel together)

Three - Pack a car bag.  This is the bag that will be handy and readily accessible the second you arrive at your hostel or parking lot.  Depending on the time of day this will definitely include head lamps!  I don't know how many times we have arrived at Mosquito Creek in the evening with all the headlamps packed away.  It's front country, but you have to park right off the highway and walk through the trees a couple hundred metres to reach the hostel (which is not fun in the dark while pulling all your gear to the cabin in a sled with no headlamp!)

Hauling gear out of Hilda Creek

The car bag should also include all mittens and hats.  Most wilderness hostels will require a short walk to reach the cabins and you'll be hauling all of your stuff in (often by sled.)  You'll want your outerwear handy rather than packed away.

The hike required to get back to the highway from the Hilda Creek Hostel

Four - Travel with a large hockey bag for Wilderness Hostels.  My husband gets angry with me when I pack everything for our weekend into 10 tiny bags and backpacks.  Many of the hostels we stay at require a short walk and to reach Hilda Creek you'll even need snowshoes to cross the 500 metres from parking lot to cabins.  This is near impossible and a huge pain in the butt if you pack everything in tiny bags requiring a zillion trips from the car.  Pack everything in big hockey bags, throw them on sleds,  and pull them to the front door. 

Our gear outside the Hilda Creek Hostel

Five - Bring toys, games, movies, etc. for the hours spent indoors.  You are not going to be outside skiing, snowshoeing, and making snowmen all day and night long.  The kids will spend hours inside the hostel or cabin (especially if it's cold outside.) We love books and take turns reading stories to the kids.  Card games like Uno are also popular along with movies on a tablet or portable DVD player. 

Coloring at the Mosquito Creek Hostel after skiing all day

Additional Resources and Reading

Winter Camping With Kids (No Tent!!)  - This story covers many of the wilderness hostels in the Rockies that you can stay at in winter as a family along with backcountry cabins that you can snowshoe or ski into. In the story are dozens of links to other stories I've written on the topic.

Good luck and see you in the wilderness this winter! 

Sunday, January 04, 2015

My Outdoor Adventure Resolutions for 2015

I wrote a story for Campers Village on setting adventure resolutions for the new year.  I liked my advice so much I decided to take the challenge myself to complete everything on my resolution list.

The Resolutions are below along with what I plan to (hope to) do to accomplish them.  Now I tag you to take up the challenge too!  And I'd love to hear about your resolutions so please leave comments  at the bottom.

My Adventure Resolutions for 2015

Do something that will challenge you, cause you to grow, and become stronger

Every big trip we do as a family in the wilderness or backcountry challenges us and causes us to grow.  Some of the big trips being planned this year are a family winter ski trip into Lake O'Hara to stay at the Elizabeth Parker Hut and a summer family backpacking trip on the Icefields Parkway to stay at the Bow Hut

Noah has never skied 11km before so the trip to O'Hara will be a big challenge.  And the 8km trip to the Bow Hut is always a brutal slog for me so I can only imagine how hard it's going to be with kids on the final scramble up to the hut.  (not to mention, we have to somehow get all the kids over the big chock stone in the canyon - without losing any of them over the edge!)

We are skiing to the Elizabeth Parker Hut in Lake O'Hara this April

Do something that scares the pants off of you

I want to try running an intermediate Class II river this summer on my stand up paddleboard. I find the Bow River through Calgary to already be a challenge and apparently it's only Class I, so I have my work cut out for me. 

A short paddle on the North Saskatchewan River last summer - hopefully to be repeated this summer

Do something new that will require a lesson or learning a new skill

I would like to learn to kayak this year.  Not sure if I will take lessons or not, but it's a new skill for sure.  Noah is also learning to kayak so we'll be learning together.

Learning to kayak

Do a trip with friends you haven’t seen in a long time and rekindle the friendship

I am determined to plan a trip with our friends that live in Saskatchewan this summer, even if I have to travel to SK to do it! 

Best friends should be seen at least once a year!

Do a trip with your best girlfriends or your best guy pals

Next weekend I am going on a girls' ski weekend with 27 other ladies.  I'd say this counts for this resolution!

Last year we had 8 girls.  This year we have 28 girls for the annual girls' ski weekend!!

Travel someplace new (even in Alberta)

We are staying at the Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel on the Icefields Parkway this month.  It will be our first time visiting this hostel and our first time exploring this part of the Icefields Parkway.

Exploring the Icefields Parkway in winter

Discover a new trail, campground, or park that you’ve never been to before

I really want to camp at Wasa Lake in British Columbia this summer.  The campground has a warm lake, a bike pump track right in the campground,  and we've never camped here before.  We're hoping to actually spend a whole week in the Columbia Valley.

We love the Columbia Valley in BC

Make a new outdoor friend! Join a meet- up group, form a club, connect!

I'm hoping to get to know some new friends better this year.  This includes Melissa of the Rockies Chick blog and Karen of the Play outside Guide blog (along with their families.)

New Friends!  Melissa of Rockies Chick
New Friends!  Karen of Play Outside Guide

Try an outdoor activity that you have not liked in the past (there’s always room for change)

Rock Climbing.  My husband loves it, my son loves it, and I find it boring to tears.  But, I'm gonna have to learn to like it. I even got a new helmet for Christmas to show my intention to learn to appreciate it a bit more.

More climbing in 2015!!

Inspire a child or a family to get outdoors (maybe your own family)

This one is easy for me.  I do this every week with the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Community as a leader and a major trip planner.

Inspiring kids to get Outside and Explore

Check something off your bucket list! (dog sledding, cat skiing, a multi-day canoe circuit…)

I did this last year with dog sledding and the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata.  This year's big bucket list item is to do a fall backpacking trip to Egypt Lake from Sunshine Village.  I've been trying to plan this trip for the past three years and the trip always falls apart at the last minute!  I'm determined it will happen this year!  AND, we're going to bring the kids since they are now old enough (or we certainly hope they are old enough to make the 12km distance to the lake.)

Last year's September backpacking trip took us here!  Hoping for another spectacular trip this year

Take a trip into the backcountry (if only for a day) and get off the beaten path

Easy peasy for us.  We've got 10 wilderness trips planned this winter between all members of our family. We'll ski into Lake O'Hara in April, hike into the Bow Hut in July, and hopefully hike into Egypt Lake in September.  We're also planning an overnight paddling trip this summer and might plan an overnight family backpacking trip in June.

We hope to hike here to the Bow Hut for two nights in July

Learn to… (ski, mountain bike, paddle…) – or teach a child to do something new

Noah and I will both be working on our mountain biking this summer.  We started riding at the same time and hopefully will keep progressing together.  (Until Noah passes me in ability.)  Other than that, every month is an opportunity to teach Noah new things outside.

Learning to mountain bike together

Try… (stand up paddleboarding, rock climbing, horseback riding…) Anything!

I'm addicted to trying new things so I have no doubt that I will be trying new things this year.  As will Noah!  

A typical weekend for us of trying stuff

Embrace… (what are you afraid of? What do you fear? )

Here's me admitting something big:  I actually enjoy the planning more than I do the actual trips much of the time.  I love the anticipation and the organization involved in putting a trip together.  Once we get to camp or get on the trail though, reality sets in and we are dealing with weather that may be less than ideal, a child's mood that might be far from ideal, and challenges that were never planned for (such as freezing cold weather or monsoon rain that causes us to cancel a trip.)

My goal for the new year is to improve upon embracing each moment out on the trail, at camp, and on the adventure.

Hoping for more moments like this in 2015

Buy a new guide book and aspire to check off at least 5 trips in it this year

Last year I got a copy of the new Bow Valley Mountain Bike Guide Book and we are still working our way through it.  The goal this summer is to finish all the easy trails as a family in the book.

Aiming for lots more biking in Banff this year

What's on your Adventure Resolution List??