Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ski With Santa this Christmas

I'm always looking for interesting ways to add some outdoor time to our holiday traditions. In past years we've driven to Lake Louise for Christmas day to go cross country skiing, we've gone skating in the afternoon of Christmas Day after opening presents, or we've gone sledding with the new Christmas sled found under the tree that morning.  Wondering if skiing with Santa wouldn't be a fun thing to try one of these years (or this year!)

Santa Skiing at Nakiska Mountain Resort (photo:  Nakiska Resort)

Ski with Santa at Nakiska, Calgary's Closest Mountain

Details:  Ski with Santa as he takes to the slopes at Nakiska on Christmas Day 2014. Watch for the Nakiska Elves that will be handing out candy to skiers and snowboarders around the mountain!

Santa makes an appearance at Nakiska at Christmas (photo:  Nakiska Resort)

Want to stay overnight?  Check out these Vacation offers.   Kananaskis Village is a winter wonderland for families with ice skating on the pond, groomed x-country ski trails on site, snowshoe trails out your door, and a sledding hill located right beside the playground.  In addition, you can try tubing at Nakiska's Tube Park, new as of last winter. 

Trying out the Nakiska Tube Park

I know many of you jumped on the cheap season passes this year so I hope to see you on the hill this winter. 

A great place to spend time over Christmas! (photo:  Nakiska Resort)

Disclaimer:  This story was not sponsored or paid for by Nakiska Resort.  I was however given a media ski pass for the winter so that I could ski Nakiska and tell you about all the cool things happening this winter at the hill.   As always, all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Five Reasons to Take Your Family to Mosquito Creek this Winter

I could almost just post the photo below and say "this is why you should go to Mosquito Creek this winter!  Any questions?"

Snowshoeing along Mosquito Creek in winter

Scenery aside, I have five big reasons why you should plan a  family trip to the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel in Banff National Park this winter:

One - Solitude!  

This photo below was taken outside the hostel on the Icefields Parkway.  In summer, this is a very busy highway that links Lake Louise with Jasper.  In winter, it is deserted.


Two - Private Cabin

There is a private cabin on site that sleeps two families or a group of 8-10 people.  And if you can't get into the private cabin, try asking about reserving a dorm room for your group.  You'll have to pay for all 12 beds but it guarantees a positive experience with young children not old enough to share a dorm room with strangers.

Our happy group at Mosquito Creek


Three - Great snowshoeing right outside your door

Head over to the campground next door and hike up the creek or cross the highway as we did this time and hike up the creek which leads to a set of beautiful frozen waterfalls. Note, to hike up the creek on the other side of the highway, it is very important that the creek be frozen!  You are not hiking on the main summer trail that goes up towards Molar Pass.  You are just following the creek bed towards a canyon.  We couldn't go very far (maybe half a km at most) because of open water.  So be careful please!

Hiking up Mosquito Creek
Mosquito Creek in winter
Kids on their ski bikes - riding over an ice bridge I might add!!

Four - Comfortable introduction to winter camping

The hostel has a warm cozy fireplace room, a kitchen stocked with the basic cooking supplies you'll need, AND two refrigerators.  There's no microwave or indoor plumbing, but you will have filtered water for drinking and washing dishes lest you fear having to boil and melt snow.  Winter camping doesn't get much comfier than this!

Roasting marshmallows in the fireside room

Five - Snow everywhere!!  

It doesn't matter how brown and dry it is in Calgary because there is always snow out at Mosquito Creek from November through April.  We come to the hostel and the kids spend hours playing in the snow, playing in snow quinzees at the campground next door, hiking around the area and sledding on little hills outside the hostel.  We even go snowshoeing in the dark before bed.

Playing outside the Mosquito Creek Hostel
Playing in Mosquito Creek
Ski-Biking along Mosquito Creek
Playing on snow piles along the highway
There's always snow for sledding

Additional Resources

Snowshoeing under the stars at Mosquito Creek (photo:  Karen Ung)

Read about our past trips to Mosquito Creek and see more photos here:

Winter Paradise at Mosquito Creek

Winter Camping in Style

Also check out Karen's new story on Mosquito Creek.  Karen is another local Calgary blogger and writes at Play Outside Guide.

Karen's story is here: How to Weather a Wilderness Hostel with Kids in Winter

And for more info. on the ski bikes the kids were riding in several photos, check out the Run Bikes YYC website, owned by my good friend Suzanne and her husband Paul. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Turbo Launching my Winter with Columbia Sportswear

We've all heard the saying, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."  Bad grammar aside, it's a pretty fitting statement and can be extended to this one as well:  "If Mama ain't warm, ain't nobody staying outside for long" - even if the kids are feeling toasty and would happily play outside for hours in the snow.

I wasn't moving fast, but I was toasty warm in my turbodown jacket

Parents make the best gear testers

Sports wear companies always show hardcore athletes modeling their gear and clothing, and rave about the kinds of adventures you'll be able to do while wearing their product.  Personally, I think they should show photos of parents wearing the company's clothing, gloves and boots while standing in a playground for an hour, inactive and freezing our butts off!  

I make a great winter gear and clothing tester because I'm outside every weekend all winter in the Rockies moving at the pace of a five year old.   If I can spend two hours snowshoeing at a snail's pace and have warm feet the whole time, it means my boots have passed the ultimate test in warmth.  2 hours at preschool pace = 4 hours at an adult pace doing a bigger and more challenging adventure (often in way colder temps.)

Snowshoeing at a child's pace requires warm gear!

Omni-heat technology from head to foot

Omni-heat reflective technology works!

Over the past few years I've been trying different pairs of boots, gloves and coats along with layers of clothing and long underwear.  What I've discovered?  I LOVE Columbia and I'm a complete and total believer in their omni-heat reflective technology.  If you are unfamiliar with this technology, the Columbia website describes it best below:
"This breathable warming technology helps regulate your temperature with little silver dots that reflect and retain the warmth your body generates."
On one recent trip I realized that most of my body from my ankles to my neck was covered or wrapped in little silver dots.  My long underwear (bottoms and top,) my turbodown jacket, and my gloves were all lined with omni-heat dots. - And yes, I was super toasty!  (if not slightly too warm at times - something I'll never complain about.)

What I'm trying out this winter

This is my second winter of trying stuff with Columbia, and this year I am one lucky girl because I received a new Women's Diamond 890 Turbodown Hooded Down Jacket to try out and review.  I have warn it on 80% of my outings (if not more) since receiving it and can say with 100% confidence that it is one of the warmest jackets I've ever been fortunate enough to own.  The only other jacket that compares is the Women's Whirlibird Interchange Jacket, also from Columbia, that I received last year.  The only big difference between them is that the Whirlibird is more waterproof and I would choose to wear it on snowy or rainy days.  Otherwise, one could not go wrong with either jacket in terms of warmth.

Snowshoeing in the Whirlibird Interchange Jacket on a very cold day!
The new Columbia Turbodown Hooded Down Jacket

What I love about the Turbodown Hooded Down Jacket

Below is a quick summary of what I love about this jacket (and why you should add it to your Christmas list:)
  • It's toasty warm and I have yet to feel cold in it
  • I've been hot in the jacket but never felt like I was sweating or uncomfortable.  I think the omni-heat technology helps with this.  Just make sure you wear a good base layer under it to help with temperature regulation.
  • It's stylish, fitted (read - slimming,) and I love the color.  Bright colors in the backcountry are imperative when I choose a new coat. 
  • It's so so so comfortable!  I've started wearing it around the city everywhere I go because I feel like I'm wrapped in a cozy blanket.
  • It's not bulky.  The hood lies flat rather than puffing out behind me and the jacket doesn't look like a balloon on me. (I do not want to look like the Michelin man in my down coat!)
View of the back side (while riding my son's ski bike)

Suggestions for future models of the TurboDown Jacket:

If Columbia is taking Suggestions for future models of this jacket, I would add an inner pocket because my cell phone keeps freezing.  First world problem maybe but I use it to take photos and can't have it frozen after 10 minutes.

Also, I don't know if this is common or not with a down jacket, but I would love to see underarm zippers (pit zips) on this jacket.  It would help with temperature regulation.

Other than that, the jacket is perfect!

The perfect indoor jacket for cold cabins and hostels
 Shopping Tips:

The jacket fits on the small size and while I'm fairly petite up top, my small jacket is snug.  There is no way I could wear another layer underneath other than a heavy base layer shirt.  I'm ok with this because it's more slimming, but it's something to consider when buying a jacket for yourself or your girlfriend/wife.  Maybe go up a size if you want to layer.

This is definitely the only Christmas gift you need to give your girlfriend or wife

Other gear I'm testing

In addition to the down jacket, I received a pair of gloves and a pair of mittens.  I haven't had a chance to really try out the Inferno Range Gloves yet because I was waiting for a nice warm day to wear them for their first outing.  I've had bad experiences in the past with gloves and have since become religious about wearing waterproof mittens instead. Almost losing a few fingers on a cold day quickly converts you to being a lover of mittens.  The weather is super warm now though so I need to get outside with the gloves and give them a fair chance.

In the meantime, Columbia generously sent me a pair of the omni-heat Whirlibird Mittens and they are the main reason I haven't tried the gloves yet.  I've fallen head over heels for these mittens.  They are the warmest mitten I've ever tried out and I think it would be impossible to have cold hands in these amazing mitts! I dare you to try getting cold hands in them. 

The warmest mittens you'll ever find!


What I love about the Whirlibird Mittens

The better question might be, "what don't I love about them." - and the answer would be "nothing!"
They are absolutely perfect.  I feared at first that they would be too stiff to use while skiing, hiking with poles, operating a camera, or helping a child with a zipper or button.  That has since proven for the most part not to be a concern.  They were pretty stiff at first but they softened up.  I've warn them a few times now and they are already a lot softer than when I first tried them on. 

As far as being able to take a photo while wearing them, you can't.  They aren't gloves.  You'll have to take them off to take photos or help your children with zippers and buttons.  However, you can take your hands out of them and keep your hands out for up to ten minutes on a cold day, and your hands will warm up again within a minute of putting the mittens back on.  They are that warm!

Whirlibird Mittens getting wet - and they are 100% waterproof

Best Features of the Whirlibird Mittens
  • Warmth (as mentioned above)
  • They fit over my down jacket because they are slim at the top
  • They cinch at the top with pull straps to keep snow out
  • They have buckles at the wrist that you can tighten to further keep snow out and help with warmth
  • They are still easy to get on and off when the straps at the wrist and arm are both tight
  • 100% waterproof

Columbia Clothing and Winter Gear for the Winter Win


And my feet??

You can't do this in the Minx boots

As many or most of my followers will know, I am pretty devoted to my Keen footwear so it would have to be a pretty exceptional pair of boots to get me to switch teams so to speak.  However, my love for Keen aside, I was extremely curious about the Columbia omni-heat Minx boots because unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably seen advertisements for them absolutely everywhere!! I know that I was seeing ads for them almost daily for a while on Facebook alone.  Fortunately for my curiosity, I was sent a pair of the boots to try out. 

The verdict:  They are fabulous slippers.  Unfortunately, I can't recommend them for much else.  My feet feel moist in them much of the time, I've had extremely cold feet in them (on days in the plus temperatures when I should not have had cold feet,) and I almost fell down in the middle of the street taking my son to school the other day because they have very little grip on the bottoms. 

The Minx boot is fashionable and works great as a casual boot to wear in the city for grocery shopping or running errands.  They are the most comfortable pair of boots I've every tried, and I even wore them to a party over leggings with a matching sweater.  However, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to stick with my Keen winter boots for mountain activities, snowshoeing, and winter hiking. 

Ending on Base Layers

Finally, for base layers, I always wear the Women's omni-heat heavyweight half zip top along with the Women's omni-heat tights from Columbia.  I should have actually put both on my Christmas list because I only like to do laundry once a week and definitely need a second pair of both!  I've tried a lot of base layers and there's no going back to other brands or styles now that I've found this combination that works for me in every situation from cool-weather backpacking to downhill skiing. 

It should be noted that the heavyweight shirt is warm enough that I don't have to wear a mid layer.  I wear the base layer shirt with my jacket over top and that's it! I always have cold legs so I do have to wear more layers on the bottom but it would be worth it for me to try out the heavyweight bottoms as well because I'm sure mine are light to mid weight.

My favourite base layer shirt - and it has finger loops which I love!
Winter is too awesome to stay inside the whole time

Questions?  Let me know.  Many thanks to Columbia for outfitting me for another winter.  I can assure you my husband is jealous and thinks it is unjust that I get pretty new clothing every winter while he wears the same old jackets year after year.  :)  

Disclaimer:  While Columbia generously sent me gear to review and try this winter, I was not paid to write this story and all words are my own.

Monday, December 01, 2014

10 More Cool Things to do this Winter (for a total of 25 awesome ways to embrace the cold!)

Two weeks ago I published the first 10 cool things I recommend you try this winter as a family.  It can be read here at:  My Personal Top 10 List of Cool Things to do this Winter

Last week I published a follow up piece titled:  5 More Cool Things to do this Winter (for a total of 15 awesome ways to embrace the cold.) 

And now, I bring you the third piece with ten more cool things to do this winter!  That's a grand total of 25 super awesome ways to get outside as a family this winter, to embrace the cold, and to learn to love winter. 

Learning to embrace the Cold

Ten More Cool Things to do this Winter

1.  Learn to x-country ski at the Canmore Nordic Centre.  The Canmore Nordic Centre has a rental shop for beginners who want to try skiing before they invest in all the gear.  You can even rent a different style of skis for the day if you'd like to try skate skiing for example.  They also rent ski sleds for children too young to ski and they rent toddler skis if you'd like to have the youngsters at least try skiing for a few minutes before putting them in the sled. 

Rent skates for the skating pond on site, fat bikes for the winter bike trails at the Centre, and snowshoes for the non-skier - and I think you'll see how you would be able to spend the whole day here.

Skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre

The rental shop, Trail Sports, also offers drop-in lessons for individuals, families or groups in both classical or skate technique.  Trail fees are in effect at the Nordic Centre but the trails are immaculately groomed and you won't find a finer place to learn to ski.  The trail map can be viewed on line and you'll find that there are loops for all abilities, with some trails even lit for night skiing.

Learning to Ski at the Canmore Nordic Centre

2.  Learn to snowshoe at Kananaskis Village.  Kananaskis Outfitters rents snowshoes for adults and children, x-country skis, ski sleds for toddlers, and skates so that you can spend a whole weekend at the Village and not have to worry about not having gear of your own. 

There are groomed x-country ski trails that leave right from the Village and there are snowshoe trails in the area as well.  The Village Loops Snowshoe Trail departs from the Village and is an easy 3km outing composed to two short loops.

And brand new at Kananaskis Outfitters this year is their moonlit snowshoe tour with cheese fondue at the end.  Perhaps best enjoyed without the kids, here is a chance for Mom and Dad to get out alone and enjoy a romantic night out with some exercise and good food. 

Snowshoeing at Wedge Pond near Kananaskis Village

3.  Learn to downhill ski at Nakiska Mountain Resort.  Nakiska is Calgary's closest mountain ski hill and I always recommend it to beginners wanting to learn how to downhill ski.  Not only are the green runs extremely friendly for novice skiers, but the hill is always well groomed and easy to learn on.  The other thing I like is that everybody can ski on the beginner hill and use the magic carpet without paying for a lift ticket!  You can get a special beginner ticket that is free and it allows you access to the magic carpet.  Even adults!  Find me another hill that does that.

Learning to ski at Nakiska Mountain Resort

Nakiska also has a tube park that is great for the younger kids.  It is smaller than the Norquay tube park and great for a first tubing experience.  Finally, while in the area, check out the snowshoe and cross country ski trails and go skating on the pond at Kananaskis Village.

For more on Nakiska, read the story I wrote last winter:  Nakiska Mountain Resort - Raising the Bar in Family Excellence

Nakiska Tube Park

4. Go Tubing at Mt. Norquay.  We tried this last winter and it was a complete and total rush!  I think I probably screamed the whole way down my first ride and my son laughed the whole way down.  The Mount Norquay Tube Park was the first in the Banff area and is certainly one of the biggest with the steepest ride.  For more information on height and age restrictions, visit the Mount Norquay website. 

Snowy Day at the Mount Norquay Tube Park

Many people add the Tube Park on to their lift ticket when they go skiing at Mount Norquay, but you could certainly make a day out of just going to Banff to enjoy the Tube Park without skiing.  Snowshoe trails are located nearby if you want to extend your trip to Norquay without skiing and I highly recommend visiting the Banff hot springs and going out for dinner in town after.  Successful day in Banff accomplished!

To read more about our experience at Mount Norquay last winter, check out my story:  Mount Norquay - Fun for the Whole Family in Banff. 

Skiing at Mount Norquay

5.  Go snowshoeing in Sunshine MeadowsWhite Mountain Adventures runs a fabulous snowshoe tour out of Sunshine Village Ski Resort in Banff.  I have done the tour twice now and would still go again.  Hiking across the Continental Divide in winter to Rock Isle Lake is a beautiful experience and you'd be hard pressed to find a greater spot to go snowshoeing in Banff.

Snowshoeing in Sunshine Meadows, Banff

The tour is suitable for children 12+ but is very doable for the novice hiker (lest you think it's strenuous and challenging.)  Most of the time is spent walking, running, and leaping downhill after riding a chair lift to your vantage point above Sunshine Meadows. 

For a great day in the meadows, round up a group of friends or your partner and head to Banff for some solo-time.  You'll return to the kids refreshed and better from the time away.

For more on Sunshine Village Resort and snowshoeing with White Mountain Adventures, check out my previous stories:

Girls' Day in the Mountains in Sunshine Meadows

6.  Try winter camping - In a tent, in a cabin, in a wilderness hostel... there are lots of options!  Check out these recent stories:

A Guide to Winter Camping with the Kids (in 10 easy steps)

Winter Camping with the Kids (No Tent)

Wilderness Hostel Camping

7.  Learn how to drive a dog sled team - Last winter we got the chance to go on a tour with Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours and by the end of the tour I wanted to go out and buy a sled, a team of dogs, and become a professional musher.  Not because it's so easy, but because it's so fun!! Dog sled tours are very family-friendly and the kids can ride in the sled while Mom and Dad drive.

To find out more about this cool winter activity, read the story I wrote last winter:  Dog Sledding with Snowy Owl Tours - Best Day Ever!

Sled Tours in Kananaskis

8.  Go Ice Fishing.  This one comes to you courtesy of my friend Shelley.  Her family goes ice fishing on the Spray Lakes every winter in Kananaskis.  They spend the day fishing, building ice castles and even skating on a patch of ice that they clear.  I never ever thought I'd want to go ice fishing until I started seeing her photos.  And now I'm begging for an invite to come join.  (and I don't even like fish!)

Ice Fishing on the Spray Lakes (photo:  S. Cyre)

In Shelley's words:  
"I really love how ice fishing teaches delayed gratification and patience, something lacking in today's face paced world. We always have impromptu fort building, pick up hockey and an awesome fish dinner!!!"

Building Ice Forts on the Lake (photo:  S. Cyre)

Hockey on the Spray Lakes  (photo:  S. Cyre)

9.  Skate on a frozen river.  Often when I tell people that they can skate on the Bow River in Banff, they look at me with disbelief.  And in fact, I had never done this until last winter.  But the Town of Banff does clear an oval on the Bow River every winter as long as conditions are safe to do so.  More information on skating in Banff can be found on the Town website. The oval is located along Bow Ave.

Skating on the Bow River Oval in Banff

10.  Take a trip somewhere new!  Over the last couple of years we've been trying to visit some of our favourite summer places - in the winter.  It's cool to see what your favourite little camping town looks like with snow.  Last winter we visited Waterton Lakes National Park and were blown away (literally and figurative) by the differences between summer and winter.

Waterton Lakes - in winter

Check out some of these destinations from previous stories I've written and maybe plan a trip to one of them this winter:

Waterton Lakes National Park - In Winter (a whole different experience!!)

Winter Escapes in the Columbia Valley (Radium Hot Springs and Invermere)

Winter Escape to Jasper National Park

Skating on Lake Windermere, Invermere

So, did I miss anything super cool to do in the winter?? Leave a comment and let me know what your family likes to do in the winter to embrace the cold and enjoy the season.

Somewhere back in the trees is a cabin...