Monday, March 19, 2018

Yes, Take the Kids out of School for the Day - and Go Skiing!

I've always been a big supporter of regular school attendance and would never have considered pulling my son from classes for the day - to go skiing! That is until this year, when I did it for the first time, and realized how much fun it was to spend a day at a ski hill without the weekend crowds!

Nakiska Ski Resort really does look like this at 9am on a Friday!

My son gets out of school at 12:40 on Fridays and so I decided one week that we'd just skip the morning, and go skiing instead. We got to our local hill, Nakiska, by 8:30, got dressed and ready to go, and were on the lifts by 9am - ready to greet the day and ski the fresh corduroy.

The glorious run shown in the photo above was our first run of the day, and that perfect corduroy was ours for the taking.

See all the people on the hill? Me neither!

5 Reasons You'll Love Midweek Ski Days

  1. Fresh corduroy till noon! (Seriously, we were skiing groomed black runs off the gold chair at Nakiska at noon, and still had fresh corduroy.) - and if you prefer fresh powder, just go out after a big dump of snow. The hill will still be yours.

  2. No crowds! We walked into the mid-mountain lodge at one point and there was one other person in the lodge. One!

  3. Plenty of parking! I'm pretty sure we were parked in the first row of the closest parking lot at Nakiska. Try to do that on a Saturday!

  4. No lineups. We never waited for a single chair. We skied right on to every lift.

  5. The hill was quiet. You know that feeling when you go cross-country skiing, and it's just quiet. Peaceful. Serene? Well, that's what you'll get at a ski resort as well when you go anytime other than over a weekend.

A boy and his private mountain. 

Working with the School for Planned Absences

It doesn't hurt to show a bit of respect to your child/children's teacher(s) and ask if they will miss anything special on that particular day or if it would be better to choose a different day.

I told my son's teacher that we were going to take the morning off to go skiing, and was given a solid green light! (and tons of encouragement!) The principal even jokingly asked if she could come along.

And yes, I realize you don't technically "have" to get the teacher's blessing, but I used to be a teacher and I know it can be a pain in the butt trying to catch children up on projects or work they've missed while away.

Happy to be skiing for the day!

Otherwise, if you're not comfortable taking the kids out of school for a day, choose to go skiing on a PD day or go over Spring Break - when the hill will be busier for sure, but still much quieter than it would be on a weekend. 

And if your child gets those half days on Fridays, these can be an amazing time to head to the mountains. 

What Nakiska looks like on a Friday

Spring Skiing and Sunshine Ahead 

I know a lot of you have moved on from winter and are just waiting to bring the bikes out. And that would be me too (ready to start biking,) but I'm not done with ski season yet.

We have at least 5 more ski days planned (hopefully more,) and are looking forward to some awesome mid-week spring skiing days!

Hopefully we'll meet some of you on the slopes over the next couple of months because we plan to ski well into April before we put our skis away.

Sunshine and Warm Ski Days Ahead! Come Join us on the Slopes!

All photos were taken at Nakiska Ski Area the last time we went skiing on a Friday morning. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Climbing Mountains with Kids - On Skis! (Skogan Pass, Kananaskis)

Skogan Pass might not be a true "mountain" but we still climbed 600 metres to the top of the pass, so I'm going to call it a mountain because it sure felt like one on the way up!

Skogan Pass Summit, Kananaskis

Trailhead and Location

The Skogan Pass Trail is accessed from either the Ribbon Creek Day Use Area (below Kananaskis Village,) or from the Nakiska Ski Area. Start from Nakiska and you'll climb the first 50 to 100 metres in your car instead of on skis. You'll also save a kilometre and a half each way in distance.

If starting from Ribbon Creek, hop on the Skogan Pass trail from the parking lot and go up.

If starting from Nakiska, ski past the Bronze Chair and follow signs for the cross-country ski trail. You'll connect into the trail system near the Troll Falls junction.

From Ribbon Creek it is 2 km to the Troll Falls Junction. From Nakiska it is 0.4 km. I'll let you guess where we started!

Total round trip distance to Skogan Pass is 17.6 km from Nakiska.

Starting up the Skogan Pass Trail with High Spirits

Up to the Junction with the Sunburst Lookout Trail 

From the Troll Falls junction, the trail really begins to climb and you'll start up the only section that's rated a true "black" on the map. And on the way down, this section is FAST!

I'm not sure how long it took us to ski the 2.6 km to the junction with the Sunburst Trail, but I wouldn't be surprised if it took an hour. On the way down it took 5 minutes.

The sign to Skogan Pass  I never thought I'd see while skiing with my 9 year old!

And then we had the "talk." Should we go on and continue climbing up the Skogan Pass Trail, or would it be smarter to call it a day and just tag the Sunburst Lookout instead.

My husband voted for Sunburst, but I was rather insistent that I wanted to reach the pass. Noah agreed to ski to the next junction with the High Level Trail and said he'd decide there.

It looks so flat but I assure you we climbed the whole way up!

Sunburst Junction to High Level Junction - Still Climbing 

This part of the trail was blessedly short at 0.8 km, but then we had to decide - take the High Level Trail and complete the much shorter Sunburst Lookout Loop, or keep going.

A BIG factor in our decision making was that we were skiing through tons of fresh snow on an ungroomed ski trail that had only been skier-tracked by two people ahead of us. Normally this trail is groomed and easy to travel in winter.

With all the fresh powder and the current challenging conditions, we were looking at a 17.6 km round trip distance in light touring conditions rather than the normal nordic skiing experience we'd expected.

The final challenge we had to consider was that our son only has skinny cross-country skis. Both my husband and I have slightly wider light touring skis with metal edges. Our skis are meant for skiing through powder and for off-trail touring. Noah's skis however are meant for skiing at Nordic Centres on groomed trails.

Rest break at the Sunburst Junction

Deciding to Push on to the Top of the Skogan Loop

My husband was pretty convinced that there was no way we'd reach the actual pass in all the fresh powder with a 9 year old child. Noah had never done an 18 km ski tour before and we really didn't know if he could do it.

That being said, we decided to continue on to the top of the Skogan Loop, another 3 km ahead of us, and VERY uphill.

So much Snow! Climbing up the Skogan Pass Trail

And I'll admit it was me pushing for the pass. Thankfully I somehow managed to convince Noah to keep going. (Mostly because he knew none of his friends had ever made it up there before and he thought it would be cool to do something nobody else had ever done.)

It was an absolute winter wonderland!

We Reached the Top of the Skogan Loop - and met an angel

It was a tough climb up the powerline to reach the top of the Skogan Loop - and we knew we still had 2 more kilometres to go if we were going to reach the true pass.

We'd also just passed the two skiers who'd been ahead of us all day on their way down, and they had told us that nobody had gone to the pass ahead of them - which meant we'd be breaking trail the final 2 kilometres.

I finally conceded that my husband was probably right that we should turn around, and said it was ok if we stopped at the top of the loop.

Climbing up the powerline to the top of the Skogan Loop - through crazy deep snow!

And then, just as we were admitting we'd have to turn around, we met another skier coming up behind us - heading for the pass! Our "trail angel" asked us where we wanted to go and said he'd break trail. I said ideally we wanted to reach the pass, and that was all I had to say before he wished us luck, encouraged Noah that he could do it, and took off up the trail to give us a set of tracks to follow up to the pass.

Skiing the final 2 kilometres up to the pass 

The Final 2 Kilometres to the Top of Skogan Pass 

It should have been a loooong 2 km, and it was, but honestly Noah was a rockstar on this part and he just kept trudging along.

He only got upset when the trail would dip and start descending at times (because he knew he'd have to climb back up on the way out.)

Reaching Skogan Pass 

Skogan Pass - we made it!!

I don't know if we climbed the full 600 metres or not since we started at Nakiska, but we climbed over 500 metres for sure and it was a challenging ski with the distance (almost 9 km one way,) the fresh deep powder, the lack of grooming, and the touring conditions.

Noah is very proud of himself for making it to the pass and he LOVED the ski down (who wouldn't!)

The first 2km on the way down is hard because it's actually quite flat in spots and even has a few uphill sections, but once we reached the top of the Skogan Loop, the downhill really began and we were laughing and screaming our way down the powerline.

Skogan Pass, Kananaskis 

And I apologize that I didn't really take any photos on the way down (or any videos,) but it was getting late and we really just wanted to get back down to the car. We were also having too much fun to stop.

The top of Skogan Pass, Kananaskis

In total, our trip took roughly 6 hours round trip. I expect it would be much faster if the trail was groomed. (especially on descent where we were actually going quite slow at times with all the fresh snow.)

Parting Shot of Skogan Pass

Follow this link to see a map of the Ribbon Creek Trail System. Distances are slightly different from those on the trail maps you'll see while skiing but it gives you a good idea of where you'll be going.

To read more of our winter cross-country ski adventures, check out my previous story: Winter Adventures in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

Also check out my previous story on skiing in the Ribbon Creek Area: Exploring Ribbon Creek in Kananaskis (on skis!) 

Skogan Pass! We made it!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The BEST of Spring in the Canadian Rockies (Gotta do THIS!)

It's starting to feel like spring in Calgary, and the warm sun has me dreaming about first hikes, camping trips, and dry bike trails.

Spring returns and the bikes come out! (Pictured: Biking the Canmore Town Trails)

The list below is in no particular order, but I did start out with the "snowy spring stuff" at the beginning. Scroll down if you're totally DONE with snow.

All links go to stories I've already written on the subject, or to other websites that will help you. I also plan to add to this story as we discover new and awesome things to do in or near Calgary between March and May (so save it to reference often.)

Our annual first hike on Prairie Mountain in the Elbow Valley 

The BEST of Spring in the Canadian Rockies 

Early Spring / Say Yes to More Snow 

1. Ski into April at Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis - Visit the Nakiska website for full info. on spring events, Easter skiing, and this year's closing date.

2. Ski into May at the Lake Louise Ski Resort - with spring skiing passes available for only $389, valid from March 1st through May 6th, 2018.

3. Ski through May at Sunshine Village Resort - With skiing until May 21, 2018 (Spring skiing passes available, and moms usually ski for free on Mother's Day!)

There's still lots of great snow for spring skiing!

4. Plan a Cross-country Ski Weekend at Lake Louise - Book affordable accommodations at the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre and enjoy good snow through April.

5. Spend a Weekend at a Wilderness Hostel - HI Kananaskis, HI Castle Mountain, and HI Mosquito Creek are all situated close to ski resorts, cross-country ski trails, and hiking trails.

- Read: Affordable Ski Vacations in the Canadian Rockies (HI Kananaskis Hostel)

- Read: 5 Reasons to Take your Family to Mosquito Creek this Winter 

- Read: Winter at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel with Kids

Mosquito Creek is magical in winter or spring

6. Enjoy the Last of Winter on the Icefields Parkway - We love spring snowshoeing while staying at the HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel. And HI Rampart Creek is another great hostel along the Parkway as well. You'll find snow well into May if you travel out past Lake Louise towards the Columbia Icefields.

Read: Easter at the Best Wilderness Hostel in the Canadian Rockies - HI Hilda Creek

Read: Rampart Creek: Our New Favourite Wilderness Hostel 

7. Enjoy one final winter hike, one last snowshoe outing, or one more cross-country ski day

Read: The BEST of Winter in the Canadian Rockies (Gotta do THIS!)

Spring on the Icefields Parkway aat Hilda Creek

8. Go Snowshoeing - When snow is too warm for skiing, it's still great for a winter hike!

9. Visit the Canmore Nordic Centre for a day - With daily fresh grooming, this is a great place to enjoy some spring cross-country skiing.

Skiing to the Meadow Hut at the Canmore Nordic Centre

10. Enjoy those frozen waterfalls and canyons before they melt!

Read: 5 Reasons families Love Visiting Troll Falls in the Winter

Read: The Most Popular Hike in Banff - without the crowds (Johnston Canyon)

Read: Grotto Canyon Ice Walk - 5 Reasons we Love this Hike 

Read: The Wildest Winter Canyon Hike in Kananaskis (Jura Creek)

Playing on ice in Grotto Canyon in spring

Late Spring / NO More Snow Please!! 

1. Hike Prairie Mountain in the Elbow Valley - our annual first summit (most years in March) 

2. Go Biking on Highway 66 in the Elbow Valley - An annual tradition for us as soon as the snow melts off the highway (in some years, as early as mid-March!) Bike on the closed highway which doesn't open to traffic until May 15th.

3. Bike and Hike around Bow Valley Provincial Park - Another early season favourite, bike to the Many Springs Trailhead for a short hike in the Bow Valley Campground. Roads are closed to traffic until the end of April (the campground opens on April 27, 2018)

Read: The Best Spring Bike Rides in Kananaskis 

Biking the campground roads through Bow Valley Provincial Park 

4. Bike the Paved Bill Milne Trail at Kananaskis Village - Free of ice and snow by mid to late April 

5. Plan a Day Trip to Canmore - the bike trails around town are always dry by mid April 

6. Go Camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park - the Bow Valley Campground opens late April!(And last year we were there opening weekend as pictured below. - story in the link)

April camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park

7. Plan a Day Trip to Banff 

8. Enjoy one of our TOP TEN FAVOURITE SPRING FAMILY HIKES in Kananaskis 

Spring Hiking in Bow Valley Provincial Park

9. Take a Day Trip to Drumheller and Bike to a Ghost Town 

Read about the adventure in last year's Gotta do THIS April Story (paragraph 3)

Biking in Drumheller on the road to Wayne

10. Take a Spring Road Trip to the Columbia Valley - mountain bike trails are good to go by April in this sunny valley, and we love camping in Radium Hot Springs for Mother's Day.

Spring biking in the Columbia Valley

12. Bike to the Cat Creek Falls Day Use Area on Highway 40 - The highway doesn't open until June 15th.

Family Road Ride on Highway 40 to Cat Creek Falls

13. Go Camping for Mother's Day Weekend - We personally love camping at Redstreak in Radium Hot Springs. 

14. Go Camping in the Alberta Badlands - Before it gets too hot and while the bugs are still sleeping.

Hiking in Dinosaur Provincial Park 

15. Plan a Spring Biking Weekend at Nipika Mountain Resort in BC - Ideal for the Mother's Day weekend.

16. Get the Boats out for the Season - We paddled on the Kananaskis River one year in April, and we love floating down the Red Deer River late May.

April paddling on the Kananaskis River

17 Play Tourist in Banff - without the Crowds! Ride the gondola, visit the Hot Springs, and hike the trails around town.

18. Take a Spring Glacier Adventure on the Icefields Parkway! - Ride an ice explorer bus onto the Athabasca Glacier, walk around on the glacier, and then explore the Glacier Skywalk, a cliff-edged glass sidewalk. The season opens on April 13th for 2018. - And you know it'll be a lot less busy in April!

Glacier Adventure on the Icefields Parkway

More adventures to be added as we continue to explore, travel, and discover new awesome ways to have fun in the months of March, April, and May.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Winter Adventures in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis

We love exploring Peter Lougheed Provincial Park all year long, and appreciate that we can reach the park in less than an hour and a half from the Calgary city limits. This park is definitely a crown jewel in Kananaskis Country, and in my opinion is one of Alberta's most beautiful provincial parks.

Blueberry Hill Lookout, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

So far this winter, we've spent 6 days cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even ice-skating in the park as a family. Below are the highlights from our adventures this winter, the trails we've enjoyed, and the adventures we've found.

Kananaskis Fire Lookout, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Highlight One: Skiing to the Kananaskis Lookout early season in November

The Kananaskis Lookout Trail is only 1.7  km long (one way) but packs a punch with 200 metres of height gain. Climb up on skis and you'll feel your muscles the next day.

The next challenge is that the Lookout Trail is accessed from the Pocaterra Trail, and there's no easy way to reach the junction of the two trails. The shortest way starts with a long climb up the Whiskey Jack ski trail for a total distance of 6 km (one way) to the top of the Lookout from the Boulton Parking Lot. (And Whiskey Jack also gains 200 metres of height, so you're looking at a 400 metre climb!)

Fortunately, in November, there's a "secret" way to reach the Lookout without having to do the climb up Whiskey Jack. Skiers can sneak on to the Pocaterra Trail from an unmarked pull off on Highway 40 (past the winter road closure, hence why you have to do it in November before the highway closes on December 1st.)

Skiing to the Lookout from the secret parking lot off Highway 40

The unmarked pull off to access the Pocaterra Trail is roughly 8 km past the Highway 40 winter gates on the right hand side. You'll be well on your way to Highwood Pass before you reach it. Pull over, cross the little bridge, and ski for a short distance (less than half a kilometre) until you reach the official Pocaterra Trail. Turn left and ski for another half a kilometre (at most) to the Whiskey Jack Junction - where you'll marvel that you've made your way to the TOP of Whiskey Jack by car and not by climbing.

From the Whiskey Jack junction it's another half a kilometre to the Lookout Junction. And your grand total distance for the day will be no more than 6 km round trip. (with no more than 250 to 300 metres of height gain.)

Kananaskis Fire Lookout

So save this one for next November. - and know that you'll be on official ski trails the entire time so snowshoeing is only an option if you go early November before trails are groomed. Otherwise, if you must snowshoe, go mid-week when you likely won't meet too many skiers. 

November Ski Touring in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

And trip notes from this year's ski up the Lookout:

We carried our son's downhill skis with us in case he needed them for the descent. He started out in cross-country skis and would have been fine in them the entire time, but this was one of his first ski trips of the season and there was a LOT of fresh powder (with no recent grooming.) His cross-country skis are also really skinny and we knew it was still early season (with questionable conditions.)

Downhill skis for the decent worked very well in the end, and Noah had a blast ripping down the steep trail through all the fresh snow.

Skiing down from the Lookout, Kananaskis Lakes below us

Highlight Two: Ice-Skating on the Upper Kananaskis Lake in December

This one can be summed up with the following:

Upper Kananaskis Lake froze (solid enough to skate on) before it became covered in snow. 
This never happens!
It was incredible and we got to skate around two different islands on the lake.

I do not expect to ever have this opportunity again

I never dreamed in a zillion years that I'd get to skate on Upper Kan!

A once in a lifetime opportunity to skate on Upper Kananaskis Lake

Highlight Three: Skiing the Moraine, Fox Creek, Boulton Creek Loop

Of all the little loops you could come up with for a short cross-country ski day in Peter Lougheed, this is my favourite.

We start at the Boulton Bridge Parking Lot, ski up to the Moraine Trail, connect to Fox Creek, tackle the steep double hills on the Elk Pass Trail (up to the power lines and then back down the other side,) and then finish on the Boulton Creek Trail.

Fun skiing on the Moraine, Fox Creek, Boulton Creek Loop

All in, this short loop is 8 km long and a LOT of fun. The trails are narrower than most of the other ski trails in the park (single track set rather than double) and it's fun skiing beside Fox and Boulton Creeks (with a couple of bridge crossings.)

Bridge crossing on Fox Creek

Find out more about cross-country skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here.

Skiing along the Moraine Trail

Highlight Four: Traversing the Park on Skis from Boulton Creek to Pocaterra 

We were skiing with friends and decided to do a traverse of the park from the Boulton Parking Lot to the Pocaterra Hut at the far end of the park. This would allow us to ski in a favorable direction (with more down than up.)

Fresh corduroy on the Wheeler Trail

The husbands started at Pocaterra, and us moms started at Boulton with the kids. We all met up somewhere around the Amos/Meadow junction and then continued on together back to Pocaterra. And while the men only got to ski half of the traverse, at least we had vehicles waiting at the end.

Trails skied: Wheeler, Meadow, and and then the final "Suicide Hill" on Lodgepole down to the Pocaterra Hut.

Total distance: Approximately 9 km.

Look at all the friends we met up with on the trail!

Highlight Five: Snowshoeing on the Lower Kananaskis Lake

I have a few thoughts on the subject of snowshoeing:

  1. You don't need snowshoes on a trail that's been packed down.

  2. Snowshoeing is only fun in powder (and the deeper the better.)

  3. Make snowshoeing "fun" and the kids will love it. Play games, let them make their own trail through an untracked meadow, make snow angels, and take time to play.
Snowshoeing along the Lower Kananaskis Lake

We made our snowshoeing adventure on the Lower Lake super fun with a game of pie tag (I tramped out a circle and divided it into sections. To play, stick to the lines as you chase each other,) and with some adventurous cliff jumping.

Playing pie tag on Lower Kananaskis Lake
Cliff jumping over Lower Kananaskis Lake

My son also loved walking across the lake and blazing his own trail through the fresh deep snow.

Kids love making their own trail through fresh deep powder

Read more about snowshoe trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here.

Playful adventures on snowshoes in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Highlight Six: Skiing to the top of Blueberry Hill 

This will be a highlight of my winter because my 9-year old son skied 16 km (return) and climbed 375 metres. I never honestly thought he was capable of anything so big, but he ASKED to ski Blueberry Hill (and that makes all the difference.)

Blueberry Hill Viewpoint

When my son wants to do something, he will be motivated to make it happen. And he was plenty motivated because it was the only "black trail" in the park he hadn't done on skis yet. And he LOVES hills. (The steeper the better.)

One of the best viewpoints you can ski to in Kananaskis

We had a fabulous day and it only took 5 hours (return.) - Gah! So, yeah, it was a looooong day, but he crushed it and we enjoyed a glorious bluebird day for our ski.

Skiing the Elk Pass Trail en route to Blueberry Hill
I love skiing the Elk Pass Trail for scenery like this

To ski up Blueberry Hill, we started at the Elk Pass Parking lot and skied up the Elk Pass Trail until we reached the junction with the Blueberry Hill Trail.

Gorgeous winter wonderland on the Blueberry Hill Trail
Skiing down the Blueberry Hill Trail

Other  Winter Adventures we've enjoyed in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Backcountry Ski Touring to Chester Lake 

Snowshoeing to Rawson Lake 

Early season snowshoeing in Ptarmigan Cirque

Early season snowshoeing at Elbow Lake 

Never a bad day in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

For more information...

Read more about snowshoe trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here.

Find out more about cross-country skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here.

Parting shot of Lower Kananaskis Lake