Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review with Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies

As 2012 comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to say thanks to everybody for your support, for following our adventures, telling your friends about us, and for being a part of such a fabulous year.  Looking back, I'm proud of what we achieved this past year, proud of where we've traveled, and extremely proud of the new outdoor pursuits we added to the giant list of things we LOVE to do outside!

New and Big This Year




Noah and I both took up bike riding this past spring.  We got Noah started on a bright orange Strider Bike and I started riding again for the first time since high school.  We both discovered that we LOVED our bikes and started taking them with us on all of our adventures.

Noah Learning to Ride His Strider Bike - March, 2012
Perfecting the Art of Group Camping in Cypress Hills - June, 2012


Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas in Kananaskis

Earlier in the fall as we sat down to make plans for the coming winter, we came up with the idea to celebrate Christmas twice this year.  We'd celebrate in a traditional manner with a candlelight Christmas Eve church service and then spend Christmas Day at home with our family exchanging gifts and feasting on turkey, but we wanted to add an outdoor element to the holiday.  We wanted to celebrate Christmas out in the mountains in a little log cabin.  We wanted to go skiing, snowshoeing, skate on an outdoor pond and play in the snow.  Most of all, we wanted to spend Christmas with friends that we knew would be busy with their own families on Christmas Day.

Our Winter Retreat

Our Little Cabin in the Woods

It wasn't hard to find the perfect log cabin with three private rooms, an indoor bathroom with flush toilet (not necessary but certainly convenient for those 4am potty runs), a cozy living room area with wood burning fire place, and a fully stocked kitchen (including a microwave - for added convenience). 

Friday, December 21, 2012

This Year's Winter Bucket List

I had a lot of fun creating my winter bucket list for 2012 and looking back on it, we were pretty successful in reaching many of our goals as a family.  I even managed to get out skiing more than I had listed as the magic number I wanted to reach, with 21 days on skis.  (I had figured that 15 days out skiing would be a realistic goal.)  Now I know I am definitely aiming for at least 20 days skiing again this winter!  Looking back,  Winter 2012 was a great blend of family ski and snowshoe trips, solo weekends or days away to pursue more difficult ski tours, and overnight adventures with friends.  We even managed to pull off our first winter backcountry trip with our three year old son, something we fully intend to do again this year!

Skiing Brewster Creek last winter

So, without further introduction - the Bucket List for 2013:

One - Get 20 days of Cross Country Skiing in again this winter

This shouldn't be hard because we hope to finish our 6th or 7th day by the end of December.  Then we still have three solid months to get out at least 2-3 times per month.  We'll add overnight trips into the mix where we ski multiple times in a two-three day weekend, and tack on a day or two in April if the snow is still good.  I confess that I got wax-less skis just so I could get those last ski trips in each year; It's near impossible to wax for soft warm spring snow.

First Ski Trip this Winter in Paradise Valley, Lake Louise

Specific Trails I really really want to do this winter:
  • Goat Creek Traverse from Canmore to Banff (had to miss this one last winter when snow conditions wouldn't cooperate)
  • Paradise Valley, Lake Louise (actually checked off already because it's been on my list for three winters now so I did it first this year!!)
  • Boom Lake, Banff (an annual favourite trail that does not ever get missed!!)
  • The Pipestone Loop, Lake Louise (simply for the fact that I've never actually skied in this area before.  Ever.  In 12 years of living here.)
  • Skogan Pass, Kananaskis (600m of descent from the top of the Pass!  Enough said other than Weeee!)

Boom Lake, Banff National Park

We also plan to spend a ton of time skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, our favourite place to ski in Kananaskis hands down.  The trails are groomed and track set making it easy to ski with our son.  He still appears to enjoy riding in his ski pulk so we should be able to take him with us on many of our trips this winter.  This allows us to enjoy family time together while spending a day in the mountains doing a sport we all love. 
Which brings me to number two below...

Early Season Skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Scenery in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park along the Elk Pass Ski Trail

Two - Teach our preschooler to Love skiing

We're still focusing on cross country skiing this winter believing it to be the best choice for our family as far as affordability and a sport we can do together.  And while I'm sure our son will spend a lot of time riding in his sled, we hope to get him out on his own skis too.  He got them last Christmas and managed to shuffle a few feet the handful of times we got him out.  7+ months later, I've seen a big improvement already and we will definitely be able to head out as a family on flat easy trails for a few kilometres.  The local golf courses are  going to see a lot of use this winter by our family as they are the perfect place to find wide open flat terrain perfect for the junior skier. 

We aren't focusing on great technique this winter or enrolling our son in lessons but are simply aiming to make skiing something fun and enjoyable.  We hope to keep it stress free and without big pressures to out-ski other friends or people on the trail.

If we can create an environment where the choice to go skiing Vs. sledding or skating is met favorably and with enthusiasm we will know we've succeeded with our goal this winter.  If we say, "let's go skiing today" and our son responds with a "Yay!!"  - that will be a successful result in my book.

To read the story from our first family trip out this winter, follow the link to our Cascade Fire Road Ski Day.

I've also started chronicling our adventures in teaching our son to ski with the first story here, Teaching Toddlers and Preschoolers to X-Country Ski.

Skiing on the Cascade Fire Road, Banff

Tearing up the Local Golf Course

Three -Balance skiing with several snowshoeing trips

We will always be a family that loves skiing first and foremost but that doesn't mean we don't like trying new things.  This year I'd like to focus a bit more on snowshoeing.  I finally got my dream pair of snowshoes, the Women's Atlas Electra snowshoes, in pink no less (my favourite colour) and I'm stoked to get out and use them!  We got our son a pair of snowshoes as well as an early Christmas present and we're excited to see him learn to use them on some nice groomed trails around Kananaskis and Banff. 

Trying out my new snowshoes at Elbow Lake, Kananaskis
Getting the kids on snowshoes for the first time this winter

We've discovered this winter that we really like sled-hiking (so much so that our sled is showing serious signs of being loved to death and will likely need replacing in the next month) and that it lends itself well to snowshoeing.  As much as our son and his friends will enjoy tromping around in the snowy wilderness this winter, I know they will still enjoy riding on sleds a good portion of any outing.

Pulling the kids into Elbow Lake in sleds and Chariots
Chariots are great for getting kids into the backcountry on snowshoes

Specific Trails we hope to do this winter:
  • Elbow Lake, Kananaskis (already checked off the list since there's a very short window on this one before the road closes in December each year)
  • Chester Lake, Kananaskis (We've never made it all the way to the lake with our son yet owing to the amount of snow that hits this area each year - it was not a fun ski when we tried to pull the sled in a couple years ago)
  • Rawson Lake, Kananaskis (A summer trail that we've never actually done in winter, despite it being quite easy on snowshoes and wide enough to pull sleds or Chariots up)
  • Troll Falls, Kananaskis (We're hoping that this easy trail will be a great preschool-paced snowshoe outing over the Christmas holidays)
  • Bow Lake, Banff (We hope to snowshoe around this beautiful lake while staying at the Mosquito Creek Hostel in January)
I could actually go on for a good page with first snowshoe trails I want to do with my son this winter but in trying to be realistic, I tried to limit it to the most important ones above.  

Chester Lake, Kananaskis

Troll Falls, Kananaskis

Four - Take the mountains, trails, wilderness hostels, and backcountry huts by storm - with KIDS

Yep, if you don't have kids, be afraid.  Be very afraid.  We intend to be everywhere!  En masse!  Chariots, Ski Pulks, Toddlers all over the trails, and our presence big and bold across the Canadian Rockies.  I've been planning a ton of super cool trips this winter and we've got a small army of friends lined up to join us on our adventures.

To date, we've planned overnight trips to:

The winter is shaping up to be awesome beyond belief and we are super excited to embrace winter in the Rockies with skiing, snowshoeing, skating, sledding, and other simple outdoor fun in the snow.  My son is waiting until the snow is perfect so he can finally make a snowman and jumps at every opportunity he can get to make a snow angel.

Winter Camping at the HI Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel

Winter at HI Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel
The ACC Elk Lakes Cabin
Nipika Mountain Resort (Photo courtesy of Nipika Resort)

Five - Know when to leave the kids at home and head to the hills with my wild mountain girlfriends

I am beyond thrilled that I will be going on a backcountry ski trip in February with 11 other girls to Holiday on Horseback's Sundance Lodge in Banff.  We'll ski an easy 10km in to the lodge for a night, enjoy great food and fellowship, and carry little else with us but our pajamas and toothbrushes.

I'm also hoping to plan my annual spring girl's trip to Radium Hotsprings, BC and definitely want to get some day trips on the calendar for ski touring or snowshoeing.   (follow the link above to last year's girl's trip to Radium.)

Holiday on Horseback's Sundance Lodge

Girl's Trip to Lake O'Hara last winter, Yoho National Park (follow the link to read the story from last winter)
Skiing and Snowshoeing at Panorama Mountain Resort last March with my girlfriends

The final big trip I'm dreaming of right now is a snowshoeing trip to the world famous Sunshine Meadows, Banff.  I've hiked here in summer and autumn, have backpacked through the area, and have skied at the Sunshine Village Ski Hill.  I've never actually seen the meadows in winter though and I've decided this is the year!  I'll keep you posted if I manage to pull it off.  Or maybe you'll hear me screaming.  :)

My husband is also looking forward to his own ski trips away with the guys, his annual backcountry ski trip to Roger's Pass in Glacier National Park and his second annual backcountry ski weekend at the HI Hilda Creek Hostel where we'll be going as a family a month later.  He will  be making his writing debut on my blog this winter so watch for his first story in February sometime.

Skiing at Roger's Pass, Glacier National Park

My calendar still shows a lot of blank weekends so I'm looking forward to seeing what other trips materialize over the next few months.  My blog is sadly lacking in winter content for both Jasper and Waterton National Parks so it's a good possibility that we may look into a trip to one of these amazing places. 

I'm also realizing that there's no solo weekend away for my husband and I - together- yet.  Last year we actually went to Sundance Lodge together as a couple and the year before we skied into Skoki Backcountry Lodge at Lake Louise.  I guess this is where I throw out my plea for folks in the tourism industry to please send us somewhere this winter.  Please.  :)

I hope you will continue following our winter adventures over the next several months.  I love sharing them with you. And I'd love to hear what you have planned for your winter adventures.

On our way out from Skoki Lodge, 2011

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Teaching Toddlers and Preschoolers to X-Country Ski

I really wanted to put my son in cross country ski lessons this winter until I did a bit of research and realized that children typically have to be four years old before anybody is willing to call them a bunny rabbit and teach them to ski.  My son will be turning four in the new year, but apparently he's still too young for lessons since he was only three at the beginning of the ski season.  I finally did discover a parented course for children ages 3+ at a local ski hill but had to wonder if they would be able to teach my child to ski in 5 short lessons.  The jury is still out on it but in the meantime, I've realized that I'm probably going to have to do this D.I.Y style.  Lessons or not, I'm going to have to be very involved in my son's early ski progress until he is old enough to join a local ski club.

We've been out a few times now this season and I'm starting to get a feel for the requirements involved in teaching a young child how to cross country ski.  What I've learned so far, I gladly pass on to you - in hopes you'll leave comments at the end of this post with tricks you've also learned.

Learning to ski at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Bring Friends

I've said this before and it will be a recurrent theme on this website; Bringing a friend is the equivalent of giving your child a super hero cape.  They will ski, hike, walk, skate... further, faster, and with more enthusiasm if you bring a friend.  We took 6 other families with us on our first trip out to the mountains this year and each family had children ranging in ages from one-three.  The children skied anywhere from 0.2 km to 12km.  (more to come on the amazing three-year old capable of skiing 12km.)  It was so much fun watching the children chase each other on skis, try to keep up to their friends, and actually put on their skis - just because all the other kids were doing it.  (Yay for positive peer pressure!)

Three year olds learning to ski
First Time on Skis

Ski With Your Child

I know this isn't always easy if you are also pulling a second younger child in a Chariot or sled, but children do best when they can see you participating in a sport with them.  If you can't pull a sled and help the new skier at the same time, make sure you recruit the help of another family member or friend.  We tried skiing for the first time this year in a local park and it was an utter and total disaster!!  Crying, complaining, and general lamentation all around!  The only reason I can come up with for the miserable experience is that we made our son ski alone while we walked beside him, coaxing him on with games and treats.  The second time out, I wised up and skied with him.  I didn't play games, I didn't bribe him to reach the next tree with treats, and I didn't watch as he did all the work.  We skied together side by side - and it was fun.  I even enjoyed the slow and relaxing pace because we were in harmony sharing my favourite winter sport together.

Skiing together on a local golf course
Father and Son on the trails together

Get in the Right Mind Set Before You Go

When we did the big group ski a couple weeks ago, our son only skied about 0.2km.  (at most!)  And we didn't push it.  We had the ski pulk with us and were on a mission to reach the bridge 6km away so that we could get photos for our Christmas cards.  A few of the other families also pushed on to reach the bridge and the kids spent most of the time in their Chariots.  Meanwhile, a couple of the families decided they were out for the kids and were only going as far as the kids could happily ski.  They skied slowly for a half hour or so, turned around, and kept it simple.  We are still happy we made it to the scenic bridge at the campground but we knew going out that this was an adult ski trip for us and that our child would be along for the ride.  On the days we want our son to ski we leave the sled at home.  Even a toboggan is too much temptation to ride as we discovered today.  Decide before you go - who's skiing today and how far are you going?  What pace will you set and are you ok if you only ski for half an hour before heading home again.

Relaxing day in the country - Toddler Pace
First Time on Skis for this Two-Year old.

Take Diversion Breaks

On our most successful outing so far this winter, we headed out on a local golf course with another family.  We told the kids we were skiing to a bridge we could clearly see down the fairway.  (yep, that's as far as we skied - the length of one hole)  When we got to the bridge, we made snowmen, had a snowball fight, and gave the kids snacks.  It was a great reward for their efforts and gave them a break before heading back to the cars.  Look for places to ski that have an objective and plan something fun to do when you get there.  Later this season we plan to stay at a wilderness hostel that will require a 500m ski to reach the cabin.  We plan to have the kids ski in rather than pulling them in sleds.  What an awesome reward it will be when they reach the cabin and know they made it there on their own!

Nothing like a good snowball fight!

Stopping to build a snowman

Be Creative

We have friends who've taken to towing their three-year old with a stretchy bungee cord while they ski.  At Three years old, their daughter is capable of skiing 12km as she does a combination of skiing on her own and gliding behind Daddy.  I can't imagine the balance and core strength required to do this at such a young age but I saw it for myself so know it's possible.  We've now bought our own stretchy rope and attached it to a handle from an exercise band.  I tried pulling my son with it today across a flat pond.  I think it's going to be a looooong time before he's ready to ski 12km and he wasn't quite able to figure out yet that he doesn't need to keep shuffling his feet when he's being towed, but he will and it's going to be fun trying this method of skiing with him.

Getting set for her big 12km ski with Dad
Teaching my son how to use a tow rope

We've tried other games too from picking up alphabet letters scattered along the trail to chasing after a football we throw across the field.  Ski Football was by far the most successful game. 

Ski Football

Next on our list is teaching our son to stand up when he's fallen down.  Please leave comments if you have great games for this one!  I've got the idea in my head that Ring around The Rosie would be fun to play around a big tree.  I'll let you know how it goes next time we're out.

Standing up is always a challenge!

I'll leave you with a few more cute photos of our son and his friends learning to ski.  I'd love any suggestions you have for teaching young tykes how to ski.  We are figuring it out one day at a time for now.

Skiing on the Cascade Fire Road
Another first day on skis

Such awesome two-year olds skiing!
My son's first time on skis last winter when he was 2.5 years old

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Toddler Bootcamp - Operation Learn to LOVE snow!

Do you have a toddler or preschooler that doesn't exactly love snow, cold weather, or winter in general?  You aren't alone!  Say it with me - I.Am.Not.Alone.  As the leader of the Calgary Outdoor Playgroups, a year-round group dedicated to getting young'uns outside, I've seen my share of tantrums and tears this winter as our kids have had to reboot so to speak and remember what to do with all this white fluffy stuff.  We have snow here for a good 8 months of the year, but all it takes is 4 nice months without snow for a young child to completely forget how to deal with it, how to walk in it, and apparently how to stand up when you've fallen down and god forbid - touched it!!  That was my son's first experience this winter.  He fell down and wouldn't get up.  He wouldn't touch the snow to push himself to standing.  He would have stayed on his face in the snow all day had I not picked him up.  Then I tried to encourage him to climb up a slide - something  fun, right?  Oh no!  His hands were broken.  His legs didn't work.  He couldn't possibly climb up a simple set of stairs in snow pants, his feet touching the snowy steps, using his hands covered in mittens to hold on to the railing.  There was snow on the ground and he was NOT impressed.

Why is there SNOW on my swing?!!
Can I just sit here and pout until spring??

Most of the other children in our playgroups have adapted to winter slightly better than this, but we still had battles with cold hands and feet, and I wouldn't say the kids were exactly rolling around in the snow, laughing, and declaring - yay, winter!!  What to do?  Enter:  Bootcamp - Operation Learn to LOVE snow!  I knew I had to go big, go bold, and do something amazingly fun if I was  going to remind or teach a bunch of small children that winter could actually be FUN.  What followed next was a long research project on my part, reading every website I could find on outdoor winter games.  I also put my own creativity to use and created several new games that I'm pretty sure are original ideas unless somebody else out there is making their kids do burpies in the snow while reading story books to them.

Story Book Burpies (Original Game from Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies)

Below are some of the most successful games we played in our two toddler bootcamps this winter.  I'd love to hear your favourites after so leave a comment if you've tried any of these or plan to try some of the new ones.

Having Fun in the Snow

Story book Burpies

A classic bootcamp "favourite!"  Children sit on the ground as you read them a story from a picture book about winter.  The book needs to feature the word snow a LOT.  Every time you read the word snow, the kids jump up in the air yelling SNOW!  They then fall down on the ground on their stomachs, and return to sitting as you continue the story. 

Objective:  Kids will be on the ground, in the snow, touching it, faces inches from it, and embracing  it.  They will also have to get up off the ground to play the game - good practice for times when they slip and fall down in the snow.  This game teaches them to get up when they fall down.  It teaches them that they can touch the snow and that yes, their hands are not broken!

Reading a book on SNOW to the kids as they prepare to jump up in the air.

Classic Children's Games

  •  Red Light Green Light - normal rules apply. For an extra challenge, play it on hands and knees
  • Simon Says - Simon says:  Make a snow angel.  Simon Says:  Jump up and down like a frog.  Simon Says:  Slither in the snow like a snake.  (lots of opportunities to get them intimate with the snowy ground)
  • What Time is it Mr. Wolf - I alter this game so instead of saying it's One O'clock, I say it's one giant bunny hop, two slithering snake moves, three frog hops, four baby crawls, etc.
Objective:  Get the kids having fun with games they already know and love.  My son had learned these games in preschool and was excited to play them outside, snow and all.  Thanks to Simon Says,  we now have a whole group of kids unafraid to get down in the snow, to crawl, slither, jump, roll, and play around in the snow!!  My son willingly makes snow angels now - even when not playing the game.  Then he gets up!  Hands most definitely not broken anymore.  And definitely not scared to touch the snow.

Simon Says:  Make a Snow Angel
Snow Babes

Snow Soccer

Everybody loves soccer so why not play it outside in the snow.  The twist?  I brought a big exercise ball out and that was our soccer ball.  The kids were falling down all over the place in the snow as they tried to kick and push it around the field.  It was awesome watching them fall down, get up, and laugh!  Actually laughing instead of crying.  We did discover though that with preschoolers, it's best to set up a giant circle and just take turns kicking or pushing the ball across the circle to the other children.  There were too many fights over the ball when we tried to make an actual game of it.

Objective:  Another fun game that will get the kids running through the snow and give them opportunities to practice falling and getting up again.

Snow Soccer with a Giant Fitness Ball

Sled Races

This was a fun one and gave the parents a bit of a bootcamp workout of their own!  We all brought sleds and had races pulling our kids up a small hill, around a tree, and then back down to the finish line.  The kids loved the game, had a blast racing down the hill against their friends, and the moms were all laughing!  Everybody had fun with this one.  My son even let another girl ride on his sled with him - major victory!  (this is where I'd hash tag #HatesToShareSled.)

Objective:  Fun.  Pure and simple fun.  Who doesn't love a good sled ride?  To modify the game for older kids, you could also have them pull each other or try to pull the adults.  I think that would be a riot to watch!

Sled Racing

Run, Run, Run
Learning to share his sled

Snowball fights

While not a part of our bootcamp, we did try this one day on another outdoor play date as a diversion from cross country skiing.  I thought preschoolers would get upset at getting hit by snowballs but the kids had a lot of fun trying to make snowballs and trying to aim them at their friends (or parents.)  We built little snow forts and it was a great way to get the kids down in the snow on their knees, crawling around, playing, and having fun.  As prep for this one, read books about snowball fights.  We did this a few times before we took it outside.

Objective:  Learning to play with snow, build with snow, and have fun with it.

Snowball Fights

Who doesn't love a good snowball fight?

We had a lot of fun learning to love snow with our children and I hope these games will be a hit with your children too, whether they already love snow or need a bit of encouragement as my child did.  I still have another 20+ games on my list that we hope to try out over the winter so watch for sequels to this post.  I've also been working on another list of ski, snowshoe, and skating games.  Watch for those games to find their way to my website soon too.   I've got a great story coming in the next couple weeks on DIY - Teach Your Child to Skate. 

Winter is Fun - Embrace It!

Happy Winter Everybody!