Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter Camping - in Style

I love camping and I'd camp all year long if I could but the idea of camping in the snow terrifies me!  Once the first snowfall comes, I need a certain number of amenities before I'll spend the night in the wilderness.  I don't require much, and I'm fine with having to go outside at night when it's -20C to pee.  I love skiing and am more than happy to spend the whole day outside playing in the snow.  It's those hours between skiing and sleeping that are the problem for me.  When you're sleeping, it doesn't matter where you are and there are many creative ways to stay warm in a tent.  But what do you do after you've taken off your ski boots, put on your cozy down booties, boiled a pot of water for hot chocolate, and the sun is going down?  I know many winter campers just retreat to their tents to read, play cards, or go to bed early but there's something missing there for me.  When I go camping, I want to spend the night sitting around a fire laughing and talking with my friends.  I want to enjoy a few drinks, swap stories, and most importantly - stay up late!  I don't want to go to bed when the sun goes down.  I have a preschool aged child and I savor those glorious hours when he's sleeping and I have time to myself.  Or, when camping, time to hang out and chill with my husband and friends.  

Winter Camping at the Mosquito Creek  Wilderness Hostel

Fortunately, we as a family have found the perfect solution for the desire to camp year round without having to sleep in a tent.
It hasn't involved buying a winterized trailer or purchasing an expensive condo in some mountain village.  We've discovered Hostelling International Canada's Wilderness Hostels with their rustic simplicity, outdoor plumbing for the most part, giant bonfire pits, snow banks to get lost in, and most importantly - beds!  In a heated log cabin.  This mountain mama can sleep in comfort, warmth, and style.  

Enjoying an outdoor fire at HI Mosquito Creek
Our home away from home at Mosquito Creek

You may remember that I posted a story just before Christmas about our trip to the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel at Ribbon Creek as part of an early Christmas getaway with family friends.  Now while this hostel is a bit more glamorous than other wilderness hostels and can boast of indoor plumbing, it's still a wonderful way to introduce the family to a soft version of winter camping.  We were able to ski, skate, play in the snow, and roast marshmallows by day with a warm cabin waiting for us at the end.  The kids ran around the hostel playing wild games of tag while we parents sat by the fire sipping our glasses of wine and relaxing in a state of well-being and happiness. We put the kids to bed and enjoyed games, quiet time, snacks - and more wine.  We had lights, heat, and amenities to enjoy comfort in the security of a small mountain cabin.  

Winter Camping at HI Kananaskis

A couple weeks ago we were fortunate to spend a night at another wilderness hostel under the same banner of Hostelling International.  This time we made our way out to Banff to the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel located along the scenic and very secluded Icefields Parkway.  While we were only 20 minutes down the highway from Lake Louise, we may as well have been hours from any form of civilization.  The hostel buildings are set far enough back from the highway that you hear nothing but silence at this mountain retreat.  Sleds are provided to haul your bags to the cabins and it's easy to forget that there's anybody else out there but yourselves.  This was especially true for us because we stayed on a Monday night and had the entire hostel to ourselves.  It was wonderful and I think we'll be staying on Mondays or mid-week from now on.  

Playing in the Snow at the Mosquito Creek Hostel
We've stayed at Mosquito Creek a few times now and we always keep coming back because of the family cabin.  This is the only hostel I know of in the Canadian Rockies with a private cabin in which you can cook, hang out in and sleep - all by yourselves without sharing with other hostel users.  We're finding this to be increasingly important as we share accommodations with those not travelling with kids.  People without kids have a certain tolerance for children (some more than others for sure) but we usually push it way past limits of comfort as games get rowdy, kids get tired and cranky, or fights break out over favourite toys.  Add bedtime struggles on occasion and it's just best we have our own private cabin.  Families know what I mean!

Snowshoeing around the hostel at Mosquito Creek
We visited Mosquito Creek last winter for the first time and we've discovered what a magical place it is at this time of year.  We made sure to plan for extra time this year for playing outside and were very glad we did when we discovered an absolute winter wonderland for the kids.  We found snow tunnels, big mountains of snow for climbing and sliding down, pristine snow for practicing snowshoeing, and a big wide open field at the campground next door.  

Playing in the Snow at  HI Mosquito Creek
We took the kids for a hike to the campground and made a nice little loop back to the hostel with their sleds.  It was the perfect jaunt with them and we didn't feel the need to drive further at all to find entertainment, ski trails, or official snowshoe paths.  We could have easily played outside at the hostel all day!  Sadly, we were only spending one night so had to eventually pack up and head home.  Maybe next year we'll spend a week.  :)

Snowshoeing in the Mosquito Creek Campground

Lots of fun outside the door of our hostel at Mosquito Creek

We look forward to staying at all of the wilderness hostels in the Canadian Rockies as a family and we'll definitely be using them as our winter base camps when we have that itch to get out camping.  We've found it's the perfect way to introduce our son to winter camping in a sheltered environment.  When he's a teenager he can go ski touring with Dad and sleep in a tent on a glacier.  For now, he gets to sleep in a heated cabin in his own bunk bed and I know he's pleased with that choice we've made for him.  I encourage you to try winter hostelling with your family and see if it's a good fit for you too. 

Snow Tunnels at HI Mosquito Creek
For more stories on camping with Hostelling International Canada please click on the following links to other posts I've written.

Disclaimer:  Hostelling International Canada graciously sponsored this family trip. As always opinions and endorsements are entirely my own.

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