Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ride on! A Junior Cyclist's Christmas Wish List

What's the best Christmas gift you could give the outdoor child who loves biking?  A new bike?  A bike upgrade?  Funky new helmet or cycling gloves?  Here is my Christmas gift guide for the junior cyclist in your family - guaranteed to make them squeal Christmas morning!

Ride on!  A Junior Cyclist's Christmas Wish List

One - A Spawn Cycles Bike

While you could go down to ToysRus or Walmart to pick up your child's first bike, there's nothing like an aluminum light-weight bike to help your child master the sport of cycling.  Whether your child prefers pavement or trails, a good bike will get them where they want to go faster.  

My son got his Spawn Cycles 16" Banshee bike this spring and it was incredible to watch how quickly he went from average to amazing on the little green machine!  We transitioned from a balance bike to the new pedal bike in a couple of weeks.

The Spawn Cycles 16" Banshee

The Spawn bikes are not cheap but they are an investment!  They can be passed down to siblings, onto friends, and then onto their siblings.  This isn't a bike that you throw away after a year when it's fallen apart.  

My Junior Rider

To read the full review I wrote on the Spawn Banshee, visit Kids on Wheels - Choosing a Good Bike.  
For more information on the complete line up of Spawn Cycles bikes, visit their website at Spawn Cycles.  Their pedal bikes come in 14", 16" and now 20" with the new Spawn Cycles Savage 1.0 and 2.0.

Off Trail Riding on the Spawn Banshee

I can think of no better gift for an outdoor kid than a new bike under the Christmas tree this year.   And it's the perfect time to justify buying a new bike, right?

Bikes can only be ordered online so visit the Spawn Cycles website.  (Order NOW for all Christmas orders.  They sell out fast.)

Fall Riding

Two - A Fun New Bike Helmet

How much fun would it be to see a cool new bike helmet under the tree in your child's favourite color? Check out the great collection of helmets at All out Kids Gear and support a local Alberta business this Christmas. 

You've got to wear a helmet so you might as well make it as fun as possible to wear one.  Style is everything - even to children.  And who knows, maybe that child who protests and fights every time you pull out the bike helmet would finally agree to wear it if they got to choose a fun new design.

Bike helmets don't have to be boring

Three - Bike Gloves

Safe and Fun!  When a kid falls, it's inevitably the hands that take some of the worst beating.  But it's so preventable.  Buy a cheap pair of bike gloves and your child is not only cool (I'm a real biker now!)  but safer and protected from falls.  We actually had a rule in our house when our son was learning to ride his bike that he didn't get on it unless he was wearing a helmet, long pants, AND gloves.  

Nothing ends a bike ride real fast like scraped hands or knees.

Our favourite bike gloves are the Zippyrooz half finger or full finger gloves that you can order online through All Out Kids Gear. They're lightweight, comfortable, and super stretchy (meaning they'll last a few years!) 

These gloves are also great for hiking and rock climbing! (anything that saves the hands in a fall.)

Off Trail Riding with Bike Gloves - recommended!

Four - Their Very Own Bike Jersey

If you watch cycling on TV with your child, they will know that real cyclists wear jerseys.  How cool would it be therefore to get one of their very own?  And while they are super hard to find, Rocky Mountain Rags out of Colorado has a great kids' collection of jerseys.   

One of our friends showing off his bike jersey at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Five - A Bell!

I'm pretty sure it's required by law to have a bell on your bike here in Canada.  And who doesn't want to have one on their bike anyway?!  Especially for kids - it's the best part about their bike.  And again, another great idea for stocking stuffer!!

Little Bike, Big Bell

And for the child yet to become a Cycle Master - a Balance Bike

Skip the training wheels and teach your child to ride with a balance bike.  Spawn Cycles has a balance bike called the Spawn Tengu which comes complete with hand brakes.  (unusual for a balance bike.)  This is a great option for the dare devil child who can't stay away from hills and is destined for big wipe-outs without a brake. (My son could have used one.)

Mountain Biking on the Strider Balance Bike

For my family personally, we had a Strider Balance Bike which did not have a hand brake, but was light!!

We did a lot of bike hikes with our Strider Balance Bike which involved me carrying the bike up hills, mountains, and steep paths so that my son could ride on flatter terrain up top (or ride down from the top.) For me, a lightweight balance bike was more important than something that had brakes.  

Strider Bike Hiking on Nose Hill

This Christmas, put a balance bike under the tree for your child and you'll be able to teach him or her to ride it in your basement or living room until the snow melts a bit. For bikes, new tires, and other Strider Accessories in Calgary, contact Strider Bike Canada

Find my complete set of holiday gift guides below

A Holiday Gift Guide for Active Kids 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Downhill Skiing with Kids - 5 Ways to Make it FUN!

A week ago I started a new series on making winter sports FUN for kids to learn and enjoy.  The first post in the series was Ice Skating with Kids - 10 Ways to Make it Fun.  Today, we continue and move on to a sport my family is actually not familiar with yet - downhill skiing.  My husband and I used to love resort skiing and made it out to nearby hills a couple of times a month.  Since having a child though, we haven't made the jump to downhill skiing as a family.  We've chosen to spend our time on cross country skis and my husband does his alpine skiing in the backcountry. 

Therefore, since I am hardly an expert on downhill skiing with kids, I would like to welcome Alyssa Erickson to my blog today to offer her advice and fun suggestions on how to get out and enjoy skiing as a family.  Alyssa is mom to three children ages 6, 4 and 2, and is no stranger to life on the ski hill with her family.  She is also the creator and author behind the amazing blog, The Kid Project, which offers a wealth of advice on getting outside as a family and taking the kids with you on your adventures.

(Photo:  Alyssa Erickson)

Downhill Skiing with Kids - 5 Ways to Make it FUN!

You gear up your family with ski pants, a good coat, helmets to protect their precious head, and rent a whole slew of skis and boots. Good vibes are sky-rocketing as you motor to the ski area. For once the kid’s chat happily in the back seat. In fact, things are going so well that you march up to that ticket window and don’t pass out as you hand over the credit card.

The morning seems to be going well, until one kid falls and through their angry tears shouts, “I hate skiing!” The day snowballs into a heap of misery for everyone involved. No one likes to invest good money and a super human dose of energy into preparing for skiing, only to have the kids complaining and unhappy.

To be honest, our battle usually starts before we even leave the house. Keeping everyone cheerful and moving in the right direction is hard (For a detailed look into our lives of enchanting dysfunction visit A Day in the Life of a Skiing Family.) 

The right clothing and a host of great snacks all work to make a day successful. But in every parent’s back pocket should be a plan to make skiing a ton of fun. Here are games and ideas we use to keep everyone having a blast on the mountain!

(Photo:  Alyssa Erickson)

1. Jumps, Bumps, and Tree Skiing

Strategic “run planning” is just as important for skiing as picking the right trail is for hiking. For example, if you are skiing with young or inexperienced kids, make sure to choose short runs. Their little legs tire quickly and frequent rests on the chair lift will greatly improve your chances of success. The same thing goes for run difficulty and amount of time instructing the kids. We try (and sometimes fail) to keep our on snow instruction to roughly 2-3 runs before just letting the kids have fun.

But here is the truth about kids, when they are skiing, 99% of them just want to fly off jumps or dash down a tree trail. Get them a good helmet, find a fun beginner run and lap it as many times as they want! Learn to look for those secret fun stashes and talk them up on the chair lift ride. Many ski areas now have beginner terrain parks that are super fun too.

2. “Tinhorn” Down-hill Race

The next best thing to flying through trees is racing your buddy. Or your dad. I stole this game (or the name of it) from my parents, who played it weekly in the ski lessons they taught. The key is to choose really easy terrain that preferably goes flat at the bottom.

Draw a line in the snow traversing a run, line them up side by side on the line. Explain the finish line clearly. And say, “ Last one down is a rotten egg! On your mark, get set, Goooo!”

Adults always be the rotten egg. This serves two purposes, the second being you are there to pick up any major wipe-outs. And the kids always love it no matter what age! The most important thing is that the run is not too steep. And the winner should get a reward, like choosing the next run. :)

3. Pop Quiz

This game is great while waiting in the dreaded lift line. But is also serves an educational point. Here are some ideas:
“Pop Quiz: What is the name of this lift?”
“Pop Quiz: How many minutes does it take to get to the top?”
“Pop Quiz: If someone gets lost, where do we meet?”
“Pop Quiz: What time does this lift close?”
“Pop Quiz: Who are the safe people to ask for help if you get lost or hurt?”

Obviously this game is a bit better for an elementary age skier, but you can adapt it for toddlers.
“Pop Quiz: What color is mom’s jacket?”

4. Follow the Leader

Do I need to explain? I didn’t think so. What is fun about follow the leader is:
1. Most kids love a chance to be the leader and make the decisions on where they are going (within reason).
2. If you are in the lead you can circle your arms, hop on your skis, do doughnuts, or (on easy terrain) ski backwards. All these things teach balance and edge control while having fun.

5. Know when to “call it quits.”

Lastly, don’t go skiing with something to prove, either to yourself or someone else. I’ve done this. Thinking to myself, “We need to ski till at least 3:30 to get our money’s worth.” Only to ruin everyone's day when the kids are totally wiped by 2:00.

The right runs, fun games, and a handful of candy will only get you so far. Kids get tired and then cranky. Be ok with calling it quits or have a plan to switch off hanging with the kids in the lodge while the other parent skis a few runs. 

(Photo:  Alyssa Erickson)

I have to thank Alyssa so much for writing this!  We are heading out for our first downhill ski day as a family in a couple of weeks - and I'm terrified!  Hopefully I'll have a suggestion or two of my own to add to this list soon.

Need more tips and suggestions?  Check out these links to other stories written by fellow outdoor family bloggers:

Learning to Ski - Backcountry Parenting

Alyssa Erickson's Bio: I am a Jesus lover, wife, mom, rock climber, skier, photographer and all around adventure lover with a passion for writing. I have my B.A. in English Literature from the University of Colorado. I live and play near the Wasatch Range, partnering with my husband and teaching my kids to make the most of life and the One who gave it to us.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Early Winter Snowshoeing at Highwood Pass

Highwood Pass is located on the highest paved road in Canada and offers incredible adventures between June and November each year. 

Snowshoeing on Elbow Lake

Every season offers new sights and experiences. To reach Highwood Pass, take Highway 40, which loops through the heart of the Kananaskis Country park system. You’ll cross over the pass as you drive through Peter Lougheed Provincial Park heading south towards the town of Longview on the Cowboy Trail.

Trails found on both sides of the pass present opportunities for everything from backcountry camping to hiking or even early winter snowshoeing. In the spring, cyclists flock to the area for a chance to bike the highway before it opens to traffic mid June.

Winter comes early to this part of Kananaskis. By late November you can pull out your snowshoes and make your way up to either Ptarmigan Cirque or Elbow Lake to discover a stunning winter wonderland. 

Because Ptarmigan Cirque often has early season avalanche hazards, families seeking a safer trip will want to visit Elbow Lake.  The lake is also popular with backcountry skiers. A circuit of the lake can be made on either snowshoes or skis once you arrive. 

Visiting Highwood Pass before the road closes on December 1st is an experience that should definitely go on all Rocky Mountain bucket lists.

Snowshoeing with Kids on the Elbow Lake Trail

To read the rest of this story on hiking, backpacking, and cycling at Highwood Pass please follow this link to the full published story:  From Flowers to Snow:  Four Seasons of Adventure at Highwood Pass  on the Experience the Mountain Parks website.

This is Highwood Pass in September! (snow comes early!!)

Our family makes an annual pilgrimage to Elbow Lake the last weekend of November and we're planning an adults only trip to Ptarmigan Cirque this weekend as well.  There is no area in Kananaskis that I'd rather snowshoe, and it's special to get out as early as late November to often find waist deep snow already.

If you plan to bring children, you can often bring sleds, Chariots with ski attachments or ski pulks as long as the trail has been well packed down up to the lake. 

Note that some years however, if the trail has not been packed down, you would have a very difficult time pulling any kind of sled.  Fortunately, you won't have to go far to find out if you'll be breaking trail and you could always go back to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to snowshoe there. 

For a complete map of all official snowshoe trails in Kananaskis, print out a copy of this Kananaskis snowshoe trails map.  You can also follow this link to read my guidebook review for A Beginner's Guide to Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies.  (great Christmas present)

Snowshoeing at Elbow Lake when our son was just a toddler

To read about last year's family snowshoe trip to Elbow Lake and see the photos, follow this link to Family Snowshoeing Adventures - Elbow Lake.

Hope to see you on the trails!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Snow Warm! An Outdoor Mom's Christmas Wish List

Are you a cold climate outdoor mom looking for ideas to add to your Christmas wish list?  Or, maybe you are married/related to one of us amazing creatures and need some solid hints to blow this year's gift out of the water.    

Below are my top suggestions that will definitely make the outdoor mom on your shopping list happy this Christmas.  A few are on my own list but most of them are suggestions I give you after thorough testing and reviewing because I can't really suggest something I don't already know and love.

Everything I'm wearing was a Christmas gift over the last two years

A Down Skirt

One of the sentences that comes out of my mouth the most when I'm outside in cold weather is this:  My bum is so happy!!!

Snowshoeing in my Skhoop down skirt

I bought a short down skirt last winter and haven't had a cold back end since!  It's the most amazing piece of clothing in my closet  (and one of the most expensive.)  Due to the crazy high cost of these things, you've definitely got to put it on your Christmas list.  Then, receive and enjoy!  

Get over the guilt that you just spent $150+ on a skirt (because you didn't buy it) and just enjoy it!  I have a short black down Skhoop skirt that I got for Christmas last year.  I can wear it snowshoeing, cross country skiing, skating, and winter hiking because it has two-way zippers on both sides for those times when I need an increased range of motion.  

Skiing in my Skhoop Skirt

There are a few options for insulated skirts but Skhoop out of Alaska clears the competition by a mile.  They carry skirts in every colour of the rainbow, in various lengths from mini-skirts to full ankle length skirts, and in different fabrics from down to a light insulated skirt.  They even sell Merino wool skirts!!! (and yes, that IS on my Christmas list.)

Skhoop down skirt worn over fleece tights = WARMTH

Keen Howser Shoes

Along with my down skirt, this is what I most rave about these days!  I'm pretty sure most of my friends are sick of hearing about how happy my feet are.  But it's true!  They are happy and I can't stop talking about it. I love my Keen Howser Shoes

What's not to like about little magic sleeping bags for your feet? So far I've been wearing them all over the city through snow, puddles, sleet, and ice - with warm dry feet (which is amazing given how low cut they are.)  They have to be tried to believe it.

Side note, they also come in men's, kids', and youth sizing. 

The Keen Howser Shoe

A Skating Coat

A "skating coat" is what I call a long down coat that covers the bum.  (can you tell that my bum is always cold?!)

All the long underwear in the world isn't going to help when you're moving at a toddler or preschool pace, building snowmen, rolling around in the snow, or sitting on a frozen hill pushing your child down the hill on a sled over and over.

I think the expression "skating coat" originates in the hockey arena where moms sit on cold bleachers watching their children play minor league hockey for hours, freezing their butts off.  You don't want to wear ski pants to the arena to watch hockey.  Hence, the long down coat.  I wear mine to church, I wear it to play in the snow, and yes, I wear it skating.  

To shop long down coats, check out the Columbia Sportswear site. You should be able to find their coats in most local sports stores too.

My favourite Columbia skating coat 

Other Ideas
  • New mittens or gloves 

  • New long underwear 

  • A new tuque, Buff, or knit hat (My personal favourite is the Sunday Afternoon Aurora Beanie.)

  •  A new hoodie or fleece sweater in her favourite colour

  • A light puffy jacket to keep her toasty warm this winter 

  • New Smart Wool Socks (you can never have enough)

Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis

And for the absolute win - take her somewhere like this for the weekend!!!

Check out my complete set of holiday gift guides

A Holiday Gift Guide for Active Kids 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ice Skating with Kids - 10 Ways to Make it FUN!

At least once a week I hear a parent comment on how their child never took to ice skating, didn't find it fun, or showed no interest in learning how to skate. 

Meanwhile,  I LOVE skating and think it's such a great family sport!  While there are plenty of other winter sports to choose from, skating is cost affordable (my son will be using the same pair of skates for a second winter now,) it's often free to participate in the activity once you purchase the skates and helmet, and it's great for gross motor skills and coordination.

Skating is FUN!

The first step to becoming a family who skates together is to find good skates that are comfortable and easy to put on.  I recommend checking out local second hand stores and starting there because feet do grow and you don't want to be buying a brand new pair of skates for your child every year. 

That being said, while my husband and I both purchased used skates, we did choose to get new ones for our son last winter so that we could get molded ones with removable liners.  They are warmer and more comfortable than the traditional hockey skate, have no laces (hence much faster too put on), and are expandable over a range of two to three sizes (meaning they last 2-3 seasons!)  Not much to dislike about the expandable skates. 

Learning to skate

For more information on choosing skates, getting started, where to skate in the Calgary area, and pretty much everything related to skating, please visit my story, How to Love Winter in the Rockies - On Skates, that I wrote last year.  The story is jam packed full of information including the best kind of skates for toddlers just learning to walk on the ice!

Toddlers skating with double blade Bob skates

And now, on to the fun stuff - how to have FUN while skating!!

One - Games, games, and more games!!
  • Red light, Green light (skate when the leader says green light, stop when the leader says red light as you race/toddle to the finish line.)

  • ABC hunt (scatter foam ABC letters around the ice and have the kids search for them in order.  They must practice bending over and standing up again to pick up each letter AND as a bonus, they work on early literacy skills)

  • Chocolate hunt (same as ABC game above but scatter chocolate eggs, kisses, or other candy around the ice for the kids to pick up)

  • Stuffed Animal Game (place a bunch of stuffed animals on the ice with a plastic bin at the far end of the ice.  Kids have to carry the animal down the ice and place it in the bin.  Skate back for the next animal and repeat.  Plastic bin comes in handy when transporting animals to the ice as well.)

  • Set up an obstacle courses with pool noodles, hula hoops, pylons, or other objects the kids must skate around.

  • Draw lines on the ice and have kids follow the lines.  Vary it up with squiggly lines, circles, snails, etc.

  • Ice Soccer!  (like hockey but with a ball.  Set up some nets or pylons and have the kids kick a ball to practice transferring weight from one foot to the other.  Can be played as a team or just individually kicking the ball up and down the ice.)

  • Hockey!  (Kids love hockey sticks.  Bring some plastic hockey sticks or invest in child-sized wooden sticks.  Get the kids hitting a soft puck or a ball around the ice.  And again, it can be played as a team game or just between parent and child.)
Never too young to play hockey
Ice Soccer!
ABC Hunt
Two - Make sure your child's skates are comfortable, fit well, and are not too tight.  (most preschoolers should be able to tell you if this is the case.)  As with most sports, it's not fun if your feet hurt!  If you have any doubts, visit a sports store for a fitting with a skate specialist. Toddlers are lucky in that they can wear boots with the classic Bob skates (a blade that fits on to a regular winter boot.)

Three - Make sure your child is warm enough!!  As with all winter sports, nobody has fun if they are cold.  I know I don't.  For kids learning to skate, they should be wearing ski pants.  This will not only keep them warm but will also pad their falls.  (of which there will be many.) 

Waterproof gloves are of course imperative and helmet liners or light tuques under their helmets are also recommended even when skating inside.  We use a kid's sized Buff worn like a balaclava. 

For moms prone to being cold on the ice, try wearing a long "skating coat" - my term for a jacket that covers your butt. (and if it's made of down, even better!)

Toasty warm with his orange Buff under his helmet

Four - Push smaller children around the ice in a Chariot or jogging stroller and pull older kids around in a sled.  This is a great game and you'll get exercise too as the parent pushing or pulling them!  I miss the days where I could rip around the ice pushing our Chariot.

A great workout for the parent who wants to skate with younger children
Ice + Sleds = Fun!!

Five - Keep it short when starting out!  Skating is exhausting for young kids!  We went skating this morning and my son could hardly climb a small hill on our afternoon hike. 

When first getting started, half an hour is plenty!!  Bring a sled and reward them with a ride around the pond or rink after.  Let them climb and play on the snow mountains next to the pond.  Let them run around in the trees with their friends.  Just let them play.  And return to skating another day.  

We do lots of outdoor skating with our outdoor playgroups in Calgary and the kids typically last about half an hour before they need a change of pace.

The snow piled up beside the pond is often the best part of skating!
Good thing he's wearing a helmet!

Six - Candy, you said?  Yes, I'm not above bribing my son to practice for at least half an hour.

Seven - Skate with friends.  Everything is more fun with friends.  We've been going out Thursday mornings as a group of moms and kids - and are having a blast!  I wish every morning was Thursday.

Everything is more fun with friends
Show your kids that skating is fun!

Eight - Start inside where it's warmer.  This will help you, the parent, learn to put your child's skates on without freezing your fingers, and allows the child to be more comfortable while learning.  No wind chill, no freezing cold fingers or toes - it's just more pleasant.

Learning to skate indoors

Nine - Skate as a family.  Why would your child want to learn to skate if they see you running around the ice in your boots?  Just saying.

Hockey is more fun when Dad's playing too!
Skating with Mom
Ten - Lessons!  It's amazing what 6 weeks of lessons can do for your child's confidence.  My son was not exactly a "fan" of skating last winter.  We put him in a month of lessons and suddenly he wasn't the only one struggling on the ice.  There was a whole class of other kids learning how to skate just like him.  AND the teachers knew way cooler games than I did! 

Everybody starts somewhere but nobody starts a professional!

Have other ideas for  readers struggling with skating as a family?  Or maybe you are the one that doesn't exactly "love" skating.  Have other games we need to know about?  I'd love your feedback and comments below!

This is the first in a series of posts I'll be featuring on how to make winter fun for kids.  I'll be covering topics from skating to cross country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, winter hiking and sledding.

For moms that get cold skating - invest in a down skirt!  It's awesome!

Disclaimers and Safety Information:

CSA Approved helmets save lives
Helmet use while skating is highly recommended and depending on where you live or skate - mandatory for children.  Many indoor arenas are also starting to enforce helmet use for adults as well.  The minimum protection you should be using would be a CSA approved hockey helmet.

While a bike helmet is better than nothing at all, hockey helmets are tested to withstand repetitive impacts from both large and small objects such as pucks, sticks and the boards.  Meanwhile, a bike helmet is designed to withstand one single hit from a large object.  For safer skating yet, face masks are also recommended when learning to skate and have been known to save teeth!

While you may see older photos of my son without a helmet (or in a bike helmet), rest assured, he does not step foot on the ice now without an approved hockey helmet.