Saturday, December 28, 2013

Looking Back on Another Great Year of Family Outdoor Adventure

2013 was another busy year and it's amazing how much life can change over the course of a year.  People have told me that life gets easier as children get older and I think there's definitely some truth to that!  Camping was sure a heck of a lot easier this year with a 4 year old.  Less melt downs, less tantrums, and a more even temperament made for much easier travelling over all.  (most of the time anyway - still trying to forget about some of the other moments.)

Noah has become an active member in most of our outdoor pursuits (he's not quite ready for mountaineering or backcountry ski touring yet) and we are very proud of how far he's advanced in just one year.  In a nutshell, here are the biggest accomplishments and changes we celebrate as we welcome in 2014:

Looking Back on Another Great Year of Family Outdoor Adventure

Look everybody, I've got Pedals!

Noah graduated from his balance bike to a Spawn Cycles 16" Banshee  and absolutely rocked at biking!  We were pretty floored actually with his progress.  He went straight from balance bike to pedal bike with no training wheels and spent a week in Pedalheads bike classes learning how to start and stop on his own.  By the end of the summer, Noah was a mean riding machine and we can see he's chosen it as his primary summer sport.  We had to make sure we devoted time to riding on most of our vacation days and it quickly replaced hiking as the sport of choice.

Biking with Mom on the Kettle Valley Railway Trail in Kelowna

Mom Loves Biking Too!

"Hiking is stupid!"  Yep, that was a sentence right out of my own mouth.  I grew to love biking so much this summer (off-pavement cross country biking especially) that I actually asked my husband why we ever used to hike.  "biking is so awesome!"  "You go sooooo fast!"  "Look how far we got on our bikes.  Noah could never have hiked this far!" - all sentences out of my own mouth this year.

Yes, I still like hiking, but all of my top moments this past summer were actually spent on either my bike or my stand up paddle board.  (no blisters either!!)

To read more on our journey to becoming a biking family, check out this story I wrote in June, Kids on Wheels, Choosing a Good Bike.   (lots of good photos of Dad running alongside Noah as he learned to ride his new bike.)

Biking with Noah in the Columbia Valley

The Junior Biker Gang
One of the things that most excited me this past year was the creation of our Junior Biker Gang.  It started out with kids all on balance bikes and gradually, many of them graduated to pedal bikes over the course of the summer months.  Below is a photo from May and then from September.  You'll see a big difference.

The Bow Valley Biker Gang in May

Members of our Biker Gang in September

The Camping Project - 40+ Nights Baby

This might have been the biggest goal we set this past year.  We wanted to camp at least 40 nights this summer.  You can read about the project here.  By the end of September, we had reached 41 nights which was a miracle given all of the campgrounds closed in Kananaskis and Banff as a result of June flooding.

To read the wrap up posts on the camping project, go to my stories:  2013 Camping Project - Lessons on Community and  Great Gear for Happy Campers

Camping in Yoho National Park this Summer
Camping in Writing on Stone Provincial Park this Summer

 We Finally Caved and Bought a Trailer!

The camping project was largely made possible through the purchase of our new camping trailer!  It's nothing fancy, has no bathroom, and isn't particularly large - but, it's ours!  And we can now sleep in comfort, warmth, and off the ground.  I've never been so happy camping.

Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park last May

SUPing my Way Across the Canadian Rockies

My big goal for the summer was to SUP my way from Waterton Lakes National Park in the South all the way to Jasper National Park in the North.  And while this may sound highly impressive, it just means that I wanted to get my board on all of the classic lakes in each national park this summer. By the end of Summer, I had managed to SUP the following lakes without falling in or sustaining hypothermia (the biggest challenge and risk I faced.)
  • Upper Waterton and Middle Waterton Lakes with a short stretch on the Waterton River
  • First Vermillion Lake and 40 Mile Creek, Banff
  • Johnson Lake, Banff
  • Two Jack Lake, Banff
  • Lake Louise, Banff
  • Moraine Lake, Banff
  • Emerald Lake, Yoho
  • Pyramid Lake, Jasper
  • Lake Annette, Jasper
  • Patricia Lake, Jasper
  • Upper Kananaskis Lake, Kananaskis
  • Barrier Lake, Kananaskis
For more on the SUP Project, follow this link to Touring the Canadian Rockies on a Stand Up Paddleboard 

SUPing Lake Louise
Pyramid Lake, Jasper
Vermillion Lakes, Banff

 And We have a Kayak

With my big dream to SUP across the Canadian Rockies, there had to be a way that my family could spend time with me and solo canoeing wasn't something my husband was keen to spend the summer doing.  Enter, our tandem kayak.  Noah enjoyed riding from his comfortable seat up front and Mark was able to take lots of photos of me on my board when he wasn't paddling.  We even used our kayak for an overnight trip to the Point Backcountry Campground in Kananaskis and I rode my board to camp.  We plan to SUP/Kayak our way to camp whenever possible from now on rather than hiking all of our gear in.  

Paddling on Upper Kananaskis Lake

The First Summits Project

Yes, I said above that hiking was replaced by biking, but we did still do some easy hikes with Noah.  The ones I'm most proud of are the first summits we did this summer.  It became a goal this spring that we would start focusing on first summits as a family this year.  Noah's tackled many summits already over the past few years but had always been carried to the summit.  This year he would be walking up and down under his own steam.

The summits we tackled this summer were:
Trip reports and photos for each summit above can be found  by following the above links.

To read more about our First Summits Project and get ideas for your own adventures, follow this link to Go Climb a Mountain - Family Friendly First Summits

Whistler's Summit, Jasper National Park

 Adult Trips

We still made it a priority to get away as adults a few times this year and I succeeded with my annual mountaineering trip in July. Mark got away on some backcountry ski trips and attempted a couple of climbs himself including reaching the Neil Cogan Hut for the first time.

Climbing in Yoho National Park
Summit of Mt. McArthur, Yoho National Park
September Backpacking Trip to Shadow Lake

Girl's trips were also a priority for me and I managed to round up  12 girlfriends to ski into Banff's Sundance Lodge with me in February.  To read the story I wrote for Women's Adventure Magazine, follow this link to The Power of a Girl's Getaway.  

Sundance Lodge, Banff National Park

Real Skis for Noah

We are very excited to see Noah on real skis this winter!  In January, 2013 Noah was still using strap-on skis that were more suited to a two-three year old.  Now he has real cross country skis with bindings and ski boots.  We've only made it a couple of kilometres at a time on them so far but Noah's going to spend a lot of time on skis over New Year's so we'll see if we can get him up to 3-4 kilometres soon.  He also starts classes through the Foothills Nordic Ski Club in January so we are confident that will help a lot!

Skiing in Calgary

Downhill Skiing Makes a Return

I gave up downhill skiing when I got pregnant and haven't done any resort skiing since.  The last time I was on downhill skis was in spring, 2008.  While I could have returned to skiing after Noah was born, it wasn't exactly on the recommended list of sports I continue to pursue after getting a total hip replacement after Noah's birth.  (long story!)

Skiing Nakiska last weekend

Last weekend I decided to get back out there on some gentle green runs to see if I could still ski.  The verdict - it's not exactly the most comfortable sport anymore and my hip isn't entirely thrilled with it.  (Zumba is actually less painful by a long shot.) And it won't be something I do on a regular basis.  It is something I will pursue at a family level though, skiing easy runs with Noah (until he passes me and takes off with Daddy to find the black runs.)

Noah and Daddy at Nakiska

As for Noah, he's been on skis three times now and is doing amazingly well!  I expected him to be nervous and timid at first but he's surprisingly confident in this new sport.  He absolutely LOVES it!  He has definitely chosen it as his favourite winter sport and I can see us doing a lot more downhill skiing in the future.  For now, Noah skis free everywhere (Thank God) but over the next couple of years I foresee us getting ski cards again and possibly getting season's passes to Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

To see a short video of Noah skiing at Nakiska, watch this video below:

Skiing at Nakiska, second time out

We look forward to many new adventures in 2014 and I hope you'll keep following our trips and outings.

Most Popular Posts of 2013

1. Summer Planning:  The Best Provincial Park Campgrounds in Southern Alberta

2. Banff to Jasper - Camping in the National Parks

3. Kids on Wheels - An Introduction to Bike Hiking (with Strider Bike giveaway from Alberta Balance Bikes)

4. Kids on Wheels - 10 Tips to Make Bike Riding FUN (with giveaway from Specialized Bicycle Components)

5. Family Camping Made Easy - Winning the Bedtime Battle

6. Camping Your Way Across North America

7. Touring the Canadian Rockies on a Stand Up Paddle Board

8. The Camping Project - 40+ Nights Baby

9. The Best Camping Hammock (with giveaway from ENO Hammocks)

10. Camping in Red Lodge Provincial Park (Guest Post)

11. Spring Hiking With Your Family in Kananaskis

12. The Bow Valley Biker Gang

Thursday, December 19, 2013

10 Ways to Celebrate a Calgary Outdoor Christmas

The Christmas Holidays are almost upon us and unless you're planning a sunny trip to Mexico, you're going to need some fun ideas to keep the kids entertained while school's out.  And, because you probably don't want the kids going stir crazy and tearing your house apart, you're going to have to venture outside.  Into the snow.   (of which we have tons!)

Here are my top 10 suggestions for fun things to do outside with the family this holiday season:

Celebrate an Outdoor Christmas this year!

One - Go Skiing on a City Golf Course

Both the Shaganappi Point and Confederation Park Golf Courses are groomed and track-set when conditions permit.  This year that's not a problem and the snow is great on both courses.  We've been out skiing a few times at Confederation Park already, and just ventured out to Shaganappi yesterday.  Loops of 1-3km can be made in both parks and the terrain is mostly flat.  It's an ideal way to ski with young children who can't navigate the hills in Kananaskis yet.  For more information on cross country skiing in Calgary, visit the City of Calgary's website

Skiing at Shaganappi Point Golf Course
Skiing at Confederation Park Golf Course

Two - Go Sledding

It's a classic winter activity, gear is cheap (just buy a sled), and the whole family can participate.  For a list of sledding hills in Calgary, visit the City of Calgary's website.

Disclaimer: There is no longer a skating rink or sledding hill by the Banff Springs Hotel (photo below.) Photo purely for nostalgia. 

Sledding and Skating in Banff below the Banff Springs Hotel

Three - Ice Skating!

Skating is one of our favourite winter activities and it's another affordable sport to take up as a family.  Second hand skates are easy enough to come by and community rinks are scattered around the city. 

Our community is fortunate to have a pond lit up with Christmas lights every evening and a fire pit in the middle for warming up cold hands and faces.  For a list of city outdoor ice rinks and ponds visit the City of Calgary's website.  Most city ponds will be open within the next week in time for Christmas.

Skating in Banff

Four - Take a Trip to Kananaskis Village

  • Go downhill skiing at Nakiska (There is no charge to ski in the beginners area accessed by magic carpet lifts, and children under 6 ski for free on the whole hill.)

  • Go tubing at Nakiska at their new Tube Park.  (Open weekends and holidays, adult and youth tickets are $10 added on to a ski pass.  Special tube park only tickets are also available  and children under 6 are free with an adult.

  •  Go skating at the Village outside the Delta Kananaskis Lodge. (skate rentals can be found at Kananaskis Outfitters on site.)

  •  Go cross country skiing on the groomed track-set trails around the Village.  (2-4km loops are available for young children and maps can be found at Kananaskis Outfitters )

  • Go snowshoeing around the village on official signed trails.

  • Go sledding on the village toboggan hill located near the playground
Really, you could actually stay for a week to do everything!  Contact Hostelling International if you want to do just that.  Their Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel is located just below the Village and ski hill.  It has 3 private rooms and features a fully stocked kitchen, indoor plumbing, and as cozy fire side room.   To read one of my reviews on the hostel, follow this link to Winter Camping in Kananaskis.

Cross country skiing at Kananaskis Village
Skating at Kananaskis Village

Five - Go skiing at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park

For families that don't want to drive out to Nakiska, Canada Olympic Park is a good local option. Prices are affordable and it's the perfect place to learn to ski.

We took our son to WinSport a couple nights ago for the first time and it was amazing how quickly he picked up skiing.  In no time at all he was mastering the wedge and he definitely did not want to go home!

First Time Skiing at COP

Six - Take a Day Trip to Banff

  • Go for a short hike on the Fenland Trail (packed down and generally in good winter condition for boot traffic without snowshoes)

  • Visit the hotsprings for a special treat

  • Take a trip up the Banff Gondola for a very special treat (yes, it's open in the winter)

  • Go skating on one of the rinks in the Town of Banff 

  • Go cross country skiing on the Banff Springs Golf Course or do the Spray River Loop starting from the Bow Falls parking lot or behind the Banff Springs Hotel.

  • Climb Tunnel Mountain (ice cleats recommended)

  • Drive out to Lake Minnewanka (cross country ski trails, snowshoe trails, and sightseeing)

  • Take a drive to Johnston Canyon (winter wonderland without the summer tourists.  Ice cleats recommended if there's been no fresh snow.)

For more information on any of the above, stop by the Visitor Information Centre on Banff Ave or visit the Town of Banff's website.  More ideas can be found on the Banff Lake Louise Tourism website. 

Johnston Canyon in winter
Hiking the Fenland Trail in winter
Skiing in the Cascade Valley, Lake Minnewanka

Seven - Take a Day Trip to Canmore

  • Visit the Canmore Nordic Centre for family-friendly cross country skiing, skating or sledding (day passes required for skiing)

  • Skate on the pond in downtown Canmore

  • Go Dog Sledding with Snowy Owl Tours for a very special Christmas treat the family will never forget!!

Skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Eight - Try a little winter biking!

Do you have a child who loves their Strider balance bike?  Did you know the bike comes with a ski attachment?  For an additional $35, you can convert your child's Strider bike into an all-season bike and mean snow machine!   Check out this You-tube video for the ultimate snow bike experience.   The skis can be purchased anywhere you buy Strider bikes, and in Alberta you can get them from Alberta Balance Bikes in Calgary. 

It's a great Christmas gift idea and would guarantee some snowy winter fun over the holidays.  We've been using our bike on toboggan hills in the city and we took it into the backcountry for a true test.   While you do have to carry or push it up hills, it performs well on groomed or soft powdery hills and glides with ease.  Think of it as a fancy sled. Attach it to your backpack for hiking trips that involve uphill trekking before you hike back down again.

Strider Ski Bike
Hiking the Snow Bike into the Backcountry

Using the Ski Attachment on a local sledding hill

Nine - Go check out one of the holiday light displays

We love going to the Airdrie Festival of Lights and the Lion's Festival of lights in Confederation Park.  Both offer free admission with the Airdrie Festival accepting donations.  For a small extra cost in Airdrie you can take a ride around Nose Creek Park in a small train.

Riding the Train at the Airdrie Festival of Lights

When we go to Confederation Park, we like to park at the Golf Course on Collingwood Drive NW and ski or hike across the park until we get to the light display.  We also bring a sled with us to use on the toboggan hill located right at the lights.

Sledding at Confederation Park

Skiing in Confederation Park
Finally, while it isn't as affordable (free) as the above two options, if there is any year when you may want to justify visiting the Calgary Zoo for Zoo Lights, this would be it.  It's no small miracle that the zoo is open again after the spring flood and it's a good time to support all businesses affected by the flood. 

Ten -Build a Snowman, Build a Snow Fort, and Just Have FUN outside

Noah asks us daily if we can build a snowman.  Yes, daily!  He loves playing in the snow.  He doesn't really need to go skiing, skating, snowshoeing... - All he wants to do is play in the snow.  So get out into your backyard and build a snowman.  Create a giant fort or igloo. (hours of entertainment  guaranteed with this one!) Have a snow ball fight.  And just play!

Digging snow tunnels is a great way to pass the afternoon
Every kid's favourite winter activity
Kids will spend hours playing on and in an igloo or snow house
Snow ball fights are a fabulous way to have fun outside.

The Christmas Challenge

Choose at least 5 activities or ideas from my list and try them out this holiday season.  I'd also love to hear your ideas for fun ways to get outside this Christmas season.  Leave comments below and we'll be sure to try some of them. 

You're never too old to make a snow angel

Other Inspiration to Check Out

10 Ways to Make Ice Fishing Fun for Kids - Skedaddle Alaska

Polar Bear Roar - 10  Things to Do With Kids Outside this Winter - Skedaddle  Alaska

Winter Escapes Close to Home - Calgary's Child Magazine

Creative Escapes From Winter - Calgary's Child Magazine

Snowshoeing - Family friendly, Affordable, and Easy - Calgary's Child Magazine

How to Celebrate an Outdoor Christmas - Active Kids Club 

Tubing with Kids at Mt. Norquay - Big Grey Rocks

10 Things to Do in the Snow in your Backyard - Outside Mom

Christmas Day Skating

And from My archives:

Happy Winter Adventures - Just Add Sled

Ice Ice  Baby - Winter Canyon Hiking 

How to Choose a Winter Hiking Trail

Cross Country Skiing with Kids - 5 Ways to Make it FUN

Downhill Skiing with Kids - 5 Ways to Make it FUN

Ice Skating with Kids - 10 Ways to Make it FUN

Winter Canyon Hiking

Monday, December 16, 2013

From Puddles to Snow Drifts with Stonz Rain Bootz and Fleece Linerz

I used to think all rain boots were the same until this year when my son put a hole right through one of his cheap department store boots within 2 weeks of buying them.  How does that happen?  Well, we let him wear his boots while riding his Strider balance bike, dragging his toes to slow down on hills.  However, I don't blame the bike.  I blame the cheap boots.  We bought a second pair and they were much more durable.  The problem with the second boots though was that they were too short.  It didn't take much for water to get into them while splashing in puddles or wading in creeks.

Stonz Rain Bootz and Linerz

Stonz Rain Bootz and Linerz
So, all rain boots are not equal.  And many leave much to be desired.  Thankfully, Stonz Wear has come out with a line of  rain bootz, added to their collection of baby booties and winter bootz.  They come in solid colors (black, blue, pink, or yellow) and are sized for children from 1 to  10 years of age.  At first glance, they look pretty ordinary and I must admit, a few more colour options or patterns would be fun. (thinking rocket ships, flowers, cars, etc.)

Colour options aside, the bootz perform where it matters the most - they are durable!  They are strong.  AND, they are waterproof.  Lacking puddles in Calgary right now, we've been wearing them in wet deep snow to test how waterproof they really are, and they've done well.  Very well.  As long as my son is wearing rain pants or a rain suit over his bootz, they keep all snow out where it belongs.  I would expect the same from water while playing in puddles or creeks.

The other thing that has impressed me about the boots is the warmth!  I got my first pair of adult rain boots this year and they are not the warmest pair of boots I own by a long shot!  Water is cold and I feel it through my boots.  Meanwhile, my son was outside playing in the snow when it was -17 Celsius the other day in his Stonz rain bootz.  And, he was warm.  He never once complained that his feet were cold.  How can rubber boots be so warm?  They come with fleece liners!

Playing in the Snow with the Stonz Rain Bootz and Linerz

The Stonz Fleece Linerz are my favourite part about their rain bootz.  When you insert the fleece linerz inside the boot, they transform  from a typical rain boot to an all-season boot that can be worn in everything from puddles to snow drifts.  The linerz also create a snug fit for the foot inside the boot.  This creates warmth AND stability.  A boot that fits well will perform better while hiking and walking.

Playground Fun

Shopping Tips:

Size up when buying a pair of Stonz Rain Bootz with Fleece Linerz.  We got rain bootz in the same size as our winter bootz and they could definitely be a size bigger.  I know they won't fit anymore come spring. 

Already have rain boots that you like?  Consider buying a pair of fleece linerz to go with your current boots.  They are versatile and will work with most tall boots.  They would even work well in a pair of winter boots for extra warmth!  We are sold on the linerz and will be buying them going forward from now on.

The Linerz can also be purchased in baby sizes to go inside the Stonz Booties for added warmth.  

Stonz Rain Bootz in Winter - Toasty Warm
To read my other reviews for Stonz Wear, follow these links to Awesome Snow Days with Stonz Winter Mittz and Warm Toes are Happy Toes with Stonz Winter Bootz

Stonz Wear boots and mittz can be purchased off the Stonz Wear website with free shipping for orders $70 and above across Canada and the United States.  (Hawaii and Alaska excluded.)

Note - blue ice cleats shown in some photos do not come with the boots.  A review for them will be coming shortly though so stay tuned.  (and you definitely do not need ice cleats in snow.  I was merely testing them out to see if they'd stay on the boots - which they did.)

Disclaimer:  I received a pair of Stonz Rain Bootz and Fleece Linerz for review.  As always, opinions and thoughts are my own and I was not paid to write this review.