Saturday, December 28, 2013

Looking Back on Another Great Year of Family Outdoor Adventure (2013)

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.

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.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Awesome Snow Days with Stonz Winter Mittz for Kids

We've had our battles with winter mittens and gloves over the past few years so when Stonz Wear asked me to be a Brand Ambassador for them and test out some of their new mittz for children, I was pretty excited.  My number one goal this winter was to solve every cold body problem.  That definitely included hands! 

Stonz Mittz at the Playground

My biggest complaints with winter mittens and gloves should sound familiar to those of you with kids:
Playing in the snow
  • They are too hard to get on!
  • My child hates them!
  • I can't get my child's freakin' thumbs in the thumb holes!  (yes, we've been frustrated!)
  • No matter how well I tuck my kid's gloves under the jacket cuffs, he/she STILL gets snow inside his sleeves. 
  • I'm sick and tired of trying to get my child's mittens or gloves tucked perfectly under their jacket sleeves to keep the snow out.  (especially when the jacket cuffs are too tight!)   - We had one pair of elbow mittens I had to actually put on before I put my child's jacket on!  It was the only way I could get them under the cuffs of his snow suit. 
  • My child's hands are always wet when we are outside playing in deep snow.
  • I  can NOT keep my child's mittens on!! They keep falling off.  Or my child pulls them off over and over...
  • My child can't do anything while wearing his mittens or gloves!  They are too stiff and he or she can't climb, play, or do anything outside.

Let me tell you that we have not had ANY of the above problems with our new Stonz Mittz.  They are brilliant and they work!!

Skiing with Stonz Mittz

Why do they work so well?

One - They are designed to fit OVER the jacket.  No trying to tuck them under the coat sleeves.  No putting them on before the jacket.  They easily slip on over top. 

Two - They are super warm!  No more cold fingers, no more wet hands.

Three - Snow stays OUT.  There is no way snow can get inside a pair of mittens worn up to the child's elbows, over his coat.  Especially because the mittz are designed with two cinch straps, one at the elbows and one at the wrists.  The wrist strap pulls in tight to keep the hands warm while the elbow strap pulls in tight to keep snow out.  Brilliant, right?

Four - It's crazy easy to get the thumbs in.  I haven't even had to try.  They just go right into place.  Worth buying for that alone!

Five - My son was playing on a slippery cold climbing structure in the mittz yesterday.  He had full function of his hands and could grip, climb, and play around in comfort.

Six - They are hard for kids to remove.  My son tries and he has to work really hard to get them off. Good news for parents of toddlers.

Climbing in Stonz Mittz

The photos I've included should speak for themselves when I say that these are the best mittens we've found. They come in sizes for babies (without thumbs) all the way up to children 2-8+ years of age.

Playing in the Snow in Stonz Mittz

We've tested the mittz during the following activities:
  • Sledding
  • Playing in deep snow
  • Winter hiking at a temperature of -30 Celsius
  • Climbing and playing at the playground
  • Cross Country Skiing
Disclaimer:  As a Brand Ambassador for Stonz Wear, I received a pair of Stonz Winter Bootz to review. As always, all opinions and thoughts are my own and I wasn't paid to write this article. - See more at:

Winter Hiking with Toasty Warm Hands

For more on Stonz Wear, the company, and to read my review on their winter bootz, follow this link to my last story:  Warm Toes are Happy Toes with Stonz Winter Bootz.

Shopping Tip:  The children's mittz fit BIG.  We originally got the 4-8+ size mittz and they were way too big for our almost 5 year old.  We ended up getting the 2-4 years size instead and they were a much better fit for a child between the ages of 4-5.  
Disclaimer:  As a Brand Ambassador for Stonz Wear, I received a pair of Stonz Winter Bootz to review. As always, all opinions and thoughts are my own and I wasn't paid to write this article. - See more at:

Disclaimer:  As a Brand Ambassador for Stonz Wear, I received a pair of Stonz Winter Bootz to review. As always, all opinions and thoughts are my own and I wasn't paid to write this article. - See more at:

Snow Angel with Dry Hands in Stonz Mittz

Disclaimer:  As a Brand Ambassador for Stonz Wear, I received a pair of Mittz for review.  As always, all opinions and thoughts are my own and I wasn't paid for this story. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Warm Toes are Happy Toes with Stonz Winter Bootz

A couple of months ago I was asked if I would like to be a Stonz Brand Ambassador and children's gear tester this winter.  Well, it took me all of 5 seconds before I was screaming YES, I'll do it!   I wasn't about to turn down the opportunity to try out some quality kids' winter gear if it meant my son might actually have warm hands and toes this year! 

We've had our battles over the last couple of winters and many of them have occurred as a result of bad gear.  We've seen our share of lousy boots and mittens that might as well have been designed (and tested) in Florida, seen way too many tears as once again, snow got into my son's mittens, and pulled boots off too many times, only to find soaking wet socks and frozen toes.

I'm happy to report that we have now solved all of our problems with cold hands and feet, thanks to the great Stonz Wear gear we've been testing over the last month.  And wow, have we tested it!  My son wore the winter bootz and mittz while hiking when it was -30C here last weekend.  And today I sent him out in the Stonz rain bootz with fleece liners at -17C.  Cold toes?  Nope.  Wet feet?  Nope.  Happy child?  You bet!!

Stonz Winter Bootz

Stonz Wear - the Company

Stonz Mittz
I first discovered this Canadian company when a girlfriend brought her toddler into the backcountry on an overnight ski trip, wearing Stonz booties.  The booties are the signature product that originally launched the company and continue to be their best selling item.  While originally designed for babies and children under 2,  select models are now available for 2-3 year old children as well.  The company is also now selling fleece liners for their booties to provide even further warmth for our cold Canadian winters.

What else is new in the Stonz product line up?
  • Winter Bootz for children and youth up to 14 years old (rated to minus 50 Celsius!)
  • Rain Bootz for children up to 10 years old (with fleece liners for cold weather use)
  • Winter Mittz for children up to 7 years old with an over-the-arm design guaranteed to keep snow OUT
  • Reversible Fleece Hatz for children up to 5 years old (super cute too)

Stonz Booties (photo:  G. Duncan)



Stonz Winter Bootz

I'll do separate reviews for each product that we've tried so far, but I wanted to start with the Stonz winter bootz, which have been a winter life saver for us so far this year!  When we planned to go to Banff last weekend for the annual Christmas in the Rockies festival, we never dreamed temperatures would hover around -30C the whole weekend.  In temperatures like that, good boots are a necessity!


The Stonz winter bootz are rated to -50 and I honestly hope to never find out if they really do keep the feet warm at that temperature.  What I do know is this - at minus 30 Celsius, they keep the feet toasty warm when moving.  My son wore them on a winter hike last weekend for about an hour and never complained once of cold feet.  The only time we had cold feet last weekend was at night while standing outside waiting for the Santa Claus parade.  It was the same temperature but none of us were moving, which I know to play an important factor in keeping feet warm.  (even my feet got cold and they have never ever been cold in my current boots.)

The verdict:  as long as you are active outside playing, I have no doubt that the Stonz bootz will perform at some pretty sick temperatures!

Winter Hiking in Stonz Winter Bootz


The Stonz website has this to say about their boots:
"The most lightweight high performance winter boot designed for extreme cold weather"
And, that pretty much sums it up nicely.  (I could finish the review with that one sentence.)  These boots are the lightest boots I have ever seen.  Ever!  They honestly feel as light as a pair of slippers when you pick them up.  Why this is important?  Kids suffer in winter with their heavy boots, bulky ski pants, cumbersome winter coats, and layers of mittens, hats, and scarves.  If the weight can be reduced for even one item, it's a drastic improvement in how happy your child will be outside playing.

The verdict:  They are super light weight AND warm at the same time.  Sweet deal.

Sledding with Stonz Winter Bootz


There is nothing worse than bad winter boots that leave you with wet feet every time you accidentally step in a puddle.  Fortunately, the soles on the Stonz bootz are waterproof and from what we've seen, the nylon upper part of the boot can handle getting wet too!  We've tested the boots in some pretty deep snow and have yet to see a wet sock.  The bootz feature a draw string at the top of the calf to ensure snow stays where it belongs (outside the boot.)

The verdict:  Dry feet every time!

Good soles on the Stonz Winter Bootz


Finally, we've tested the boots on some pretty slippery trails.  The worst hike was with our outdoor playgroup one very muddy wet day in the city a month ago.  I was slip sliding every which way as I made my way down the trail.  Meanwhile, my son was running!  Flat out running down the giant hill.  And he never slipped once that I saw.  The bootz can handle some pretty good ice and mud!  Important?  Ah, yeah!

The verdict:  Wear the Stonz winter bootz on your next winter hike and be confident that your child will stay on his feet much of the time.

Relaxing after a muddy hike with the Stonz Winter Bootz

Noah's opinion

It took Noah a little bit to warm up to his new boots but he likes things to stay the same and introducing a new pair of boots or shoes is always a bit of work.  He soon realized though that the boots were easy to put on, comfortable, and warm.  He hasn't complained since.

Happy in his Stonz Winter Bootz

Final buying tips

The bootz fit true to size so no need to size up unless you want them slightly larger to accommodate thicker socks. 

Winter Hiking with Stonz Winter Bootz

We tested the boots during the following activities:
  • Winter hiking on grass, mud, snow and ice
  • Snowshoeing
  • Sledding
  • Playing outside in temperatures ranging from 5 to 10 Celsius down to -30 Celsius

Snowshoeing in Stonz Winter Bootz

Disclaimer:  As a Brand Ambassador for Stonz Wear, I received a pair of Stonz Winter Bootz to review. As always, all opinions and thoughts are my own and I wasn't paid to write this article.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas in the Rockies - The Adventure!

Last week I wrote about Christmas in the Rockies and the Banff Winterstart Festival we planned to go to this past weekend.  We had a full weekend planned with an overnight stay in Banff, plans to take in the Santa Claus parade of lights, and a full schedule lined up for Saturday and Sunday which included everything from cross country skiing to skating, downhill skiing, and tubing.  Then the temperature dropped.  And kept dropping until it was hovering around -30C with wind chill.  (sometimes colder.)  Plans were about to be "modified."

The hardy Canadians we are, there was no way we were cancelling our weekend in Banff.  With reservations already taken care of at the Hidden Ridge Resort, we knew we wanted to go out for the weekend and hang out in the resort's hot tub at the very least! And the Santa Claus Parade is an annual tradition for us.  We would be there!  In multiple layers of long underwear, down and fleece!

Christmas in the Rockies - The Adventure!

Christmas in the Rockies

We headed out to Banff shortly before noon on Saturday and decided to start the day off right - at the St. James Gate pub.  (which was still serving breakfast!)  We were given a toasty warm table right beside the fireplace and we were tempted to spend the whole day there. Eventually moving on though, we decided to check out what was happening in the Cascade Plaza across the street.  It was a great place to spend some time on a cold wintery day.  The Bow Valley Choir was singing Christmas carols beside the food court and we found the top floor to be filled with booths offering crafts, games, and activities for the kids.  We even managed to quickly ambush Santa on his way into the mall for a quick photo. 

The Bow Valley Choir in Cascade Plaza
Meeting Santa in the Cascade Plaza

Next we made our way over to the Bison Courtyard where we'd heard there was ice carving going on.  We didn't see any professional carving happening but Noah did get to try his hand at chipping away at his own block of ice.  He loved it and I'm sure he could have chipped away at his block for a good hour or more!  Now we're really excited about the Ice Magic Festival that will take place in Lake Louise late January.  Noah will get the opportunity to practice his carving skills again there during the Little Chippers Weekend.

Ice Carving in the Bison Courtyard

We finished our tour of Banff with a visit to the Whyte Museum where they were hosting an open house complete with more crafts for the kids, carolers, story telling, and visits with Santa.  We'd never actually been to the museum before so it was nice to spend some time walking around while we checked out the photography on display.  (Mark pointing out all the routes he's climbed in each  photo.)

Crafts in the Whyte Museum

The Parade of Lights

We checked in to our hotel early and then drove back downtown for the parade which started at 5:30pm.  We were bundled in more layers of clothes than I've ever worn but for the most part, stayed warm.  The parade was short at a half hour (thank goodness) but was impressive none the less.  We especially loved the giant inflatable Santa that towered over downtown Banff.   And Santa himself made an appearance in a carriage at the end of the parade.  We got lots of candy canes, stickers, glow sticks and even hot chocolate from the awesome people walking the parade route.  Despite the cold temperatures, the spirit of Christmas in Banff Saturday night was alive and strong, and this might have been the best parade of lights yet!  We thought everybody really out did themselves this year and there appeared to be more floats and entries than last year. 

A Giant Santa made an appearance at the Parade of Lights
The finale of the parade - SANTA!

Staying warm at the parade
We finished off the evening at the Banff Ave. Brewing Company and I would definitely visit this casual pub on the main street again.  They take kids, offer up tasty pub fare along with a few more sophisticated menu items (lobster mac and cheese for example,) and there were many different varieties of hand crafted local beers to try. 

Banff Ave

Watching the parade

Hidden Ridge Resort

Our home away from home for the weekend was the  Hidden Ridge Resort.  We'd stayed here years ago (pre-Noah) so knew what a fabulous place it was.  The resort features condo suites with lofts and one or two bedrooms per unit along with pull out sofas to accommodate groups and families wanting to travel together. 

Hidden Ridge Resort (photo courtesy of the Banff Lodging Company)

Our suite
Kitchens in each condo allow for meals in the comfort of your room and our stay came with a breakfast package which was pretty sweet!  The kitchen was stocked with everything we needed to make breakfast Sunday morning from eggs and bagels to pancake mix and sausage.  Add OJ, coffee, and milk - and we had more than enough for our small family!  They even thought of the little things like butter and syrup.

We loved the hot pools on site and the change rooms below the pools were a welcome treat as we didn't have to run across the parking lot in the -30 weather in house coats.  We checked in to our hotel early on Saturday so that we could spend some time in the pools before the parade that night.  It was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.  We also took advantage of the late check out time (11am) to use the hot pools again before leaving Sunday. 

Hot pools at the Hidden Ridge Resort

The final thing we loved was the wood burning fireplace in our suite.  We had the fire going most of the time we were in our room and had a beautiful evening sitting in front of it after Noah had gone to bed Saturday night.  We even lit a fire during breakfast on Sunday since we didn't have to go out to eat!

The Pools at Hidden Ridge Resort (photo courtesy of the Banff Lodging Company)

Sunday Hiking in Johnston Canyon

We were supposed to have been skiing at Mt. Norquay on Sunday but due to the frigid temps, had to call that part of our weekend off.  Not a family to shy away from outdoor time at any temperature though, we decided to go for a hike in Johnston Canyon.  In summer the trail to the lower waterfall is so crowded you can barely move, and the parking lot is overflowing with cars parked up and down both sides of the highway.  In winter however - we almost had the canyon to ourselves.  We came across a few other small groups but for the most part it was a quiet and peaceful walk to the waterfall.  I would have liked to have gone further to the upper falls but Noah was "tired."  Getting him the short distance to the first set of falls was hard enough so we decided to call it an early day and make our way back to Calgary.

Noah making his way to the first waterfall on the cat walks of Johnston Canyon
The cave that gives you an up close view of the first waterfall
Possibly the best part of the hike for kids - the cave!
Love the catwalks that traverse the canyon walls

It was certainly one of the colder hikes we've done but it was a nice walk none the less and we enjoyed seeing a popular tourist site without said tourists.

Johnston Canyon

Upcoming Christmas Festivals in the Rockies

If you missed the Christmas in the Rockies festival last weekend, you can still make it out to Bragg Creek for the final weekend of their Spirit of Christmas event.  It wraps up this coming Saturday and Sunday, December 14th and 15th, with fun activities happening from noon until 4pm both days.  We went last year and enjoyed a horse drawn wagon ride, a visit with Santa, and a special visit with one of Santa's reindeer. We plan to go out again this year and do some skiing at West Bragg Creek while we're there. (fortunately it's looking a LOT warmer for this coming weekend!)

Special Thanks!

Toasty Warm!
I want to give a special thanks to the wonderful folks at Banff and Lake Louise Tourism  for sponsoring so much of this past weekend in Banff.  They graciously set us up with our room at Hidden Ridge Resort and made sure we were well fed throughout the weekend.

Thanks as well to the Banff Lodging Company for making our stay at the Hidden Ridge Resort possible.  

I also want to say thanks to some great companies who helped keep us warm in Banff (no small feat last weekend!) Columbia Sportswear has been sending me gear to try out and it was definitely appreciated in the cold weather we just survived.  (reviews to come shortly) 

As for Noah, he couldn't even feel the cold through his Molehill down jacket that we received through Mountain Baby out of Nelson, BC.  To read the recent review I did on the jacket, follow this link to It's So Puffy!!  Introducing the Kids' Molehill Down Jacket.  

Noah also had warm feet all weekend thanks to a great pair of winter boots  from Stonz Wear.   (review to come shortly.) It takes a lot to have warm feet when it's -30 so thank you, thank you, thank you!!  And we finally tried out Noah's new Stonz Mittz on the Johnston Canyon hike so I will be able to get a review up for them shortly too.

Parting shot of some great gear!