Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top Ten Highlights of 2014

2014 was a big year for us as a family as we watched our son grow to become a very active member in our adventures.  Slowly I'm realizing that I'm needing less and less "adult days" as Noah gets stronger and more capable of joining us for the big stuff.

Already, Noah is biking the same trails I'd choose for my own rides, he accompanies us on all of our paddling trips, and he's keeping pace with me as we run down mountains.  On one trip, he beat me to the parking lot by a full half hour!  (And he's not even 6 years old.)  He also out-biked me on one ride this summer where I chose to walk a hill, and he did not!  I can not wait to see what next year brings.  (though I am a bit scared of being left behind.)

2014 was a BIG year for our Junior Adventurer

Top Ten Highlights of 2014

One - Dog Sledding in Kananaskis

We got the chance to go dog sledding as a family last January with Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours and by the end of the tour I wanted to buy a team of dogs and become a professional musher.  It was that fun!  Learning to drive a team of dogs while flying across a frozen lake should go on every winter bucket list.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Family X-Country Skiing at Lake Louise

There are a lot of great family x-country ski trails in the Rockies but we have a favourite trail we love most, and that we think is ideal for introducing kids to skiing. It's called the Tramline Trail and it is a 4.8 km trail that takes you from Lake Louise to the Bow River, and Village of Lake Louise, 195 metres below.

Skiing down the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

Parks Canada describes the Tramline trail below: 

"This trail runs from valley bottom to Lake Louise at a steady 3% rise, following the old grade of the tramline that once connected the train station and the Chateau Lake Louise."

Reading that description, one would think this is not exactly the ideal beginner trail to do with kids.  However, do it in reverse from Lake Louise DOWN to the Village, arrange a car shuttle ahead of time with friends, and enjoy one of the easiest x-country ski trips to be found in the Rockies.

Why we love the Tramline Trail

One.  It's all downhill if done in the correct direction, but not so steep that you have to snow plow.  There's only one big hill that beginner skiers will need assistance on (or can walk) and then a minor hill near the end as you reach the Bow River.

Two.  It's great for teaching the kids to double pole - so bring the poles that you might not normally use

Three.  Kids will find the trail super easy for practicing their kick and glide.  It's amazing how much easier it is when there's a slight decline for 4.8km!

The Tramline Trail is great for improving ski skills

Four.  It is interesting, pretty, and you get to cross a lovely bridge on the lower section that is a favourite spot of mine for family ski photos (as long as your kids don't fall going down the short hill to the bridge.)

The Scenic bridge on the Lower Tramline section

Five.  You can shorten the trip by starting at the Moraine Lake Road trailhead.  This would shorten the trip by about 1.5 km.

Six.  Finally, to extend the trip, ski along the Bow River at the bottom of the Tramline Trail.  This is a 6.6 km loop around the Village and the Campgrounds.  It can also be shortened with mini-loops created.

Skiing along the Bow River near the Village of Lake Louise

Other Ski Trails in the Lake Louise Area

The Moraine Lake Road (ski as far as you want and go back the same way.  Not very exciting but good for practicing basic skills.  Slightly uphill the whole way until you turn around so not very good for kids practicing their kick and glide.)

The Fairview Loop (intermediate trail with some challenging sections and hills.  Best done as a loop with the Upper Tramline trail and a bit of the Moraine Lake Road for a 7.5 km loop.)

The Lake Louise Loop (you get to ski right on Lake Louise to the back of the lake and can return on a trail through the trees if you want.  Great with kids.  100% flat.  Return the same way for the easiest route on the lake.  The full loop is 4.1km)

The Great Divide (ski as far as you want and return the same way.  Not very exciting for kids as you'll be skiing on an old road, but it is ok for practicing basic skills.)

The Bow River Loop (Great with kids!  Ski a loop around the Village and Campgrounds along the Bow River.  Best done later in the season when there is enough snow though.  Full loop is 6.6km with shorter versions available)

Skiing the Bow River Loop (early snow conditions)

For more information on all trails mentioned visit the Parks Canada website.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Family Snowshoeing Super Guide

Let me know if any of the following questions on snowshoeing sound familiar:

Why should we take the kids snowshoeing when skiing is so much more fun?  (Right??)

Where is the best place to buy snowshoes for kids?

What should we look for when buying a pair of snowshoes?

At what age can children start to snowshoe?

Where does one go snowshoeing with kids?

Are there specific trails for snowshoeing or do you just head out anywhere into the wild?

Family Snowshoeing is FUN


Why should we take the kids snowshoeing when skiing is so much more fun?

Snowshoeing is extremely fun - when done right!

To answer this question, I direct you to the story I just wrote for Snowshoe Magazine which seeks to explain why snowshoeing is so much fun!  Yes, it is not skiing.  It is a different sport entirely.  But, if hiking isn't boring, why would it suddenly become boring just because you've added snow??

"Perhaps we should stop comparing snowshoeing to skiing and embrace it for what it is – a different sport with its own rewards and appeal."

Here is the full story to read:  Snowshoeing is Boring (and other myths I once believed.)

In the story for Snowshoe Magazine I cover the following topics:
  • How to hike with a sled (yes, there is a technique)

  • Why to always bring a sled

  • Games to play on snowshoes

  • Games to play on the trail to get you to your destination

  • How to make snowshoeing FUN with kids

  • How to choose a trail

  • What a snowshoe trail looks like Vs. a ski trail
Powder for the WIN on Snowshoes

Buying Snowshoes for the Family

There is no science in choosing snowshoes for kids.  Go down to Mountain Equipment COOP, Campers Village, or check out the selection online at All Out Kids Gear. Look at the weight limits on the snowshoes, and pick a pair that fits your child's current weight.  That's it.  Really!

Most kids are not out there doing hard core snowshoe climbs so you don't need to worry about choosing the most technical pair of snowshoes on the market.  Children will be tromping around in snowy meadows for the most part so as long as the snowshoes have crampons on them for ice and small hills, you're good.

Daddy snowshoes, Mama snowshoes, and Baby snowshoes

My son is currently wearing the MSR Shift Snowshoes for Kids. Read my review here.

Durable and Strong MSR Shift Snowshoes

You can also find more inspiration and trail suggestions in my story for Calgary's Child:  Snowshoeing:  Family-friendly, Affordable, and Easy

This is the kind of trail you will often find yourself on with kids

At what age can children start snowshoeing 

There is no set age that children will be ready for snowshoeing.  Basically, as soon as they can walk, they can snowshoe.  BUT, you'll want to start on packed trails.  Children 3+ should be able to handle some light powder.  By the age of 4-5, children should be able to tromp around in a field of fluffy snow and even help break trail for short sections.  Kids 6+ will probably enjoy helping with trail breaking and eagerly take up the challenge.

Breaking Trail (age 5)

If hiking with small children follow these tips for success:
  • Always bring a sled!

  • Take your normal summer hiking distance and chop it in half (maybe even more than half.)  In summer, my child can easily hike 12 km.  In winter, I'd start with 6 km. 

  • Use a Chariot with ski attachment or a ski pulk and hike on wider groomed trails (this is where ski trails actually work in your favour) - just stay off the ski tracks I beg!

  •  Bring a Strider ski bike for preschoolers and let them ski out.  They can snowshoe up the trail while you carry the bike (just strap it on to your backpack) and then ski out.  It's a LOT of fun.  And Brett at Run Bikes YYC can hook you up with skis for your Strider bike.

Chariots with ski attachments are great for the little ones
Ski Pulks are cozy and our preferred method of getting a single child into the backcountry
Carrying the Strider and a sled into the backcountry (both got used this day)
Skiing out on Strider Ski Bikes

The Top 5 Places to go Snowshoeing with Kids

1.  City golf courses.  City golf courses make great practice spots for learning to walk in snowshoes.  They are flat with the occasional hill and you can easily bring a sled with you in case your child tires out.  In Calgary, Confederation Park is our golf course of choice for winter snowshoeing.  Shaganappi Point has more grooming and folks there would not be as receptive to seeing snowshoers on their trails.

Snowshoeing at Confederation Park

2.  City natural areas and parks.  Go to your favourite natural area that you visit for summer hikes, and bring your snowshoes.  One of our favourites in Calgary is 12 Mile Coulee. To find others, follow this link to the City of Calgary's list of Parks and Natural Areas.

Snowshoeing in 12 Mile Coulee (helmet worn for the ice we hoped to play on)
Ice in 12 Mile Coulee (bring your skates)

3.  Campgrounds.  Most campgrounds are closed for the winter and are perfect for beginner snowshoers.  Hike on the campground roads for easy hiking and search for playgrounds.  Alternately, look for the summer hiking trails located in the campgrounds and hike those for a a bigger adventure.

Top picks near Calgary:

Hiking on the Paddy's Flat Trail

4.  Your favourite summer trail.  Try hiking your favourite summer trail and see how it looks with snow.  Just make sure to check with a visitor centre first or do a bit of research to make sure there is no avalanche danger.

Snowshoeing at Wedge Pond, Kananaskis

How to get started choosing a trail:

5.  Hike where you can't go in summer! Here's your chance to hike up a creek that is full of water in summer, hike across a beautiful lake that you'd have to hike around in summer, and explore those secret places off the beaten path. (Just make sure the water is frozen before you go hiking across a lake or up a creek!)

Personal favourites:
  • Bow Lake, Icefields Parkway (hike across the lake rather than following the trail)

  • Mosquito Creek, Icefields Parkway (follow the creek rather than the hiking trail)

  • Johnson Lake or Lake Minnewanka, Banff NP (hike across the lake rather than following the trail)

  • Jura Creek Canyon or Grotto Creek Canyon, Kananaskis

  • Anywhere along the Spray Lakes Road (see the Beginner Snowshoeing Guidebook for suggestions, link above under #4)

  • Wedge Pond, Kananaskis

  • Lake Louise (hike right across the lake)

  • Troll Falls, Kananaskis (you won't get to see a frozen waterfall in summer)

For information on the above areas, visit a local information centre or visit the appropriate Park website.

Also check out my winter hiking guide here. (It has links to all stories written of our favourite winter hikes.)

Yoga on Bow Lake - and you can't do this in summer!
Hiking up Mosquito Creek (no trail here in summer - just running water)
Jura Canyon (full of water in summer)

For route information on Jura Canyon, read the story I wrote last year.  You won't find this in many guide books!  Total local's secret.

Troll Falls in winter
Lake Minewanka, Banff
Ice in Grotto Canyon, Kananaskis

Graduating to Bigger Trails with Older Kids

Once the kids are able to hike 8+ km, bigger options open up.

We have three favourites here:

Chester Lake, Kananaskis
Rawson Lake, Kananaskis
Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

See you on the trails and for one piece of final inspiration, check out this story I wrote for Snowshoe Magazine:  Raising the Next Generation...On Snowshoes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Five Reasons to Take Your Family to Mosquito Creek this Winter

I could almost just post the photo below and say "this is why you should go to Mosquito Creek this winter!  Any questions?"

Snowshoeing along Mosquito Creek in winter

Scenery aside, I have five big reasons why you should plan a  family trip to the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel in Banff National Park this winter:

One - Solitude!  

This photo below was taken outside the hostel on the Icefields Parkway.  In summer, this is a very busy highway that links Lake Louise with Jasper.  In winter, it is deserted.


Two - Private Cabin

There is a private cabin on site that sleeps two families or a group of 8-10 people.  And if you can't get into the private cabin, try asking about reserving a dorm room for your group.  You'll have to pay for all 12 beds but it guarantees a positive experience with young children not old enough to share a dorm room with strangers.

Our happy group at Mosquito Creek


Three - Great snowshoeing right outside your door

Head over to the campground next door and hike up the creek or cross the highway as we did this time and hike up the creek which leads to a set of beautiful frozen waterfalls. Note, to hike up the creek on the other side of the highway, it is very important that the creek be frozen!  You are not hiking on the main summer trail that goes up towards Molar Pass.  You are just following the creek bed towards a canyon.  We couldn't go very far (maybe half a km at most) because of open water.  So be careful please!

Hiking up Mosquito Creek
Mosquito Creek in winter
Kids on their ski bikes - riding over an ice bridge I might add!!

Four - Comfortable introduction to winter camping

The hostel has a warm cozy fireplace room, a kitchen stocked with the basic cooking supplies you'll need, AND two refrigerators.  There's no microwave or indoor plumbing, but you will have filtered water for drinking and washing dishes lest you fear having to boil and melt snow.  Winter camping doesn't get much comfier than this!

Roasting marshmallows in the fireside room

Five - Snow everywhere!!  

It doesn't matter how brown and dry it is in Calgary because there is always snow out at Mosquito Creek from November through April.  We come to the hostel and the kids spend hours playing in the snow, playing in snow quinzees at the campground next door, hiking around the area and sledding on little hills outside the hostel.  We even go snowshoeing in the dark before bed.

Playing outside the Mosquito Creek Hostel
Playing in Mosquito Creek
Ski-Biking along Mosquito Creek
Playing on snow piles along the highway
There's always snow for sledding

Additional Resources

Read about our past trips to Mosquito Creek and see more photos here:

Winter Paradise at Mosquito Creek

Winter Camping in Style