Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Search of the Ultimate Backcountry Ski Lodge (on Snowshoes)

I’m fortunate to live a short hour outside the park gates of Banff National Park where opportunities for both skiing and snowshoeing are abundant. Backcountry lodges are also plentiful for multi-day trips but tend to cater to skiers who will either ski in to the lodge (and maybe explore the area further on snowshoes once settled in) or else will fly in via helicopter and spend their days seeking out turns in the high alpine. Meanwhile, options are slim for those of us wanting to access backcountry cabins and lodges on snowshoes via an easy to moderate winter hiking trail.

In search of the ultimate backcountry ski lodge - on snowshoes

Most of the lodges I’ve looked at in the Canadian Rockies encourage visitors to either ski or snowshoe in. Further research however would reveal that nobody really chooses to snowshoe unless there’s a limiting factor. For example, friends have told me of trips taken on snowshoes because a party member didn’t know how to ski in the backcountry, and I once took my mother into a lodge on snowshoes because I knew there was no way she’d be skiing up and over a mountain pass without breaking a leg.

Choosing to snowshoe to a backcountry ski lodge in Banff National Park

Devout skiers will still disagree with me, but I have found a backcountry lodge in the Canadian Rockies that I actually find pleasant to reach on snowshoes. Sure, it’s not as fast without skis (that’s a given), but the scenery en route to the lodge is drop-dead beautiful and you’ll be hiking on an honest to goodness trail (the same trail that summer visitors hike in fact.) You will climb over two mountain passes and across the middle of a large alpine lake as you travel to this lodge, and you will work for that afternoon tea waiting for you upon your arrival.

Reaching an awesome backcountry ski lodge -  on snowshoes

To read more, please continue to my newest story for Snowshoe Magazine:  In Search of the Ultimate Backcountry Ski Lodge (on snowshoes)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

5 Days in the Mountains - with no kids (WOW)

Over the past week and a half I've spent 5 days skiing and snowshoeing in Banff National Park - with no children!  I hiked over two mountain passes and crossed a backcountry lake to stay at Lake Louise's historic Skoki Lodge for two nights, and I spent two days ski touring with a great group of girlfriends (in fact, there were 28 of us together for one crazy weekend!)

The face of happiness and freedom
I still want children to play a vital role in my adventures and believe strongly that my son should get to come on any trip that he has the skill and endurance for.  In fact, I'm still slightly bitter that I was dissuaded from bringing him to Skoki Lodge with me because I know he's a trooper and he would have made it! 

Family adventures aside, sometimes it's really nice to get away without the kids, to take a bit of a break, and to ski or hike at an adult pace without having to dole out candy every 10 minutes to motivate the herd.


28 moms, a wilderness hostel, and two days of glorious skiing

I try to plan an annual girls' ski trip each winter and so far numbers have gone like this:

And now I'm really curious about next year because honestly, where do you go after a ski trip with 28 girls?? I can't imagine finding a place big enough to fit 30+ girls for a weekend.  (if you know of one, let me know.)

28 Girls at the Castle Mountain Wilderness Hostel, Banff  (photo: Jen Sollid)

Also, in case you're wondering just how popular I am that I could find 27 other moms to go away with me for the weekend, remember that the first year started with just 6 girls.  And it's kind of exploded! 

Skiing at Lake Louise on our girls' ski weekend  (photo: Jen Sollid)

It's actually not that hard to find moms desperate to get away for a weekend.  I started with my Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Community (600 members strong) and a few friends I knew from Banff.  Friends invited their friends, who invited their friends, and so it went.  Until there were 28 of us!!

Banff and Calgary Moms Unite in Banff for a weekend

So, what did we do for two days away from the kids?  Well, of course there was a lot of wine consumed, great conversations, way too much food, and it got a tad noisy in the hostel.  Other than that, we skied.  We split into groups each day and went out for tours ranging from easy nordic skiing to advanced backcountry ski touring, easier ski touring (more my speed,) skate skiing, and even downhill skiing.  In the evenings between glasses of wine there was more skiing and even some night hiking at nearby Johnston Canyon.

Skiing across Boom Lake, Banff
Exploring frozen waterfalls at the far end of Boom Lake
Beautiful Paradise Valley, Lake Louise (awesome for light ski touring)

To see more photos from the trip (because there is no way I could post them all here), visit my Google+ album:  Castle Girls' Trip Photos.  I'd love to hear your comments as well so please let me know if it looked like we were having fun.

3 Days in the Backcountry at Skoki Lodge

This adventure deserves a story all of its own!  Fortunately it's coming and you'll be able to read it soon in Snowshoe Magazine.  I'm a true multi-sport kind of gal and so after 2 days of ski touring with my girlfriends, I spent 3 days snowshoeing beyond Lake Louise with a base camp at Skoki Lodge.

Skoki Lodge, Lake Louise, Banff

And in case you're wondering about the photo above, yes, we finally got a Go-Pro!  And isn't the camera awesome!  I'll be posting lots of photos this winter with the new camera on my Instagram account so make sure you're following me there if you aren't already.

The pathway to Skoki Lodge (and why you should go summed up in one photo)

While Skoki Lodge is definitely family-friendly, my son is at that challenging age where he's too big to pull in a chariot or pulk, but not old enough to ski 11 km into a backcountry lodge while climbing over two mountain passes.  Hopefully soon though. 

This girl has spent a LOT of time with me in the last couple of weeks.  (thanks Alannah)

I hiked into Skoki Lodge with my girlfriend Alannah, one of the new owners of the Campsite Blog.  She graciously accepted to hike into the lodge with me for my snowshoe story and now I think I probably owe her another ski trip because former ski racers don't generally choose to "hike" into a backcountry ski lodge!

Snowshoeing to Skoki Lodge with Deception Pass in the background (the crux of the trip)

I will let you all know when my story is live for Snowshoe Magazine so that you can hear about the whole trip.  In the meantime, more photos!!! Go to my Google+ Account to see all the photos from the trip to SkokiAnd again, comments make me happy.

Beyond Lake Louise en route to Skoki Lodge

That was just a short summary of 5 amazing days spent playing in the backcountry of Banff National Park on skis and snowshoes with fabulous girlfriends. The rest of the winter will be spent playing with my Pook (now 6 years old!!) and he gets his own backcountry ski trip at the end of February when we ski as a family into Shadow Lake Lodge.  Much more on that one to come.

Parting shot of the happy Mama in the backcountry of Banff

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Winter Wilderness Trips - The Method and the Madness

Want to guess how many winter wilderness trips we have planned over the next 4 months??  TEN!! And our son gets to come on six of the trips - which means we have to be really efficient at packing, preparing, and organizing.

Below is a quick preview of where we'll be exploring this winter with tips on how to prepare for your own winter wilderness adventures.

The First Wilderness Trip - Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel

This trip is already finished now but I'm still counting it towards our ten trips since it happened just before Christmas and involved two nights spent in a small cabin in Banff surrounded by snow.  We love the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel and try to make an annual trip here every winter.  This year we reserved a full dorm room for 12 people and travelled with two other families.  We spent two days cross country skiing and snowshoeing and thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Icefields Parkway.

This is Mosquito Creek and there's no flying insects here!! Just Pure Beauty and snow!

More information (and photos) can be found here at Five Reasons to Take your Family to Mosquito Creek this Winter.

Playing in the snow outside the Mosquito Creek Hostel

Karen of the Play Outside Guide has also written a couple of stories about our trip:  How to Weather a Wilderness Hostel with Kids in Winter and Get Closer to Nature at Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel.

Mosquito Creek in Winter

The Next Nine Trips - Where We're Going This Winter

Our trips will be divided into front country outings at wilderness hostels, and backcountry trips at cabins or lodges that we'll ski or snowshoe into.  The Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel will be a combination of both front and backcountry since it's set so far off the highway you have to wear snowshoes to reach the cabins. It also has no running water so we'll have to use all of our winter camping skills for this trip!  Otherwise, the hostel trips are pretty easy and we don't expect to suffer too much.

Girls' Trip this weekend in Banff! 28 Girls, one wilderness hostel, and two days of x-country skiing at the Castle Mountain Wilderness Hostel.  This trip will be pretty comfortable with indoor plumbing and electricity.  Hardly "wilderness" but still set in the mountains far from the city.

Paradise Valley where we hope to be skiing at least one day this weekend

Girls' Snowshoe Trip to Skoki Lodge!! Skoki Lodge is an historic backcountry ski lodge in Banff dating back to 1930.  I'll be joining my girlfriend Alannah of The Campsite on this incredible two night tripAnd we certainly won't be suffering at this catered lodge!

Skoki Lodge, Banff National Park (I'll be here next week!!!)

Family Trip to Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel in Banff.  We'll spend another weekend on the Icefields Parkway in Banff with two other families.  This time though, we'll stay at the Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel.   We've never stayed here before so we are excited to explore another corner of paradise in Banff National Park.

Gotta Love the Icefields Parkway in winter!

February long weekend in Jasper!  We'll be spending three nights at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Hostel in Jasper where we plan to spend lots of time exploring the frozen canyon on ice cleats.  We'll be joined by two other families and this is another new wilderness hostel for us.

Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

Dad's weekend out and backcountry ski trip to Roger's Pass.  This is my husband's weekend away and he's excited to be spending a couple nights at the Wheeler Hut in Glacier National Park, BC with some other friends.  Gotta let Dad out of the house occasionally for a solo trip or two!

We're also letting Dad have a second weekend away for some backcountry skiing at the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel on the Icefields Parkway. 

Playing around at Hilda Creek

Family weekend in Kananaskis.  We like to spend a weekend at the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel close to home once a winter.  We'll do that this spring and enjoy some downhill skiing at Nakiska next door.  The Kananaskis hostel is one of the more comfortable wilderness hostels with indoor plumbing and microwaves!  It's much more decadent than the other hostels we'll be staying at.

First trip to the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel

Family weekend at the Hilda Creek Hostel!  The Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel is much more than just a ski hut!  It's also a fun family base camp where we'll spend Easter this year snowshoeing, building snow forts, and playing in the warm spring snow.  It's also borderline "Backcountry" and we expect to be boiling snow for drinking water and practicing many of our winter camping skills.

Our paradise at Hilda Creek

Lake O'Hara Family Backcountry Ski Trip!  We were supposed to do this one last weekend but it was way too cold!  So April it is and it better be warmer.  We'll be staying at the Elizabeth Parker Hut which is next to impossible to get space in.  Come April though there are a lot more spots available. It is an 11km ski in so it's going to be a big challenge for our six-year old son but we're up for it!  Let's hope he is too.

The Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara


Packing and Planning for Backcountry Winter Wilderness Trips

There is a LOT I could say about packing and planning for a winter wilderness trip.  And it very much depends on whether you are going into the backcountry or if you are staying in a front country wilderness hostel (that may even have indoor plumbing.)  90% of our trips this winter will be in the front country and will require a very different kind of packing.  Still, below are some tips that I've picked up over the past couple of years.

One - There is NO guarantee that your winter wilderness trips will happen!!  Be prepared to cancel last minute, to forfeit your booking reservation (up to 50% of your entire booking with the Alpine Club,) and to change plans last minute.  Already this winter, we've rescheduled for Rampart Creek and Lake O'Hara because the weather was too cold for both.  I also got sick right before Lake O'Hara.  Things happen and in winter, you have to expect that some trips just won't happen!  Plan for them but be prepared to stay home and huddle in front of the fireplace instead.

One of my favourite photos of us hauling our gear (and son) into a backcountry cabin

Two - Always go with friends.  Everything is more fun with friends in the backcountry or in the wilderness at any time of year.  In winter it's especially true though.  Cold temperatures make it hard to motivate the kids to get outside.  Add a couple of friends though and most kids can be tempted to get out for a quick hike or to build a snowman.

Kids at Mosquito Creek (they could have spent hours playing outside the hostel together)

Three - Pack a car bag.  This is the bag that will be handy and readily accessible the second you arrive at your hostel or parking lot.  Depending on the time of day this will definitely include head lamps!  I don't know how many times we have arrived at Mosquito Creek in the evening with all the headlamps packed away.  It's front country, but you have to park right off the highway and walk through the trees a couple hundred metres to reach the hostel (which is not fun in the dark while pulling all your gear to the cabin in a sled with no headlamp!)

Hauling gear out of Hilda Creek

The car bag should also include all mittens and hats.  Most wilderness hostels will require a short walk to reach the cabins and you'll be hauling all of your stuff in (often by sled.)  You'll want your outerwear handy rather than packed away.

The hike required to get back to the highway from the Hilda Creek Hostel

Four - Travel with a large hockey bag for Wilderness Hostels.  My husband gets angry with me when I pack everything for our weekend into 10 tiny bags and backpacks.  Many of the hostels we stay at require a short walk and to reach Hilda Creek you'll even need snowshoes to cross the 500 metres from parking lot to cabins.  This is near impossible and a huge pain in the butt if you pack everything in tiny bags requiring a zillion trips from the car.  Pack everything in big hockey bags, throw them on sleds,  and pull them to the front door. 

Our gear outside the Hilda Creek Hostel

Five - Bring toys, games, movies, etc. for the hours spent indoors.  You are not going to be outside skiing, snowshoeing, and making snowmen all day and night long.  The kids will spend hours inside the hostel or cabin (especially if it's cold outside.) We love books and take turns reading stories to the kids.  Card games like Uno are also popular along with movies on a tablet or portable DVD player. 

Coloring at the Mosquito Creek Hostel after skiing all day

Additional Resources and Reading

Winter Camping With Kids (No Tent!!)  - This story covers many of the wilderness hostels in the Rockies that you can stay at in winter as a family along with backcountry cabins that you can snowshoe or ski into. In the story are dozens of links to other stories I've written on the topic.

Good luck and see you in the wilderness this winter! 

Sunday, January 04, 2015

My Outdoor Adventure Resolutions for 2015

My resolutions are below along with what I plan to (hope to) do to accomplish them.  Now I tag you to take up the challenge too!  And I'd love to hear about your resolutions so please leave comments  at the bottom.

My Adventure Resolutions for 2015

Do something that will challenge you, cause you to grow, and become stronger

Every big trip we do as a family in the wilderness or backcountry challenges us and causes us to grow.  Some of the big trips being planned this year are a family winter ski trip into Lake O'Hara to stay at the Elizabeth Parker Hut and a summer family backpacking trip on the Icefields Parkway to stay at the Bow Hut

Noah has never skied 11km before so the trip to O'Hara will be a big challenge.  And the 8km trip to the Bow Hut is always a brutal slog for me so I can only imagine how hard it's going to be with kids on the final scramble up to the hut.  (not to mention, we have to somehow get all the kids over the big chock stone in the canyon - without losing any of them over the edge!)

Friday, January 02, 2015

The Wildest Winter Family Hike in Kananaskis

JURA!  If you haven't heard of Jura Canyon yet, read, read, read on.   Look at the photos, visit last year's story for route description (that you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else,) and take the kids!  Even if you don't have kids, this is one of the best hikes you can do in the Canadian Rockies in winter.

Entering Jura Canyon for a wild winter hike

Why we love Jura Canyon in winter so much:  You can't hike here in summer!  This narrow little canyon is full of water in the summer so you'd be following the hiking trail up above it.  And the summer trail is boring.

Melissa and MJ of the blog Rockies Chick in Jura Canyon

How we discovered this canyon?  No idea!  But we've been hiking it for the past ten years.  And so far, nobody has ever fallen into the creek and gotten hypothermia. It helps that it is usually frozen by late November.  (usually!  This year we were plucking quite a few people out of icy water.)

Climbing the rock of doom (we had a couple slides down it into a waist deep pool of icy water)

Why this year's Jura Canyon hike was AWESOME

One.  SNOW.  It's been very dry in Calgary so far this year.  However, we found tons of white snow along the Jura Creek Trail and even made snowmen at the trailhead.

Making a snowman at the trailhead
Snow for pulling sleds (this doesn't happen every year in this valley)
The hike was beautiful with fresh snow

Two - Excitement! Normally the creek is well frozen by December but we were calling it an epic adventure this year as defined by the number of kids who fell in the creek.  There were many open pools of water that we had to skirt around with slippery rocks that threatened to send you swimming in the pools of icy water.

And while open water may turn many people off, we considered it to be all part of the wild Jura adventure.  (Fortunately, the canyon entrance is only half a kilometre away from the highway so if you do get wet and cold at the beginning of the hike, it's a short walk back.)

Hiking through the narrowest part of the canyon

Three - Great Friends.  We had a great group of 7 families out for the hike this year (our biggest Jura group yet) and my son had great fun chasing the older girls up the creek.

Kids chasing each other through the canyon
Coming out of the tightest part of the canyon
Noah and his new friends

Four - It was JURA. Which means, it's always awesome!! How can a hike through a narrow canyon along a pretty creek not be awesome?  There are tons of opportunities to scramble on rocks, play on ice slides and leap over rocks. 

Ice slides
Great friends
More ice!
Natural obstacle course
Rock Hopping
And more ice!

Five - We all had a blast! And at the heart, this is what always matters.

Waterproof boots required in here
Team work to get the kids over tricky parts
The kids got to work on their balance
Who needs a playground?


I had a blast too!


Noah and I in the canyon
Love this canyon!!

Hope you can join us next time!  Till then, check out the route description in last year's story:  Jura Creek - The Best Winter Hike in Kananaskis.

You can also read more in the previous year's story:  Ice, Ice, Baby - Winter Canyon Hiking

Finally, check out Karen's story on her blog, Play Outside Guide:  DIY Ice Walks near Calgary

Hiking out Jura Creek