Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Holiday Gift Guide for Winter Hiking and Snowshoeing

The holiday season is quickly approaching and it's time to share a new Christmas Gift Guide with you once again.  This year, I have decided to focus on gifts that you and your children can enjoy while hiking and snowshoeing this winter. 

Check out my top ten gift ideas for winter hiking and snowshoeing.

Winter hiking is a blast so gear up for a great Christmas!


1. Snowshoes for the Family


All Out Kids Gear has a great collection of snowshoes and when you shop from this company you're supporting a local Alberta business and family!

My 11 year old has the MSR Shift Kids Snowshoes and has been using them for several years now.



Snowshoes take you to places like this.

2. Snowsuits to Keep the Kids Warm in the Snow


My son lived in his Ducksday Rain Suit when he was 4-6 years old on our winter adventures and it was our favourite piece of outdoor clothing for children. It always kept him warm and dry when worn over proper layers, it kept snow away from the skin since there's no pant/jacket gap, and he had great freedom to roll around in the snow without having to wear bulky outer layers.

Ducksday Rain and Ski Suits are Awesome for Winter Adventures!


The rainsuit maxes out at size 110-116 (4-5y.) The sizing is generous though and my son was still able to wear the rain suit as a very tall 6 year old.

Next we moved up to the Ducksday Ski suit in the same funky red pattern and it is sold in larger sizing up to 116-122 cm (6-8 years.)

To order Ducksday products, visit the Ollie and Stella Outfitters website. And don't worry if you visit the online store and think that you must be from the US. The company definitely ships to Canada! Email the company directly to purchase your order at ollieandstellaoutfitters@gmail.com.

Ducksday Snowsuits can handle ANY weather! 


After growing out of his Ducksday Snowsuit, my son moved up to TOBE Outerwear and we can not say enough good things about their products for kids of all ages.

We are in love with the one-piece mono suits from TOBE outerwear

Read my review for the TOBE Novus Mono Suit here.) - and yes, they are worth the price.

TOBE also has great Novus Winter Jackets for youth along with Novus Bib Overalls (for kids who don't want to wear a one-piece snow suit.) - Read my review for the Novus Bibs and Jackets here

TOBE snowsuits are worth every penny for winter adventures!

 3.  Good Winter Boots and Mitts for the Kids 


Stonz on the Hands and Feet
Stonz Wear boots and mitts are the best choice on the market for toddlers and preschoolers.

My son was able to snowshoe and hike in temperatures down to -30C for several hours without getting cold! The Stonz boots also weigh less than any other pair of winter boots you will find (They only weigh 1.3 pounds per pair!)

The Stonz mitts have also been a godsend for our family and at age 11, my son still fits the largest size (which is rather incredible since they're sized at age 4-8 years.)

Snow never gets inside the gloves thanks to their design. They fit over top of the child's jacket and cinch tightly at the wrists and elbows to ensure snow stays out where it belongs!

Both the boots and mitts are waterproof and we've had wonderful winter adventures with Stonz Wear on our team.

To order Stonz Wear Products for your family, visit the Stonz Wear website where you'll get free shipping on orders of $70+ across Canada and the US.  

Toasty warm in TOBE Bib pants and ski jacket, Stonz Mitts on top


For older kids, check out the great selection of boots and mitts on the All Out Kids Gear website. The North Face Alpenglow Extreme III Kids Winter boots look fantastic. I'm also eyeing up the Reusch mitts for our adventures this winter. 

TOBE and Stonz continue to keep my son warm on our hikes


4.   KEEN Winter Boots for Mom and Dad


Now that the kids are warm, Mom and Dad need to be suitably clothed as well! Enter KEEN Footwear with a great collection of winter boots for the whole family.  

To order KEEN boots for your family, visit the KEEN Canada website. Free shipping and returns is included on all orders within Canada. 

For women, I recommend the Revel IV High Polar Boot for hiking and snowshoeing. In the city, you'll be comfortable in the Women's Terradora II Winter Lace Up Waterproof Boots - which are actually on my Christmas list this winter.

And in the city for urban jaunts, I live in my Women's Kaci Winter shoes. They're simple pull on shoes with no laces or anything fancy. They have good grip and are warm for any trip around the city.

I also love my Howser slides for comfy footwear around the city (think outdoor slippers that hug your feet.)

This is where my KEEN boots will go this winter!

5.  A New Ski Jacket for Mom 


Mom's likely the one that's walking the kids to school in the morning, standing around the playground after school as the temperatures drop in the late afternoon, and the one who's taking the younger children outside to play during the day. Mom needs a warm but stylish jacket!

Fortunately, I've found many amazing jackets through Columbia Outerwear. 

To see Columbia's full product line up, visit the Columbia website and go to the store locator to find an outlet near you selling Columbia clothing and gear. I buy most of my clothing from local sports stores.

Winter is meant to be embraced and loved!

 

6.  Kahtoola Microspikes


We love winter hiking in canyons but there's no way I'd take my family on a slippery icy trail without some form of traction.Winter boots are great but they don't provide enough grip to prevent a potentially dangerous fall, and snowshoes feel cumbersome on ice. Thankfully, we've discovered the amazing Kahtoola microspikes and the small size often fits youth feet. 

Thanks to my microspikes, I can walk up frozen waterfalls, I can do winter scrambles on trails that are steep and treacherous, and I can enjoy winter to its fullest! 

You want spikes when you're hiking on ice!


7. Skin Protection with Buffs for the Family


What is a Buff? Only the best invention ever designed for winter and safer than a traditional scarf for keeping your face warm. Scarves can get caught in chair lifts, on playground equipment, or on trees while hiking. Meanwhile, a Buff is a tubular piece of fabric that can be worn as a headband, a hat, a balaclava, a neck warmer, or a scarf. They come in various fabrics (including fleece) and are often just as warm as a tuque or knit hat when warn over the ears.

Every member of my family has at least one or two Buffs and we especially like to wear them under helmets. I also like to wear mine as a headband when camping to keep my crazy hair under control and my husband finds his to be a light weight alternative to tuques and hats.

To read more about this amazing product, visit the Buff Canada website. You can buy them in a variety of brands at most outdoor stores. We also have fleece ones that we like.

We live in our Buff face wraps in the winter 


8. A Strider Balance Bike with Ski Attachment 


Now that you're fully clothed and protected, it's time to focus on having FUN in the snow. And this is where the Strider balance bike comes in. Most families with toddlers or preschoolers will know about this 12" starter bike designed for kids aged 18 months to 5 years old. If you truly haven't heard of this pre-bike that's ridden without pedals, visit the Alberta Balance Bikes website to take a look around. 

Add a ski attachment to the bike and voila, you have a ski bike for your youngsters! (And while they're sold out from Alberta Balance Bikes at the moment, hopefully more will come in before Christmas.)


The coolest Christmas present to put under the tree

9. "Sliding in the Snow" by Melissa Dymock 


Continuing with the theme of having fun in the snow, I recently discovered this cool little book by Melissa Dymock that's full of games you can play as a family while out hiking and exploring this winter. The book is written with colorful photos the kids will enjoy and covers everything from safety in the snow to winter-themed science lessons, history lessons on the origins behind popular winter sports, and even includes some winter recipes at the end.

I've had a chance to preview the book and I'm very excited to try out a few of the games and activities this winter. I also know that my son will enjoy trying some of the science lessons and will like reading up on how some of his favourite sports became popular.


The book can be purchased from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com and would make a great Christmas present for children this year.

One of the games in Melissa's book - Snow Mazes (which is super fun!)

10. A New Sled


This goes on my Christmas gift guide every year because hiking is so much more fun if you bring a sled! It's easy to pull up the trail and can even carry some gear (usually snowshoes we end up not needing on packed trails.) Then on the way down, place one or two tired children in the sled and guide the sled safely down the trail. The kids have a blast and you'll get a great workout trying to keep up to the sled. (And helmets are really recommended despite the lack of one pictured in the photo below.)

Shop Amazon for A new sled! (sleds get cracked, broken, etc. and there are so many cool varieties to buy as a Christmas gift.!)


Sleds are fun for all ages!


We also love Snow Skates, Scooters, and Boards for the sledding hill (My son has the Shred snow skate and loves it!)

We've had fun with a Kick Scooter with ski attachment as well. 

And if your child needs more balance, check out these Tri Scooters with skis.

Finally, add some new snow  toys (including snowball slingshots!) - See a giant assortment of fun toys here from Airhead Sports.Whether you choose to bring a Strider bike with Skis, a sled, or a snow scooter, bring something and the kids will have a lot more fun hiking this winter.

The Shred Snow Skate is a lot of fun at the sledding hill 







Monday, November 16, 2015

Calgary's New Climb Park - The Hanger

Calgary Climbing Centre has several locations but their newest gym in the NE, The Hanger, has caught our attention and we are fast becoming regulars. The Climb Park is something you won't find at any other climbing facility or recreation centre in Calgary and is worth a drive across the city to visit.

Climbing the Bean Stock at the Climb Park

What you will find at the Climb Park:


21 colorful fun walls, climbing features, routes, and themed structures for climbers of all ages (though most fun and definitely targeted at children)

Auto-belay protection on all climbing walls, features, and routes in the Climb Park (meaning that parents will not have to belay or know how to climb.)

A playground for kids who like to climb!

Fun Features in the Climb Park


A glow in the dark climbing cave


Climbing the glow in the dark cave


A feature with soft blocks where you try to climb to the top before jumping down (picture shown earlier in the story)

Timed walls (timer stops as soon as you press a button at the top of the wall)

Drop down holds (beat the wall before the holds drop out from underneath you)



Timed walls at the Climb Park

Light up walls (climb the ladders to put out the fires in the windows you climb by, climb the volcano that lights up as you climb it, and climb the "happy face wall" to watch the various faces light up as you climb past them)

Climbing the Volcano at the Climb Park


A giant bean stock that you climb to the ceiling of the climb park (photo shown earlier in the story)

Fun walls (climb the giant "fun wall" letters or play a game as you climb where you slide your round puck around the maze on the wall)

Climbing the "Fun Wall" at the Climb Park (Maze wall seen to the left)


Walls with gears that rotate as you try to put your hands or feet on them

Climbing the Rotating Gears in the Climb Park


A giant slide!! (you'll only get raised up as high as you feel comfortable with) - video at the end of this story

The Slide in the Climb Park (do you dare go to the top?)


A giant platform you climb up to and then jump off of (try to jump out and grab the bar or the bag before being lowered to the ground) - video at the end of this story

Climbing one of the Fun Walls to put out the fires in the house

Information Before You Visit the Climb Park


Climb Park drop-ins: a 1 hour session is $20 +GST.

Participants must be between 40 lbs and 265 lbs, have a completed waiver form (which can be done online) and require non-marking shoes and socks.

Climb Park drop in visits start and finish on the hour. Please arrive at least 15 minutes early to ensure waivers are signed, to receive an orientation to the Climb Park, and to get a harness put on.

Parents wanting to watch their children climb must also sign a waiver and must have photo ID with them. You will then be given a bracelet and be allowed to watch from the carpeted area. If you do not get a bracelet, you will have to stay on the concrete floor to watch beside the Climb Park.

Climbing in the park is for drop-in use, but phone before you visit to find out when there is availability. The park may be completely full at certain times on weekends due to group or birthday party use. It's much more fun to visit earlier in the day when it's quiet!

Climb Park Parties: Groups of 8 participants or more can reserve a time by making a booking. The cost is $200 for a group of 8 (party room included after climbing) and extra climbers are $20 +GST per person.

Bring clean non-marking indoor shoes and socks. You do not need climbing shoes or a harness. (You actually won't be allowed to use your own harness and climbing shoes are not allowed on the fun walls.)

Families wanting to climb in the normal climbing area (where you will have to belay your child) will have to pay a separate price after visiting the Climb Park. There is no "all inclusive price" for the Centre. (Though I wish there was.)

Climbing the "Happy Face" Fun Wall

Videos in the Climb Park 


The Slide:



The Climbing Tower:



For more information on the Climb Park, please visit the Calgary Climbing Centre's website.


Disclaimer: This post was not sponsored or paid for. We have visited the Hanger three times now and love it there. All words and opinions are my own. 

Friday, November 06, 2015

Three Fun Ways to Beat the November Blahs

Raise your hand if November is one of your favourite months of the year!... What, nobody? Just me??
I seriously LOVE the month of November and I'd put it up there with July or August. Yep, for real.

Why do I love one of the darkest months of the year? A month where everything is brown and gray, void of new life, and without green grass or leaves on the trees? - good questions, right? Why love the month of November?

How do you fall in love with the gray season that is the month of November?


Every season is special but November is just awesome!

For me, November is the month where my skis come out of hibernation, my snowshoes get dusted off for a fresh new season and I get to skate again after a long 8 months without ice. The sleds come out, the old balance bike gets its skis put back on for another winter of ski-biking, and we get to make our first snow angels. What's not to love about November??

What's not to love about November?

Not convinced yet? Read on...

 3 Fun Ways to Beat the November Blahs


 

1.  Go Snowshoeing at Highwood Pass before the road closes for winter


Highwood Pass is the highest paved pass in Canada and is accessed via Highway 40 in Kananaskis. Thanks to its elevation of 2206 metres, there is super awesome early season snow. This means you can go snowshoeing here in November and find soft fluffy powder that you normally wouldn't see elsewhere until January. And the road is only open until the end of November so go now!

Hiking up to Elbow Lake at Highwood Pass in late November

There are two trips that we enjoy doing each November in the Highwood Pass area. The first one, Ptarmigan Cirque, has to be done earlier in the month before avalanche danger climbs too high. (We like to go the first weekend of November.) We always include at least a couple adults in our party with winter backcountry training to ensure we stay out of avalanche danger, but in general you just don't hike too far back into the cirque. We hike up the trail until we reach the cirque, let the kids slide down the first glacier moraine (because backcountry tobogganing is a blast) and then we hike back down.

Ptarmigan Cirque, Highwood Pass in Kananaskis

To read about last year's adventures (and to see more photos) follow this link to November Hiking and Backcountry Sledding. And please check with a visitor centre before heading up here to inquire about avalanche conditions. If you doubt your winter backcountry experience, choose Elbow Lake instead (below) which has no risk or danger from avalanches.


November snowshoeing at Highwood Pass

The second snowshoe trip we like to do each year is to Elbow Lake. This trail is short in distance, wide enough for sleds and Chariots or pulks, easy for little legs, and has no avalanche risk as long as you don't go too far past the lake. It's a great family trip and we usually do it towards the end of November so that we have lots of fluffy snow!

Hiking up to Elbow Lake, Highwood Pass

To read more about our annual trip to Elbow Lake (and to see more photos) follow this link to Family Snowshoeing Adventures - Elbow Lake.

There was lots of snow at Highwood Pass in November, 2013!



2. Go Skating in Banff before the lakes are covered over with snow


This is my number one favourite reason that I LOVE November. We usually get a brief window where some of the lakes in Banff National Park have frozen over enough to skate on, and have not had so much snow yet that you'd have to shovel them off. When we do get a skiff of snow, Banff locals are usually pretty good at getting out onto the lakes and clearing paths around them to skate on. Love those people!!

Skating on Johnson Lake, Banff in November

November skating in Banff
I've written a lot of stories on November skating in Banff so I encourage you to check some of them out if you'd like more information on where and when to skate. There are also tons of fun photos.

Skating Stories:

November is my Favourite Month to Visit Banff (for real)


First Tracks on Johnson Lake in November


Skating Season in the Rockies


Ice Skating on the Ghost Lake Reservoir


Follow my Facebook page and I promise to keep you updated on skating conditions in Banff. It's a very short season and sometimes it only lasts a week before there's too much snow and you can only skate on artificial rinks or small ponds.


For other skating options, please follow this link to the Banff National Park website.


3. Drive to Lake Louise and start the ski season early


It's hard to find good snow for skiing in November but I've consistently found enough snow to ski on at Lake Louise by mid to late November. One year we even made it into Paradise Valley for some light touring and the snow was as good as anything I've seen in February!!

November skiing at Lake Louise


If you want to find groomed and tracked cross-country skiing in November, the Moraine Lake Road at Lake Louise is always good to go by mid-November. This year, the road is already groomed (and it's only the 6th of November,) and if we're lucky, it will be track set by this coming weekend, well before the middle of the month.

To follow ski reports and keep up to date with what's happening on the trails, follow Skier Bob's website, Ski Here.


November skiing at Lake Louise - and the snow's not so bad!


What's Not to love about November?


Backcountry skiing at Highwood Pass



Wednesday, November 04, 2015

First Summits - Forget Me Not Ridge, Kananaskis

We've had a super amazing autumn this year and it felt like the hiking season would never end. The photo below was taken on October 17th and I spent the day hiking on an open ridge in a tank top (something you often can't do in the middle of summer!)

Autumn Hiking on Forget Me Not Ridge in the Elbow Valley

Forget Me Not Ridge Hike


Of all the hikes we did this summer and autumn, Forget Me Not Ridge was definitely one of the favourites and we will be adding it to our annual summit list.



Quick Stats:


Elevation Gain: 625 metres to the North summit

Trail Distance: 9.2 km return to the North summit

Starting Point and Access: Little Elbow Recreation Area and Campground off Hwy 66 (park at Forget Me Not Pond or just beyond at the parking area just before the campground gate)

Best Season:  Late spring through fall when the highway is open (Highway 66 closes at Elbow Falls  for the season on December 1st and opens again mid-May) For more information on road closures, visit the Alberta Parks website.

Time it took us to complete the hike: 6 hours round trip to the North summit

Autumn hiking doesn't get better than this!

Climbing up to the Ridge Top


The hike starts at the Little Elbow Recreation Area and we parked at Forget Me Not Pond because the next parking lot was full. Wherever you park, follow the signed "Little Elbow Interpretive Trail" and make your way to the big suspension bridge that crosses the Elbow River.  - you should be able to see it in the distance.

A photo from my archives of the suspension bridge and Elbow River

Once you cross the bridge, you will be on an old fire road called the "Big Elbow Trail." Follow this wide trail until you reach a sign telling you that you are entering the Big Elbow/Little Elbow Loop (see archived photo below) and turn LEFT onto the Wild Horse Trail. The intersection was not well marked when we were there last month but it is another wide trail and you'll know you're going the correct way if you end up at the river again (with no bridge this time.)

The intersection where you leave the Big Elbow Trail

Cross the river on logs or bring sandals along if you are going in summer when the water is higher. I never needed my sandals and we just carried our son across the deeper spots. Fortunately the river is quite braided here so it was easy to find ways across.

Crossing the braided Elbow River on the Wild Horse Trail

Once you cross the river, continue on the trail for about a kilometre and start watching for the cairn that will lead you up  the ridge crest of Forget Me Not Ridge. The cairn and side trail are found just after a side creek and trail wash out from the last flood.

This is where you get your workout! Climbing the steep trail up Forget Me Not Ridge

The trail proceeds to climb over 500 metres straight up and I won't lie - it's a slog. My 6 year old was also faster than me. He charged up the steep slope as if it were flat, running much of the way. The final portion of the trail taking you to the ridge top zig zags its way up many switch backs on loose scree (not a problem on the way up but a bit slippery on descent.)

Running up the switch backs to the top of Forget Me Not Ridge

Hiking On the Ridge


You'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief when you get your first real views and reach the ridge top. The trail still goes up until you reach the north summit, but it's much more gradual and even feels flat at times.

The first rock outcropping you'll reach on Forget Me Not Ridge

From the first rock outcropping, the trail gradually continues to climb the ridge in and out of trees, and the hiking gets much more open and enjoyable. (here is where you wish you could have taken a helicopter up and could have just spent the whole day hiking on the ridge top.)

The North Summit is in the background and you have to hike over and around to reach it

We had great fun walking along the open ridge top and we had choices to make once we got out of the trees. We could head left and circle our way over to the north summit, or we could keep hiking towards the high  point, another 3 km away. (we chose the closer North summit.)

The final hike to the North Summit

How will you know when you've reached the north summit? You reach the big cairn that you can see from the highway. (for real!)

Summit Shot on Forget Me Not Ridge

The Return Hike and Descent


The return hike was actually quite fast and we found a short cut off the summit ridge that cut off a kilometre of distance perhaps. (basically, you hike straight down to the lower ridge rather than looping around to get off the summit ridge.)

We had to stop for photos on this giant boulder found on the summit ridge
Feeling pretty proud of himself for reaching the north summit

We enjoyed rambling and easy walking along the ridge until we reached the steep descent trail.

If all hiking could be this easy and scenic...
Stunning scenery along Forget Me Not Ridge
The trail down was steep, slippery, and FAST. My son pretty much dragged my husband down the 500 m of height loss on the descent trail as they were holding hands and running. (and I could hardly keep up.)

The kid is a speed demon at 6!
Having a rest break before the final steep descent

We decided to make one final short cut once we got back to the Wild Horse Trail because we knew our car was back at Forget Me Not Pond (and that the bridge was way out of the way.) We weren't worried about wet feet anymore so we just bashed our way straight across the river to reach the pond.

I don't entirely recommend this return to the parking lot. The river was knee deep in spots, fast, and scary. (in summer it would be deeper yet.)

Crossing the Elbow River on the way back
Forget Me Not Pond - made it back by sunset!

I hope some of you will join us if we do this hike again next year. Perhaps we'll even leave earlier and aim for the true summit further down the ridge. This will extend our trip to a total of 15.2 km so we'll  see how strong we're feeling. :)

"The Mountains are Calling and I must Go"

For a complete route description, there is nothing better than a good guide book. Check out Gillean Daffern's book:  Popular Day Hikes in Kananaskis Country.
 

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