|Gotta do THIS December! (photo: Johnston Canyon, Banff)|
Gotta do THIS December - WITH GIVEAWAYS
1. Discover how much FUN winter hiking is
We climb a lot of mountains in the summer but I'd have to say that I prefer winter hiking for pure FUN. Seriously, winter hiking is as much (if not more) fun as summer hiking. There are several reasons why we enjoy winter hiking.
First, we can bring TOYS! We bring snowshoes, sleds, ski bikes, ski scooters, and ice cleats. All of these toys and tools help us to enjoy our experience to the ultimate max. With ice cleats we can descend into icy canyons and explore frozen waterfalls. With sleds we can enjoy backcountry sledding (which is an extreme sport if you do it on a steep twisty mountain trail.) Snowshoes take us to remote places that few tourists would ever see driving by on the highway. And ski bikes or scooters are just FUN! They convince the kids that winter hiking is actually a good way to spend the day (and help them to forget about the cold temperatures.)
|This magical place is 5 minutes off the highway at Mosquito Creek, Banff (snowshoes required)|
Essential Gear for Winter Hiking
Essential Gear: Ice Cleats and Spikes
Jump off frozen waterfalls, descend into icy canyons, and explore the magic of places like Johnston Canyon, Jura Creek Canyon or Grotto Canyon.
|Ice in Jura Creek (this year I'm bringing skates!!)|
|Grotto Creek Canyon|
Jura Creek - The Best Winter Hike in Kananaskis
Ice, Ice, Baby - Winter Canyon Hiking
The Wildest Winter Family Hike in Kananaskis
The Most Popular Hike in Banff without the Crowds
Ice Caves and Frozen Waterfalls in Banff National Park
And while I haven't written about Grotto Canyon (yet,) it's super easy to find. Follow the Alberta Parks website for information on the Grotto Creek Canyon hike outside Canmore.
Our favourite spikes are the Kahtoola Micro Spikes. And if you can find a pair of XS ones, they fit children with feet as small as size 13 or 1. (Sadly I think they've been discontinued in this size though so kids will have to try a pair of small yak trax or a similar brand of ice cleat.)
|Ice cave in Johnston Canyon, Banff|
Essential Gear: Snowshoes
Snowshoes are super easy to use and require very little practice using before you can take off running down the trail. Alberta Parks and Banff National Park both have great snowshoe trails that are packed and maintained for easy winter walking.
|Snowshoes can take you to beautiful places like this! (photo: Icefields Parkway near the Hilda Creek Hostel)|
Family Snowshoeing Super Guide
Snowshoeing is Boring - and other myths I once believed
Snowshoeing - Family Friendly, Affordable, and Easy
10 Snowshoe Adventures to Try this Winter in the Canadian Rockies
And if you want to know what we're wearing, my son will be trying out a pair of MSR Shift Kids Snowshoes this winter. (review to come if we ever get snow!) I'm partial to Atlas snowshoes for myself (and would never wear a pair of snowshoes that weren't specifically designed for a woman's gait.) As for my husband, his snowshoes are so old I doubt they even make them even more. If he didn't like skiing so much better than hiking, I'd buy him a new pair for Christmas.
|Snowshoeing is pretty exciting when you get views like this! (photo: Shadow Lake, Banff)|
Essential Gear: Sleds
Let's face it, the best thing about winter hiking is that there is snow! This means you can pull the kids in sleds, Chariots, pulks, and strollers with skis when they get tired. We've even pulled our son on a bike with a ski attachment.
|Backcountry sledding for the WIN|
Backcountry sledding is a BLAST and kids love the opportunity to slide off hills they'll find in the backcountry along with sliding down your ascent trail back to the car.
Hiking and Backcountry Sledding at Highwood Pass, Kananaskis
*note the highway is closed to reach Highwood Pass now but the story still serves as good inspiration.
|Backcountry Sledding on a homemade luge track|
And for a real adventure, try creating a twisty windy luge track with banked corners next time you're out in the backcountry! (again, helmets recommended)
Our personal favourite sleds: You're going to need something that you can attach a rope to if you're going to pull a sled up a hiking trail. It should also be a plastic molded sled and not a foam sled that you'd use on a sledding hill.
We like the red Pelican Two person sled. Here is a link to the three person one from Canadian Tire. The three person blue one is ok but it's larger and would be harder to steer around tight corners.
For backcountry hut trips, we like using a utility ice sled. They are sold at many stores but we got ours from Cabela's last winter for a good price. They come in different sizes too.
Whichever sled you use, attach a longer rope to it than what it comes with. You'll appreciate the length so that you can wrap it around your waist and steer it.
|Steering our Pelican Sled down the Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail|
Choosing a Winter Hiking Trail:
Check out the Beginner's Guide to Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies Guide Book
Visit the Alberta Parks website and explore this page: Kananaskis Country Winter Activities. There are good links and resources on this page.
Visit the Banff National Park website and explore their information on snowshoeing in Banff National Park.
*And remember to stay off ski tracks when hiking. Some ski trails are also closed to hiking so respect signs that request hikers to stick to hiking trails. (West Bragg Creek for example has separate trails for skiing and hiking.)
|Sleds are also useful for carrying your stuff when you're off into the backcountry|
Essential Gear: Strollers With Skis (sponsored by Polar Stroller)
Last winter I did a full review on the Polar Stroller skis, designed and manufactured by a local Calgary family business. Read that review here.
And watch a short video here:
|Get outside this winter with Polar Stroller Skis|
With a set of Polar Stroller skis, you can enjoy fat biking, winter walks or snowshoeing with babies, toddlers, and young children all winter long. You can continue to use the same stroller you normally use all year round (without having to invest in a special ski pulk or Chariot with ski attachment) AND their skis are the best on the market for strollers. You can turn your stroller into a sleigh with a click and away!
Co-Owner, Kelly Patterson, says: "Our single chariot ski is great for putting on a Weehoo and towing behind a fat bike. My toddler goes everywhere behind Dad on the fat bike in the winter and LOVES it! You could also put a single ski on the front jogging wheel of a chariot if you already had the x-country ski kit and push the chariot or pull it for snowshoeing and winter walks."
Polar Stroller has completely re-designed their skis for the 2016 season with their new RX1 skis, named after their new baby Rex.
"This year's new binding design allows the chariot skis to fit from a 12” wheel up to a large 21” chariot/bike trailer wheel, which is perfect for the growing family. We have custom designed and manufactured our own skis, and no one else has anything like it. Our skis are longer and wider than any other stroller skis on the market. They are twin tipped and made from ABS, super hard wearing and strong, and resilient to extreme changes in heat/cold. The skis also take seconds to attach and remove with the new click release binding mechanism."
Please visit the Polar Stroller Website for full information on the company and to see the different kinds of ski sets available. Information on the new RX1 technology can be found on their Technology Page.
|It doesn't get cooler than this!|
Win a Pair of RX1 Skis from Polar Stroller
The owners of Polar Stroller would like to give away one set of RX1 Polar Stroller Skis to a lucky winner from Canada or the United States. Free shipping is included across Canada and the United States (with the exception of Alaska.) The winner will be able to choose the type/number of skis that they require for their stroller, Chariot or bike trailer.
To Enter, proceed to the bottom of this blog post where you'll find the Rafflecopter box.
|Snowshoeing with Polar Stroller Skis|
Essential Gear: Ski Attachments for Strider Balance Bikes (Sponsored by Run Bikes YYC)
Some of you are questioning the word "essential" right now but YES, if you have a child on a Strider Balance Bike, I highly recommend getting them a ski attachment to convert their bike into a winter bike. The video here was the only evidence I needed. I bought my ski attachment the same day I saw the video.
|Winter Hiking with Strider Ski Bikes|
My son has "mostly" outgrown his Strider bike with the skis but we had a lot of fun with that bike year round. In the winter, we carried it up more hiking trails than I can remember so that Noah could ski back down to the parking lot. We brought it into the backcountry and towed Noah into multiple backcountry lodges and cabins on the bike. We took it to the sledding hill where it was a big hit. And we used it on all of our winter hikes to make them more fun.
|Towing child + sled into a backcountry hut|
For more photos and to see some of the crazy things we've done with our Strider bike with ski attachment, check out the following story: Our Annual Winter Backpacking Trip to Elk Lakes
For another fun video, check out this fun one below from Run Bikes YYC, local Strider Bike dealership in Calgary. You can also find out more about Strider balance bikes and the ski attachment on the Run Bikes YYC website above. (and both make excellent Christmas presents!)
Win a Strider Ski Attachment from Run Bikes YYC
Brett and Heather Pennett,The owners of Run Bikes YYC would like to give away one Strider ski attachment for a lucky Alberta winner.
Note that you must have a Strider bike already and that the ski attachment is not compatible with other balance bikes. The attachment straps onto the wheels of the bike so it's necessary to have the same size and style of wheels as the Strider brand balance bike.
This contest is open to all Alberta residents with free delivery in Calgary or free shipping in the province.
|Backcountry Biking with the Strider Ski Attachment|
Essential Gear: Other Toys and Ski Scooters
I mentioned ski scooters earlier and this is a great option for kids who have outgrown the Strider balance bike. I've done a review of the Stiga Kick Combo Scooter that you can read if you would like. This scooter has both wheels and a ski attachment so that kids can use it year round.
Since writing the review I do have to add that you need perfect conditions to use the ski attachment though.
- The trail can't be too steep because you have no brake and it's hard to balance on the scooter if going too fast.
- The trail has to be steep enough because you can't use a scooter with skis on flat terrain. It's very different than using one with wheels. If you aren't on a hill, you don't move. At all! Therefore, this is not something you'll ride to school. It's not something you'll ride both up and down the trail. It's something you'll use only on moderate hills in the downward direction.
- We found the scooter to be good with wheels but it's certainly no Razor. We now have Razors for both Noah and myself and prefer them for quality.
That all being said, if you find a really good deal on a combo ski/wheel scooter, they can be fun and do make for a neat Christmas gift. It is nice to have both wheels and skis for your scooter as well.
|Learning to balance on the Stiga Ski Scooter|
2. Discover how much FUN mountain skating is
December is usually a bit late for mountain skating because the lakes are normally covered in snow. This winter is a bit different though and many lakes are still in great condition. Many lakes near Banff or in the Bow Valley are frozen and snow free (or lightly dusted in a thin layer of snow that you can easily shovel off or skate through as is.)
Recommended lakes right now would be anything in the Exshaw area along the Highway 1A outside of Canmore. Try Gap Lake, Grotto Pond, or any of the other ponds along the 1A.
Lac Des Arcs off the TransCanada Hwy outside Canmore has also been amazing over the past week with ice as smooth as glass. There is some open water on the far side so park near the little island and skate in the protected area in front of and around the island.
|Skating on Lac Des Arcs outside Canmore|
Finally, Ghost Lake outside of Canmore should be frozen by late December and is a popular spot for both skating and ice sailing in special sail boats.
Please note that it is up to you to determine if the lake or pond is frozen. Nobody from Parks Canada or Alberta Parks is out checking the ice and posting signs to tell you if it's safe or not to skate. Conditions change weekly (sometimes daily) as temperatures warm and cool. It also helps if you know the lake or pond you want to skate on. Each lake has its own character and "danger spots" that you should avoid.
For more on mountain skating and safety, please visit this link to the Banff National Park website.
And if you don't feel comfortable skating on an un-maintained mountain lake, the link above mentions safer options in Banff that are groomed and cleared of snow when safe. For example, there is a nice rink beside Bow Falls that should be good to go by Christmas. Lake Louise also has a small rink that is maintained and cared for by the resort.
|Skating on Vermillion Lake, Banff|
3. Discover how much FUN skiing is
I did a big feature on skiing in "Gotta do THIS November" -- and then it barely snowed the entire month! I was looking forward to getting out lots in the past month but in the end, we managed to get out cross country skiing once by sneaking onto the Pocaterra Trail from Highway 40 past the winter gate. My boys also got to Nakiska once where they had one run open off the gold chair. Still, two ski days is better than no ski days.
For downhill ski fans, most ski resorts should be opening early December (if not already open) and Nakiska Ski Area is trying their best to get more runs open.
For cross country ski fans, here are my top picks for where to go cross country skiing in December:
|Early season skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park|
- The Cross Country Ski Trails at Lake Louise - the Moraine Lake Road and the Great Divide Trail are already good to go. Other trails will be groomed and track set shortly. The Castle Mountain Trails are also a good bet as December brings more snow.
- The Canmore Nordic Centre - Currently, Frozen Thunder is the only trail that's open. It is accessible to the public mid-week in the afternoons and all day on weekends. More trails will be open soon though. Winter trail fees are in effect to ski at the Nordic Centre.
- The Kananaskis Village Cross Country Ski Trails - There is currently no snow at the Village but soon we should be able to ski here. It doesn't take much snow to be able to ski the Terrace Loop at the very least.
- The Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Ski Trails - Grooming has not quite started yet on these trails but I'd give it a week. The Elk Pass trail should be groomed by the first week of December. (Fingers crossed!)
- The West Bragg Creek Trails - Again, there is currently no snow here but soon, soon, soon!
- The Cascade Fire Road up the Cascade Valley in Banff - This trail requires very little snow to be enjoyed on skis and we usually ski it in November. The trail starts from the Lake Minnewanka Parking lot and I've no doubt we'll be on this trail within the next week or two.
|First day on the trails for the 2016 winter season|
Want to find out more about where to ski near Calgary and in the Canadian Rockies? Check out the newly revised guidebook: Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies. It covers everything from groomed trails to light touring to epic backcountry ski traverses. And if you have an older version of this book, the 5th edition for 2016 has a lot of new trails not previously included. The avalanche ratings and guidelines are also much improved.
Best websites for Trail Reports and Ski Conditions:
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Live Grooming Report
Ribbon Creek Live Grooming Report (for Kananaskis Village)
Canmore Nordic Centre Live Grooming Report
West Bragg Creek Trail Reports
Ski Here (Look for the Trip Reports Tab at the top of the page)
Banff National Park Trail Reports
Additional Inspiration For Awesome Winter Fun
My Personal Top Ten List of Cool Things to Do this Winter
5 More Cool Things to Do this Winter
10 More Cool Things to Do this Winter (for a total of 25 awesome ways to embrace the cold)
|Mountain Skating is definitely one of the top 25 cool things to do this winter!|
AND, Coming Soon - Gotta do THIS - The Christmas Edition
Watch for it on Monday, December 5th.
It will be filled with the best of the best outdoor activities to do this Christmas season in the Calgary, Kananaskis, and Banff areas. It will also feature a few suggestions for families wanting to travel further afield for a Christmas or New Years getaway.
|Coming Soon: Gotta do THIS - The Christmas Edition|
Enter to win a set of RX1 Polar Stroller Skis from Polar Stroller. Contest is open to all residents of Canada and the United States. Free shipping is included for all provinces or states with the exception of Alaska. The winner will be able to choose the type/number of skis that they require for their stroller, Chariot or bike trailer.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Enter to win a set of Strider skis from Run Bikes YYC. Contest is open to all Alberta residents with free shipping or delivery included. The winner must already have (or plan to purchase) a Strider balance bike as this contest is only for the ski attachment.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Both contests end at midnight, the morning of December 8th, and winners will be notified by email that day. If I do not hear back from a winner by the 10th, I will choose a new winner.