Friday, August 18, 2017

Family Backcountry Cabin Camping in the Canadian Rockies

Every summer we like to take at least one backcountry trip as a family, and whenever I get to choose the destination, there will always be a hut or cabin involved. I love backcountry cabin camping and find it much easier than tent camping for several reasons.

Backcountry Cabin Camping with Friends (photo: Jess Curren)

This is part one of a two-part story. Part one will focus on why we LOVE backcountry cabin camping (and aims to hopefully inspire you to give it a try.) Part two will be the story of this year's backcountry trip to the Stanley Mitchell Hut in Yoho National Park.

This year's base camp for our backcountry cabin adventure

Why Backcountry Cabin Camping is a Great Option for Families


Less Gear!! 


If you stay at an Alpine Club of Canada cabin or hut in the Canadian Rockies, you won't have to bring sleeping mattresses, a tent, a stove, dishes, or any cooking supplies. Each hut comes equipped with a basic kitchen, supplies, propane stoves and propane lights. Some even have ovens and most have wood stoves or fireplaces. The backcountry huts also have communal sleeping platforms with soft foam mattresses on them.

Bring sleeping bags, food, and your basic overnight gear - and you're set!

The very luxurious kitchen at the Conrad Kain Hut (with electricity thanks to a hydro generator) - photo: Alyssa Erickson


You Won't have to Worry about the Weather!


Last June, 2016, we hiked into the Elk Lakes cabin on a very rainy day. We arrived at the cabin thoroughly soaked and it took 2 days for our boots to fully dry out! (And we had a wood stove!) I can't imagine if we would have had to set up tents in the rain, dry our clothes and bodies out without a warm cabin to retreat to, and then spend another day at camp in rainy conditions (as it rained on and off the second day too.)

I suspect we would have cancelled that trip if we would have been tent camping. Thanks to our warm cozy cabin though, we got to camp, dried out, played games and socialized in total comfort, and had a great weekend!

You can read about that trip here: Backcountry Cabin Camping with Kids - Elk Lakes Cabin, BC.

We showed up at this cabin absolutely drenched and cold! Thank goodness for a wood stove!

 

Cabins are Great in the Shoulder Seasons when it's Cool Outside


We have gone backpacking in September in previous years and I can tell you that the mornings and evenings are very chilly in the Canadian Rockies! Sleep in a hut or cabin though, and you'll have a warm fireplace to fight off any temperatures that should drop below zero (and they will!)

You can read about our September backpacking trip to Egypt Lake here, where we stayed in a Parks Canada backcountry shelter (more primitive than an Alpine Club Hut, but still equipped with a wood stove for heat:) Backcountry Banff with Kids - Egypt Lake.

Cool mornings and evenings are no problem when you have a hut or shelter to sleep in

You Can Book an Entire Cabin for your Group of Friends


This year, we booked the entire Stanley Mitchell Hut in Yoho National Park and hiked in with 5 other families. Last year we booked the full Asulkan Cabin and hiked in with just 2 other families as it is a much smaller cabin. While many cabins will be too big to book the entire thing, many Alpine Club Huts are small enough that this is an easy task. The Elk Lakes Cabin for example only sleeps 14 people (so you'll really only need 3 or 4 families.)

You can see all of the Alpine Club Huts here: Alpine Club of Canada Backcountry Huts.

And you can read about our trip to the Asulkan Cabin here: Summer Backpacking Trip to the Asulkan Cabin, Rogers Pass.

Paradise at the Asulkan Cabin, Rogers Pass

It's a Soft Entry for Families Wanting to Try Backcountry Camping


With less gear required, a warm cabin to sleep in, a kitchen provided for you, and a comfortable living room to hang out in (complete with fireplace or wood stove,) you'll find backcountry cabin camping to be much more comfortable with young kids or friends that are new to backcountry camping.

I know for myself, I always appreciate having to carry less gear! This alone makes the trip more enjoyable. Add the fact that I don't have to worry about rain or cold mornings/evenings, and I'm a happy camper when there's a cabin or hut involved.

The Elizabeth Parker Hut was one of our first backcountry trips as a family (my son in red pjs in the front)


Alpine Club Cabins are Located in some Pretty Spectacular Places!!


From our cabin, we've gone on amazing day hikes to places few families ever see. We even got to walk across a glacier last year from our base camp at the Conrad Kain Hut in the Bugaboos. Staying at a cabin overnight also makes those long day hikes more doable with kids. This year we hiked the world-famous Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park on our way out from the Stanley Mitchell Hut. Many adults do it as a long day hike, but with kids it was only feasible as part of an overnight stay at the hut or nearby campground.

Read about our adventures at the Conrad Kain Hut here: Backpacking in the Bugaboos (and our first family glacier traverse)

You don't see scenery like this on a day hike. (Hiking into the Conrad Kain Hut)


You Can Camp in the Backcountry Year Round!


Yes, I know, some people do camp in tents year-round, but this mom does NOT. I require a few basic comforts if I'm going to ski or snowshoe to camp - one of them being heat, and another being four walls around me. I do not camp on snow either.

Fortunately, we are very lucky here in the Canadian Rockies and there are many great cabins that families can ski or snowshoe into with young kids.

Winter at the Elk Lakes Cabin

You can read about our past adventures here:

Easter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara   

Winter at the Cameron Lake Cabin, Waterton Lakes National Park  

Snowy Adventures in Elk Lakes Provincial Park 

Raising Tough Kids - Our Annual Winter Backpacking Trip( Elk Lakes Cabin)

Easter at the Wheeler Hut, Rogers Pass

Easter at the Wheeler Hut, Rogers Pass


Recommended Huts and Cabins for Families


Elizabeth Parker Hut, Yoho National Park, BC - Shuttle bus ride + a 10 minute hike in summer. 12 km ski or snowshoe up the road in winter.

Stanley Mitchell Hut, Yoho National Park, BC - 10 km hike in summer. Not accessible with kids in winter.

Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC - Accessible from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis via a  9 km hike or from Elk Lakes Provincial Park in BC by vehicle (long drive but no hiking involved at all.) In winter, you can ski or snowshoe the 9 km in to the cabin. You can not drive to the cabin in winter.

A. O. Wheeler Hut, Glacier National Park, BC - You can pretty much drive to the hut in summer. In winter, it is a short 45 minute ski or snowshoe on a road.

Asulkan Cabin, Glacier National Park, BC - 6.5 km hike with 700 metres of elevation gain. This trail is very steep so save the trip until your kids are a bit older. It is not accessible with kids in winter.

Conrad Kain Hut, Bugaboo Provincial Park, BC - 4.6 km hike with 700 metres of elevation gain. This trail is very steep, there are narrow sections with hand cables, and there is a ladder to climb en route to the hut. Save the trip until your kids are a bit older. It is not accessible in winter.

Kokanee Glacier Cabin, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, BC - 8.5 km hike in summer. Not accessible with kids in winter unless you take a helicopter in.

Cameron Lake Cabin, Waterton Lakes National Park, AB - Winter use only. It is a 2 km ski or snowshoe on a groomed cross country ski trail.

Views from the Asulkan Cabin


Other Backcountry Huts, Shelters, and Cabins


The Egypt Lake Shelter, operated by Parks Canada and located in Banff National Park. Accessible via a 12 - 13 km hike from Sunshine Village Resort. Accessible with kids in summer only.

Cypress Hills Provincial Park Backcountry Huts, operated by Alberta Parks and located in Southern Alberta. We hiked 5 km into the Tom Trott Hut in winter on snow covered roads. In summer you can drive to the hut.

There are three backcountry huts in Cypress Hills Provincial Park and five brand new cabins for summer use (Potentially winter too?) More information can be found here.

The Tom Trott Hut, Cypress Hills Provincial Park

The HI Hilda Creek Hostel, operated by Hostelling International, is another option for a winter backcountry adventure. This remote hostel is located on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. It is a short 5 minute snowshoe into the hostel. The hostel only sleeps 6 people so it is very easy to book the whole thing for your own private wilderness retreat.

HI Hilda Creek Hostel, Banff National Park

 Watch for my next story coming soon on this year's adventure to the Stanley Mitchell Hut.



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, British Columbia

Visiting ski resorts has become one of our favourite things to do year-round. So far this summer, we've enjoyed sightseeing gondola rides, lift-accessed hiking and mountain biking, I tackled some epic climbing on a guided via ferrata route, and we rode an awesome mountain roller coaster as a family - all at resorts that have traditionally focused on "winter sports."

Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Rockies Family Adventures
Views from the sightseeing gondola at Revelstoke Mountain Resort


We spent an hour at Revelstoke Mountain Resort last summer when we tried out the new Pipe Mountain Coaster. It was so much fun, we knew we had to go back this summer!

This year when we made our plans to return to Revelstoke Mountain Resort, we noticed that there are now more options for family fun at the resort, making it possible to spend a full day there.


Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Rockies Family Adventures
Riding the Pipe Mountain Coaster at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

 

Sightseeing at Revelstoke Mountain Resort


There is now a second upper gondola running for sightseeing that carries day hikers to a higher station on the mountain. Here you'll find short family-friendly hiking trails, sightseeing platforms, and a cafe offering burgers, hot dogs, and cold drinks. You can also ride the lower gondola, getting off at the mid station and ride the Pipe Mountain Coaster. Pay for both the coaster and the sightseeing gondola, and you can ride up and down between the village and the two stations as much as you want all day long.

From the top of the upper gondola, we hiked the Cupcake Loop which took us roughly an hour. At one point we ended up on some new trails that I suspect are being built for mountain biking in the future (tons of berms and banked corners!) We now know what we hope to do next summer when we return.

Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Rockies Family Adventures
Find me a child who doesn't love a gondola ride


A typical day at Revelstoke Mountain Resort could look like this:

  •  Arrive, purchase your sightseeing passes and pipe coaster tickets. And don't forget to go get your numbers for the coaster! You have to go over to the gondola and get your numbers so that you know when to go up to the mid mountain station and prepare to ride. (We lucked out and had no wait. We were able to go straight up the gondola to take our ride down on the coaster.)

  • Either take the lower gondola up to ride the pipe mountain coaster, grab a coffee and a pastry from La Baguette at the main village while you wait for your section of numbers to be called, or take the upper gondola to the viewing platforms higher up the mountain if you have a long wait. (Note that you first have to ride the lower gondola to the mid station, and then transfer to the upper gondola here. So you'll get two separate gondola rides.)

  • Enjoy brunch at Revelation Lodge (located at the top of the lower gondola.) You can purchase combo packages which include riding both gondolas, brunch at Revelation Lodge, and a ride on the Pipe Mountain Coaster.

  • Ride the Coaster when your numbers are called, take a hike at the upper station, or enjoy a round of disc golf at the mid station. (maps are available at the village below in the retail store)

Visit the resort website for full information on the sightseeing gondola and hiking trails

Information on all packages and tickets is here.

Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Rockies Family Adventures
Views from the top of the upper gondola at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

The Pipe Mountain Coaster 


This is the true "highlight" of any visit to Revelstoke Mountain Resort in the summer. Realistically, there are many resorts offering sightseeing gondola rides and lift-accessed hiking. I don't know of any other in Western Canada (or North America even) though that has a roller coaster going down the mountain!

A few stats:

  • Travel up to 42 km/hr (26 mph)

  • Enjoy 1.4 km of twists and turns

  • Scream down a 279 m vertical drop

  • Ride through a tunnel

  • Control your own speed (though most people prefer to go full throttle!)

  • Fly around corners, over sharp drops, and enjoy the thrill of your life!
Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Rockies Family Adventures
My  8 year old was old enough to ride in his own car down the mountain (last year he rode with his dad)

 We LOVE the Pipe Coaster and always find that once is never enough.

For full information read all about the Pipe Mountain Coaster on the resort website.

And if you have a long wait ahead of you, you can always go down into Revelstoke for a while, and follow your numbers on the Revelstoke Mountain Resort website.

Also, note that if you've heard about the loooong wait times that the resort experienced in 2016, fear not! Things have improved a lot this year. As I said earlier, we had no wait at all!

And follow this link to watch a promo video that the resort produced, giving you a first person preview of what to expect on the Pipe Mountain Coaster.


A few things to keep in mind:

  • All riders must pay. So if you have a younger kid riding with a parent, both will pay.

  • Kids must be at least 3 years old to ride with a parent. And must be at least 8 years old to ride on their own (and 4' 1" or taller.) And there is a minimum of 16 years of age to ride with a passenger in the cart. So, your older teen in theory could ride with your younger child.

  • Kids riding with a parent must not be taller than the parent's shoulders. See the photo below of my husband and son. (I was too short to ride with my son.)

  •  Maximum weight capacity per cart is 118 kg (260 lbs). Keep this in mind if a "larger" parent is going to ride with a heavy 7-year old

Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Rockies Family Adventures
Younger kids ride tandem with an adult on the coaster

 

Other Activities Offered at Revelstoke Mountain Resort in Summer


Guided hiking is also available if you'd like to explore areas above the upper station. Full information and rates can be found on the resort website.

Other area activities include tandem paragliding, rafting, and golfing.
    Information on these activities can be found here.

    Mountain Biking is also a popular activity in the area. (Information here.)

    Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Rockies Family Adventures
    Riding the gondola down from the upper station at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

    Visiting Revelstoke and want more information/travel suggestions?


    Visit the Revelstoke Tourism website for information on accommodations, activities, restaurants, and local events.

    Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Rockies Family Adventures
    Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort


    Disclaimer: Our day at Revelstoke Mountain Resort was sponsored by the resort and we received complimentary tickets. As always, all words and opinions are my own and I was not paid to write this story.

    Friday, July 28, 2017

    Gotta do THIS - August 2017 Edition

    It's August, half way through summer vacation, and if you're like me, you're probably filled with a few conflicting emotions. Some days I feel a bit of relief that there's only a month left until the kids go back to school. Most days though, there's a disappointment and regret that summer is already half over, and that the kids will be going back to school so soon.

    I've made my Gotta do THIS August list around the feeling of wanting to accomplish as many awesome things as possible in the remaining month of summer vacation.

    Gotta do THIS - August 2017 Edition for the Canadian Rockies



    There's One Month Left of Summer Vacation. Make August Count !


    I'm a "seize the moment" kind of person with lists all over my kitchen. There's the biking list with all the trails I'd hoped to ride as a family this summer (with barely any check marks on it,) there's a playground list (which we're doing quite good at actually,) and there's the summer fun list (which is about 40% checked off now.) I also have a summit list where we're working our way towards 8 summits. (and only have one more to go!)

    What's left on your summer fun list? What do you really want to do with the kids before they go back to school?  

    What's left on your summer fun list?
     


    One. Do Something that Challenges you as a Family



    I have this crazy goal of doing at least one thing each month that scares me. In the last few months my son and I have tried a flying trapeze, we've visited an aerial park, and I climbed a mountain on a via ferrata route. We've climbed mountains that kicked our butts, I tried rock climbing (after taking an 8+ year break,) and my son just tackled two new mountain bike trails at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park.

    What can I say other than that we like to challenge ourselves a lot. :)


    Gorgeous backcountry huts await you and your family (photo: Jess Curren, Currently Wandering)

    5 Challenges for your Family:


    1. Try the Rocky Mountain Flying Trapeze in Calgary (read about our adventure here)

    2. Climb a mountain! Ha Ling Peak in Canmore is a classic "first family scramble" Read about the Ha Ling Peak Hike here.

    3. Hike into a backcountry hut. This is easy backpacking because you don't have to bring a tent, cooking gear, or mattresses. Just bring a sleeping bag, clothes, food and basic overnight gear. Read about our hike into the Elk Lakes Cabin here.

    4. Try rock climbing as a family. And if you don't have anybody to take you climbing outdoors, try some fun indoor climbing at the Hanger in Calgary. Read about our adventures at the Calgary Climb Park here.

    5.  Visit a mountain bike park with the kids. The bike park in Fish Creek Provincial Park is super fun and is a great place to work on beginner mountain bike skills. Find a giant list of bike parks and pump tracks across Alberta and BC here. 

    Ha Ling Peak is a classic first summit in Canmore


    Need to make your first mountain ascent a little bit easier? Try the mighty Tunnel Mountain in Banff. This is a great first summit for kids as young as 3-4 years olds. You can also try a lift-accessed summit. The Banff  Gondola, Jasper Tramway, and the gondola at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden all give access to easy summits you can tackle with young kids.

    You can find a list of most of our family's "first summits" at the end of my recent story on hiking up Heart Mountain.

    For a challenge with older kids or teens, you can read about our newest summits here: The Little Lougheed Summit or The Grizzly Peak Summit

    And for a list of backcountry huts to hike into, visit the Alpine Club of Canada's website. Recent huts we've hiked into in summer include the Stanley Mitchell Hut (story coming,) the Asulkan Cabin, and the Conrad Kain Hut. (links go to my stories of our adventures.)

    High country above Canmore on the ridge of Miner's Peak


    Two. Do Something that Screams "Classic Summer Fun"


    It's important to have classic "summer play days" amidst all the adventures. After all, these are "kids" we're talking about. They don't want to be out climbing mountains, backpacking, or mountain biking every day. And when it's 30 degrees out, you have to drop everything for a beach day.

    Do something that screams "classic summer fun"


    5 Classic Summer Fun Activities that We Love:


    1. Visit a beach! (Check out this story on the best beaches near Calgary.)

    2. Float a river! We loved river floating in Red Lodge Provincial Park and in Writing on Stone Provincial Park this summer. Read more about river floating in this recent story I wrote.

    3.  Go to an amusement park. My son loves Calaway Park in Calgary. It's a must-visit place at least once a summer. And we recently visited West Edmonton Mall so that his crazy mom could ride the BIG roller coaster. (Note to self: You are not 20 anymore!!)

    4. Visit a skateboard park. My son LOVES these things and likes to use his bike at them. Fortunately, we find them all over the province so they are good diversions when traveling.

    5. Play in a creek. Our favourite place for water play in Calgary is in Bowmont Park under the train bridge along the Bow River Pathway. The little pond is easy to reach from Bowness Park by bike or on foot, and the pond is deep enough to swim in on a hot day. There's also shallow rock areas for younger kids to play in. (Remember to always bring water shoes in case there is glass in the water, and bring a life jacket for novice swimmers. Also know that this is an off leash dog area so expect some friendly wet dogs.)

    Playing in the Bowmont pond along the Bow River Pathway


    Three. Go Camping - and Find a new Favourite Campground 


    We've visited three new campgrounds this summer and have enjoyed each one.

    You can read about our experiences here:

    Campsite to River!  Camping and Floating across Southern Alberta - Red Lodge Provincial Park

    Moms' Comfort Camping Adventure at Sundance Lodges

    Whitney Lakes Provincial Park - One of Alberta's Best Kept Secrets 


    My challenge to you: Pick a free weekend or a few free days, open up the Alberta Parks Reservation website, enter your dates, and pick a campground with availability. Go someplace new. Be willing to travel to a new part of our province. Go explore.... - and you might just discover a new favourite campground or that next hidden gem.

    And because you might need this : 5 Tips for Getting a Campsite without a Reservation.


    Comfort camping at Sundance Lodges, Kananaskis


    Four. Do Something NEW in your City


    We have a huge playground list on the fridge and we love checking them off as we travel around the city. What can you do this month in your city that's new to you??

    Land of Lemurs at the Calgary Zoo

    Some Ideas to get you started: 

    • Visit a new playground (Calgary's Top Playgrounds of 2017)

    • Visit a new splash park or wading pool

    • Go see the lemurs at the Calgary Zoo (they are super cute!)

    • Visit Winsport's Canada Olympic Park and try the "Plunge" or take a ride on the skyline luge

    • Bike a new pathway! Or join us in biking our way around the city on the Rotary Mattamy Greenway. (And join the summer challenge to win great prizes!) 

    Some of the new playgrounds we've visited this month


    Five. Plan a Fun Road Trip


    Plan a day trip to the mountains, book a motel room and head north to Edmonton for a couple of days, or drive into BC to check out the activities and sights in one of the nearby mountain towns.

    Below are some of the places that we added to our personal family list this summer:

     

     

    Road Trip One: Red Deer 


    The Discovery Canyon Water Park has been on our list to visit for years now, but it didn't help that it was closed last summer for renovations. We finally visited the park in June (the day it opened for the season) and think it would be a great place to visit on a hot summer day. Even as a day trip, pack the kids up early, drive the hour and a half, spend a few hours tubing down the creek there, and come home. It's a great way to spend a day with the kids over summer vacation!

    The water park is free and has a lovely beach area. Bring your own tubes or rent on site for a small price. (Make sure you bring photo ID as a deposit)

    Discovery Canyon Water Park, Red Deer

    And if you're in the area, we also visited the Town of Blackfalds Aquatic Centre in May - and had a BLAST on the outdoor waterslides.

    Finally, there's a new aqua park in nearby Sylvan Lake as well that is BIG on our family fun list if we get up to Red Deer again this summer.

    Looking for a spot to camp nearby: I recommend Jarvis Bay Provincial Park which is located just outside of Red Deer, and very close to Sylvan Lake. 

    The Town of Blackfalds Aquatic Centre


    Road Trip Two: Edmonton


    If you've seen my newest blog post, you'll know why we recently took a road trip to Edmonton. A NEW Aerial Park! The first of its kind in Canada, and one in three in all of North America.

    Check out my newest story for all information: Family Review of Edmonton's Snow Valley Aerial Park.

    And there is a campground right beside the aerial park if you want cheap accommodations nearby.

    Edmonton's Snow Valley Aerial Park

    Road Trip Three: Golden, BC


    I recently took an overnight trip to Golden with a girlfriend to try out the via ferrata guided climbing route at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. You can read all about our adventure on the Via Ferrata here.

    For families though, I still recommend taking a road trip to Golden for some lift-accessed hiking or biking at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Visit Boo the bear in the Grizzly Bear Refuge as well while you're there. You can read all about summer at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort here.

    For camping, I've heard great things about the Golden Eco-Adventure Ranch (though we haven't stayed here yet.)

    Climbing Terminator Peak on the Via Ferrata Ascension Route, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

    Road Trip Four: Revelstoke, BC


    We are going to Revelstoke in the next couple of days for one big reason: We want to ride the Pipe Mountain Coaster at Revelstoke Mountain Resort again. We had so much fun last year, we added it back on to our "summer fun list" again.

    While at the resort, we're also excited to enjoy some lift accessed sightseeing and hiking, new for the 2017 season.

    I'll have a full review coming mid-August.

    Visit the Revelstoke Mountain Resort's website for a full list of summer activities at the resort.


    Riding the Pipe Mountain Coaster last summer in Revelstoke

     Have a great August everybody! Maybe I'll see you on the road somewhere. :) 

    Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    Family Review of Edmonton's Snow Valley Aerial Park

    I have a giant list of  "super cool awesome places" across Alberta that I want to visit with my son - and the list just won't stop growing! Every time I turn on my computer, I'm faced with images of new parks, playgrounds, theme parks, and adventurous activities that beg to be done before my son gets too old to appreciate them.

    A giant jungle gym for the whole family! Snow Valley Aerial Park, Edmonton

    Fortunately, one of my newest discoveries, the Snow Valley Aerial Park in Edmonton, has no maximum age limit. My son won't turn ten, and suddenly think this playground is "lame." The reverse could actually be said because I can't wait to go back to Edmonton by myself so that I can fully enjoy this new aerial park as an adult!!

    One of the intermediate elements at the Snow Valley Aerial Park (a good challenge for kids and adults alike!)

    Not a "One-Time" Kind of Experience



    I'd secretly kind of hoped that we'd make the trek north to Edmonton, try the aerial park for a couple of hours, check it off our giant list of cool things to do across Alberta, and then be done with it.That way, we could focus on other "big list items" and rest assured that we were happy with our one-time experience at Snow Valley.

    Unfortunately (maybe fortunately) the Snow Valley Aerial Park is not a one-time kind of experience. It's a "buy a membership and return often" kind of experience. - which is bad news if you live in Calgary!

    Seriously, Snow Valley, can you build us an aerial park too please?


    Who wants to build us an aerial park in Calgary? Anybody??

     

    Once is Definitely Not Enough with the Snow Valley Aerial Park



    On our first visit, we learned how to clip on and off of the fixed lines, we gained some basic confidence, and we tried beginner and intermediate elements on the first two levels. We climbed and played for two hours (you pay for three) before we tired out and left to find lunch.

    Were we to return, we'd love starting off with the advantage of already knowing how to work with the carabiners and cables. We'd head straight for the second level, and we'd definitely try to reach the third level! (I will return to cross the kayak!!)

    My son was also starting to get more confident by the end of our second hour and I suspect would be willing to try harder elements on a future visit. On my own, I'd definitely try the more challenging activities without having to supervise a child at all times.

    My son loved crawling through these wooden barrels on the second level of the aerial park


    What to Expect from Your Visit to Snow Valley


    This is the first "tower style" aerial park of its kind to be built in Canada (the third across North America.) - Hence, why I screamed when I saw photos of the park for the first time because I knew it was rather exceptional for a city aerial park.

    "With a dedicated kids route on the ground level for kids 100 cm and up and over 100 games on the entire structure, there is something for everyone. The theme for the Snow Valley Aerial Park tower is Edmonton’s River Valley along with Snow Valley and Rainbow Valley with themed elements including a ski bridge, snowboard balance bridge, picnic table, bicycle, plus a few surprises. The games are graded like runs on a ski hill; green, blue and black."

    Admission includes entrance to the park for up to three hours (including a short introduction on how to work with your carabiners, and an overview of the safety guidelines.)

    Children can play on the aerial park if they are at least 3 years old and between 100 cm and 140 cm tall. They get exclusive access to all 19 Ground Level Elements.

    Exploring the train, one of the ground level elements (first level climbing wall above)

    Juniors under 11 years of age (minimum 125 cm tall) can play on the entire structure but must be accompanied by a harnessed adult and supervised at all times. And adults must pay to be on the structure (even if just supervising.)

    Families can save money with a family adventure pass (which includes admission for at least one adult and two minors) or by visiting Sunday to Thursday after 6pm.

    Please visit the Snow Valley Aerial Park website for full information on all adventure rates.

    Our goal was to make it to the trailer on the second level of the park

    Our Personal Experience


    My 8 year old son liked the park and had a good time. His attention span lasted for about two hours before he became hungry, hot (it was getting quite warm and sunny by the time we left,) and needed a break. We decided to call it quits at this point, knowing we'd come back again. If you want to climb for the full three hours, make sure you bring water and snacks with you (you can leave them on a ground level platform to access while still wearing your harness.)

    My son tried a few of the ground level elements but wanted to explore higher up, so we moved up to the first level. This is where we began to face a few fears, dealt with one bout of nervous tears, and I had to encourage him through a tricky move or two. We mostly stuck to green elements (or some of the easier blue ones,) and I was purely along to assist with clipping, un clipping, and motivation.  If you want to go and really challenge yourself as an adult, you should plan a girls night out, a date night, or grab some of your buddies for a fun couple of hours away from the kids.

    Know as well that as an adult, you will be doing a LOT of your child's carabiner work. My son often wasn't tall enough (or coordinated enough) to un clip his carabiners and move them to the next section of fixed cable.

    My son found these types of elements quite terrifying so we tried to steer clear of them

    We made it up to the second level and realized that this was a great place to start with youth. My son was very comfortable on the climbing wall (being a rock climber,) easily made it across the bench, through the wooden tunnels, and then got into the trailer (or big goal.) From here we back-tracked through these easy elements rather than continue onto harder ones.

    While my son was definitely challenged on the course, we found it easy enough to move around on each level if we chose our paths wisely. We stayed away from all black elements, chose our blue ones carefully, and always back-tracked as necessary to avoid getting into places we weren't comfortable with. And that is the brilliance of this park - you can always go back! There are multiple ways to move around every platform and it's like a giant "choose your own adventure" course.

    Rest stop on the second level en route to the trailer


    Tips for Getting the Most out of your Experience at Snow Valley 


    • Go early in the day before it gets too hot or too crowded. While there is a maximum amount of people allowed on the park at any one time, it will feel crowded if there are too many people on your level. We went on a Saturday (over summer vacation) so had to deal with occasional line ups at popular elements, and a few entertaining moments where we had to figure out how to untangle ourselves when passing people going the opposite direction.

    • Arrive 30 minutes early to get ready for your time slot.

    • Bring snacks and water to leave at the bottom. You can go down to the ground level at any time and rest. You just have to stay in your harness and can't leave the structure area (so make sure you go to the bathroom ahead of time!!!)

    • There are no cameras allowed in the park. I was given special permission for the purposes of this story. Make sure you have somebody on the ground with a good camera if you want photos.

    • Reserve online ahead of time and make sure your time slot isn't too crowded. I waited until the day before so I could see which time slot might be best. Pay attention to the time slot before/after you as well because those people will be up on the tower with you.

    • Bring sunglasses or a hat. The sun gets bright when you have to look up a lot to clip/un clip your carabiner constantly.

    • Wear closed toe running shoes or athletic footwear.

    • Know why you are here. Are you here to challenge yourself or are you here for the kids? If I am to be honest, I have to admit that I was hoping to get more of a challenge for myself but had to place my son's enjoyment ahead of mine. I couldn't go up to the third level and spent most of my time following him around the easier elements. If you want an epic experience mastering all of the elements, plan a date night or go with friends. Otherwise, be prepared for a fun casual family outing if you are supervising younger kids.

    • If possible, go as a family and take turns supervising the kids/playing solo. This would be win win for everybody. An adult can supervise two kids at the same time while the second adult tries out harder elements on the same level. This is what we'll do the next time! Can't wait to return!!!

    Definitely my son's favourite element in the park!

    Want to Visit the Snow Valley Aerial Park with your Family?


    The park is open 10am to 9pm Monday to Sunday all summer long. It is located in South Edmonton off of White Mud Drive (and very easy to find if coming from Calgary.) We also discovered that it is very easy to find a last minute hotel room near the park if you want to head down for a night while the kids are on summer vacation.

    The park will be open well into October which makes me think you could visit over Thanksgiving too!

    For full information on the park, please visit the Snow Valley Aerial Park website. 

    And, want to camp nearby? The Rainbow Valley Campground is located right beside the aerial park. You can walk out of your trailer or tent and right up to the tower! How perfect would that be?!!

    Registered guests of the Rainbow Valley Campground can also take advantage of getting three aerial adventure visits for the price of two! (talk directly to the campground for full details and conditions.)

    The Snow Valley Aerial Park, the first of its kind in Canada

     

    Recommended Reading


    Field Trippin' to Snow Valley's Aerial Park - Twirls and Travels - For professional photos I wish were mine and a great description of what to expect with younger kids on the lower elements


    Snow Valley Aerial Park - Alberta Mamas - For another great family perspective on the park


    Explore Edmonton - Official website for Tourism Edmonton 

    Snow Valley, we will be back!

    Disclaimer: We received free admission in exchange for writing this review. As always all opinions are my own.

    Tuesday, July 25, 2017

    Epic Climbing on The Kicking Horse Via Ferrata in Golden, BC

    A girlfriend and I took a trip to Golden, BC, this month to try out Kicking Horse Mountain Resort's guided Via Ferrata climbing route. We climbed the North Face of Terminator Peak through a system of steel cables, iron rungs, ladders, and bridges.

    Exposed climbing on the North Face of Terminator Peak at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

    My initial reaction to the Kicking Horse Via Ferrata can be summed up in the following Instagram caption that I posed immediately following my tour:

    "Climbed a mountain today!! And I mean "climbed" a mountain! Absolutely epic with delicious exposure and vertical cliff faces we got to scale! This is the second Via Ferrata Climb I've done in the Canadian Rockies and it made my first one seem like a walk in an alpine meadow. Kicking Horse really knows how to kick everything up a notch!!! I've never been so terrified and happy at the same time."

    Delicious exposure and vertical climbing on the Kicking Horse Via Ferrata


    First, What is a Via Ferrata?  


     Straight from the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort website:

    "Italian for "iron road", a Via Ferrata is a protected climbing route with a steel cable running along the route that is fixed to the rock. Using a Via Ferrata Harness, climbers can secure themselves to the cable, creating a completely safe climbing environment. The cable can also be used as aid to climbing, and additional climbing aids, such as iron rungs (stemples), pegs, carved steps, ladders and bridges."

    Fixed lines and iron rungs on the Kicking Horse Via Ferrata


    Why I LOVE Via Ferrata Routes


    A mountain climber I am NOT. I like scrambling up mountains to the top of easy summits, I like some mild exposure, and I like narrow ridge walks. But to climb up the vertical north face of a mountain, no thanks!!!
    Real climbing at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

    I leave multi-pitch rock climbing to my husband and only do "easy" mountaineering routes that involve walking up gentle snow slopes.

    Thanks to the "aids" provided with a Via Ferrata "iron road" though, I can get out for a day doing the same big stuff my husband would normally do (in a safer method that suits me just fine!) Instead of searching for hand holds in the rock, I get iron pegs and rungs to climb up. Instead of trying to down-climb a steep cliff band on a ridge, I get a suspension bridge across the scary chasm and get to walk straight across.

    Via Ferrata climbing routes make alpine climbing feasible for "normal every day people."  - like me. They are awesome for those of us who worry about falling, dying, and of not coming home to our children again after a climb. And they are simply spectacular for outdoor enthusiasts who have the health and physical fitness to climb a mountain (but maybe lack some of the necessary experience.)


    Exposed but Safe! Epic Climbing at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort


    The Kicking Horse Via Ferrata


    I've done another Via Ferrata route in the Rockies before (that I loved,) so honestly, I was prepared to be a little "underwhelmed" trying it a second time. The first time doing anything is usually the "best" and I figured all Via Ferrata routes would be similar.

    I was so wrong!!!

    The Kicking Horse Via Ferrata is nothing like other routes in the Rockies. We did the full Ascension Route to the top of Terminator Peak, and this beast is much more vertical, much more challenging, and much more exposed than I could have ever imagined. It honestly made my first Via Ferrata experience at another resort seem like a guided walk in a park.

    Climbing to the summit of Terminator Peak (and the ground is a long ways down!)


    Details on the Ascension Route:

    the crux move to get onto the guts bridge
    "465 meters of pure bliss! Starting off the ridge-line dividing the Rocky Mountain trench from the Purcell range, and exiting at the top of Terminator Peak, the ASCENSION Route is a truly unique beast. From the climbers’ mouth, this course is one of the most technical & scenic in North America. Discover our signature “Guts Bridge” and stand on top of the world, feeling that you summited a giant!"

    And I copied the above words right off of the Kicking Horse website because they are pretty bang on! This climb IS a beast. It IS technical. And you WILL feel like you've really summited a giant of a peak after taking the climber's route up. (Thank goodness there's an easy hiking route down the other side though because your legs will feel like jelly by the time you arrive on top!)

    Crossing the Guts bridge
    This climb also requires some real "rock moves." You can't just rely on the iron rungs and pegs the entire time. I found myself searching for hand and footholds at times, and thinking like a "rock climber" to get over tricky sections. (Quite different from my first Via Ferrata climb where I honestly just followed the iron pieces up the mountain.)

    I felt brave, bold, and absolutely "bad ass" on this climb. I had to concentrate the entire time and I certainly had to take a few deep breaths before taking the step over the "crux move" onto the "Guts bridge." - Which made the suspension bridge seem like a cute little thing by comparison!

     My girlfriend is much more of a rock climber than me, and also loved every moment of our climb on the Via Ferrata route. In no way did either of us feel like it was easy with the "iron aids" that we got to use. It was often overhanging and you had to use some good upper body strength to climb the rungs. It was also very exposed so you had to swallow any fear of heights with every move that you took on the route. 

    Crossing the Suspension Bridge at the beginning of the Climb

    Other Stats:

    Average climbing time - 4 hours

    Equipment, orientation and guide included

    Ratio - 8 clients per guide (though we lucked out and got a private guide because nobody else had signed up for the morning tour)

    Gondola and adventure pass is included

    Tours depart at 10am and 1pm - and it's advised that you book ahead of time

    Standing on the Summit of Terminator Peak

    And is it safe??

    Yes, it's safe! Once you clip into the fixed cable, you won't be able to un-clip yourself until you get to the summit ridge. In the case of an emergency, your guide can always unclip you but I don't think you'd want to come off the cable!

    Sliding my carabiner over a pig tail station
    "Our Via Ferrata is equipped with the new "Aeroline" carabiner system. This allows you to stay securely connected to the steel cable at all time! The Climber only has to slide the Carabiner through the plates located at each anchor points, while never have to worry about clipping-unclipping carabiners like a traditional via ferrata system."

    You'll slide your carabiner over a "pig tail" every 2 metres or so. This means, if you fall, you won't fall more than 2 metres until your carabiner hits the next pig tail below you. Allow for an extra metre or so due to slack with your climbing system, but you won't die if you fall. You might get a few bruises and be scared, but you will survive any fall to make it home to your family.

    To be safe, I made darn sure I didn't fall, but I definitely tested out my system. Any time you want to "rest" or take a photo, you can just clip your second safety carabiner (much shorter in length) to the fixed line and then lean back. You won't go anywhere and you can just focus on getting that awesome photo or relaxing before the next big move.

    The carabiners easily slide over the pig tail safety stations

    Kicking Horse Alpine Resort - more than a winter ski resort


    Kicking Horse is well known for raising the bar for skiable terrain that you can access from a gondola or chair lift. Summer is no different and again, they are kicking things up a notch for adventures that you can do when the snow has melted from the resort.

    Hiking at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort


    Visit the resort for a day with the family and ride the sightseeing gondola for lift-accessed family climbing! The same mountain that I climbed on the Via Ferrata route, Terminator Peak, can be accessed via the easy family-friendly Terminator Ridge hiking trail from the top of the gondola. We hiked down this route and it was very easy. My 8 year old would have had zero challenges with the 2 to 3 hour round trip outing. And then when you're done your hike, stop in at the Eagle's Eye Restaurant for lunch (sightseeing combo + lunch packages available.)

    And if you aren't up for hiking up a mountain, there are plenty of easier hiking options at the resort too. A full list of hiking trails can be seen here.

    Easy hiking down the ridge off of Terminator Peak

    The Grizzly Bear Refuge at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort


    The gondola takes you right over the grizzly bear refuge where you can catch glimpses of Boo, the resort's resident grizzly bear.

    "This is the largest enclosed and protected grizzly bear habitat in the world. The 20-acre area is the home of our resident grizzly bear, Boo. Within this natural mountainside habitat, Boo hunts, plays, forages, and explores just like his wild cousins. The interpretive centre is open daily during the summer and provides guests the opportunity to observe an adult grizzly bear going about his daily routine. Everyone who comes to visit Boo is fascinated by his strength, agility, intelligence, and personality."

    And if you don't see Boo on your visit, ask the resort about a free visit your next time. 

    Visitors can also pay for a sightseeing + Grizzly Bear Refuge combo tour if you'd like to see Boo from above and then see him from the ground on a tour of the refuge.

    Meet Boo the Grizzly Bear at Kicking Horse (photo: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

    The Mountain Bike Park at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort 


    I'd like to say that next time I visit, I'll return for the mountain biking. However, let's be honest, I could probably never ride at Kicking Horse. That doesn't mean my boys wouldn't love a little lift accessed downhill riding though! (My son would be in Heaven!)

    Some stats:

    - 3700 foot drop
    - 50 kms of trails
    - 32 trail runs
    - 120+ drops and jumps

    Full information on the mountain bike park along with maps and trails can be found on the Kicking Horse website.  And the resort does rent downhill full suspension bikes along with full body armour for those that want to make sure they are fully geared up with the best equipment.

    Downhill lift accessed mountain biking at Kicking Horse (photo: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)


    Want to Try the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort?


    The Via Ferrata tours run through September 4th and can be booked on line.

    There are two different routes. The Discovery Route crosses the suspension bridge and does a shorter 2-hour version of the Via Ferrata route that I did. It does not cross the "guts bridge" or make it to the summit.

    You can also pay to just cross the suspension bridge.

    Kids must be 12+ to join a Via Ferrata Tour.


    Nothing scary about this, right?


    Recommended items to  bring:

    Morning light on the Via Ferrata
    • A small backpack with a platypus and water hose for hands free access to water on the climb

    • A camera (if you can strap it around your neck and access it without risk of dropping it)

    • A snack for the summit

    • A light pair of gloves for the cables which can be cold on the hands

    • A light long sleeve shirt or rain jacket in case cool or stormy weather blows in on your climb

    • Sun glasses and sun block (apply before you start)

    • Sturdy closed toe light hiking shoes or boots

    And make sure you go to the bathroom before you get attached to the cable! Once you're attached, you're rather committed!

    Full information on the Via Ferrata and the two routes can be found on the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort website.

    The North Face of Terminator Peak, that we climbed!

    Disclaimer: My photos are a little less crisp than normal due to smoke from a forest fire that blew in the morning of our climb. The views are normally quite spectacular!!

    We also received a complimentary climb in exchange for this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

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