Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Gotta do THIS - February Edition

It's a new month and time for another edition of Gotta do THIS in the Canadian Rockies surrounding Calgary as our home base. As always, I'll also share some fun road-trip worthy suggestions for the next long weekend or for spring break planning.

Gotta do THIS - February Edition (photo: Allison Hopkins) - featured: Edmonton Ice Castles

Gotta do THIS - February Edition


Attend Closing Weekend Activities for Snow Days in Banff

I shared about Snow Days in Banff in my "Gotta do THIS January" edition but there's still one week left to take in the festivities which wrap up on February 5th. Beyond that though, you can still go to Lake Louise to skate around the ice castle or see the ice sculptures any time before the ice melts. (and it's free to see the sculptures now that the Ice Magic festival has finished.)

Note: If you haven't picked up your FREE National Parks Discovery Pass yet allowing you free entrance into Banff, just stop by the gates as you drive into the park and pick one up. (My husband just did this when we were both driving out to Lake Louise separately and needed a second pass.)

Winter Carnival at the Cave (photo: Nicole Peters)

Key Activities to Participate in:

  • Attend Winter Carnival at the Cave! Visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site (free entry with your Parks Canada Discovery Pass.) The kids can try curling, slide down the ice slide, and see ice palace. Event runs February 1st through February 5th.

    I've also been told that there is a second ice slide and playground downtown Banff beside the skating rink at the Banff High School.

  • Participate in Star Gazing on top of the Banff Gondola! This activity is free with your gondola admission and takes place every Friday in February.

  • Learn to Ski or Snowboard in Central Park downtown Banff  with the Ski Big 3 Slide and Ride event. Great for kids who ski but have been expressing interest in trying snowboarding. Also great for kids who have never tried downhill skiing or boarding and would like a quick "taste" of what these sports are all about. This event takes place on Saturday, February 4th and Sunday, February 5th and is free.

  • Learn to Snowshoe in Central Park downtown Banff. Snowshoes are supplied for this free event taking place on Saturday, February 4th.

  • Visit Lake Louise to skate around the ice castle and to see the ice sculptures carved in the recent Ice Magic Festival. This is something you should be able to do anytime in February until the ice melts.
Ice Sculptures at Lake Louise

Travel North to Visit Alberta's Best Winter City

Edmonton was recently named one of Canada's best winter cities by Canadian Geographic. Therefore, I'm copying this section from my  "Gotta do this January" post because I can't get enough of the ice castle photos I'm seeing on instagram.
Ice Castles (photo: Allison Hopkins)

Visiting the Edmonton Ice Castles has been on my list of things I really want to do. The Ice Castles are located in Hawrelak Park and have a small admission fee. Tickets can be purchased in advance on line. If you time your visit right, you can also attend the Silver Skate Festival which is a 10-day festival running between February 10th - 20th. It is celebrating its 27th anniversary this year and combines skating, arts, and culture.

"Each year, the Silver Skate Festival transforms Hawrelak Park into a winter wonderland with fun for the entire family. Here, you’ll discover breathtaking snow sculpture, winter sports, and horse-drawn sleighs carrying families through the park." (words from the Edmonton Ice Castles website)

If you want to time your visit for early February, try to also take in the Ice On Whyte Festival which wraps up on the weekend of February 2nd - 5th. The festival features an international ice carving competition along with a giant ice slide (the reason I want to go!)

Ice Castles in Edmonton (photo: Petra Acorn)

Attend a City Winter Festival in Calgary

Can't travel north to Edmonton to see the ice castles? Fortunately Calgary has its own share of winter festivals coming up this month. Below are my top picks for family-friendly events in the city.

Iced at Winsport  

Iced at Winsport is a brand new event in the city and is largely an ice carving festival.The event runs all month long at Canada Olympic Park and features a fun assortment of ice-themed activities. Families can try ice chipping, and ice games (with new games added weekly.) Kids can play on the ice slide, try jumping on a springfree trampoline, or learn to snowboard in the Burton Riglet Park. (Something I will have to take my own son over to try.) And, there's an ice lounge (the only one in the city) which will be going on my list of activities I want to try.

Visit the Winsport website for full information on pricing, hours, events and activities.

Ice Pool! (photo: Winsport)

Winter Fest at Fort Calgary 

This event takes place on Monday, February 20th of the Family Day Weekend.

"Join us for a day of family activities including a Quebecois sugar shack, traditional Blackfoot winter stories, a dreamcatcher making workshop, Mountie uniform try-on, a kids' historical play in the theatre, and various kids' games and learning activities throughout the day."

For full information, visit the Fort Calgary website


GLOW - Downtown Winter Light Festival

This event takes place from February 17th – 20th over the Family Day Weekend. It is a family-friendly interactive light festival sponsored by Downtown Calgary.

"Each night from 6:30pm to 11pm public spaces throughout the downtown core will be lit with one-of- a-kind installations, projections, theatrical experiences and interactive light art commissioned from artists, representing local, national and international talent."
For full information visit the Downtown Calgary website.

Also of Note:

YYC Hot Chocolate Fest - with two choices available at Seasons at Bowness beside the skating lagoon.

Try ice chipping at "Iced at Winsport" this month


Attend the Canmore Winter Carnival

This is Festival Month and so onward to our next destination: Canmore! The Canmore Winter Carnival runs from February 4th - February 12th. A full list of events can be viewed on the Tourism Canmore website.

Notable event: Snowy Owl Kid N Mutt Races at the Canmore Nordic Centre on Sunday, February 12th - pre-registration required (follow this link to register) and this year, kids get to drive their own sleds. Registration is $6 per participant and note that the event is weather dependent.

The event is open to kids ages 5 - 12 and you can use your own dog or one of Snowy Owl's sled dogs. There is also a family challenge if you want to compete together.

Snowy Owl's Sled Dogs are very Cuddly

Plan a Weekend in Banff's Winter Wonderland Capital, Lake Louise

We just spent a weekend at Lake Louise and we stayed at the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre. A full review and story will be coming but in the meantime, here is what you can expect if you want to plan a trip here with your family:

  • Industrial sized kitchen for large groups

  • Large fireside room for hanging out in after your day's adventures at Lake Louise

  • Private rooms and small dorm rooms that are ideal for a family. Many dorm rooms sleep as few as four people and some of the private rooms sleep as many as six people. Follow this link for  information on all types of rooms. If you want to reserve a small dorm room for your family, just let the hostel know when booking and they'll ensure they don't book anybody else into the room with you. Also, you will receive discounts if you have an Alpine Club of Canada membership or a Hostelling International membership

  • Ski in/out access with groomed cross country ski trails right outside the door

  • Close proximity to the Lake Louise Village, snowshoe trails, Lake Louise skating rink, cross country ski trails, and the Lake Louise Ski Resort.

  • Ski and Stay packages are available for all of the Ski Big 3 Mountain Resorts (available to hostel members only)

HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre, Lake Louise

 We pretty much did everything while staying at the hostel including a guided snowshoe tour, tubing, and downhill skiing at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, cross country skiing around the area, and skating on Lake Louise.

Bluebird Day at Lake Louise Ski Resort

Here are a few tips on skiing Louise:

  • Unload all skis and gear in the skier drop off area and then send an adult back to park the vehicle. Bags can be carried into the Whiskey Jack Day Lodge and placed on shelves there. Skis can be carried down to the base area.

  • Plan to visit the Sunny Tube Park at the end of the day for some pre-drive home fun.

  • Consider booking a guided scenic snowshoe tour if you have members in your group who don't want to ski (or if you are in the area for a weekend.) Our tour was beautiful and we learned a lot about the area and its history. It was also a great interpretive tour for children and definitely met the science curriculum for our missed day of school.

  • If  bringing lunch, consider packing it into a backpack and hanging your pack at Temple Lodge on the backside. It's an easy ski down to the lodge from the top of the gondola on my son's new favourite run, Pika. (And Pika has tons of jumps/bumps along the edges for kids to play on.)

  • Make sure at some point, you seek out Jerry's Jungle (#30,) a green run accessed from the Top of the World Express Chair. It was the ultimate kids' run with fun open trees to ski around, a gully, and plenty of bumps or jumps - all on a groomed run. Other runs we enjoyed were Marmot (#143) off the Larch Chair, Juniper and Juniper Jungle (intermediate runs off the gondola or Glacier Express Chair,) and we had to try Saddleback (#109) one time off the Paradise Chair (even though it was completely flat light and kind of scary.)

To read about our full Lake Louise experience, check out my newest story just published: Family Guide to the Lake Louise Ski Resort.

Top of the World at Lake Louise Ski Resort

Spend a Weekend in Yoho National Park and explore Magical Emerald Lake

We spent at weekend at Emerald Lake Lodge this past month and I have nothing but amazing things to say about Yoho National Park in winter.

Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park

You can read about our stay here: Family Weekend at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Highlights and a few Planning Tips for staying at Emerald Lodge:

  • There are often specials on stays here so make sure you check the website before assuming you'd never be able to afford a stay here.

  • Emerald Lake Lodge is family-friendly! I know it looks "fancy" but they have a kids menu in the dining room, a kid-friendly breakfast buffet on weekends, rooms with two queen sized beds for families, and the lounge is great if you want to hang out after skiing while warming up with hot chocolate and some board games. They even carry a large collection of games at the lodge.

  • Enjoy ski or snowshoe in/out accommodations right from your lakeside cabin. The 5.3 km Emerald Lake Loop is great with kids on either cross country skis or snowshoes. For a longer ski, we also enjoyed the Alluvial Fan Loop (an extra 4 km from the back of the lake.) And you have to check out the Natural Bridge while in the area. (You'll pass a sign for it as you drive up to the lodge from the highway.) Finally, I highly recommend Hamilton Falls for a short half day hike. (We tackled it in a 90 minute return outing.)

Snowshoeing across Emerald Lake

Follow this link for information on all winter trails in Yoho National Park.

Skiing the Alluvial Fan Trail

And if you really can't afford to stay at the lodge, there are other accommodations in the Town of Field below the lake. We'll be staying at the Fireweed Hostel in March and I can't wait to tell you all about it after our trip.

Standing under the Natural Bridge, Yoho National Park

Plan an Easy Family Backcountry Hut-Camping Trip

There are several backcountry huts that make for ideal family-friendly winter adventures and you won't have to ski for hours to reach some of them.

Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara, BC

Check out these recent stories if you are inspired to plan a winter backcountry trip for this winter or next winter (reservations can be made a year in advance for alpine club huts and wilderness hostels.)

Winter at the Cameron Lake Cabin, Waterton Lakes National Park

Easter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara

Launching a Winter of Adventure at Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park (A.O. Wheeler Hut)

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

Easter at the Best Wilderness Hostel in the Canadian Rockies (HI Hilda Creek Hostel)

Winter Fun in Cypress Hills Provincial Park (Backcountry Cabins in Southern Alberta)

HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park

Special thanks to the great businesses who made some of these trips possible so that I could write about them. Emerald Lake Resort and Tourism BC graciously sponsored our trip to Emerald Lake Lodge. Hostelling International and the Lake Louise Ski Resort sponsored our recent trip to Lake Louise.

As always, all opinions are my own and this story was not sponsored or paid for by any of the companies or businesses represented.

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