Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Gotta do THIS - January Edition

Another year and 365 more days to chase adventure as a family! January is a fun month with fresh enthusiasm, renewed energy, and plenty of goals to get outside more and to make each day count.

Another year and 365 more days to chase adventure as a family!

Below are my top tips, hints, and suggestions for how to make the most of January in Calgary and in the surrounding Canadian Rockies.

Gotta do  THIS - January Edition 


One - Check out the new Acura Tube Park at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park

Tube parks are very popular because tubing is a winter activity that anybody can do. The ride down is gentle and smooth (unlike sledding where a bump can land you on bed rest with a broken tailbone,) you don't need a particularly strong fitness level due to the magic carpet that takes you to the top each time (again, unlike with sledding where you walk back up the hill each time,) and it's incredibly fun for kids and adults alike.

We recently tried the new Acura Tube Park at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, the largest of its kind in Western Canada with 9 lanes, many close to 200 metres in length. We had a lot of fun and liked the gentle bump at the end which gives you a bit of air. When we visited the park there were no line ups but expect the park to be busy most days. Go early to avoid long lines or try a mid-week visit when the kids get out of school for the day.

Full information on pricing, age and height restrictions, and safety can be found here.

Testing out the new Acura Tube Park at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park


Two - Visit Banff for Snow Days and Ice Magic

January is one of the best months of the year to visit Banff AND this year it's free to get in the park gates thanks to Canada's 150th anniversary celebration with free national park admissions for all.

Key Events to attend this month in Banff:

Ice Slide in Banff during Snow Days

Snow Days 

This event runs from January 13th - February 5th. The free Kick-off Street Party is on Friday, January 13 from 6:00 to 10:00 pm in downtown Banff if you plan to be spending the weekend nearby.

There are many fun things to do during the festival, including attending Ice Magic at Lake Louise (below,) but one of the highlights for children will be a visit to the ice playground. This year the ice playground will be built on the high school grounds downtown Banff. It will consist of an ice maze and slide. There will also be a skating rink on site.

A full list of events can be found here.


Ice Magic at Lake Louise

This event runs from January 19th to January 29th. My family loves skating on the small rink in front of the Chateau Lake Louise where they build a  beautiful ice castle. We try to time our visit for just after the Ice Magic Festival has finished so that we can skate around the ice castle and walk around after to see the amazing ice sculptures built during the festival.

Tickets must be purchased to watch the ice carvers at work the first weekend of the festival but you can freely walk around and look at the sculptures after they are completed. Once the festival is finished, the sculptures and the ice castle will remain available for public viewing until they melt.

Note that if you want to find parking at Lake Louise during Ice Magic, you should arrive early. Otherwise, prepare to take a shuttle bus up to the lake from Samson Mall in the Village below.

For more inspiration, read my previous story: 20 Years of Ice Magic at Lake Louise

Skating at Lake Louise, Ice Magic

Banff's Big Taste

This event runs from January 18th - January 22nd. It is a culinary feature of the SnowDays Festival and offers five days of "delicious events" to attend.

A family event to pay special attention to is "Chocolate - a Taste from the Past" at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff. This is a free event on Saturday, January 21st and requires no registration. Come and learn how to make chocolate from cocoa beans.

Ice Castle at Lake Louise

Three - Travel North for the Jasper in January Festival

What would you like to do this winter? How about skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, fat biking, and skating - all in the same weekend! Those are just some of the activities you can try during the Jasper in January Festival which runs from January 12th through the 29th.

Attend or participate in the 1st annual Canadian Rockies Fat Bike Race and Summit on January 13th or  Frosty's Fat Bike Endurance Race on the 14th.

Jasper in Winter (photo: Maligne Canyon)

Learn to snowshoe as a family with a Parks Interpreter (snowshoes included) or attend an interpretive session on the basics of winter camping (both free.)

Attend a dark sky interpretive session  or snowshoe tour with the family (free)

Participate in a short dog sledding tour at a reduced price with Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding

With so much to do, the only question is which weekend to visit! For full information, visit the Jasper in January website.

For more inspiration, read my previous story: Winter Road Trip to Jasper National Park.

Snowshoeing in Jasper

Four - Plan a Trip to Edmonton to see the Ice Castles this Winter

Ice is awesome!
Visiting the Edmonton Ice Castles has been on my list since last winter and I'm still trying to find a free weekend to travel north to Edmonton this year. 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 late January or early February, try to also take in the Ice On Whyte Festival which runs from January 26th - 29th and from February 2nd - 5th. The festival features an international ice carving competition along with a giant ice slide (the reason I want to go!)

An ice sculpture in Banff during Snow Days

Five -  Plan a Trip to BC to Skate on the World's Longest Skating Path

Invermere, BC is home to the world's longest skating path, known as the "Lake Windermere Whiteway." An oval is cleared around lake Windermere, joining the Towns of Invermere and Windermere in a 12 km loop. Three other loops combine to form a 30+ km skating path on the same lake - all of which could be skated in one big long day.

Skating the Lake Windermere Whiteway, Invermere, BC

The Lake Windermere Whiteway is also track set for classic and skate skiing with plenty of room in the middle for other recreational activities (towing kids on sleds by quads seemed to be a popular activity as was fat biking when we were just there)

Invermere is only a 3 hour drive from Calgary and there are plenty of condos available for rent in the small town, making this an excellent destination for a long weekend. Family Day weekend anyone??

For more on the Columbia Valley in winter, read this previous story I wrote: Winter Escapes in the Columbia Valley.

Skating the Windermere Loop between Invermere and Windermere

Other things we love doing in the Valley in Winter:

  • Cross country skiing at Nipika Mountain Resort
  • Cross country skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort (we love skiing up to the Hale Hut)

  • Skating and cross country skiing on Lake Lillian (on the road to Panorama outside Invermere)

  • Visiting the Radium Hot Springs Pool

Hale Hut, Panorama Mountain Resort

Six - Plan a Ski Day at the Canmore Nordic Centre

January 15th is FIS World Snow Day and kids ski for free at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

"World Snow Day is the second phase of the 'Bring Children to the Snow' campaign. It seeks to motivate children aged from 4-14 by encouraging all stakeholders to celebrate all things snow around the world simultaneously. The Canmore Nordic Centre is excited to participate in this spectacular event. Kids ski for free, costume prizes, and more!" (From the Alberta Parks website)

My family and I will be there for sure and we are eager to ski to the new warming hut again. It's situated in the Mine Meadow and is a short 6 km return ski on an easy family-friendly beginner trail.

Meadow Hut, Canmore Nordic Centre

Seven - Spend a Day in West Bragg Creek

West Bragg Creek is only a 45 min. drive from Calgary and is easily reached from both the north or the south of the city.  In this provincial recreation area, you will find groomed ski trails, fat bike trails, snowshoe trails, and the multi-use trail Mountain Road which is great for young children learning to ski, parents pulling sleds, or multi-sport outings where perhaps one parent is on skis and another is hiking or biking.

Polar Stroller Family enjoying the multi-use Mountain Road at West Bragg Creek

What I am enjoying most about this park this season is the new warming hut trailer in the parking lot. My son and I put our ski boots on inside the warm trailer, add extra layers here, have a pre-ski snack, and then end our outing here again as we remove layers, take off boots, and have another snack or lunch. It's great to start skiing with warm fingers and toes and I like that my son has a warm place to hang out while I'm getting the skis ready to go.

The warming hut trailer is open whenever there is a volunteer available to open it for the day so it might not always be open mid-week. So far though it has been open every time I've visited the park.

For trail reports and information on the trails, visit the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association website.

Family Ski Day at West Bragg Creek

Eight -  Chase Ice and Frozen Waterfalls

If you've been following our adventures on Instagram over the past month, you'll know that we are fairly obsessed with chasing ice. So far this season we've skated on 9 different lakes and ponds, one of which required me hiking my skates up to a backcountry lake. We are looking forward to a great winter chasing frozen waterfalls, skating on more lakes and ponds, and tackling a few winter canyon hikes.

Below is some recommended reading if you would like to join us in chasing ice this winter:

Johnston Canyon - Ice Caves and Frozen Waterfalls in Banff National Park

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park

Jura Creek - The Best Winter Hike in Kananaskis  or The Wildest Winter Family Hike in Kananaskis 

Hiking through the Jura Creek Canyon

Another great canyon hike in Kananaskis is Grotto Creek Canyon where you can follow a frozen creek bed (my dream is to skate it) to a set of lovely frozen waterfalls.

Grotto Creek Canyon Ice Falls

Alternately, make sure you visit frozen Troll Falls if you are in the Kananaskis Village area. It's a lovely short 3 km outing to a set of ice falls that you can ski or snowshoe to. Most winters you won't even need snowshoes or skis as the trail is generally very well packed down.

Troll Falls, Kananaskis

And traveling further north, this is a MUST hike if you visit Jasper this winter.

Maligne Canyon, Jasper - The Wildest Winter Canyon Hike in the Canadian Rockies 

Maligne Canyon, Jasper

Finally, you don't even have to leave Calgary to visit a frozen waterfall. Fish Creek Provincial Park has a set of frozen waterfalls that are accessible in a short 5 - 10 minute hike. To find the waterfalls, park at the Bow Valley Ranch Visitor Centre and look for the bridge off to your left away from the Centre. Hop down into the creek at the bridge and follow it to your right. The creek is snow covered and definitely frozen right now. Hike maybe 5 minutes at most and you will arrive at the frozen falls.

Safety Note for Canyon Walks: Ice spikes or cleats are recommended when walking on ice. Helmets are also recommended (especially for children.) 

Fish Creek Provincial Park Ice Falls

Nine - Chase Ice on Skates!

This is one of my favourite ways to chase ice and there are lots of beautiful options. My top five favourite places to skate in the winter are below:

  1. The Pond at Kananaskis Village - go for a short skate, rent skates if you need from Kananaskis Outfitters, try out the sledding hill at the Village, and even go for a short cross country ski or snowshoe. After, head into the Delta Lodge for coffee or hot chocolate from the cafe and warm up beside the fireplace.

  2. Lake Louise in front of the Chateau - Voted one of the most beautiful skating rinks in the world for good reason! Go at the end of the month or in February to skate around the ice castle created during the Ice Magic Festival. While there, ski or snowshoe across the lake and look for the frozen waterfalls at the back of the lake.

  3. The Banff Townsite Rinks - Skate on the rink beside Bow Falls and go sledding at the same time on the hill behind the rink. Skate on the rink at the High School and if you visit during the Snow Days Festival, you can play at the ice playground at the same time. Finally, try the skating oval cleared on the Bow River beside the canoe docks. For more information, visit the Town of Banff website.

  4. The Canmore Town Pond on 7th Avenue or the Canmore Nordic Centre Rink - The pond is maintained by the town so you'll have a natural but "safe" experience here. And the nice thing about the rink at the Nordic Centre is that you can warm up in the day lodge after. You can also mix and match skiing with skating. Skating is free but trail fees are in place for skiing.

  5. Natural lakes that have been blown free of snow - Top picks during the winter are Lac Des Arcs on the TransCanada Hwy east of Canmore, Gap Lake on the Hwy 1A east of Canmore, Grotto Pond on the Hwy 1A beside the trailhead for Grotto Creek Canyon (this pond is often cleared by local volunteers,) and Ghost Lake on the Hwy 1A west of Cochrane.
Skating on Lac Des Arcs, clear of snow

Ten - Make your Summer Campsite Reservations for the National Parks

Yes, this is your summer campsite reservations. Yes, you have to reserve now for the entire summer season. Yes, I know you don't know where you want to camp yet and you might not even know your vacation schedule yet. Yes, it's a pain in the butt. Sadly, it's the new reality if you want to go camping in the national parks.

Camping in the Redstreak Campground in Kootenay National Park

Below is the reservation launch schedule for national parks near Calgary:

Banff National Park - Wednesday, January 11th, 8am!

Jasper National Park - Tuesday, January 10th, 8am! (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of January 25th, also at 8am!)

Waterton Lakes National Park - Thursday, January 12th, 8am!

Kootenay National Park, BC  - Thursday, January 12th, 8am!

Yoho National Park, BC - All campgrounds first come first serve. The Lake O'Hara Bus can be reserved for the entire summer season on April 20th at 8am.

All times are in MDT.

For full information on reservations in all parks, visit the Parks Canada website.

Camping in Canada's National Parks (photo: Yoho National Park)

Tips for getting the site you want:

  • Be on the computer, logged in, and ready to go for 8am sharp!! Know which site you want and have it already up on your screen so that you can click on it at exactly 8am.

  • Tag team with friends to get sites you really want (especially if you are looking for sites side by side.) - Make sure you exchange all booking info. with your friends ahead of time because you can't hold more than one permit in your name for the same date/campground. If booking for friends, you'll want their full name, address with postal code, and maybe even a vehicle license plate number. You'll also want to know the size of their trailer or tent along with how many people they will have on their site

  • Have your payment information handy. And know that you can't book more than three sites at a time. If you need to make separate bookings on the same day for different campgrounds, you'll want to have multiple tabs open on your computer and you will have to pay for the first campground before switching to the second one.

  • Have a shot of whiskey beside you if planning on trying to get a site at Two Jack Lakeside in Banff. You'll need it.

  • Consider private campgrounds if you can't get into a national park campground or choose provincial park campgrounds just outside the national park. For example, in Waterton, we like the Waterton Springs private campground. For Banff, we like camping outside the park gates at the Bow Valley Provincial Park Campground. There are many private campgrounds in the Radium Hot Springs area if you can't get into Redstreak as well (including the Canyon RV Resort.) In Jasper there are a few non reserve campgrounds too which can help the non-planners out there.

Expect parks to be busy this year with the free admission incentive. Expect most popular campgrounds to be completely filled for summer weekends by the end of the day when reservations launch.

Recommended Reading:

 The Banff Campground Review - the Good, the Bad, and the Awesome

Our New Favourite Campground in Banff National Park

Banff to Jasper - Camping in the National Parks

Where to Camp in the National Parks of Alberta

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to do in Jasper

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park

The Best of the Columbia Valley - Radium Hot Springs to Invermere and beyond 

A typical campsite in Banff national Park

Other Inspiration for an Awesome January

The Top Ten List for Ultra Cool Family Winter Fun in Banff

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)

Slide down a waterfall - Check!

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