Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How to make learning to ski FUN (Downhill Skiing with Kids)

Last year I wrote a piece on Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids, which is my most comprehensive guide to date on the subject of family resort skiing. I wanted to follow up on this popular story with more tips and tricks, this time focusing on making learning to ski FUN.

How to Make Learning to Ski FUN (Downhill Skiing with Kids)

Ten Tips and Tricks for Making Learning to Ski FUN 

1. Rewards and Incentives 

Learning to ski should be fun, and you shouldn't have to bribe the kids to get them to the ski hill. However, falling isn't a ton of fun (and beginners will fall a lot.) Learning any new sport can also be very challenging at times, and we all benefit from receiving a reward or two for hard work and effort.

Try some of these rewards or incentives to help keep spirits high on the hill:

I love rewarding determination and a good attitude

  • Take the kids tubing, sledding or ice skating in the afternoon if they keep up a good attitude in the morning and try hard on the hill. We like to ski at Nakiska Ski Area near Calgary, where there is a tube park conveniently located next to the beginner's area. (And I'm pretty sure they chose the location on purpose.) We also like to go over to the Village where there is a skating pond and a sledding hill beside the Delta Lodge.

  • Struggling with a child who doesn't want to take ski lessons? Make your child/children a deal that you'll take them on a weekend ski trip to a resort they'd like to visit if they agree to take at least one refresher lesson to launch the new ski season.

  • Reward hard work on the hill and positive attitudes with hot chocolate and treats in the day lodge at the end of the day. 

And it doesn't have to be a big deal or cost a lot. It can be as simple as "Mommy thinks you did really well today and I loved your positive attitude, even when I know it wasn't always easy. Let's go get a hot chocolate and a cookie in the lodge."

Will ski for coffee! (because even parents need rewards for a job well done on the hill)

2. Learn to Ski as a Family 

My son and I are going to try something new this winter, and we're going to learn to improve our skiing together! As in "in the same class, together."

Nakiska Ski Area offers Family Coaching Clinics as part of their signature lessons, and it's a great way for families to learn to ski together. Children must be 5 years of age or older, and everybody should be at a similar ability. The Family classes are ideal for siblings who can ski the same runs and want to take lessons together, or for a whole family who wants to learn to ski together rather than in separate classes.

My son and I have similar abilities on the ski hill and I know we'll benefit from taking a class together. And this way, I'll know what he learned in his class so I can continue coaching him after the class is finished. Otherwise, how do you continue to work on the skills that the kids learned in their class? In a family coaching clinic, you can even just feel comfortable tagging along in the lesson (even if the focus is on the kids) just so that you're in the loop and know how to proceed after the class is finished.

Learning to ski together can be fun!

3. Get the Kids into the Trees 

My son LOVES skiing at Fernie Alpine Resort and at Kimberley Alpine Resort in neighboring BC because of the kids' tree runs. The Minute Maid Kids' Trails are located on the bottom half of the resorts, and are a huge hut with all pint sized skiers.

Kids' Trails at Kimberley Alpine Resort

The special kids' trails wind and twist their ways through the trees (along narrow paths that only small skis will fit) and they are conveniently located off of well groomed beginner runs for easy access.

At Nakiska, my son loves skiing in the glades where there are wide runs through well-spaced trees. It's a great place to get a safe intro to backcountry skiing.

Read more about ski vacations at Fernie and Kimberley here:

Family Guide to Fernie Alpine Resort

Family Guide to Kimberley Alpine Resort 

Kids' Trails at Fernie Alpine Resort

4. Stay on the Hill for the Ultimate Ski Weekend

I love downhill skiing but there is one thing I absolutely do not like about the sport. I dislike having to wake up crazy early in order to drive out to a ski hill, and be there for 9am when it opens. It requires packing everything up the night before, having a simple breakfast, and being very organized (all things I don't want to do on a weekend.)

Make ski trips less stressful with a stay on hill in a comfortable slope-side condo. Choose a resort that has a swimming pool and hot tubs for relaxing at the end of your ski day, and make sure you choose a suite that has its own kitchen so you can save money on cooking (rather than eating out the whole weekend.)

Stay on hill and you'll easily be first in line for the lifts (after having a yummy breakfast,) and you'll have your own private getaway for lunch (rather than squishing into the crowded day lodge.)

Slope-side accommodations at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Read more here:

The Ultimate Family Ski Weekend at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Five Reasons for Families to Love Fernie Alpine Resort 

Slope-side Swimming pool at Fernie Alpine Resort

5. Ski LOTS

The more you ski, the better you'll ski. The better you ski, the more fun you'll have.

And save money with discount cards!

 - Grade 2 fun pass ski cards - $20 for unlimited skiing at all RCR resorts (Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, and Kicking Horse)

- RCR Rockies Tiger cards - $20 for unlimited skiing at all RCR resorts for kids 5 and under

- Grade 4-5 Snow Passes - Ski or board at each participating resort 3 times for $29.95

- RCR Rockies Discount cards -  Get three free ski days at any RCR resort for $99.95 (with discounts on all other ski days)

The more they ski, the better they'll ski 

6. Games!

Kids love games, and ski games would be no different. Create a family fun scavenger hunt for the ski hill, play games of follow the leader, or take turns choosing which runs or route to take on your way down the hill.

Try a game of "Follow the Leader" or other fun activities on the ski hill 

7. Load your Pockets with Candy and Snacks

Fight off the "hangries" by filling your coat pockets with candy, granola bars, and snacks. Pull items out as necessary in long lift lines or while riding the chairlifts. You can even go into a mid mountain lodge to warm up and save money by eating your own snacks

And trust me, I have learned this one the hard way. Skip that important snack by even fifteen minutes, and it may take some kids half an hour (or longer) to recover even after they've had a snack.

And a tip for eating on chair lifts - make sure the snack can be eaten with gloves ON.

Chair lifts are a great place to have a quick snack

8. Ski with Friends 

Most things are more fun with friends, and skiing is no different. Round up a gang of families with kids who can ski the same runs, and head out for a fun day on the slopes together.

And one advantage to skiing with other families, is that you can divide kids into "ability groups" and have parents split up to take the group that they feel comfortable skiing with. In my personal case, I'd happily head out with some of the more beginner skiers, leaving more experienced adults to ski the difficult runs with the older kids.

Skiing with friends is always a lot of fun

9. Take it into the Backcountry for a Change

Last weekend we wanted to go off-resort skiing as a family, and we chose a destination with a very steep climb/descent - that we weren't sure our son would be up for on cross country skis. The goal was to ski up to a fire lookout with gorgeous views as a family, and then to enjoy the screamer of a descent down.

While we started out outing on cross country skis to access the lookout trail, my husband attached our son's downhill skis to his pack, with his boots inside. We figured it would be a good option if the descent was too steep for skinny cross country skis.

What backcountry skiing looks like with kids

As it turned out, the snow was clumpy and warm, our son's skis kept icing up, and he could not make any progress trying to ski up to the lookout on cross country skis. Out came the downhill skis (and a tow rope) and we were off again. My husband towed our son up to the lookout, and then we all had a blast skiing down.

Read about another backcountry ski trip we did as a family here (using a combination of snowshoeing and skiing:) Introduction to Family Backcountry Ski Touring.

No chairlifts here. This is the real thing. (and we had 10cm of fresh powder!)

And obviously, you should NOT be taking kids into avalanche terrain! Last weekend we were skiing on official cross country ski trails (normally groomed later in the season.) Other times, we've headed out on official ski/snowshoe trails recommended by Alberta Parks for winter use. (Such as Chester Lake in the Spray Valley.)

Hike up, ski down! 

10. Ski CLOSE for Day Trips 

We love skiing at Nakiska for day trips because we can make it to the hill in 45 minutes on a good day, door to door. While we love many of the other resorts in our mountain parks, we don't want to spend three hours of our day driving to get to/from the ski hill.

We save the bigger resorts for overnight trips but ski close when it's a Saturday ski day. And I tend to think the kids will thank you for not making them spend 3 hours of their day riding in a car.

Not bad for November Skiing close to home!

Recommended Reading

Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids - This is a huge collaboration with other ski families, and loaded with links to other great stories

And if you have toddlers or preschoolers, check out these two stories just written by other Calgary outdoor moms.

Let the Skiing Begin - A Guide to Starting Out - Rocky Mountain Minis

Downhill Skiing with Kids under 5 - Off Road Discovery

Parting Shot 

Disclaimer: This story is not sponsored and all opinions are my own. I have chosen to partner with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies for another ski season though, so you will see many references to RCR resorts. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Celebrating a Mountain Top Christmas in Banff

Last weekend we headed out to Banff for the annual Santa Claus Parade, and we visited the Banff Gondola for the first weekend of their "Mountain Top Christmas" event. We had a lot of fun and so I wanted to write about some of our highlights from our early Christmas weekend in Banff.

Celebrating a Mountain Top Christmas in Banff

Admission and Basic Details for the Mountain Top Christmas Event

The Mountain Top Christmas event runs on weekends from Saturday November 18th, 2017 - Sunday January 7th, 2018.

Admission to the Banff Gondola is $56 per adult if you book in advance ($62 regular rate.) However, as I know this is expensive, know that kids are currently free if you visit before noon. (So that helps a LOT.)

Kids ages 6-15 ride the gondola for free before noon each day. (And kids under 6 are free all day.)

Want to save even more money? You can always hike up the Sulphur Mountain Trail, and ride the gondola down, which is free to ride down in the winter months. Know that it is a pretty big hike though for kids, with 700 metres of height gain. It takes about two hours to hike up at a moderate adult pace (longer with young children) and you'll want ice cleats or spikes.

NOTE that you should always check the current trail report for the Sulphur Mountain Trail to ensure that it's recommended for hiking. Sometimes it can be closed when avalanche risk is high. (as is currently is.)

Scenery as you hike up the Sulphur Mountain Trail

Don't want to hike up with the kids, but still want to save some money? Send one adult up ahead (on foot) while the other parent rides up with the kids. My husband would absolutely do this to save $56. And you could always spend time at the hot springs with the kids while waiting for dad (or mom) to hike up the mountain. (The hot springs are conveniently located right beside the gondola)

There is also a "Northern Lights Lunch Package" for $69 which includes gondola and lunch at the cafeteria up top.

Visit the Banff Gondola website for hours and full admission details.

View of Sanson's Summit and the Boardwalk Trail from the Upper Gondola Building

What Do You Get with Your Admission to the Banff Gondola 

  • Access to the interpretive museum, movie theatre, and all facilities at the upper gondola terminal. Food is extra unless you buy a package ticket.

  • All Christmas activities are included once you get to the top of the gondola. Hike or ride up, but there is no cost for the cookie decorating, crafts, visit with Santa, or other fun activities. (You will pay though if you want a professional photo taken of your family with Santa.) - We just took our own photo with Santa for free. (NOTE that the Christmas Activities tend to wrap up early in the afternoon, and Santa is only on site between 10:30 am and 1:30 pm.) So visit in the morning (when the kids are free.)

  • Access to the boardwalk hiking trail to the top of Sanson's Peak and historic weather station

  • Stargazing experience with astronomers  from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada on the rooftop deck (Fridays 6-8pm) - but note that the Christmas activities only run on Saturdays/Sundays. So you can't do both in the same day.

Interactive displays and exhibits in the Banff Gondola interpretive centre
12 Animals of Christmas Treasure Hunt at the Banff Gondola

Mountain Top Christmas Highlights 

My son's top highlight was visiting with Santa. And I loved that we could take our own photos, that there was no line up, that Santa welcomed our whole family for a photo, and that there was no cost associated with the visit/photo opp. The backdrop was also better than what you often get at a shopping mall.

Visit with Santa at the Banff Gondola
The second activity that my son LOVED was the Christmas Movie, "Disney's Prep and Landing" playing in the theatre. He liked the movie so much that he actually started crying when we couldn't find it on Netflix the next day. (not kidding.)

My son also loved the cookie decorating. Kids could put as much icing and candy on their creations as they wanted (and some got pretty big!)

There was also a craft picture frame the kids could make, and they could write letters to Santa. We didn't have time for either because we spent too much time on the 12 Animals of Christmas Treasure Hunt and completing our adventure booklet. The treasure hunt activity is fun and is a good counting activity for young kids. (Just don't expect a big prize when you get back down because it's just a small candy cane.)

We also received a Rocky Mountain Adventure booklet to fill out as we visited the interpretive centre. (Know that there is no prize though for filling it out. It just helps keep older kids motivated as they walk around the interpretive exhibits.)

Banff Gondola Kids Booklets

Other Highlights from a Visit to the Banff Gondola

Make sure you take the short hike up the boardwalk trail to the historic weather station on top of Sanson's Summit. It's a scenic walk and kids love running up/down the boardwalk.

Be prepared with good winter clothing though because it's often cold and windy on the boardwalk. You'll also want good winter boots for the walk.

Magical Scenery on the Boardwalk Trail at the Banff Gondola

And make sure to take some family photos on the rooftop observation deck. We even found Santa hanging out here last year. (Hello Christmas card photo!!)

Please visit the Gondola website for a complete list of Christmas activities at the Banff Gondola.

Santa on the roof top observation deck at the Banff Gonddola

What Else is Happening in Banff for the Holidays 

I could write up everything else happening in Banff for the Christmas season but I don't believe in reinventing the wheel. For a complete (and fabulous guide) to all things "Christmas in Banff," please read "Celebrating Christmas in the Canadian Rockies" from Family Fun Canada. There is nothing missing in this great story.

Cookie decorating at the Banff Gondodla
Cookie decorating at the Banff Gondola

Affordable Accommodations in Banff 

We have stayed at numerous hotels in Banff but chose to stay at the HI Banff Alpine Centre on our recent visit. The hostel has two private cabins (each with private bathroom and two double beds.) While not fancy, they are comfortable and completely sufficient for a family to stay in for a night or two.

The cost is $99 per night (Hosteling International Member rate) for up to two adults. Ask about an additional cost for children. 

While there are no kitchens in the cabins, you'll find two communal kitchens on the property along with a common lounge area in each main building.

Know that if you choose to stay here, the alpine centre targets young people working and traveling in Banff. Families are not their primary focus. You are welcome to stay in a cabin but don't get upset if the "atmosphere" in the common areas isn't always "family-friendly." This worked for us because we spent all of our time out and about in Banff, returning to the hostel to sleep. And when we were at the hostel, we just went straight to our own private cabin. We used a communal kitchen once for breakfast, but that was it. 

We also liked that there was a cafe on site so we could skip cooking our own breakfast if we truly didn't want to cook. (Which we didn't Sunday morning.)

Private cabins at the HI Banff Alpine Centre

Thanks to Banff Lake Louise Tourism for taking care of our admission to the Banff Gondola on our recent visit. Thanks as well to HI Hosteling International for taking care of our accommodations at the hostel.

This story is not sponsored. All opinions are my own. 

Parting shot of our family at the Banff Gondola

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Ski Family's Holiday Gift Guide

There's lots of snow in my backyard, the skis are out, and I've already been listening to Christmas music since November 1st. (yes, I'm one of "those" people.) My annual holiday gift guide has always been one of my most popular stories, and this year I have chosen my family's favourite winter hobby as the theme. Skiing!

A Ski Family's Holiday Gift Guide 

Gift Ideas for the Downhill Family 

Ski Discount Cards

Didn't jump on seasons passes this year? No problem. Put an RCR Rockies Card in each adult or teen family member's stocking and you'll be able to afford multiple ski days on the slopes this winter. Each card costs less than $100.00 and includes three free days of skiing at four awesome resorts including Nakiska Ski Area, Calgary's closest resort. And for creative gift wrapping, wrap the discount card in a pair of ski socks or a new pair of gloves.

The Sunshine Super Card is another great discount card offering free days and discounts at Sunshine Village, Marmot Basin in Jasper, and Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

And finally, we love the Lake Louise Plus Card where you can get three free days of skiing at 5 great resorts including Panorama and Castle Mountain Resort. You can also link children to your Lake Louise Plus Card so that they receive discounts every time you use your card.

Read more about ski discount cards in the following stories:

Ski discount cards allow for more days on the slopes this winter!

A New Thermos for the Day Lodge

Save money on overpriced hot chocolate and coffee at the ski hill by bringing your own thermos with you.  You can also bring a hot lunch for the kids in a food thermos.

Thermos Suggestions:

New Skis

There must be somebody in your family who could use a new pair of skis. I know my husband hints about this often! Or at the very least, buy your wife a new pair of ski poles if she's been using the same ones since she was a teenager. (Yes, that's a true story!) And I should add that new ski boots also make a great gift idea. (Also good for the wife who's had the same pair since she was probably 18 years old.)

And if the kids need new ski boots, I suggest checking out the adjustable Roces Ski Boots from All Out Kids Gear, Affiliate Partner.

A New Ski Helmet

Kids grow. Helmets get too small. Upgrade to a newer helmet this Christmas and protect those noggins.

You can find great helmets for the kids from All Out Kids Gear where you'll get free shipping on all online orders of $49.99 or more (before taxes.)

Ski Helmets make great Christmas gifts

New Ski Goggles

My son will be getting  a new pair of ski goggles this Christmas because I just realized that he's been wearing his current ones since he was 2 or 3 years old. (He's now 8!) Helmet-goggle gap is a "thing" apparently, and so you'll want to make sure your child has a cool pair of goggles to fit his or her helmet.

You can add goggles to your cart on the All Out Kids Gear website when you're shopping for helmets and ski boots.

Two Way Radios for the Ski Hill

Have you ever lost a kid on a ski hill? Or a spouse even? I have, and it's terrifying! With two way radios, you can ski worry-free, even if your little shredder accidentally gets ahead of you and takes a wrong turn.

Get your family geared up for ski season!

Gift Ideas for the Cross Country Family

Ski Passes for your Local Nordic Centre

I'm thrilled that I actually have a seasons pass for the Canmore Nordic Centre this winter, and I plan to get out a LOT mid-week when my son is at school.

A New Thermos for the Trails

Invest in a vacuum insulated thermos (as already mentioned for downhill gift ideas) and bring tea or hot chocolate with you on the trail to stay warm.

Cross country skiing is a great family activity

New Skis

I'll never forget how happy I was when I received a pair of waxless cross country skis for Christmas a few years ago. (no more wax problems on sticky spring days!)

And there are so many different kinds of cross country skis out there, it shouldn't be hard to think of a new pair your partner would appreciate (skate skis, light touring skis with metal edges, actual skinny Nordic skis if he/she only has wider touring skis...)

And then of course there are the kids, who just won't stop growing!!

And you might be buying new boots to go with the skis.

A Pair of Adjustable Trekking Poles for the Kids

I grew tired of constantly having to buy my son new poles every year or two (for both cross country and downhill skiing.) So last year we just bought him some adjustable trekking poles and he uses one pair of poles for everything!! Brilliant, right?

Shop trekking poles from All out Kids Gear

Not bad for adjustable trekking poles!

Ski Clothing and Outerwear Gift Ideas

  • Ski Socks - Can you ever have enough ski socks? 

  • Ski Gloves - Skiing is fun when hands are warm. 

  • A New Toque or Beanie

  • A New Set of Long Underwear for the Kids  - Again, kids grow, and chances are they won't fit last year's base layers anymore.

  • A New Buff to Wear Under a Ski Helmet - Kids tend to chew holes in their buffs (at least my son does) so chances are, your child could use a new ski buff. 

Shop online from All Out Kids Gear

You'll also find great toques and beanies from  Sunday Afternoons.

Warm toque, fleece buff, and warm gloves for ski day victories

Stocking Stuffers

Hand and foot warmers

Fun granola bars - the expensive ones or flavours that you never buy because they don't come in bulk from Costco.

Fun snacks - Christmas themed chocolate, fun items to take on the trails, or anything the kids beg for (and never get.)

Ski Wax - There's always a new and better ski wax for cross country skiing.

Ski Repair Equipment (base repair kits, metal scrapers, repair tools and kits)

Ski Lock- I just received a few of these and look forward to trying them out at the ski hill this winter

Ski Socks - Because you can never have enough pairs of ski socks

Take my suggestions and browse to find what works for you. There are dozens of different products available for ski tuning, waxing, carrying and strapping skis, or caring for your skis.

And by ordering off of Amazon, I "might" receive a few dollars as an Affiliate partner.

Load the stockings with items to make skiing more fun this winter

Ski Books 

The book that I have on my Christmas list is Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies - 5th Edition - It is the ultimate ski touring guidebook for cross country skiers looking to get off the groomed and beaten path (and for backcountry skiers looking for a scenic ski tour.)

Follow this link to browse a giant list of other Ski Books off Amazon.ca.

Including these ski books:

- Summits and Icefields - Alpine Ski Tours in the Canadian Rockies

- Backcountry Ski Safety guidebooks

- Avalanche Safety guidebooks

- Ski themed cookbooks

- Tips for teaching kids to ski

- Powder: The Greatest Ski Runs on the Planet

- DIY Ski repair

Buy "Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies" and find hidden trails like this one in Banff

And, if you're looking for some great ski-themed children's books, check out a few of these Ski Books for Kids off of Amazon.ca. 

Top Suggestions for Picture Books would include:

- Ollie's Ski Trip

- Squirrels on Skis

- Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee

- Bunny Slopes

- It's a Day for Ski and Play

- First Tracks

And for chapter books:

- Ski School Sneak (Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew)

- The Little Rippers: Volume 1 - Here come the little rippers

- Go West Little Rippers

And, check out this Skiing Coloring Book!

As mentioned already, if you buy a book or two here off of Amazon, I "might" make a few dollars to order a few for my family too.

Inspire the kids this winter with some fun ski-themed books

Fun Ski-Themed Gift Ideas

Ski-themed tree ornaments

A mounted photo of one of your favourite family ski days - Take one of your favourite ski photos, take it down to any photography shop, and get it dry mounted for your rec. room. (It would also be great on a child's bedroom wall if it was an epic ski photo of your little ripper.)

A favourite ski map, dry mounted - My son LOVES ski maps. He would love a giant map on his bedroom wall for his favourite ski resort.

Ski Wall Art Decals for the House 

And again, these contain links to Amazon.ca. Browse around if you want and support my affiliate efforts. 

Never a bad day on skis

Check out my complete holiday gift guide collection