Monday, January 29, 2018

A Beginner's Guide to Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies - Book Review (2nd edition)

I still remember how excited I was when author, Andrew Nugara first came out with a beginner's snowshoe guide book for the Canadian Rockies. I got the book, and finally had a collection of trips all written up in one spot that I could easily reference anytime I wanted (without endless internet searches.)

A Beginner's Guide to Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies (photo: Rawson Lake, trip 85)

Andrew Nugara has now come out with a second edition of his popular beginner's guide to snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies, and this guide book describes over 100 different winter outings, each one safe and suitable for novice or beginner hikers. (Many also great for families!)

This is why we love snowshoeing (photo: Rawson Lake, trip 85)

Why you Need a Snowshoe Guidebook 

I could just spell it straight out and say "because experienced hikers are getting tired of having to answer the same questions over and over (and over) in online hiking forums."

And while that may sound rude, it's kind of true. If you're a member of any social media hiking forums, you'll be familiar with the endless questions from hikers, seeking advice on trips - and they're almost always the same questions.

And don't get me wrong, I am glad that novice hikers are seeking the advice of the more experienced members in these forums, asking for current trail conditions, checking on avalanche conditions, and even asking for help with the choice of trail for their group. BUT, it would help a lot if you at least did a little bit of the initial research on your own. 80% of the questions asked in online forums are already answered in the awesome guide books that we have for the Canadian Rockies.

Hiking around Upper Kananaskis Lake (trip 84)

So in a nutshell, what I'm requesting is that you first buy Andrew's guide book if you want to go out snowshoeing this winter. Then, make a list of the trips you think would be suitable for your group based on the accurate distances, difficulty rating, and information Andrew provides for each outing. Once you've done that, then take any additional questions to an online forum. And instead of asking "what should I hike?," you'd be asking "what are the current conditions for Troll Falls?" or "which trail do you think would be best with kids, Rawson or Chester Lake?" - but at least you already have your hike(s) in mind and you've done some initial research on your own.

Emerald Lake (Trip 112)

Other reasons to buy Nugara's new snowshoe guide book: 

All the information is in one spot - You'll save yourself hours of time by not having to search through endless websites, and online forums. And imagine the time you'll save in not having to search instagram looking for the best hashtags to bring up the most "beautiful" snowshoe hikes in the Canadian Rockies. Just look through Andrew's book and you'll be inspired by the gorgeous color photos of his recommended hikes.

You can trust the source - Andrew Nugara ia a very experienced hiker with detailed knowledge on each of his 100+ recommended outings. He isn't just recommending the same 3 hikes that he's always enjoyed with his family or friends (as most of us do in online forums.) Seriously, there is life beyond Chester Lake! Based on what I see in winter hiking forums though, you'd never know that based on the advice offered to beginner hikers. And for families, you don't have to stick with Troll Falls! There are so many other options presented in Andrew's book.

Nugara has also hiked with his own extended family and has a good understanding of what a "novice hike" is. He has done a lot of hiking with children and knows what kind of hikes a family would enjoy. (Just look through his book and you'll see dozens of happy family snowshoeing photos.)

Emerald Lake (Trip 112)

A great collection of avalanche-safe hikes! - Seriously, Andrew states at the beginning of his book that "with a few minor exceptions, there are no routes in this guide book that go into avalanche terrain." - Which is very refreshing for me as I plan a family winter hike!

Education - Andrew's book starts out with 50+ pages on "preliminaries. This includes:

  • Information on choosing snowshoes, types of snowshoes, why you need to use snowshoes, sizing, and footwear

  • Recommended equipment and gear for winter hiking (a question I see posted in online forums all the time!!)

  • Suggestions for other winter traction devices in slippery conditions (another hot topic in online hiking groups)

  • Snowshoeing with the family! - there are 5 pages on family hiking at the beginning of Andrew's book. He even gives suggestions on how to transport kids with sleds, child carriers, Chariots, and pulks.

  • Avalanche education (a very important section to read for all winter hikers, even if you don't plan to go into avalanche terrain)

  • Hazards, weather, and other factors to consider when hiking in winter (another very important section to read)

  • Safety on frozen lakes (and yes, you should read this section too!)

  • Snowshoeing techniques (because while it is essentially just "walking," there are still special techniques that make it easier)

  • Snowshoeing etiquette (Every skier out there would really like you to please read this section!) 

Mistaya Canyon (trip 120)

The collection of appendixes and lists at the end of the book - I love lists so this is always my favourite part of Andrew's books. In the appendixes, you can find lists for:

- trips organized by level of difficulty

- trip combinations (perfect for short hikes where you could combine two together for a longer day)

- family trips (my favourite list)

- advanced trips for experienced snowshoers

- new to this edition

- favourites (the author's own personal top picks)

- information centres (where you can pick up maps!)

Mosquito Creek (trip 115)

NEW in the Second Edition 

If you've already purchased or read the first edition of Andrew's snowshoeing guide book, here is what I found to be new and notable:

Ptarmigan Cirque (trip 45)

  1. More color photos. And that means more inspiration

  2. More hikes! 120 hikes to be exact! The previous book had 77 hikes

  3. More areas covered. New areas covered include the Crowsnest Pass, the Highwood (for early season snowshoeing before December,) and Highway 93 south through Banff and Kootenay National Parks

  4. Expanded areas. There are several new hikes described for the Bragg Creek and Elbow Valley areas, along the Smith-Dorrien highway, in the Kananaskis Lakes area, and along Highway 93 north (the Icefields Parkway)

  5. Advanced trips for experienced snowshoers (15 trips listed in an appendix at the end of the book)

Elbow Lake (trip 44)

My Personal Top Ten Favourites 

Andrew lists his favourites in an appendix at the end of the book so I've decided to give you my own personal list as well. You'll have to grab a copy of the book though for information on each hike.

  • Rawson Lake and Upper Kananaskis Lake, Kananaskis

  • Chester Lake, Kananaskis

  • Troll Falls, Kananaskis

  • Elbow Lake and Ptarmigan Cirque, Highwood Pass, Kananaskis

  • Paddy's Flat and Beaver Lodge Interpretive Trails, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis

  • Lake Minnewanka and Stewart Canyon, Banff

  • Bow Lake and the Peyto Lake viewpoint, Icefields Parkway, Banff

  • Mistaya Canyon, Icefields Parkway, Banff

  • Mosquito Creek, Icefields Parkway, Banff

  • Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

And that list would be even longer if I included several that we enjoy on cross country skis (Watridge Lake and Boom Lake for example.) 

Lake Minnewanka (trip 91)

Suggestions for Volume 3

JASPER. Please. :)

Bow Lake (trip 116)

Buy your Own Copy of the Book

Andrew's new book is available in most bookstores or you can buy it from Amazon at this link: A Beginner's Guide to Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies

Bonus, if you purchase the book off Amazon, I'll make a few cents to buy a cup of coffee with.

Chester Lake (trip 66)

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the book for review. All photos used are my own. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Key to Successful Family Ski Weekends at Fernie Alpine Resort

How much work does it take you to be first in line for the 9am chairlift at your favourite ski resort? Is it even possible? For us it's actually quite easy when we're sleeping less than a couple hundred metres away from the chairlift. With this distance, we can even sleep in and have a fancy breakfast (and still be first in line for the day's best snow!)

First tracks after a 2 minute walk to the chairlift

I've shared this story before, but when my husband and I were younger, we’d leave Calgary after work on Friday, drive out to Fernie for the weekend, and grab the cheapest hotel room we could find. I remember eating instant oatmeal in the morning with water that we’d heated from the in-room coffee maker and remember trying to squeeze at least 4 adults into a room to split costs. These were our “dirtbag ski days” and they worked for us – as adults without kids. 

Insert a child into our family dynamic, and our ski style has changed just a tad. (For the better!)

Ski hills are very quiet first thing in the morning (when the snow is also best!)

Key factors we take into account when planning a successful family ski weekend

1. Staying off hill is not an ideal option for us anymore

We look for lodging on the ski hill so that each member of the family can choose how long he or she wants to ski. At least one of us usually runs out of energy early afternoon or needs to take an extended lunch break to rest and chill. And while I "could" just hang out at the coffee shop or in the day lodge waiting for my boys, I'd rather hit the hot tub to be honest.

Ski In-Out Accommodations at Fernie Alpine Resort's Lizard Creek Lodge

2. Happiness is staying in a condo

Having a kitchen is imperative to affordable ski weekends. I’m done with coffee-maker-oatmeal and want to have “nice breakfasts.” (Think bacon and pancakes to fuel the family for the day.) We recently stayed at the Lizard Creek Lodge at Fernie Alpine Resort and were able to make our own breakfasts each day, return to our room for lunch, and then in theory, we could have had dinner in our room too (though chose to eat out.)

Lunch at the ski hill looks like this when you have a condo

And beyond the kitchen, one-room hotel suites just don’t cut it with kids as described in this following story that I've also shared before:

Anybody else ever spend the evening sitting on the bathroom floor of their hotel room with a book and a glass of wine just so that the kids can fall asleep in the main room with no lights on? Or have you ever had to sit in the hallway outside your hotel room while the kids fell asleep? I’ve done both and I’m done with those days. 

Now we always look for a one or two bedroom condo. This way our son can go to bed in an actual bedroom behind a closed door while us parents can stay up and talk, play a game of cards, and enjoy a couple of beers. I call this “successful apr├Ęs-ski parenting.”

A very happy kid in his own bedroom at Lizard Creek Lodge

3. Never underestimate the value of a slopeside hot tub and swimming pool 

Every successful ski day ends at the resort swimming pool. We shared a condo with friends at Kimberley Alpine Resort last year and the kids spent as much time in the swimming pool as they did on the ski hill. They were in the pool within an hour of arriving Friday night, were back in the pool Saturday afternoon after skiing, and spent at least 2 hours in the pool again Sunday afternoon before driving home.

On our recent trip to Fernie Alpine Resort, we were able to register our son for the Saturday night kids' pool party and barbecue at Lizard Creek Lodge - a highlight of my son's weekend.

Slopeside swimming pool and hot tub at Lizard Creek, Fernie

4. The best snow is the first snow - and you've got to stay close to get it 

I've been posting a lot of "first run" photos on Instagram lately because it's really struck me this month, how much FUN it is to have the fresh corduroy on steep runs that get skied out or chopped up by late morning. I worked my way up to skiing my first black run at Fernie because we did it as soon as the lifts opened for the morning and had perfect conditions.

If it's snowed overnight, you're also going to want to be first on the hill to get that fresh powder (even if it's just a centimetre.) And then let's not forget how beautiful the mountains are when the sun rises on them as ski lifts are just starting for the day.

Fortunately for us staying at Lizard Creek on the Fernie ski hill, it was a very short walk from our room over to the chairlifts. Getting the best snow was no challenge for us!

Sunrise and first tracks at Fernie Alpine Resort

Highlights from This Year's Ski Weekend at Fernie Alpine Resort

1. The Saturday Night Kids' Pool Party at Lizard Creek Lodge 

Our son Noah LOVED the kids' pool party which included supervised time in the swimming pool by Fernie resort staff, a bbq dinner (my son loves hamburgers,) and then a movie night. The party is open to all guests of Fernie Alpine Resort (whether you're staying at Lizard Creek or not,) and does come at an additional cost.

Meanwhile, for two happy parents, it meant "date night!!" We had drinks at the Cirque Lounge in the Lizard Creek Lodge and then went next door to a pub for dinner.

Pool Party at Lizard Creek Lodge

2. Skiing the North Ridge from the top of the Boomerang Chair

I've always been scared of the black runs at Fernie because I like good grooming, and am fairly terrified of bumps and moguls. The North Ridge was recommended to us though and I was determined to try it out.

The steep but beautiful North Ridge at Fernie Alpine Resort

We went with the best possible chance for success and headed straight for this run first thing in the morning on Sunday. What we found was a beautiful steep run with great views down into Cedar Bowl - perfectly groomed aside from a dusting of soft snow overnight. It was perfection and we loved it.

Both my husband and I agreed that skiing this run as a family was a highlight for the weekend. And my husband is thrilled that he's finally gotten me off of "Falling Star," my previous favourite run.

Skiing down the North Ridge above the Cedar Bowl

3. Working my way up to the Great Bear Chair 

I never made it up the Great Bear Express Quad last year, stopping at the top of Elk. This year though, I was determined to ski the North Ridge above, and that meant riding the Bear (and skiing down at some point!)

Skiing down Bear Ridge - and loving the soft dusting of snow we got overnight

What I discovered was that I love the runs off Bear when they are freshly groomed in the morning. "Bear" and "Bear Ridge" became two of my favourite runs from the weekend and we spent most of Sunday morning skiing off this chair.

Skiing off the Great Bear chair in fluffy fresh snow

4. Noah's first time in a Terrain Park 

Noah begged us to let him try the terrain park off the Deer Chair, and we finally caved in the afternoon on Saturday. Letting him "try" the park involved signing a separate waiver at guest services and getting dedicated park passes for the 2018 season.

First jump in the Fernie Terrain Park!

Fortunately our new terrain park passes are good at all RCR resorts, so we can use them at Nakiska as well. And because I plan to be supervising, I had to get a pass too! So God help us all - but this mom now has a terrain park pass! (Actually a very funny thought if you've ever watched me ski!)

Trying out the terrain park at Fernie (and killing it!) 

All in all, we had a great weekend at Fernie Alpine Resort, our condo did not disappoint (as Lizard Creek never does,) and we were once again reminded that we LOVE Fernie.

It is always an annual highlight when we get to visit Fernie for a weekend, no matter which season we visit. And we can't wait to return in the summer for the mountain biking.

Fernie Alpine Resort Mountain Village 

Other Recommended Reading 

And, of course, please check out the Fernie Alpine Resort website along with the Lizard Creek Lodge website for accommodations. 

Gotta love the Fernie Kids' Trees! 

Special Thanks to Fernie Alpine Resort and Resorts of the Canadian Rockies for sponsoring us on another great ski weekend! We are forever appreciative.

Happy Skiers at Fernie Alpine Resort 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Take your Skiing to the next Level in 5 Simple Steps

Last year I could usually keep up to my child on the ski hill. I was faster on groomed runs, and I think I still might have been the stronger skier. That has changed this year, and my 9 year old is kicking my butt!

Take your skiing to the next level this winter

Want a good butt-kicking from your own kids on the hill? Follow these steps below and you'll see progress arrive quickly. Maybe too quickly.

The tips below also apply to parents who want to get better at skiing. I've used my own progress as an example through much of this story.

Playing "follow the leader" in a game I'll never win anymore

One. Ski Lessons for the WIN

My husband doesn't like "outsourcing" any training that he can handle on his own. I still remember how opposed he was to registering our son in a beginner bike camp for example because he claimed that it was his job to teach his son to ride a bike. (fair enough.)

Fast forward several years, and my husband has come to accept that our 9 year old is quickly passing us both in abilities - and that we can't teach him everything anymore. We need to call in specialists and experts from time to time (at least for one or two coaching sessions per season.)

Skiing the glades at Nakiska
I registered my son in a private ski lesson at Nakiska Ski Area earlier in January, and he had a fabulous time with his teacher. I basically told her to take him up the highest chairlift (the one I'm too scared to ride most days,) and to take him into the glades (where I have yet to ski.) I said I wanted her to help him develop more confidence on steep terrain, in trees and powder, and to coach him a bit in the fun stuff like jumps and bumps.

The teacher was more than happy to accommodate my requests (what teacher wouldn't be happy to get a break from teaching kids how to execute pizzas and french fries on the groomed beginner runs after all?!)

Teacher and student spent two happy hours playing on advanced terrain that I just couldn't accompany my son on. I was alone on the hill that day while my husband was at work, and I realized that I'd had a total mom win that day! I'd basically hired a ski buddy for my son (a ski buddy that could teach him some new tips and tricks) - and it was glorious!

I can't wait to see where my son is skiing by the end of the season as I'm already losing him on most runs, and can't keep track of him when he keeps ducking into the trees searching for obstacles to jump off of!

It's a fun problem to have when you need to hire an instructor to take your child skiing on parts of the hill that you, the parent, just can't safely navigate. Safety wins every day in my books, and I'd rather book a session with a trained instructor any day rather than going places on the ski hill that I'm personally not comfortable with. After all, if I break my leg, I don't know who's driving us home!

This is why I can't teach him anymore! 

Two. Choose Stronger (Trusted) Skiers for Ski Buddies 

I took a long break from downhill skiing when I was pregnant and didn't start skiing again until my son was maybe 4 years old. And while I didn't quite have to start back on the bunny hill, it's still been a long climb back up to where I used to be able to ski.

I follow my ski buddy to the top of the mountain!
I've made a LOT of progress over the past year and it's mostly because I ski with stronger skiers. I follow my son and husband around the hill,  up to the top of the mountain, down black runs, and occasionally down runs that terrify me.

Skiing with stronger skiers pushes me to become a better skier myself. I can't just cruise the green runs all day or spend my days looking for the easiest blue groomer on the hill. If I want to ski with my family, I have to go outside my comfort zone.

The key though in choosing a ski buddy, is that you have to be able to trust your friend or family member. My husband knows that I am petrified of moguls and bumpy terrain, so he tries really hard to choose smooth groomers (even if they are advanced black runs.) And my son as well only leads me down runs that he thinks I'll like (and 95% of the time, he judges well.)

My ski buddy loves taking me down steep terrain - and pushes me to become a better skier

Three. Choose the Best Time to Ski 

I can't say enough about heading out to your local hill mid-week for quieter slopes. It is so much easier to learn to ski when the runs are wide open and you aren't constantly worrying about running into somebody (or having somebody run into you!)

One of my big goals this winter was to learn to ski solo with my son. I wanted to become independent on the hill so that we could head out whenever there was a day off school without having to wait for the weekend when my husband could come with us. And so far so good! (a few entertaining moments aside where we've lost one another.)

As a bonus, by heading out to our local hill to ski mid-week, we're also skiing more! And if you see number four below, skiing more quickly leads to skiing better!

Fresh grooming awaits the early bird! 

Other valuable tips here:

  • Try to avoid Saturdays if planning a ski weekend away. Sundays are much quieter because most families are heading home, and are just focusing on packing up, checking out of their hotel, and driving back to the city.  In our dream world, we'd actually take an extra day off work (and school) to ski Sunday/Monday (skipping Saturday completely.)

  • First turns are the BEST! I am not a morning person, but I will never sleep in on a ski day. We are religious about being in queue for first lifts at 9am sharp so that we can get the fresh corduroy, ideal for tackling those steep runs before they get icy and crowded. With fresh grooming, most people should be able to ski up one grade from their normal "afternoon ski grade." - So at 9am, I'm skiing groomed black runs. By noon I'm down to blue runs. By 2pm, I'm just happy to supervise my son in the terrain park.

  • Mornings are always best for learning. If you have a local hill with seasons passes, head out for 9am when lifts open, ski hard for a few hours, have lunch, and head home. You'll not only get the best snow, uncrowded first runs, and perfect grippy grooming, you'll also be safer!! The afternoon is always more dangerous on ski hills as beginners get tired, runs get crowded, and steep pitches become "skied out" and icy.

First tracks and an entire mountain to ourselves! 

Four. Practice makes Perfect! 

We've chosen the nearby Nakiska Ski Area as our "local ski hill" because we can be at the hill in less than an hour. By skiing "close," we're also skiing "more" this winter.

Ski more and you'll definitely see improvement. My skiing has seriously improved this season - purely because we're getting out more than we did last year.

Practice Makes Perfect. Ski More, Ski Better!

The other thing I recommend is frequent visits to the same hill so that you can measure your progress year to year. You'll also build confidence at that hill, which helps with working your way up to progressively challenging terrain.

Example: We've been skiing at Nakiska a lot this year so far. So much so, that I'm already comfortable with most of the intermediate blue runs on the hill (and it's still only January.) Last year by comparison, I could only ski a few of the blue runs.

Now, because I've gotten comfortable with most of the blue runs, I'm ready to start skiing some of the groomed black runs (something I never would have done last year!) - and on our last visit to Nakiska, I skied three separate black runs!! - all because I'm getting more and more comfortable with the hill, and I'm slowly working my way up to new terrain.

This year I reached the top of the mountain at Nakiska and I can ski with my family

Five. Make it FUN 

Below are some of the "tricks" I've used this season to make skiing extra "fun" for my son:

1. Cupcakes! Nakiska has amazing cupcakes and I've been "bribing" my son with a cupcake at the end of his ski days. It's been very effective.

2. We've discovered the terrain park! We got terrain park passes at a recent visit to Fernie Alpine Resort, and I was surprised to see how quickly my son picked up some of the beginner box jumps.

I love that this is something we can do at the end of the day as a reward. (Ski well and keep up a good attitude, and we'll spend a half hour in the terrain park at the end of the day, for example.)

The terrain park is also a great option when the rest of the hill starts to get icy or crowded.

Note that to use the terrain park at an RCR resort such as Nakiska or Fernie, you'll need to get a terrain park pass for the season (a free upgrade with your seasons pass.)

Discovering how fun terrain parks can be

3. Trees! Kids love skiing in the trees next to the beginner runs on most ski hills. And at some resorts, there are even special kids' tree runs that are fun to discover on the lower mountain. (We enjoyed this feature at Fernie Alpine Resort on a recent visit.)

Kids Trees at Fernie Alpine Resort

I'd love to hear your personal suggestions for how you take the kids to the next level in their skiing. And if you have advice for timid moms following little daredevils down the mountain, I'd love to hear that too! 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Family Backcountry Ski Touring in Banff (Boom Lake Trail)

Boom Lake has always been my very favourite ski tour in the Canadian Rockies, and I had one big goal for this winter, to bring the boy! While I knew it would be a long day, that it would be challenging, and that the pace would feel glacial at times, I was determined to make the trip happen - and it did!!

Boom Lake, Backcountry Banff National Park 

Some Snowshoe Trails Need to be Enjoyed on Skis

As much as I love snowshoeing, I refuse to hike the Boom Lake Trail. This popular snowshoe trail ends at a gorgeous backcountry lake, and is very much worth the journey. Honestly though, it's just way too much fun on a pair of light touring skis to make me ever want to walk up (and back down) the trail.

We were met by dozens of snowshoers in the parking lot (even more on the trail,) and they all seemed to be having fun. Screaming our way down the trail at the end of the day though, I knew we were having the most fun!

Trailhead and Basic Trail Info

The Boom Lake Trail is located at Vermillion Pass off Highway 93 on the border with Banff and Kootenay National Parks.

The trail is 10 km in distance round trip, and there is a climb of 180 metres to reach the lake.

The trail is a well maintained summer hiking trail, and is a popular snowshoe destination in winter.

While the trail is generally wide enough for a good snow plow on the way down the steep hills, it is still a hiking trail (not the groomed ski trail you'd find at a Nordic Centre) and beginners will find the first section to be tricky on descent. (Though my 8 year old did just fine.)

We appreciated that the snowshoers had packed the trail down nicely for us, and we enjoyed fabulous snow that wasn't icy (thank goodness!)

For more information on this trail, consider purchasing a copy of Chic Scott's new Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies guide book. (affiliate link)

The official sign post for the Boom Lake Trailhead

Avalanche Safety

I'm sure the average winter hiker (and skier) enjoys this trail with little avalanche training, but be aware that the full outing to the lake is technically considered to be in class 2 terrain. In especially bad conditions, avalanche slopes could potentially reach the trail or the lake. And there is one large slide path that we definitely crossed through while skiing to the lake (though we could have dropped down to the lake early and skipped skiing through this section.)

If you want to ski the Boom Lake Trail, I recommend the following:

  • Travel with at least one person in your party who has avalanche training, and can steer you away from any potentially hazardous slopes.

  • Always check with a Visitor Information Centre before heading out, or check online for the latest avalanche report. When we went to Boom Lake in early January, the avalanche hazard was low for below and at treeline.

  • I don't advise skiing across the lake with kids. (We skied on the lake for all of 5 minutes before turning around.) There are several big slide paths that do come all the way down to the lake.

And if you plan to do a lot of ski touring, I would suggest taking an avalanche skills training course, and investing in the proper safety gear for your outings.

Backcountry Ski Touring across Boom Lake

The Skis that We Used for Boom Lake

My husband and I both used light touring skis which are slightly wider Nordic skis with metal edges for going down steep hills. I love my light touring skis and use them everywhere. They are skinny enough to fit in the tracks at a Nordic Centre, and they give me the confidence to make it down any hill, knowing that I could stop on a dime if I had to.

I also have NNN BC bindings which are beefier cross country ski bindings, and are designed to pair with extra sturdy boots (for more support while out in the backcountry.) My husband just has normal cross country bindings and boots, but he's always been the better skier.

As for little Noah, he just has normal skinny cross country skis with regular bindings and boots. No metal edges or touring boots for this kid! He's hard core.

Ski Touring on normal cross country skis

Our Experience Skiing into Boom Lake

We knew we needed every advantage on our side possible for this trip, so we waited for a nice warm day, packed in a ton of extra layers and clothing, stuffed our pockets full of candy, and brought a tow rope (just in case.)

We fully expected to be towing Noah up the steep trail, or at the very least thought we'd have to help him up the first set of switchbacks, but he surprised and amazed us - and made it all the way to the lake with no assistance whatsoever.

Skiing up the Boom Lake Trail

The trail was actually quite enjoyable for probably the first 3 km, until Noah started to get tired. Then the pace slowed down, and the final couple of kilometres were a bit of a slog. Noah was also less than impressed that you have to drop down to the lake for the last kilometre because he knew he'd have to climb back up again after. (and that's where the rope had to come out.)

We enjoyed a short lunch at the lake, skied a very short distance across the lake for all of 5 minutes, and then started climbing back up to the main trail (with tow rope fully in use at this point.)

The climb back up to the main trail was the hardest part of the day for us, and it didn't help that a group of hikers teased my son for "cheating" with the tow rope! Little did they know how sensitive he is, and how hard he'd worked to reach this point in the day (without using the rope the whole way in.) He started crying and it definitely took some work to calm him down.

This kid was a trooper on the way in

The Ski Down from Boom Lake 

Once we reached the main trail, we had to endure approximately a kilometre of rolling terrain before the descent got very interesting (and super fun!)

There was a lot of screaming (good screaming,) a few small falls, and a lot of laughing on the descent. I'd been worried that maybe Noah wasn't ready to ski down a narrow, wild backcountry luge track on skinny skis, but he totally killed it, and did amazing!

Below is another fun video from our descent. Apologies if it's wobbly or shaky but I was filming it with my phone in hand while skiing behind Noah (not the easiest thing to do!)

Where to Stay in the Area

The Boom Lake Trailhead is located 6 km SW of Castle Junction in Banff National Park. This is very convenient for families staying at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel. The hostel is technically a "wilderness" property, but it has indoor plumbing, showers, heat and electricity. For a wilderness hostel, it is definitely comfortable.

The hostel has a large fully stocked kitchen and a beautiful fireside room to enjoy while playing games as a family.

There are no private rooms at the hostel so you'll have to share space in the dorm rooms, split by gender. Children must be over the age of 6 to sleep in the shared dorm rooms.

For more information, visit the Hostelling International website or check out the story I wrote: Winter at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel with Kids

Ski destinations don't get much more beautiful than this!

Other Recommended Reading 

Parting shot of my boys finishing the Boom Lake Trail