Wool, Wetsuits and Making the Most of a Bad Chinook.

Chi·nook
Pronounced:SHəˈno͝ok
Definition: A warm ocean-born wind that makes its way into the pacific northwest region and the southern Canadian Rockies. Commonly called ‘snow eaters’, these winds will break the heart of anyone who loves winter and deep powder.
Your winter can be going along perfectly; you have lots of snow on the ground, the temperature is well below freezing and ski or snowshoe conditions are great. And then BOOM. In rolls a Chinook and it’s all wrecked. Chinooks bring high wind levels and high temperatures. During a Chinook, temperatures can swing from -20 up to +10 in the matter of a day. The warm winds are drying and melt away or evaporate all of the snow, leaving the ground bare, when just days before it was a winter wonderland.
Now, this might not sound like something awful to you, getting above-freezing temperatures in the middle of winter. But if you love winter, your heart breaks a little every time a Chinook rolls through. While last week I was skiing on pristine xc ski trails, now there is dirt and grass and pavement poking through. The downhill ski slopes are icy and snowshoes are pretty much unnecessary unless you are at a high elevation.
So what do you do when a chinook rolls in? Well, my friend Tiffany and I decided to make the best of it.
Both of us love outdoor adventure in the mountains and are avid paddlers. So when we heard there was open water to be found in Canmore, we decided to spend our Sunday morning paddling it.
16142736_10211889347818814_2403277049120279804_nOne of the nice things about winter is that if you’re looking to do a sunrise hike or paddle, you really don’t have to get up all that early; Tiffany and I met up for breakfast at Rocky Mountain Bagel co (a pre-paddling tradition!) and headed out to the reservoir in Canmore. We found open water by the trailhead for Grassi Lakes, pumped up our SUPs and headed out.
It was an absolutely incredible paddle; the morning was beautiful and warm and it was fun to watch the ice climbers at Grassi while we paddled. We found a fairly large section of open water and managed to paddle almost all the way to the dam. We snapped a bunch of photos along the way; check them out here:
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SAFETY NOTE:
Tiffany and I are both very experienced paddlers who had the right training and right gear in case we went for a dip; we also had a chat about risks and what-ifs before heading out, so we had a game plan in place should one of us fall in. Paddling in the winter definitely isn’t for the inexperienced or unprepared paddler, so if you choose to find open water this winter, make sure you know what you are doing and are prepared for the worst case scenario.

Skinny Skis

When you talk to someone about skiing in the Rockies, their mind undoubtedly goes first to downhill. And yes, downhill is fun. Obviously. But I also have a deep love for cross country skiing. I love cross country skiing for the lack of lineups, the ability to find solitude or to actually spend quality time with friends. One of my most memorable winter nights was spent xc skiing behind a lynx and watching the aurora dance overhead. These are the kinds of quiet, serene moments that you will never find on a ski hill.

I can remember my first time on cross country skis. I was AWFUL. It was in my grade 10 outdoor gym class, and I was skiing on a pair of wooden skis with three pin bindings that I had picked up at the local thrift shop just for my class. Those skis are probably still in my parents shed back in Ontario (sorry Mom and Dad!). All I remember was not being able to go up hills and how cold my feet were in the leather ski shoes that came with the set. I tried hard to love it at that point, but it wasn’t until moving out to the Rockies (and working for a ski shop) that I really fell in love with the sport. Since moving to Kananaskis, I have skied pretty extensively on the incredible network of (free!) trails that are groomed and maintained by Alberta Parks.

Right up until yesterday, when this damn Chinook blew in, the winter conditions out here in Kananaskis were spectacular. The snow was plentiful and all the ski trails were perfectly groomed. I wanted to share some photos from last Wednesday, where I was the first person out on the trails after they were groomed and track set.  This was all along the Bill Milne trail here in Spray Valley Provincial Park in Kananaskis, which while not overly exciting (its valley bottom, so pretty flat but gorgeous views), literally runs through my backyard so its super easy for me to hop onto it.

15965842_10211827158264114_8770151708113103193_n15966008_10211827156344066_1782961492071147272_n15977311_10211827156464069_7531459449976108904_n15977410_10211827152903980_1146427529572647071_n15977820_10211827157864104_6165332323932000108_n16105617_10211827155944056_5198390360535659671_n16106073_10211827154304015_6752495748719924918_n16114280_10211827158544121_1659883102851831012_n16114352_10211827158384117_4646843253240914019_n16114409_10211827153543996_8618517335071850406_n16114840_10211827157504095_5409207288748106608_n16114877_10211827159104135_1345795585083025951_n16115006_10211827153103985_1364603657268898769_n

What Makes For A Great Leader

Recently, I have had some really good conversations with friends and co-workers about what makes for a great leader. We all know when we have a bad leader (or boss, supervisor, etc) but it can be difficult to define just what it is that makes someone great. So lets reverse engineer this:

The worst leader you can imagine:

  • Talks down to people
  • Brags about being the leader/boss/supervisor
  • Isn’t approachable
  • Doesn’t coach their team, but just gives orders
  • Doesn’t inspire confidence
  • Doesn’t know how to do their job well
  • Is judgemental
  • Doesn’t ask for help (everyone needs help sometimes!)
  • Is two-faced
  • Not trustworthy
  • Offers only criticism
  • Creates separation in the team
  • uses favouritism
  • Micro-manages

So if those are the qualities that make for a bad leader, what makes for a great leader?

A great leader:

  • Is kind and compassionate
  • Is humble and knows they have worked hard to get where they are
  • Is someone you can turn to for help
  • Inspires confidence
  • Knows their job and role, inside out and backwards
  • Is respectful of everyone around them
  • Is constantly working to be better, knows that there is always room for improvement
  • a good role model, someone you want to be like
  • Offers constructive criticism, wants their team to be the best it can be
  • Hold their team together
  • A good leader should push every member of their team to be the best version of themselves.
  • Empowers their team to make decisions and trains them to make the right ones

Personally, I think the difference between a good leader and a great leader is the ability to inspire. Have you been lucky enough to be around people who drive your passion?  Who make you want to be the best you possible? When you wake up, are you excited to keep working towards a goal? Having people like that in your life are what make life worth living. They push you, they inspire you and they take you out of your comfort zone. These are people, the leaders, we need more of.

Having strong leaders is important in pretty much any job, so when you read these lists, where does your boss/supervisor fit? What other qualities should a leader have (or not have)?

 

Winter at Lake Louise

15894331_10211741346078863_1974805463283532724_nLake Louise is an icon of beauty in the Canadian Rockies; however, most people only know it for its turquoise waters of summer. What about the other 6 months of the year? Lake Louise is actually a winter paradise for people who love being outside in the cold. Here are my favorite things to do outside at Lake Louise in the winter:

Ice Skating

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10273657_10205924590583611_1615214933484312362_nOn the lake, there is a hockey rink cleared for playing shinny, as well as a large cleared ice surface for families. Just prior to the Banff Ice Magic Festival every January, a large ice castle is built on Lake Louise, in the center of the family ice surface. In years past, there has even been a throne in the heart of the castle, allowing everyone to be King or Queen of Lake Louise, even if only for a minute. Don’t have your own skates? Not a problem! Ice skate rentals are available in the Chateau. Click here for more details on rentals. Pro tip: bundle up, it’s usually quite windy on the lake.532960_10205924589943595_3971908337049268020_n

XC Skiing

15965954_10211741364279318_6684802578801199510_nI have wanted to XC ski at Lake Louise for as long as I’ve known there was a trail to ski. I finally got to check that item off my bucket list last week. I skied a couple laps of the lake and with it being my first real xc ski of the season, I was feeling pretty good. I didn’t fall, my technique was solid and I was in a good rhythm. It was a pretty chilly day, sitting around -20 with the wind chill. I have never had my eyelashes freeze before. I should try to pass it off as the latest winter look 😉

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15966051_10211741350358970_3789058929670861280_nThe XC ski trail on Lake Louise starts at the boathouse and is flat groomed and trackset all the way to the waterfall at the far end. I skied through powder so I could come back on the other side of the lake and to do it as a loop instead of a linear trail.Parts of the trail were severely mashed due to snowshoers and people walking on it, but the vast majority of the trail was in great shape.

The frozen waterfall at the end of the lake is definitely worth getting to and then hiking up to the base of.

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Snowshoeing

If you’re not big into xc skiing or skating, then give snowshoeing a shot! There is a snowshoe trail that cuts across Lake Louise, as well as many kms of other trails around the lake and surrounding area. Always make sure to check that you are not going into avalanche terrain; check the reports and know what areas are safe. It’s pretty amazing to be able to snowshoe out into the middle of the lake, and to look back at the Chateau: the opposite of what most people see when visiting.

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Other winter delights:

10410712_10205924594223702_4465359955072810482_nGo during the Ice Festival and look at magical ice carvings, have a drink at the outdoor ice bar, take a sleigh ride around the lake or enjoy a bonfire hosted by the Lake Louise staff.

My absolute favorite winter activity at Lake Louise is stargazing. The stars are always fantastic (as long as its clear) and you can set up a long exposure and skate around while you wait, or better yet, play with lights through a long exposure!

 

 

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Snowshoeing in Kananaskis

While I have not posted on here a lot over the holidays, it does not mean that I haven’t been super busy writing: I wrote this post last week for Kananaskis Outfitters, give it a read and check out their beautiful website if you are interested in seeing what all they do.

15781571_1248344911875257_3156321827171470706_n-300x300Snowshoeing is a method of transportation that has been around for about 4000 years, but in the last couple of years, it has definitely gained a lot of popularity! A lot of this popularity is probably because of how accessible snowshoeing is for the vast majority of people, and also how snowshoes have become easy to wear and use.

Originally designed by the necessities of living in a snow-covered world, nowadays, people mostly snowshoe for fun. Snowshoeing turns hiking into a year-round activity. Snowshoes no longer look like tennis racquets strapped to your feet; modern snowshoes are sleek and usually come equipped with ice cleats built in, making for incredible traction in even the most slippery of winter conditions.

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Kananaskis is a haven for snowshoers, offering a long snowshoeing season and a huge variety of trails. By the Kananaskis Village, there are a couple of great loops for newcomers to the sport; the Village Loops leave right from the Village Centre, and have a 2.5km option or a 1.5km option, or you can do them both for a great 4km loop. This loop has a little bit of elevation gain but remains very family friendly.

15621824_1337638826298250_6992831369302393830_n-240x300Troll Falls – An easy snowshoe for families

Another snowshoe trail close to the village that is family friendly, is the Troll Falls trail. Leaving from the Stoney trailhead, this is an easy 4km loop when done in conjunction with the Hay Meadows trail. This trail features a beautiful wintery waterfall and fantastic valley-bottom views of the surrounding peaks.

If you are willing to drive a little deeper into Kananaskis for snowshoeing, then you need to check out Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. This park offers kilometer after kilometer of snowshoe trails, with a wide range of views. On our recommended list to check out are:

The Elkwood loop starts at the Elkwood amphitheater and travels across the frozen edge of Marl lake. At 3.4km in length, and with little elevation gain, this is another great snowshoe loop for families.

 

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One of our snowshoe groups standing on Marl Lake

 


12417608_1033832390012230_6320220815210209063_n-289x300Hogarth Lakes
is another Kananaskis classic. Starting at the Burstall Pass trailhead, you share the trail with skiers for about 200m, before the snowshoe trail meanders off into the woods. This trail takes you through beautiful spruce and pine stands before taking you over Hogarth Lakes. There are always lots of tracks and signs of wildlife along this loop and one of our guides has even spotted a lynx along the trail (from a distance!).  Take a lunch or some hot chocolate along on this 4.1km trek to make the most of a beautiful winters day.
12832425_1011632558879828_5912986574658780623_n-240x300Looking for a bit more of a challenge? Then Chester Lake is for you. The cross country ski trail at Chester Lake follows the summer hiking trail, but the winter snowshoeing trail is a much steeper climb. The steep hike is definitely worth the reward! The trail deposits you on a frozen alpine lake, surrounded by fiercely beautiful peaks. Definitely take a lunch along: This 7km hike has 287 meters of elevation gain.

Snowshoe Safety

No matter how long you are planning on being outside while snowshoeing, be it a 2.5km loop or a 15km summit day, there are some very important things to keep in mind. In the winter, what may start as a simple backcountry emergency can get a lot worse very quickly. To make sure you are well prepared for any situation, there are some things that you should always carry:

  • Emergency blanket/bivy. Make sure to account for group size
  • Enough water and keep it thawed! Store it inside your pack or next to your body. It’s no good as ice
  • Snacks and food – enough to get you through an accidental night in the outdoors
  • First Aid kit
  • Hand warmers – these little packs can help if some ones gloves just aren’t cutting it
  • Spare toque, gloves and socks and an extra mid layer
  • Headlamp or flashlight – winter days are short!

Before you go:

  • Check the local avalanche reports. You can check it here. If you are in an Alberta Parks area, then the designated snowshoe trails are not located in avalanche terrain. If you are entering avalanche terrain, make sure you have the necessary training and gear.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back.
  • Know the local emergency number: here in Kananaskis it is 403-591-7755, or 911 for life-threatening emergencies.
  • Check the local weather and dress for it. Remember to dress in layers!

 

Snowshoeing is a great activity to keep you outdoors all winter long! There is always somewhere new to explore and fresh powder to plow through! Looking for a twist on snowshoeing? Check out our Stargazing Snowshoe tours!

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Troll Falls at Night on a Stargazing Snowshoe Tour

The Most Canadian News Story…

Every once in awhile there is a news story that hits television that is so stereo-typically Canadian, it reinforces to everyone what a wild, wacky place Canada is. These are stories that lead people to believe we live in igloos, get around by dog sled and only eat poutine. This week, another of these stories made the television.

As many of you know, I call Kananaskis AB home. KCountry is a very magical place and a hub for amazing nature and wildlife stories. Since I have lived here, several wildlife videos from the area have gone viral. Like this one of two bull moose rutting or of this wolf taking down a big horn sheep on the side of the highway. So it is pretty safe to say the wildlife here is never boring. Right now the critter that is making the new is, once again, a moose.

You probably saw this story on CBC (yup, that’s right, this made national news) that Kananaskis has issued a moose warning for the Chester Lake/Burstall Pass trail heads due to a moose hanging out in the parking lot licking cars. 

Yes, you read that correctly. This moose (and her calf) are hanging out in the parking lot and licking cars. Read the CBC story here. So why the heck are these moose licking cars?

For the same reason that big horn sheep, deer and other critters are ‘licking’ the road:

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They are eating the salt. Salt contains minerals that are important to these critters, but beyond that, the salt tastes good them.

The cars are getting salt on them from driving on maintained winter roads, and the wildlife has come to expect that they can lick cars to get the salt off. To be honest, if I had to choose between licking asphalt or licking a car, I guess I would lean towards the car, so it is no wonder that the moose are doing it too.

Alberta Parks has issued a formal warning, including what NOT to do if a moose is licking your car, but I am going to give you some tips here again:

  • Don’t approach the moose; if they walk up to you, try to maintain a safe distance or stay inside your vehicle.
  • Don’t offer the moose food; they do not need to become any more accustomed to people as a food source
  • Don’t try to physically move a moose away from your vehicle. They will win.
  • Always make noise when hiking, exploring, so as to not surprise wildlife.
  • Keep your pets on a leash. A kick from a moose can kill or severely injure a dog.

If you return to your vehicle to find a moose licking it, by all means  take a picture!  I would! But do not approach the moose to do so. Make noise, be loud and be patient for the moose to move off.  Be aware of what way the moose will most likely run if it gets startled, no one wants to get run over by a moose. If everyone respects the space of these dorkily majestic animals, then everyone will be able to share the space.

 

 

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? A Look at Winter Trail Etiquette

Cross country skiers are infamous for disliking snowshoers because they wreck their trails; snowshoers think that cross country skiers are snobs. And fat bikers? Well, no one likes fat bikers. Don’t believe me that there is so much drama in the world of casual winter sports? Check out this blog post from Skier Bob. It is titled ‘Snowshoers would use the snowshoe trail if we started skiing on it.’ If you want to  really see the tension, read the comments. They are way worse than the actual article.

So would you believe me if I told you that its actually really easy for everyone to get along and all just enjoy winter trails? As someone who does all three of the above winter sports, I promise you, it IS possible. Now that there is actually snow on the ground, and winter trails are opening, it is once again time to look at some winter trail etiquette.

Don’t Wreck The Tracks

Here in Kananaskis, we take a lot of pride in our cross country ski trails. They are world class, well-groomed and, best of all, free for people to use. There is a dedicated Alberta Parks team who keeps on top of grooming the trails, and you can even check a live grooming report here. 

A groomed ski track may look like this:

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(thanks Shutterstock for the photo!)

or like this:

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(Photo by Crystal Mountain)

The first photo is of a ‘flat groomed’ cross country track. This track works great for classic and skate skiing. The second photo is of a ‘track set’ ski trail. The difference being the parallel grooves carved into the snow in the second photo. These grooves are specifically designed for the gliding of classic cross country skiing, and skate skiing will wreck those tracks. It is important to know what the trail is groomed for before going out. Most track set trails also have a skate lane, so if skate skiing, please be courteous and do not wreck the tracks.

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Here the snowshoe trail crossed the ski trail and you can see I carefully stepped over the tracks so as to not wreck them.

15267747_1312113492184117_6959736387260210962_nYou can imagine what these tracks would look like if a snowshoe-er or hiker walked through them and mashed them up; hint: They would look rough. If a cross country skier hits a mashed up bump at high speed (say at the bottom of a hill or something) they can fall or go flying. If a snowshoe trail cross a ski trail, it is best practice to step over the ski tracks, so as to avoid mashing them. If you are on snowshoes and need to follow a cross country ski trail for a bit, walk on the edge of the trail, so as not to ruin the tracks or the skate lane.

Who Has The Right-of-Way

Trails can get busy, especially on weekend with nice weather, so it is important to know who has the right of way so that nobody gets frustrated and everyone can enjoy their day.

  • If it is a cross country ski trail and you are snowshoeing (even if you are on the edge of the trail), the cross country skier has the right of way. Since you know, its a ski trail and all.
  • The person travelling downhill has the right of way. The assumption here is that they will be travelling at higher speed, and the person going uphill is probably going to enjoy a momentary break anyway.
  • Ski on the right, pass on the left. Same as when you are driving in a car.
  • Politely call out to let people know if you are approaching from the rear if you are going to overtake or pass them.

 

What About Fido

  • In some areas, particularly on groomed ski trails in provincial parks, dogs are not allowed. Always check signage for where you are skiing.
  • Always pick up after your pet
  • If your dog is allowed on the trail, check the leash laws for the area.
  • Whether you are in an on-leash or off-leash area, keep your dog under your control. They should not interfere with other peoples enjoyment of the day, or worse, cause injury to someone else.

Fatbikes

15317778_1313691058693027_298110483410022055_nAs far as winter sports go, fat tire bicycles are the new kids on the block. Mountain biking used to be confined just to summer, but now that these bikes can be outfitters with super wide tires, riding in the snow just got a whole lot more fun. But since fat bikes are so new, really only having gained popularity in the last couple of years , sometimes it seems like people don’t know where they should be riding them. So lets cover the basics here:

  • Fat bikes CANNOT go on groomed ski trails. Period. If the trail is track set, do not ride there. It is up for debate in some areas if fat bikes can ride on flat groomed trails, so err on the side of caution and don’t do it.
  • Fatbikes are generally welcome on snowshoe trails
  • Be respectful of people moving slower than you, and call out politely so as not to surprise or scare them.

Winter Leave No Trace Principles

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Leave No Trace is a fantastic organization that educates people on how to leave the natural world as nice or nicer than they found it, as well as how to enjoy it safely. You can check out the winter LNT principles here.

So as you can see, its really not that difficult to all get along outside; whether you are on skis, snowshoes or a fatbike, we are all out there for the same reason: to enjoy nature.

 

 

Oh and by the way..

If you have to pee, don’t just stop on the trail and pee on the side. Everyone who passes that point after you will have to see the yellow snow you left behind. Take at least a few steps off the trail, find some cover, or cover it with snow. We all know it wasn’t a dog when there are snowshoe or ski tracks that stop directly in front of a pile of yellow snow… Don’t be gross.

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How to dress when it’s really f@#king cold out.

15350702_10211385700987958_1567693669333532042_nThis is what I woke up to this morning. Yup, you read that correctly -28 degrees celsius, feels like -36 with the wind chill. At that temperature, exposed skin can get frostbite in 5-10 minutes. But just because it gets cold, doesn’t mean that outdoor activities suddenly stop. Unless you can go into hibernation for the winter like a bear* , you are still going to have to venture out in this weather. There are right and wrong ways to dress for this, and it may surprise you that throwing on an arctic rated parka is not always the answer. So let’s take a look at the best way to dress for different activities at this temperature.

When is a good time to wear that parka rated for -50?

If you are going to be active, then the only good time to wear a parka rated for like – 50 is when you are at…- 50. If you are going to be doing a lot of standing around, or not physically exerting yourself, then that arctic rated parka will do just fine. But if you are going to be hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, etc (i.e. any activity that is going to make you sweat) than wearing a jacket rated for that cold is going to make you sweat, which is the body’s way of cooling down. So what do you think happens when it’s -36 and your body starts trying to cool itself off? It’s not good. There is a reason Les Stroud says ‘you sweat, you die.’

 

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Yeah, listen to this guy.

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<Here I am in a Canada Goose Parka because it was -30 and I was standing around at Lake Louise photographing with the wind blowing off the glaciers at the end of the lake.

Now I’m not saying don’t buy a jacket that is rated for that cold, but know when to wear it.You definitely should not start wearing it at relatively warm temperatures. I have seen people walking around in Canada Goose jackets before the temperature is even below freezing. If you acclimatize your body to that so early on in the season, what are you going to wear when it is actually cold out?

 

From the Feet Up:

When picking out winter boots, do not treat a temperature rating like it is a set in stone fact. Temperature ratings are super subjective, depending a lot on the person and what the gear is paired with. The warmest boots I own are a pair of deer hide mukluks lined with fluffy sheepskin (these were a staple when you live in Northern Ontario). However, it is not always practical to wear them since I can’t put them in snowshoe bindings, ice cleats or damp conditions. So pick a boot that suits your activities. If you are going to be hiking, look for a waterproof boot, preferably with a removable liner (so you can wash it because let’s face it, feet stink.). The liner should be made of a dense, felted material for the best warmth. Soft and fluffy doesn’t always equate to warm, so don’t fall for that.While my Keen Elsa boots don’t have a removable lining, I find them to be incredibly warm and waterproof.

Now that you have a good boot, it’s time to look at a good sock. Wool is king when it comes to staying warm, and merino wool is the best wool on the market. Pick a thick merino wool sock, like these ones from IceBreaker and Darn Tough. I like wearing knee-high ski socks pretty much all winter, but there are shorter hiking options as well. Your winter boots should be big enough that you can wear thick socks in them and still have room to move your toes. If the boots are too tight, there won’t be any air in there and that will actually lead to colder feet.

All About The Base (layers):

If you are going to be outside all day, just throwing on super warm outwear isn’t going to cut it. You need to have good layers next to your skin. I LOVE merino wool baselayers and pretty much live in IceBreaker all winter long. Merino wool comes from special sheep in New Zealand and it is incredibly warm, yet breathable. It is moisture wicking and anti-microbial, so it doesn’t stink when you sweat into it. Try layering merino baselayer pants and a top, or a merino onesie (yup, they exist!) underneath the rest of your layers for an added layer of cozy warmth. There are different weights of wool for base layers; what you need to know is that the higher the number, the warmer they are. 260 weight merino from Icebreaker is the warmest that they make, and what I reserve for the really cold days.

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This is a merino sheep; doesn’t he look warm?

 

Stuck in The Middle With You:

Mid-layers, or insulation layers, are where you get creative based on the temperature. A basic mid layer would be something like a fleece sweater. But on really cold days, jackets like the Patagonia Nano Air, or down sweaters may become your mid layer. On really, really cold days, you may wear fleece under a down sweater/synthetic jacket, along with an insulated shell over top. For fleece, I love my Patagonia Better Sweater and Snap -T pullovers, but I also have some really nice Cloud Layer fleeces from Eddie Bauer. I own a wide variety of fleeces, since it such a versatile layering piece, and key for being warm at these temperatures. The Patagonia Nano Air hoody is one of my favorite pieces of gear: it is perfect as a stand-alone jacket most of the time, but when the temperatures plummet, it makes an incredible mid-layer.

Topping it Off:

Now it doesn’t matter how good your mid and base layers are if the wind is going to cut through you the second you step outside. Wind chill is dangerous because it removes the ‘heat bubble’, or pocket of warm air, that we naturally have around us. A good shell will keep you warm and dry in windy and wet conditions. Materials like Gore-tex (or other proprietary versions of it) are sturdy, waterproof layers that will block the wind but still let your body breathe underneath. Getting a breathable shell is vital to maintaining good body temperature. If the shell isn’t breathable, then we are back to the original Parka problem. One of my favourite insulated shells is an old-y but a good-y. The First Ascent BC Microtherm is waterproof, windproof and insulated with 800 fill down. It has kept me warm through some pretty sketchy winter conditions. See below:

 

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Photographing Ice Volcanoes along the shore of Lake Ontario in -30

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My Wilderness First Aid Course in Canmore 2 years ago. -24

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Avalanche Safety training on Bow Summit at -39

 

The Icing on the Cake:

 

Headwear. It’s so easy to get all dressed up and covered and to forget about your head and face.A good toque that blocks the wind is vital. Rumour has it that pom poms help too 😉 Just kidding, but I do love a good pom-pommed toque. Look for hats that have a good fleece lining. Keep your face covered with a balaclava or, my favorite, a merino wool buff. Buffs are super easy to throw on, put a scarf over and then pull up to cover your face as required. Also keep in mind the area around your eyes: goggles or sunglasses with good coverage are important. Get tinted/polarized ones for days on the snow, snow blindness is a real thing.

Other tips and tricks for surviving the cold:

-Pocket hand and toe warmers: don’t depend on them, but they are a nice added boost of warm

-Don’t drink alcohol to keep warm. It might make you feel warm, but it thins your blood and dehydrates you, making you colder long term.

-If you have to pee, then pee! Do not hold it in. A friend who spends a lot of time in the arctic taught me this. Don’t make your body waste energy heating the extra mass that comes from you holding in pee.

-Carry a spare insulation layer and spare socks/gloves

-Use glove liners and hat liners on the REALLY cold days.

-Carry hot drinks. This helps moral more than anything

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Stay warm out there and adventure on!

 

 

*yeah, yeah, yeah, I know bears aren’t true hibernators but it made a better metaphor than comparing people to rodents.

You know it’s cold when…

… There are sundogs outside!

So what is a sundog? It’s this:

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That beautiful circular rainbow around the sun is known as sundog and is caused by ice particles floating in the air, reflecting light (same process as a rainbow, just much colder). The ice crystals act like a prism, bending the light that passes through them and giving the appearance of a rainbow.

These don’t just appear because of the cold, but are usually visible when the sun is low on the horizon on very cold days.

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The Best Craft Beers of the Season

Winter is not a time for wimpy beer.

When the temperatures drop and the snow starts falling, everyones minds start turning towards lazy morning in a warm bed, home baked cookies and warm, hearty meals. So it only makes sense that our taste buds turn towards beers that also reflect the feelings of the season. Light, fruity beers just don’t cut it once there is snow on the ground. Western Canada is home to so many incredible craft breweries, most of whom make a winter beer of some sort, but not all are created equal! So if you want to wow your guests this holiday season by having the best assortment of craft beer, check out some of my favourites below:

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bottle-66Big Rock Brewery

Big Rocks’ Winter Spice Ale is one of my all time favourite beers, and definitely my absolute favourite winter beer. This beer is smooth, with delicious hints of home baked goodness: think molasses cookies in beer format. This beer has strong hints of cinnamon, cloves and caramel. It has the magical ability to warm you from the inside out, even when it is frosty cold. bottle-323

Big Rocks’ Scottish Style Heavy Ale is describes as a ‘Great Big Hug from Scotland’ by their website, and that is a pretty fitting description for this beer. This beer is (as the name would suggest) a bit heavier than the Winter Spice and pairs well with big meals of haggis. And roast beef. But, mostly haggis. This beer makes me think of english toffee and the peaty taste of scotch. Its pretty fantastic if you’re in the mood for a hearty beer.

731893_1Granville Island Brewery

Granville Island Brewery is one of my overall favourite breweries. All of their beers have a distinctive taste and are deliciously different. Not to mention the location of the brewery is pretty incredible…

Lions Winter Ale has strong vanilla and caramel tones that go down very easily. Another warm, winter beer with a gorgeous amber colour.

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Hey Day is an unfiltered beer made with wheat and barley malts. The cloves and bananas flavouring in this beer makes it taste like banana bread. Seriously. Warm and hearty flavour-wise, this is another great beer to add to your winter repertoire.

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Whats more Canadian than maple beer? (well, poutine beer made by beavers probably, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t real). While Maple Shack isn’t a seasonal offering from GIB, I am still drawn to it in the winter. Anything maple flavoured brings back childhood memories of maple syrup boiling down on the stove, sleigh rides through the snow and pancake breakfasts on snowy Sundays. Rumour has it that this beer can be added into chili for some added incredible flavour… I will let you know 😉

Whistler Brewing Co

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I was genuinely surprised by how much I love this beer. I first heard about it through an Instagram post from the brewery, and after driving to two different cities looking for it,
I found it! Think of chestnuts roasted over an open fire and then dipped in caramel. Thats what this beer tastes like. Seriously, if you can find it then you need to try it.

 

Sweetgrass Brewing Co

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Now, I bet you have never heard of this Brewery. I hadn’t heard about them until last winter when my friend Sheila posted on Facebook about trying their Maple Butter tart Ale. A quick google search told me that the Maple Butter Tart ale was only available in Ontario, so after a quick call to my father dearest, a box containing 12 cans of this wondrous beer was on its way from Ontario to Kananaskis. This beer tastes exactly like it should, with that name. Think vanilla, caramel, maple and molasses flavours, with the sweetness balanced out by the hops. Such a great beer, its a shame that it is not available in Alberta yet. Fingers crossed that it starts getting distributed here soon!