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.

 

 

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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!

 

 

Say Hello to Snowshoe Season!

Right up until this morning, winter so far here in Kananaskis has been…well…non-existent. The lakes were still all open and snowshoeing wasn’t even a little possible. However, this morning, everyone in a mountain town woke up to a world of white!

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15338612_10211357219675943_6531228359490196435_nOnce you’ve lived here (or anywhere that gets snow) long enough, you know if its snowed over night the second you open your eyes. The quality of light filtering in through your bedroom window changes and there is a hush over the world. Its a delightful, sleepy, feeling that leaves you wanting to cuddle into a fleecy blanket with a cup of coffee just a little while longer, before venturing out into the snowy world.

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Everyone becomes a child again after a fresh snowfall; there are few things in life more fun than playing in fresh powder. As we grow older, we just change the way we play: some people ski or snowboard, and some people like to snowshoe. Now, while I love to ski, snowshoeing is just so easy to do! You can snowshoe literally anywhere, there are no lineups and you really get to enjoy the serenity of nature. So this mornings fresh snowfall found me outside, snowshoes strapped on for the first time this season! As of right now, there is about 4 inches of fresh powder at valley bottom here.

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