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.
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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.

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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