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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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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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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