What to do on the shoulder seasons?

So summer in Canada is pretty easy to stay active – hiking, biking, lying in the sun… I mean… hiking..…

Even in winter, with the right inducement in the form of a beautiful bluebird powder day, I am happy to venture outdoors. But the shoulder seasons? Those cold.. windy… wet spring days? It’s much more difficult to convince yourself to push through the pain barrier.

So what is a future badass (apprentice badass, badass-in-training, student of awesome skills, etc.) to do?

My answer would have to be rock climbing… the best indoor sport for causing pure terror! I also like rock climbing because it is one of the few sports where different skill levels don’t reeeallly matter. You climb at your level, your friend climbs at theirs. In fact, if you are exhausted, you offer to belay your sporty friend for a few extra climbs up that (godawful) wall… you are immediately appear to be an awesome person!

Bouldering is also a great way to go rock climbing by yourself, because I don’t know about you…. But sometimes I just hate people.

Also, I like rock climbing when the rock climbers walk around with their shirts off.

In short, you know where to find me this Spring!

P.S

I have included some inspiration to this blog… in the form of a tiny climbing prodigy.

P.P.S

Also, even if you aren’t so sold on rock climbing as a way to spend your time, I highly recommend the following movie – a fascinating look at the climbing counter culture of the 60s, and the race up the iconic cliffs of Yellowstone Park, with awesome 60s fashion and great production values.

Winter Hiking – Not as Bad an Idea as You Might Think

Such a fan of this woman.

katie expatriated

On Monday, when Calgary was overcast and dreary, Chris and I headed up to Banff to enjoy the sunshine. I’ve been wanting to get up there for some time to check out the methane bubbles everyone keeps talking about (we saw some and they’re cool).  Additionally, I was hoping I could talk him into a hike.

Normally, I do not consider hiking to be a winter activity. However, my hair stylist recently informed me that the Johnston Canyon hike in Banff is uniquely winter hikeable because it has a railing along the entire route. Minimal risk of sliding off the edge of a ravine! Additionally, you can rent crampons at the beginning of the hike to facilitate walking on ice. To anyone considering hiking Johnston Canyon before the winter is out, do not rent the crampons. I repeat – DO NOT rent the crampons! Here’s why:

IMG_1719 Chris sliding along Johnston Canyon

Chris and I both…

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A guide to downhill ski resorts of Southern Alberta for the person terrified of gravity generally and falling off the mountain specifically. Part 1

If this chair lift breaks... we all die.

If this chair lift breaks… we all die.

So for those of you who did not already know this – I originally hail from an arid desert land filled with animals that wanted to kill me. I now live in an artic wasteland (for half the year, at least) where bigger animals want to kill me. Just kidding – I love it here. I give you this background information to explain to you that I am not a good skier. I have not had the opportunity to learn as a child, when fear and pain are unknown. Now, as an adult, I realize I have too large a student loan to ever ski with reckless abandon. This saddens me, yet probably keeps me safe. Fear cocoons me while my helmet cuddles my brain, keeping my only, horrendously expensive asset (damn you, student loans) safe.

I was not even, until very recently, a competent beginner skier. But we should rejoice! I can now, after much skiing and some lessons on the slopes of Southern Alberta, do most green runs (yay!) and occasionally an easy blue (double yay!). So, as always, I decided to take the knowledge I have gained on the lived experience of being rubbish at something, and distill it into (hopefully) usable information for you! I give you… The slopes of Southern Alberta for the beginner skier! (Part 1).

Sunshine

Sunshine from the carpark

Oh Sunshine, You are so great. Sunshine has plenty of actual green runs, and by ‘actual’ green runs I mean runs that are not of a blue-level gradient just designated green presumably because the resort needed a few greens to look well rounded – which clearly undermines the integrity and usefulness of the whole grading system. ( I’m not pointing fingers here… coughlakelouisecough).

Sunshine is my absolute favourite beginner slope, no scary precipices to look over, no huge long runs that exhaust me by halfway point!

I have only one caveat; all beginners seem to feel as I do, and I am sadly not skilled enough to avoid the other beginner skiers and snowboarders. This can make some of the easier runs a bit fraught, especially the gentle slopes of the strawberry express, where snowboarders are falling in slow motion like bowling pins around and in front of me. I almost ran over/was run over by about a  million people, some of whom were adorable children. However, getting away from this (and this is probably a weekend problem as well) is what inspired me to try out the blue runs on Sunshine, most of which I feel are about as easy as the hearder green runs of Lake Louise. This is the best place to try and jump from a green to a blue!

My rating: Absolute beginners, learn here, you won’t die!

Lake Louise

Lake Louise from... somewhere up high I guess!

Lake Louise from… somewhere up high I guess…

Lake Louise is a huge resort with a lot of terrain. Good skiers seem to like Lake Louise. However, I would caution that most of the green runs at Lake Louise are both long enough to fatigue you and steep enough in places to make an absolute beginner feel like death is imminent.

There are a few exceptions to the steep/long/likely death combination – a really chill run called Pika is one – however the front of the mountain, with it’s Wiwaxy and Deer runs, is steep enough that I would suggest that absolute beginners practice a couple of times at Sunshine first to get their courage up. That being said, once I got my skiing confidence in place, Lake Louise is a heap of fun, it’s wide runs make it fairly easy to avoid other beginners, and each run has a range of gradients, which is great for practice. There is possibly more variety than Sunshine? I at least got that impression. They also have really reasonably priced ultra early morning lessons, which I have utilized and benefited from immensely. Private lessons make a huge difference when you are learning, but usually they are like 250 bucks and I’m all like whoa I can’t afford that, however these ones are $99 for 90 minutes (!!) i.e. MORE THAN HALF PRICE, if you are willing to rise at the crack of dawn to get there by 8am! Which I am, because I’m a cheapskate! See here for details. I can’t believe I’m even revealing this secret to you.

My rating for Lake Louise: Not an absolute beginner mountain, but once you can get down a green and are feeling cocky? Go for it. It is possible, though exhausting, to pizza your way down.

Kicking Horse

Oooh eeee – this is a scary resort. This is the kind of resort I dream about cruising down like a pro skier, but then I actually set ski upon it and am horrified. Kicking Horse is more badass than I am, or probably (definitely) will ever be. The thing that scared me the most was the unfenced cliffs that seem to lurk off the side of every run, even the greens. My vertigo was giving me hell, and my anxiety levels were through the roof. My friends, all more competent skiers than I, were in absolute heaven. That being said, there are a few cat runs (? If that’s the right term? those long wide avenues that gently wind down the mountain) that are okay, but again, I was inexpertly dodging other beginners the whole way down, except unlike sunshine, there’s a freaking cliff on one side. I did 2 runs on this mountain and called it a day like the coward I am, and went and imbibed bulk amounts of the excellent Kicking Horse coffee in the comfortable lodge at the bottom of the mountain.

My impressions of Kicking Horse. Fuck the skiing, the coffee was great.

Fuck this – I’m going to drink coffee

My rating? Not a mountain with many options for beginners. It was way out of my league. I was both excited and terrified by this mountain. I will probably go back when I grow a pair and can do all the blues at Lake Louise… so probably in two seasons from now.

Canada Olympic Park – an honourable mention

C.O.P – the unloved stepchild best known for hosting some amusing Jamaicans that one time. (We all have stepchildren like that, right?) C.O.P seems to be somewhat of a laughing stock amongst Calgarians, so I am riding (writing) to the rescue on this one. I really like C.O.P and I am not ashamed of it.

I live in the city – where can I go on a Tuesday evening to ski when there’s been a nice mid-week dump of snow? C.O.P! Where has the most comprehensive range of what could be termed bunny slopes, allowing me to practice different gradients and terrain in a controlled environment (i.e. I can find out and exceed my limits while NOT being stranded halfway down a mountain)? C.O.P! Where has non-existent gondola lines and allows me to get 20 (short) runs in an hour? C.O.P! They also have pretty good lessons through the very pleasant individuals at Winsport, which are cheaper than the full priced lessons out in the mountains, so I can do a lesson on a weeknight and spend my weekends practicing what I’ve learnt. How good! In summary, I heart C.O.P.

Stay tuned for Part 2, featuring Fernie, Revelstoke, Mt Norquay and Nakiska. It will arrive when the snow arrives… so that could quite likely be Winter 2015/16!

Running in a Winter Wonderland

An amazing (and badass) article from my good friend Katie Expatriated 😀

katie expatriated

Early this winter when the daily highs were inching their way toward freezing, I asked my mom for advice on how to maintain the motivation to run outside during the winter. My mom is a life-long runner and lover of the outdoors who manages to run outside every winter despite her vehement hatred of said season. She’s knows about these things. Her advice was to get really cute winter running clothes and find running friends. I do not have much luck with running friends, due to my insistence on running at exactly the warmest hour of each day. That tends to be between two and three and the good people of the world are at work (although some of my favorites have been chatty Saturday walk-runs with my darling friend G of Somewhat Outdoorsy-ish). However, the clothes thing? That works! In my egocentricity, I imagine all my neighbors are watching…

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Ice skating – not as tricky as it looks

I’m all for acquiring skills that LOOK impressive but aren’t actually that hard to learn. Like learning how to do stuff on the computer without the mouse. It’s impressive!

On that note, the subject of today’s rant – ICE SKATING. The surprisingly not-too-difficult winter sport.

I don't look awkward at all.

I don’t look awkward at all.

I admit, I was nervous. Mainly because I once read a Jodi Picoult book where a girl fell through some ice on a pond and (spoiler alert) died. Also, I know a girl who managed to break her knee cap in half whilst ice-skating on a date. I think we can all agree both these scenarios sounds terrible.

HOWEVER, I had quite a lovely time ice skating today, and have come home life and knee caps intact.

SOOOOO what did I learn today?

Lake Louise has some amazing views and a safe(r) ice skating rink, according to my friends at Parks Canada. It is also FREE.

Majestic views.

There was a very nice man at Wilson Sports just down the roadin the Lake Louise village, who rented me skates for $12 for a whole day. This price pleased me IMMENSELY, as downhill skiing has basically just led me to expect every winter activity will cost a bazillion dollars.

The trickiest bit is getting onto the ice without anything to hold onto. I think like a trotting motion is best at that point… save that majestic glide for later.

I also found I could sort of gingerly trot around on my skates out on the ice until I got the more gliding rhythm going.

Majestic gliding motion

Majestic gliding motion

Lace those skates up tight over the ankle. I don’t know why but someone gave me that advice today and it seems legit.

And if you are really terrible just stand around and admire the scenery. The Lake Louise rink was apparently voted as the nicest outdoor rink in the world by CNN. They wouldn’t lie to us, would they?

Finally, the hot chocolate at the Chateau is absolutely amazing and makes me feel super wealthy. Which, thanks to a total activity cost of $12 – I kinda was!

Etiquette for when you are really terrible at doing something.

A lot of the time, the reason people like myself don’t try new things is because we are terrified we are going to be terrible at it. And honestly, sometimes we are.

I always encourage myself to have a go, it’s the reason I write this blog, to do something while scared as hell, knowing that any type of expertise is probably never going to happen, but realising how amazing it will be as an old woman in a nursing home to remember that “One time I leapt off a mountain in a wing suit”… you know, If that’s your jam.

Your grandma

You… as remembered by old you.

HOWEVER…. If you have talked yourself into doing something, learning a skill or taking on a new physical activity… there are certain things you should keep in mind, so you don’t annoy the hell out of everyone else within hearing distance. I’ve made some of these mistakes before. I’ve certainly witnessed other people doing all of these. So, read on, friend, and learn what to do and What NOT to do in your pursuit for adrenaline and new experiences.

  • Be realistic about your skills and fitness level before signing up

This is an obvious one. If a skiing class says “for intermediate skiers” and your skill level is “wallowing in the snow like an adorable baby elephant”– don’t sign up. It’s not fair to the other class members if you are really just not up to the task and monopolise the instructor’s time.

A related point – don’t make assumptions about how a certain fitness level or prerequisite for a class is determined. For example, I’ve gone to classes or done activities for which the website states “a moderate level of fitness is required” – in my experience this can vary from being able to climb one flight of stairs without having to stop and catch your breath, to being able to run 6 km (3.7 ish miles for my American buddies) in half an hour. Just ask the company, if they say that you’ll be fine, then jump right in.

I should also mention here, that your super fit friends do not actually have any comprehension of how hard things are for a beginner. If they say that you can totally do a 30km hike on your first go – DO NOT BELIEVE THEM. Super fit people are different to us. They are like elves, beautiful, graceful and at home in the forest. They don’t understand how hard it is for us (I guess by this analogy, we are hobbits. Just go with it). Maybe suggest you could join them for a shorter hike, or you (with an adequate number of companions) could go for part of the distance and turn back. Trust me, this is a mistake I have made countless times, then they are frustrated when you get to the 10km mark and can barely stand because your hiking boots were bought brand new to impress these people and your feet are blisters. Then you hate them for bringing you to this godforsaken place. Tempers will be lost.

  • There’s two ways to mess up.

If you take a garden-variety tumble while learning to snowboard, there is a right and a wrong way to react here, from the perspective of your fellow boarders. The right way is to smile, maybe chuckle briefly, get up, dust yourself off and keep going. One common WRONG way to react is to do a full slapstick comedy review of the fall, rolling around on the ground laughing hysterically, replaying it step by step, doing snow angels, refusing to get up BECAUSE EVERYONE LAUGH OMG ME FALLING WAS SO FUNNNNNYYYYYYY!!! C’mon buddy, get off the ground and lets keep going. Similarly, sulking after a fall is annoying. You fell, we laughed, let’s move on so you can learn to be better than you are. Time is money, especially in class situations. Mind you, if you fall and break a bone, you can do and say whatever you like (free pass on swear words 😉 ).

  • DO NOT MAKE DEROGATORY INSULTS ABOUT YOUR SKILL LEVEL (OR YOUR FRIENDS’ SKILL LEVELS)

I’m assuming here that you are not the kind of jerk that makes nasty comments about strangers. If you are, you need a more thorough schooling in etiquette than you’ll find here. I am referring to making self-deprecating comments about your own abilities, or teasing your friend, in ways that may really offend others.

Your friends may say all sorts of outrageous things to each other behind closed doors. Don’t do it in public. Just don’t. Don’t make your fellow hikers, skiers, sky divers, whoever, feel uncomfortable about their sexual orientation, race, creed, whatever. Don’t scream out the c-word while a small child walks past. Be nice.

  • Don’t chat to your friend through the instructors comments and then stand there whining “I DON’T UNDERSTAAAANNNND” and make the instructor repeat the whole thing….

…because it makes me want to learn kick boxing just so I can then muay thai you in the face. For now, I will settle for scowling. Shut up.

We are all under pressure in a new environment, trying something that makes us feel like fools and scares us.

Have fun, and try not to be a pest.

Ice climbing for beginners

I didn’t even plan to write this post, but my good friends at MEC (They aren’t really my good friends… I wish they were… call me guys) set up an ice wall in the middle of Banff today!

So my notes on my 10 minutes of highly controlled ice climbing on an artificial wall…

You need the following:

  • Boots
  • Crampons – spikey contraptions that strap to the bottom of your boots and have long spikey bits poking out on the front
  • Helmet
  • some rope and harness stuff that is well above my pay grade. Ask a pro about that one.
  • Ice picks, or as the adorable European dude working the registration desk called them… Ice pickles.

What did I learn?

  1. Kick your feet into the wall straight in front of you. Then keep your foot parallel to the ground and use it like a platform for your weight.
  2. Use your legs more so than your arms, at least when starting out. I have abysmal upper body strength and I found I could still get up there. (disclaimer, the guy on the ground holding the rope may have been helping out by supporting just a smidgeon of my weight for me)
  3. Don’t look up when people are above you… chunks of ice might crush your face.
  4. You feel like a badass walking around with a pick. Enjoy this while it lasts.

So that’s one easy way to try ice climbing! A wall set up for absolute beginners is obviously a pretty low pressure scenario to give it a go,and for that, I thank you, MEC people (seriously, call me, I think we could be friends).

Did I like it? Yes I think I did. I definitely wouldn’t commit to any gear purchases based on my 10 minutes on the ice wall, but the whole experience was not as intense as Game of Thrones had lead me to believe.

I did some research when I got home on prices of taking some classes. They tell me there are also companies offering guided tours… and the University of Calgary does some (I think) reasonably priced classes. You know… considering they are guiding you up a cliff of ice.

Ice climbing

Look at me go!

I also received much admiration from my friends when posting photos to social media, so, I guess, yay!