Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas in the Rockies

Lara and Leslie, Christmas Day - Tunnel Mountain Lookout, Banff National Park

This year, Christmas came and went with the speed of a Kenworth cruising the Trans Canada Highway. It was a high speed blur, with time spent with the family, friends and mostly in the Great Outdoors. The day before Christmas, Keith and I had an enjoyable day in the city spent with my family. The late evening drive brought us back to our home in Banff for a good night's sleep.

On Christmas day, we got up early and headed out to Sunshine Village for a ski tour. Stu, Anna, Keith and myself enjoyed a clear morning, a dramatic sky and some good company. The tour itself turned out to be brief: Stu broke his binding on the first and only run of the day. It was all good and we consoled ourselves with a thermos full of Irish Coffee.

We returned to town just in time for the arrival of our friend Lara from Ottawa. We lounged in the sunny spot in the kitchen for a visit and headed out for an afternoon walk up Tunnel Mountain. It was a warm Christmas Day, probably the warmest day we've had in the last 6 weeks - and it was great to see lots of people on the trail. Lara was jumping with joy despite her long day of travelling!

Yay for Banff!!

Stu and Anna hosted us for dinner this year, that boy sure can eat. I blame it on his ex-British-Military background and time spent in the presence of lots of manly men. Eat lots, while you have the opportunity!

The day after Christmas brought us flatulence and another day at Sunshine Meadows. Again, the sky was extra dramatic with black clouds, beams of sunshine, shadows and snow. It was a beautiful day to be outside.

The Monarch Reigns Supreme!

Sunshine Meadows and The Monarch

Light Meets Dark

...and that wraps up Christmas weekend. I hope you all enjoyed a relaxing and leisurely weekend of quality time with family, friends and the great outdoors!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Being Canadian: Curling, Snowshoeing and a Lunar Eclipse in a Fuzzy Robe

Hurrrrrry, HARD!

Curling is so Canadian. If you visit any small towns in rural Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba or Ontario and they are bound to have a curling rink. It's a social sport. I love curling, but curling sober is kind of like ice-fishing sober. :) Either way, it's a heckuva' lot of fun - but seriously, it took me 5 days to recover from 1 hour of curling. For a girl who can seldom even get close to touching her toes, curling was a major stretch. Maybe I need to drink more to be good at this sport. But I digress.

Getting outside when it's cold outside is a Canadian thing. Skating, tobogganing, building forts in the snow, throwing snowballs, cross country skiing and ice fishing are all the fun kind of things that I did as a kid and I was a city kid. Once, I even had an "accidental drunk" when I was ice fishing with my dad - but that's another story. All I can say is: Tia Maria and Coffee sure do taste good when your toes are frozen. This past week, I did my duty as a good Canadian and embraced winter in a variety of different ways.

After a hard afternoon of curling, we headed up to Lake Louise for our company Christmas Party and a great night at Deer Lodge. It was a pleasure to wake up in Lake Louise and have a long slow breakfast and coffee at the lodge before beginning our day. Decadent in fact. Hey, Guys Out There! If you want a romantic night with your lady, take her to Deer Lodge for a night in winter. It's historic, charming and aaaaawesome. After many cups of coffee, we headed out into a frigid, clear and cold Lake Louise morning. Man, no matter how many times I visit Lake Louise - it still blows my socks off. On this day, we were surprised when we woke up to see such a perfect day.

BAM! Hello, Lake Louise

On this fine, beautiful cold Friday in December - there were only 2 other cars in the parking lot at Lake Louise. If you've ever been to Lake Louise in the summer months - you will find 3 football field sized parking lots that are usually FULL. For a crowd intolerant person like me, it was sweet bliss.

How lucky is this kid?

Keith and I put our snowshoes on our backs and set out past the Chateau Lake Louise. We wanted to check out the condition of the Lake Agnes trail and see if we even needed our snowshoes. As we thought, the snow up the trail was well packed, so we opted to walk.

Keith, Mirror Lake and the Big Beehive

Just past Mirror Lake, we put on our snowshoes to try a little bonus loop to the Little Beehive. We didn't make it far before we hit an avalanche chute full of snow and debris that had recently slid, so we turned around. The avalanche conditions were high and we didn't have our Avi Gear with us. It was the end of the road for us. We did make it up to Lake Agnes - that trail was a much safer option on this particular day and as always, it was gorgeous.

Lake Agnes in Winter

Jagged peaks

We made it back to the house just in for a quick hot-tub before our weekend guests rolled in. Erin Fields-Delude (a member of our extended Trans-Rockies Run family) came for a weekend visit and brought the whole family. It was an awesome weekend spent running and hangin' with Erin, Donovan and Drake. This family rocks! We went for a couple of great runs - but the cold temperatures meant my camera wasn't cooperating for taking pictures. So, no sexy photos of Erin and I bundled up in multitudes of wooly layers running with the speed and grace of wooly mammoths. After the run, we warmed up with a trip up to the Banff Upper Hot Springs - a must-do for the family on a cold winter day.

In retrospect, I think Erin and her family should be honorary Canadians. They like to play outside when it's cold and they practically live on the border in Northern Idaho. Heck, both of them were raised in North and South Dakota and that's got to count for something. I reckon, they might as well be Canadians! It was a fun weekend spent in good company.

Finally, this past Tuesday night was Winter Solstice (thank Gaaawd, the days will be getting longer!) and the lunar eclipse. Evidently, the next one isn't for another 84 years! I was trying to convince myself to get up in the middle of the night, but it was really cold out. I went to bed without setting my alarm. Fortunately I woke up to pee in the middle of the night - and when I looked at the clock it was 1:15. The peak of the red color of this Eclipse was supposed to be at 1:15!! Woohoo!

I ran downstairs in my fuzzy bathrobe, put on my fuzzy boots and topped it all off with my ridiculous full length hooded puffy jacket. I was naked underneath it all, but I was surprisingly cozy on this -25C winter's night. First, I went out in to my backyard - but no such luck - the tall trees were obstructing my view of the moon. So, now I was awake and determined. I went out the front door, down the block, through the woods and out to my favorite view point in Middle Springs. It's really only minutes out the door, but it felt pretty hilarious running around the neighborhood, in my fuzzy robe. As I walked down the boardwalk, the first thing that caught my attention was Mount Rundle glowing white and snowy under the moonlight. When I finally glanced skyward, there it was: glowing red under the freezing night sky and a milky way of a million stars the moon was shining brightly red. It was worth every moment of my naked, fuzzy robed sprint on this freezing cold evening.

Thank-you Mother Nature for delivering my the the Goods this week - you never cease to amaze me. And heck yeah, I'm a proud Canadian. Now go take your kids outside to play. Even if it's cold outside.

And oh yeah, have yourselves a Merry little Christmas!

Walking to work on Tuesday: Mount Rundle and the Bow River

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Playing Tourist

Happy Holidays! Here in Banff, we're preparing for the onslaught of holiday visitors that will be arriving in the next week. December in Banff, is traditionally a very, very quiet time of year to come visit. If you come in December, you can have the whole town to yourself. This past week, I had the opportunity to go and try a few different tours and activities to get a different perspective: that of a winter visitor. There's lots of fun things to do in Banff in winter, but skiing or snowboarding is usually top of the list for most people. If you're not a skiier, there's lots of other options for the visitor to get out and explore a bit.

I did a snowshoe tour with White Mountain Adventures, which was awesome. It was quite funny for me, to go a take a tour of Sunshine Meadows - a place where I spend many, many days on my skis in the winter months. Sunshine Meadows is a beautiful place, no matter which way you shake it. Even on a cold, grey day - like the day we went. The snow is still soft, the scenery is awesome and you get real warm - real quick. There's nothing like playing in the forest in soft fluffy white snow to truly experience winter.

Even the soft and doughy UK girls were rockin' the Snowshoes
(I actually got to see some butt crack which just made my day)

Snowshoeing in the Woods is Fun!

I would totally recommend a trip with White Mountain. They are the area experts when it comes to guided hiking trips in summer and winter snowshoe adventures. Too bad I couldn't take one of these puppy dogs with me for the day. I suspect they would have loved frolicking in the powder like me.

I spiced it up with by going on a Dog-Sledding trip. The good folks at Snowy Mountain Dog Sled Tours offer up a wicked-good tour. I was totally surprised when they let me jump on the back of a sled and head on down the trail with my own pack of dogs and my very own sled. I'd never driven before, but with the knowledge of a few good commands, they let this rookie loose on the trail. So Much Fun!

The dogs were awesome and they actually listen! They also appreciate when you get off the sled (hullo, 140 pounds lighter) and get off and push up the hills. But, on the downhills and the straight-aways, they were flying. Dogs being dogs, occasionally one of them would put on the brakes, assume the position and take a doggie dump in the middle of the trail while trying to run simultaneously. I know it's hard to "dump-and-run" so it's polite to put on the brake, shout the command "whooooooa" to STOP and let the doggie do his thing. Just let the Doggy Do.

Doggy Command for GO: Hike!


Can we run NOW?


Sulphur Mountain Gondola

....and of course, I had to squeeze a few runs in. On my run up Sulphur Mountain this week, I was flabbergasted at the lack of people. It was such a beautiful day and the Banff Gondola is a MAJOR tourist attraction. It was downright weird for me to be the only one up there on a beautiful day. 'tis the Season. One week later and things are different: the holiday visitors are arriving daily and we're glad to have them. Please come and visit!

Me, Myself and I on the Sulphur Mountain Trail

I had a total tourist week: as well as the dog-sledding and snowshoeing, I visited Bow Falls and enjoyed views of the Fairholme Range, the Wildhaus Restaurant and the Bow River. Awesome. I'm a tourist in my own backyard.

Bow Falls

Great Views of the frozen Bow River with Michelle

It was super-fun playing tourist, there's certainly no shortage of beautiful things to do and see year round even in the winter. If you're lucky, this guy will be at the entrance to Banff waiting to greet you.

Welcome to Banff

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Ski Season - Please Kindly Send Us Some Snow.

It's ski season. With the late arrival of winter and the snow that accompanies it, I've been slow to get out skiing this year. Here in Banff, we're still waiting for the snow to fly. I was excited just to be getting out for the first ski tour of the year and was stoked to wake up and see a perfect bluebird sky out the front window. Yeah!

For our first ski day of the season, we decided to go for a long walk on the skis to Sunshine Meadows. For our first foray into the backcountry, we just wanted to see how much snow is actually out there and what kind of shape the snow is in. Despite appearances of glorious meadows of white snow, the snow has got no depth to it. We are desperately in need of more snow.

Into the Abyss

The early morning cloud left us to reveal a rather magnificent, perfect blue-sky day. It took a few hours to wake up those rusty ski touring muscles - but we ended up touring for about 5 hours with a short lunch break. I forgot that ski touring is hard work! I frequently find myself breathing a lot heavier and working harder than I would on any run. The other thing I noticed is that your body is constantly struggling to find it's centre of balance when you're making your way through deep, untracked snow. My back and core were getting worked. As well as my butt And my legs. Oh yeah and my shoulders. :)

Either way, it was a beautiful day to be working out all of the creaks and we broke a trail all of the way to Howard Douglas Lake. The snowpack is shallow, there's no base and what snow is out there is full of layers, wind-blown and treacherous. What we discovered was that there really isn't enough snow out there for good turns, but there's certainly enough to go on a long, safe tour and enjoy some awesome scenery. Keith and I had a great day in the sun.

The next day I followed it up with a long run, shockingly - a road run. In the winter months, there's always lots of time spent on my feet on the trails, but a whole bunch of it is spent walking up hills and through snow. I'm always running on soft, uneven terrain. I thought it might be prudent to throw in the occasional road run, just to remind my body what it feels like to run consistantly. Here's the verdict: it hurts. Despite my fitness level and amount of time that I spend running on the trails - trail running is not road running. Fortunately, the scenery was awesome and I had myself a great run from Johnson Canyon to Banff.

C-c-cold at Johnson Canyon

Upper Falls

Keith dropped me off at Johnson Canyon and I ran the 6km round-trip up to the Upper Falls as a warm-up. Well, it was supposed to be a "warm-up" but instead I was frozen by the time I was done. Go figure. A trail run up a dark canyon to a beautiful frozen waterfall - cold? Ha! The 25km run in the sunshine warmed me up plenty and with literally no traffic on the Bow Valley Parkway, it was a pleasure cruise. Awesome.

Views from the road - the Bow Valley Parkway, Highway 1A

J.R.A - Just runnin' along....

I had seen this massive bull elk, when Keith and I drove by earlier. Sure enough, he was still sitting in the exact same spot when I came running by a few hours later. I gave him lots of space.

As always, the magnificent and well photographed Mount Rundle welcomed me home. I love this view any time of year, but even more in the winter months. As well, Keith welcomed me home - he ran out on the Vermillion Lakes Road to join me for my last few kilometres. It was an awesome "solar-powered" weekend.