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5 New Sports to Try as a Family this Winter

Winter is here, and you have two choices for how to deal with the next four (or more!) months: Embrace the snow and ice and find a way to enjoy the season or hibernate and wait for spring. Getting outside in winter raises your spirits, boosts mental wellness, and keeps you physically fit. It’s a win-win for both body and mind. Read on for five winter sports my family enjoys that yours will enjoy, too!

1. Cross-country skiing. Take a day trip to the Canmore Nordic Centre where you can rent everything that you’ll need for an intro tour on Banff Trail, which takes you to a beautiful meadow with a warming hut. Note: Equipment reservations from Trail Sports must be made online through the Nordic Centre website and the warming hut may be closed due to current restrictions (visit on a warm day where you’ll be able to eat your lunch outside at a picnic table beside the hut).

You can also sign up online for group or private ski lessons for your family. Lessons do not include rentals and there are trail fees in effect for the Nordic Centre, so you may want to save this for a ‘special winter treat’ over the Christmas holidays. Make sure you also bring ice skates and sleds because there is an ice rink and a sledding hill at the Nordic Centre (both free to use).

Alternatively, book a two-hour lesson through Kananaskis Outfitters at Kananaskis Village off Highway 40. You can also rent skis, and there are no trail fees. The Village has groomed cross-country trails, so you’ll be able to get out for a short loop without driving anywhere. Call ahead to inquire about reservations for rentals and lessons.

2. Snowshoeing. There are scenic trails at Kananaskis Village where you can rent snowshoes from Kananaskis Outfitters (call ahead to inquire about reservation policies). You can also sign up for a guided tour if you’re worried about wildlife or getting lost in the woods. The guided tours include snowshoes, eliminating the need to rent gear separately.

Guided tours include stargazing and full moon tours along with family survival hikes (where you’ll learn about the local wildlife and other wilderness skills, including how to start a fire, how to identify animal tracks, and how to build a shelter).

You can also sign up for a regular guided snowshoe tour (private or group) through the Outfitters where you’ll get snowshoes, hot chocolate and cookies included with your tour!

Alternatively, you can rent snowshoes in Calgary from many locations, including the U of C Outdoor Centre and Sports Rent on 16 Avenue as you leave the city. Visit the Alberta Parks website or Banff National Park website to find official snowshoe trails in the area you would like to visit. (Always phone rental stores ahead of time or visit their website to inquire about advanced bookings.)

3. Ice skating. Ice skating is a classic Canadian winter pastime and skates can be rented at many locations across the city. If you need lessons (either for the kids or for you), check with The City of Calgary Recreation, Trico Centre, U of C Active Living, or WinSport at Canada Olympic Park.

If you’ve signed up for lessons, you’ll likely want to purchase skates, which can be affordable if you visit second-hand sport stores.

Once you’re set to ice skate, check out these classic spots across Calgary:

  • Bowness Park in the northwest (lagoon, creek, and new iceway skating path)
  • North Glenmore Park iceway skating path in the southwest
  • Carburn Park Lagoon in the southeast
  • Big Marlborough Park or Prairie Winds Park skating rinks in the northeast
  • Olympic Plaza skating rink in the downtown core

4. Fat biking. If you like mountain biking, you must try fat biking at least once on a large fat tire bike specifically designed for winter riding. The sport is guaranteed to make you feel like a kid again. And falling rarely hurts as you gently fall over into a snowbank.

If you want to try fat biking near Calgary, head to Kananaskis Village where you can rent fat bikes from Kananaskis Outfitters. You can sign up for a guided tour to a frozen waterfall or explore the local area trails without a guide. Phone ahead or visit their website to inquire about pre-booking bikes or signing up for a guided tour.

For the ultimate experience, spend a weekend at Nipika Mountain Resort outside Radium Hot Springs. Nipika has cozy log cabins on their wilderness property, over 50 kilometres of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, and over 30 kilometres of groomed trails for fat biking. They also have trails for snowshoeing, and you can rent everything you need from cross-country skis to fat bikes and snowshoes.

Pack your ice skates and sleds for a winter getaway at Nipika. You can also visit Nipika for a day if you’re staying near Radium Hot Springs with affordable trail fees in effect.

Note: The smallest youth fat bike you can rent at Nipika has 20-inch tires; Kananaskis Outfitters starts with 24-inch tire bikes.

5. Ice climbing. My husband and son love rock climbing so last winter, we decided to try ice climbing as a family, and we loved it! We joined a guided tour on a winter vacation in Jasper National Park through Rockaboo Mountain Adventures, and I can’t say enough great things about this company. All gear was included, and we felt safe the entire time. It was the perfect way to try this exciting sport with professionally trained guides and no experience was required. (Youth had to be at least 12-years-old.)

A once in a lifetime experience is rarely cheap. Perhaps consider it a family Christmas present and sign up for a tour over the holiday period. It’s also a great gift for a partner or spouse who loves the outdoors, or a great idea for a parent date day in the mountains if you have young children.

But don’t fret, there are affordable options right here in our great city! The University of Calgary Outdoor Centre runs intro ice climbing days, and youth 12 and over are welcome to join.

Safety tips

Here are some safety tips to implement when trying new winter sports:  

  • If you’re joining a guided tour or taking lessons, consult the company for special instructions on what to wear, what to pack, and how to prepare.
  • Stick to official winter trails and never head out into the backcountry without a guide unless you have avalanche training and gear.
  • Basic winter clothing should include base layers (long underwear), mid layers (a fleece sweater perhaps), and snow pants or insulated winter pants. Add mittens or gloves, a toque, a face covering or scarf on cold days, and throw some hand and foot warmers in your pack.
  • Winter boots are necessary and plan to either rent snowshoes or take spikes/ice cleats with you on your winter hikes.
  • Read trail reports before you head out and know what to expect.
  • Bears can be active year-round. Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Travel in a group, make sure you know where you’re going, and always tell somebody your plans in case you don’t return on time.

A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is required for all visits year-round. You can purchase a day pass from visitor centres, online at the Alberta Parks website, or purchase an annual pass.

Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to an energetic boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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