Sunday, November 5, 2017

Nakiska Ski Area

Trip Date: November 2017

On Wednesday, November 1st Nakiska Ski Area announced they'd be opening for the season on Saturday, November 4th, making them the first resort in Canada to do so. But then Mount Norquay dropped a bomb on Nakiska's plans and declared they'd be opening a day earlier to claim the title of earliest opening this year. In the end who really cares because ski and snowboard season is once again upon us and that's all that matters.

On the road to Nakiska
Welcome to Nakiska Ski Area
Located less than 100km from downtown, nestled in picturesque Kananaskis Country, Nakiska is the closest resort to Calgary not named Canada Olympic Park. Like COP however, Nakiska played host to the alpine events for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games and today offers 1,021 skiable acres. The resort boasts something for everyone with 13% of the runs considered beginner, 59% intermediate, and the remaining 28% advanced. The resort also features the Na.Jib.Ska Rail Park, a skier/boarder cross course, and the Monster Glades.

These signs were posted all around the base area
Uploading and downloading via the Olympic Chair
Excited to hit the slopes!
Normally I'd wait a few weeks for the conditions to improve before hitting the slopes, but the team at SnowSeekers surprised Christine and I with lift tickets. One of my cardinal rules is never turn down free snowboarding (you'd have to be crazy to do that), so we secured a babysitter and made plans to head out for the day.

The snow-making machines were in full effect, hence the hazy conditions at the Mid Lodge
The visibility drastically improved as we ascended the Gold Chair 
Pretty good view from the top of the Gold Chair
We didn't make first chair because it's tough getting anywhere when you have a 5-month-old at home, but we made decent time on the drive. As we were about to enter the lift-line Christine discovered she had a busted binding buckle that needed to be repaired before we had any hope of riding. With some helpful assistance from the repair shop we were on the chair with very little time wasted.

Overlooking the mountains in Kananaskis Country
I can promise you there's a big grin hidden underneath all the layers of warm clothing!
The trees were coated in snow and reminded me of the Snow Ghosts at Whitefish Mountain Resort
The only accessible terrain was off the Gold Chair, so everyone needed to upload and download via the Olympic Chair. Even though Nakiska received 65cm over the past seven days many of the runs still weren't open. From the Gold Chair there were approximately 10 open runs including the Monster Glades, which gave us some varied terrain to explore. It was a chilly -20 degrees at the summit, but the sun was shining and there wasn't a breath of wind so it didn't feel too bad, although Christine described her day as "frigid"!

Christine riding through the Monster Glades
Good snow in the glades
GoPro selfie on the day's final run
Christine and I closing out a superb opening day!
For me the entire day was completely unexpected. I was caught off-guard when Nakiska announced they'd be opening this early, the lift tickets were a big, yet welcome, surprise, and the quality of the snow was better than we could have hoped for this early in November. I am so glad we went and now I'm even more excited for the rest of the season to get underway.

The sun sitting low in the sky as we made our way back to the base
A brief video showcasing Opening Day 2017 at Nakiska

For additional photos and information from opening day please refer to this post from SnowSeekers.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sulphur Mountain Gondola

Trip Date: October 2017

The final destination on my Brewster's Ultimate Explorer Pass was the Banff Gondola. The following is a recap of that adventure. You can also read about the Minnewanka Lake Cruise and the Glacier Adventure and Glacier Skywalk, which I visited during the summer and are also part of the Explorer Pass. You will also find this story on the Calgary Guardian website and lastly this marks the second time I visited the gondola, the first time can be enjoyed right here.

A neat take on a horse-drawn wagon as seen at the base of the Banff Gondola!
The Banff Gondola
Norman Bethune Sanson has likely summited Sulphur Mountain more times than anyone else. The former curator of the Banff Park Museum first climbed the peak in 1896 to record weather observations from an elevated position. He subsequently trekked to the summit more than one thousand times over the next thirty years to record weather data for his job as the federal government's official weather observer. If not for the sulphur-rich thermal springs (which are the basis for the entire national parks system in Canada) located near its base the whole mountain would likely be named in his honour. Instead the northern end of Sulphur Mountain carries the name Sanson Peak in recognition of the man who spent more time than most perched high above the town of Banff. Today you can walk in Sanson's footsteps and follow the Sulphur Mountain Trail (six-kilometres one-way and 750m gained in elevation) that switchbacks its way to the summit or you can opt to ride the Banff Gondola, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the park.

A solitary Larch Tree overlooking the town of Banff far below
From the summit ridge you can see far more than just the Banff town site
In just eight minutes you can travel from parking lot to mountain top inside a fully-enclosed gondola cabin. The original gondola was opened to the public in 1959, making it the first bi-cable gondola in North America and the first gondola of any kind in Canada. Over the ensuing years the gondola and summit complex have gone through various reconstruction and rejuvenation projects in order to keep up with demand, offer world-class visitor experiences, and to maintain minimal impact on fragile alpine environments and wildlife. After easily accessing the summit you'll be awarded with breathtaking views of six different mountain ranges and experience an entirely new perspective on the town of Banff. The summit facility also features restaurants, interactive exhibits in the Above Banff Interpretive Centre, a multi-sensory theatre, and a 360-degree rooftop observation deck, so there's more than enough to keep everyone entertained.

To celebrate Canada's 150th birthday these signs were erected across the country, including the Sulphur Mountain Summit Complex!
You can also find two sets of Parks Canada Red Chairs on top of Sulphur Mountain
From the summit complex there are a couple of trails waiting for you to explore. The most popular is the one-kilometre Mountaintop Boardwalk, which is a self-guided interpretive trail that leads to the Sulphur Mountain Weather Observatory. The historic stone structure was built back in 1903 and was in operation until the mid-1930s. The observatory is still perched atop Sanson Peak allowing visitors to peek through the windows and catch a glimpse of a time gone by. The more ambitious will likely tackle the South East Ridge Trail that runs south past the complex and eventually leads to Sulphur Mountain's true summit.

The historic stone weather observatory atop Sanson Peak
The observatory has been standing in the same place for over 100 years
In the mid-1950s Sanson Peak was chosen as the site for a Cosmic Ray Station that was built in conjunction with the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). The Cosmic Ray Station, one of nine that were constructed across Canada, was built by the National Research Council and was completed in 1956. Due to its high elevation Sulphur Mountain was considered the most important station in Canada. In 1960 the University of Alberta at Calgary took over the station and it closed for good in 1978. The station was completely dismantled in 1981 and a plaque now marks the site's location. Today the spot where the cosmic ray station once stood is now a National Historic Site of Canada.

The Summit Complex as viewed from the weather observatory
Sulphur Mountain is a prominent feature on the landscape and has been a stunning backdrop for countless photographs taken from downtown Banff. Experience this mountain in a new way aboard the Banff Gondola and heighten your senses as you gaze in wonder at the scenery as it unfolds around you.

Sanson Peak with the weather observatory as viewed from the Summit Complex observation deck
This awesome Canadian flag can be found inside the Summit Complex and a portion of the informative sign reads, "The Canadian Maple Leaf emblem here rests upon the weathered wood from the early backbone that connected this vast country: the Canadian Pacific Railway."
To learn more about the Banff Gondola or any of the other Rockies Attractions please visit the Brewster Travel Canada website or you can purchase the Ultimate Explorer Pass that provides admission to four of Brewster's top attractions. You can also connect with Brewster on social media (FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTubePinterest, and Vimeo) and don't forget to share all your gondola photos using the hashtag #BanffGondola.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Publications 2

As a follow-up post from this one I thought I would share a few of the places my work has been published since February 2016. It's been exciting to have my work featured in different places and on different mediums and I look forward to what happens in the coming months and years if this writing thing continues!

The cover of Nature Alberta magazine
In April 2016 I had my story Critter Cams: Connect Students to Alberta's Wildlife Through Technology published in the pages of Nature Alberta magazine, which is published quarterly by Nature Alberta. My article discussed the trail camera program I started at Enviros Base Camp and the success we had with it. The article ran in the Winter 2016 (Volume 45, Number 4) issue of the magazine.

This is what my story looked like inside the magazine
A couple of months later, in June of 2016, I was featured as Hiker of the Week in a campaign that's run by Hike By Faith. It was nice to be honoured in this way by a loyal Twitter follower.

My Hiker of the Week feature on Hike By Faith's website
In July 2016 I had another story published that was very similar to the one in Nature Alberta magazine. This time my article Critter Cams: Connecting Students to Alberta's Wildlife Through Technology was in the pages of Of Land & Living Skies: A Community Journal on Place, Land, and Learning, which is a collaborative journal between SaskOutdoors, the Sustainability Education Research Institute (SERI) with the University of Saskatchewan, and the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina. My story appears in the Water issue (Issue 6, Summer 2106), which can also be found online along with all their previous publications.

The cover of the Water issue of Of Land & Living Skies
The layout of my story from inside the magazine
In the fall of 2016 I was featured as a Health Champion by Ever Active Schools on their Instagram feed. In a series of three posts they showed photographs of me outdoors and captioned them with blurbs from the brief interview we did. You can view the three posts by visiting the links below the follow screen captures.

Health Champions Feature No. 1 - View full post here 
Health Champions Feature No. 2 - View full post here
Health Champions Feature No. 3 - View full post here
In November 2016 I was contacted by a gentleman (Andrei Vargas) from Brazil inquiring if he could use one of my photos for his stand-up paddleboard catalog. This sounded like an interesting venture, so I agreed provided he sent me a copy of the catalog. Later that month I received the catalog and was surprised to see my photograph on the cover of Inside Wave. This marks the first time any of my work has earned a place on the cover of a publication.

The front cover of Inside Wave
Inside the catalog
In May of 2017 I was contacted by Spirits West Merchants, a full-time liquor store and part-time antique dealer from Bragg Creek, Alberta. They wanted to use one of my trail camera photos in an advertisement that was to be featured in the May/June 2017 issue of City Palate. Of course I agreed and I think the ad turned out great! You can view the full digital issue right here.

The front cover of City Palate magazine
The Spirits West ad featuring my trail camera photograph
Later in May I was featured for the fourth time in More of Our Canada magazine. This time my story Rock Stars, about my amazing trek to the Burgess Shale, was given a four-page spread complete with photographs. The story appeared in the May 2017 issue and was also published online under the heading, Our Travels: Finding Fossils in the Burgess Shale.

The front cover of More of Our Canada

This is how my story appeared in the pages of More of Our Canada
Another story about my hiking adventure to the Burgess Shale was published in Hiker's Voice, the official newsletter of the Alberta Hiking Association. My story titled Yoho's Stone Bugs appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of the newsletter and can be viewed online right here.

The front cover of Hiker's Voice

My story about the Burgess Shale looked great in the newsletter
In July 2017 I was featured as part of the Humans of the Outdoors series that was created by Maman on the Trail. Humans of the Outdoors was designed to be a collective narrative created by and for those of us who have a passion to be outside. It was an honour to be included in this series alongside so many others who love being outdoors.

My feature from Humans of the Outdoors
This past summer (August 2017) I had my first ever contracted writing gig for Seekers Media. I was sent to Cypress Hills to report on the ever-growing mountain biking scene that's present there and the upcoming Battle Creek Showdown, which is a popular mountain bike race in the park. My story Mud, Sweat & Gears was featured on the ZenSeekers website and promoted heavily across all social media platforms. I really hope I can do some more work with them in the future because getting paid to do something you love is pretty awesome!

A screen capture from my article
In addition to all of the above I have also been contributing stories/posts to Curiocity Calgary's website. The website is in the style of Buzzfeed (if you're familiar with them) so they do lots of potst that are in the form of lists such as "Top 10 Spots For..." or "The Best Places To...". As usual my stories all have an outdoor focus and I hope to contribute more to them in the coming months. To view all of my past work please visit my author page.

As you can see it has been a busy year so far, but an exciting one as well. I am really looking forward to what the remaining months of 2017 will bring and what lies ahead in 2018. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Glacier Adventure & Glacier Skywalk

Trip Date: August 2017

To continue my reporting on Brewster's Ultimate Explorer Pass I present my recap of the Glacier Adventure and Glacier Skywalk tours. My first story was about the Minnewanka Lake Cruise and like that article this one can also be found on the Calgary Guardian website.

Welcome To The Icefield Centre in Jasper National Park
“The view that lay before us in the evening light was one that does not often fall to the lot of modern mountaineers. A new world was spread at our feet: to the westward stretched a vast ice-field probably never before seen by the human eye, and surrounded by entirely unknown, unnamed and unclimbed peaks.”
~J. Norman Collie - First European (with Herman Wooley) to discover the Columbia Icefield in 1898
The Icefield Discovery Centre with Nigel Peak in the background
Set foot on ancient glacial ice in the Canadian Rockies and check glacier exploration off your bucket list. The Columbia Icefield is nestled at the heart of the Icefields Parkway and straddles the border between Banff and Jasper National Parks. It is the largest icefield south of the Arctic Circle, encompassing some 325-square-kilometres. One of its main tongues, the Athabasca Glacier, is estimated to be 13,000 years old and holds the distinction of being the most visited glacier in all of North America due to its proximity to the highway. Glaciers are inherently dangerous places. Specialized training, technical mountaineering skills, and proper gear are all essential for safely traversing their icy surfaces. Thankfully with the help of Brewster Travel Canada you can now explore the Athabasca Glacier without the need for lengthy training sessions or expensive gear.

The Athabasca Glacier as viewed from the Icefield Discovery Centre
A panoramic shot from the Icefield Centre
This is the Ice Explorer that transported us to and from the glacier
Glaciers are the prolonged accumulation of snow that, over a number of years, is compressed into solid ice. In the case of the Columbia Icefield its depth ranges from 100 to 365 metres, making it exceptionally thick. Glaciers are unique in that they're constantly moving, but at a very slow rate. Think of the Columbia Icefield as a large frozen lake and its glaciers (it feeds eight major ones) are like large slow-moving rivers of ice. The rocky debris that you see surrounding glaciers are called moraines. Terminal moraines are located at the foot of the glacier and indicate its maximum advancement while lateral moraines accumulate along its edges.

Exploring the Athabasca Glacier within the designated area
Up close and personal with the glacier's ancient ice
Glacier Selfie!
Athabasca Glacier panoramic shot
I filled my water bottle with glacier melt-water
High up on the glacier with the Icefield Centre way in the background
To access the glacier reserve your seat on one of Brewster's massive Ice Explorers. These highly-specialized vehicles are designed for all-terrain travel, making them the perfect option for transporting visitors onto the surface of the glacier. Each Ice Explorer costs $1.3-million-dollars and there are only 23 in operation around the globe; 22 of which are used at the Columbia Icefield (the 23rd is at a research station in Antarctica). With a top speed of 18 kilometres-per-hour your pace will be glacial at best, but that gives you plenty of time to absorb the rugged mountain landscape that surrounds you. Upon your arrival you'll be given approximately 30 minutes to explore the glacier within the designated area. Please don't venture beyond the barriers as hidden dangers, such as crevasses, are present and falling into one could prove deadly. The surface of the glacier can be upwards of 15 degrees-Celcius cooler than the Icefield Discovery Centre so be prepared for chilly temperatures and inclement weather even during the warmest months. Don't forget an empty water bottle so you can fill it with glacial melt-water; it doesn't get much fresher than that! Bringing the entire experience together were the guides. They proved to be a wealth of information and were eager to share facts and stats about glaciers and the powerful impact they have on the surrounding environment.

The Glacier Skywalk 
The Discovery Trail runs along the top of the cliff with the Sunwapta Valley below
After departing the glacier you will leave terra firma and walk where eagles soar along the Glacier Skywalk. Brewster's newest attraction (it was built in spring 2014) is a glass-bottomed observation deck overlooking the magnificent Sunwapta Valley. The Skywalk is perched on the edge of a 280-metre cliff so your first steps into the abyss may be timid, but that feeling will soon pass as the breathtaking scenery unfolds before you. If the Skywalk is the grand finale, the lead-up is just as impressive. A one-kilometre self-guided interpretive walk along the Discovery Trail where you will observe fossils, wildlife, waterfalls, and more sets the tone for the entire experience. Here you are not limited by the hands of the clock, so take your time and immerse yourself in the beauty of the natural world that is all around you.

A panoramic shot of the Glacier Skywalk
Due to climate change the Athabasca Glacier is receding at an alarming pace, having lost half its volume over the past 125 years. Don't wait too long to visit as I fear its days as a tourist attraction are numbered. By venturing onto the Glacier Skywalk you'll have joined just a handful of people on the planet to have experienced this attraction. Since it was built only three years ago the number of people to peer through the glass floor is still quite minimal. If you're looking for a new adventure or just want to deepen your connection with the Rocky Mountains look no further than the Columbia Icefield and its captivating attractions. Keep in mind you can pair the Glacier Adventure with the Glacier Skywalk for a day filled with unforgettable experiences and memories to last a lifetime.

Wrapping-up a fantastic day in Jasper National Park
To learn more about the Glacier Adventure or any of the other Rockies Attractions please visit the Brewster Travel Canada website or you can purchase the Ultimate Explorer Pass that provides admission to four of Brewster's top attractions. You can also connect with Brewster on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and Vimeo) and don't forget to share all your Glacier Adventure photos using the hashtag #GlacierAdventure and/or #GlacierSkywalk.