I grew up on the equator. I hadn’t really experienced a true Alberta winter until I was 23. But I love being outside and active — and I do have an adventurous spirit — so I decided to embrace the cold weather and try a new winter sport during my first November in Calgary.
Just before Halloween, a friend showed me postcard-worthy photos of a snowshoeing trip to Chester Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. It was a bluebird day, the snowy mountains looked majestic and her rosy cheeks and huge smile told me she was having a blast. This is real Albertan fun, I thought.
My Calgary-born-and-raised friend told me the route had minimal elevation gain (just over 400 metres), it wasn’t all that long (just over seven kilometres to the lake and back) and that it wouldn’t be strenuous at all (we trained for triathlon together and, for reasons I now can’t recall, found it fun to exercise intensely for hours on end.)
I convinced my partner, Dakota, to join me. At the end of November, we rented snowshoes and poles from the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre and we drove out of the city and into Kananaskis Country, feeling like true Calgarians.
I don’t remember why this particular Saturday was the only day we were able to tackle this adventure. I do remember that the weather was horrendous. As soon as we got out of the car, the howling wind slapped our cheeks. It was -40°C with wind chill and snowing so hard that we couldn’t see the mountains on the other side of the highway. We strapped on our snowshoes and began up the trail anyway.
About 10 minutes after starting, I realized I had made some poor clothing choices. The running tights I had just purchased would have made an excellent base layer under some heavy-duty snow pants, but on their own in this weather, made me feel like I was pants-less. Five minutes after that, my fingers went numb in the lightweight running gloves I had on and I came to the stark realization that this activity wasn’t as strenuous as cross-country skiing or running. Dakota dug through his pack to see if he had remembered extra clothes; he found a dirty pair of socks that hadn’t made their way out of his bag and to the laundry after work one day. He recommended I put them on my hands. I gave him a look of disgust — at least, I tried to, but my frozen face couldn’t show emotion. I put on the sock-gloves.
Maybe a high-calorie snack would help, Dakota suggested. Unfortunately, we forgot our snacks on the kitchen counter and my tiny backpack only contained some (now frozen) water.
As the wind picked up and the visibility worsened, we huddled behind a tree and reassessed. We knew some poor decisions had been made. We recognized this wasn’t safe and that it was time to turn around — if we had pressed on, it’s not like we’d be rewarded with a gorgeous view. So, just 30 minutes into our snowshoeing adventure, we called it quits.
The outing wasn’t all bad. As we stumbled back to our car, we saw a moose licking the salt off a vehicle on the far end of the parking lot. Despite the frigid conditions, our car started no problem. And, most importantly, I learned some valuable lessons about outdoor preparedness and planning.
That being said, I have not snowshoed since.
Three Things you Shouldn’t Do on a Winter Adventure
Don’t make the same mistakes I did! If you’re smart and prepared, even the winter-skeptical can have an enjoyable time outdoors this time of year.
Don’t stubbornly stick to your plans
Always check the weather before you leave. And if it’s looking too cold, too snowy, too windy — or just generally hazardous — change your plans, even if that means rescheduling the adventure until after the holiday season.
Don’t dress for an early October run in November
Thanksgiving in the city can be a beautiful time of year. Late November in the mountains can mean very chilly and very snowy weather. And, of course, mountain weather is changeable and unpredictable all year. Wear a warm base layer made of a sweat-wicking material (Merino wool is a great option), add an insulating mid-layer, like a fleece or soft-shell jacket, and then throw on a waterproof and breathable outer layer. Pack extra layers, always wear a toque and don’t forget warm gloves — socks won’t cut it, even if they’re clean.
Don’t forget snacks
High-calorie snacks can help you power through that final push on your adventure, giving you energy to keep moving and keep warm. Along with high-fat snacks like nuts, trail mix and dried fruit (like banana chips), consider bringing a Thermos with miso soup, instant noodles or hot chocolate. And always bring more food than you think you’ll need.