Within my Home Sweet Om chronicles, this is the third of a series on mundane magic- see my second here and my first here. This post contains lots of links to products, but I am not affiliated with any of them and don’t make any money if you click the links (I wish I did!). I actually got most of this gear used.
If you’ve read much on my blog lately, you know that I have a huge crush on winter. I have camped outside (like actually outside, not inside a building that is outside) in -20 with snow piled all around me AND LOVED IT. I’ve slept inside the bag of a dogsled, and woken up with frost and a smile on my face. I said “I do” wearing a sweater and mukluks with my wedding dress on New Years Eve in the Rockies. I am the first one on my street to leave my house when the thermostat reads -35.
Eric and I are still figuring out how best to share this season we love so much with our kids. We’ve both worked as outdoor instructors on winter expeditions and I’ve worked as a dog sled guide, but neither of those things are in the cards right now for our littles. We both really dig downhill skiing, and have spent some time backcountry touring as well, but Juni is a bit too mini for the hill as of yet, and I’m not sure if I’ll continue my adventures on avalanche terrain in the future or not.
So that leaves… CROSS COUNTRY SKIING. It is the most gorgeous family sport, especially when they are the ages they are (3 years and 10 mo), because we can still strap them into something and go at the pace we want to… and they seem to like it too 😉
We get stopped all the time by people wondering about our gear, because we also skijor with our husky, Sora. When there’s only one kiddo in tow, we also use a pretty sweet pulk set-up that lots of folks haven’t seen before. So I thought for this installment of my magic series, I’d focus on how we make XC skiing magical in the Bow Valley (Alberta) area.
THE SET-UP: Dog
Having been a dogsled guide across Canada and in Alaska, I do know a thing or two about hooking dogs up to things. I don’t have a magic spell to make them pull if they don’t want to, but at least our husky, Sora, looks the part.
There are a lot of resources out there on skijoring with your dog, so I won’t replicate those. One tip I’ll give you is that although it looks tempting to just tie your pup’s leash around your waist, don’t do it. It’s very important you don’t because sometimes…. SQUIRREL!!!!!!… and before you know it you are giving a tree some love it didn’t need.
A dog harness and quick-release skijor belt are amazing for both you and your dog. The dog harness makes sure that the load is hauled properly, and the weight is distributed in a hip-friendly way for your pooch. The belt will make sure you have a handy quick-release in the case of that “squirrel” moment, and also gives some back support. The line connecting the two should have a shock absorber section so you don’t get whiplash from being whisked away unexpectedly (and it makes it gentler on Cujo too).
We have this belt, this shock-absorbing line, and this X-back harness. Please measure your dog and make sure you are getting the correct size according to their sizing chart. The folks there are very helpful, so just call them if you have any questions.
THE SET-UP: Big humans
We actually have two ski systems, one that we got when we had only one kiddo and the other for pulling two wee hooligans.
One-kid wonder: The Wilderness Engineering Kindershuttle pulk. This thing is amazing. It’s light, sturdy, durable, and engineered for cold weather sports. I started putting both kids in it around 8 months old, though I have heard you can put a car seat in it for younger ones (don’t quote me on the safety of this please!).
Two kids in tow: It’s cliche for a reason- the double Chariot is amazing. Again, there are TONS of online write-ups out there on these, but do make sure that if you’re looking, that you get a version that will take the ski set-up- we have a five year old (now discontinued) Cougar 2 and it’s great. I’m not gonna lie; I do NOT look like a graceful gazelle when I’m pulling the kids with this. But I can still get a good clip going and find my version of “the zone” when I’m feeling spritely! And when I’m not… at least we’re outside!
A pro-tip that I learned the hard way is, if you are wearing waxable skis, to wax up a bit warmer when pulling lots of weight. You will sacrifice some glide, but you will need the extra kick to keep from slipping back.
For grown-ups only: Never leave home without dark chocolate, and it’s always nice to have some Bailey’s in with a Thermos of big people hot chocolate. Did I mention chocolate? That too.
THE SET-UP: Little Humans
I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty of what they’re wearing. Merino, polypro, SmartWool, Patagonia, yadda yadda. Here are a couple of things that I’ll offer as less well-known nuggets:
Fareskind Sheepskin bunting for 0-12 months. Fits 5 point harnesses, so works for both the pulk AND the Chariot. Probably works for our Thule Glide stroller too, though I haven’t checked. Don’t ask me where to get this. My mother-in-law has a very special gift in finding thrift store gems and this was no exception. Added genius: Keeps the baby slightly separate from the preschooler.
Skis: We throw in Kas’ little Komperdell learning skis to the basket at the back. When he’s getting restless and needs a break from the Chariot, we throw him on these. He also loves holding on to the back of the Chariot and being pulled:)
Food: We also bring a bag of snacks for “incentive” (note: not bribery. Bigger word) for Kas to make it through the ski. I’m seriously considering finding a walkman or discman for him to listen to books on tape- anyone have one lying around? I’ll buy it off you!
Drink: Hot chocolate or fairy milk in a thermos can also be a fantastic incentive. As someone who’s spent years trying to keep my participants happy in winter environments, I’ve tested many thermos styles. This classic is still the best.
Just in case: Bring along a piece of Ensolite pad in case you need to change a diaper or take a break on the side of the trail. It has amazing insulating abilities and you never know when you’ll need a warm place to land. You can wrap it around the Thermos for space-efficiency and even greater insulation for the HoCho.
We have adored West Bragg Creek (south western Alberta) lately. It’s free, well-maintained, gorgeous, and has a nice variety of trails. It’s volunteer-run, so please donate if you enjoy your time there! The parking lot has been recently expanded, and no matter how insanely busy it looks when we get there, the trails never seem to be as nutbar as we think they will be. Often it feels like we’re alone out there for large stretches. And even if we aren’t, everyone (from spandex-clad flashes of youth, to older folks with ski setups from the 70s) has a smile to flash as they go by.
They also have a warming hut which makes things SOOO much easier with little ones. Thanks to yours truly, as of this week there is now a little high chair there! There’s no cell service (sorry, can’t fix that one), which is actually really lovely, but you need to set up your logistics beforehand, and be aware of that for risk management as well.
Trail advice: A nice loop if you’re hauling a heavy load is to follow the West Crystal Line to the Moose Connector, and then back to the parking lot along the Mountain Road trail. A sportier loop is Sundog, which gets some elevation. Both take around an hour, give or take (depending on the extra cargo… I mean children… you’re hauling).
On your way back through the town, it is imperative that you stop at The Heart Cafe. Their baked goods are amazing and they make a kickass almond chai latte. There is a WHOLE FRIDGE full of plant-based, vegan/ gluten + soy-free goodies. And you might get a magical visit from a mama deer and her fuzzy fawns. The owner is lovely, and their yoga space is unbelievable.
Other sweet spots to check out are K-Country’s Mt Shark, Canmore’s Nordic Centre, and Confederation Park in Calgary if you’re feeling urban.
Recipe for Magic:
Great people + great gear + great trails + great food = Poof! Magical day!
Your Magical Task:
So… obviously, my invitation for you is to get out there!! Can you make it to Bragg? Awesome! Can’t? OK, get somewhere else! Can’t ski? Do whatever you CAN do in the outdoors, especially if you can do it with those you love!
I’ve been trying to get out skiing more by myself with BOTH kiddos. Please let me know if you’d like me to write something up that describes my systems and packing lists so you can get a bit more confidence to do the same! Or… come with me! I love company:)