Monday, 30 December 2013

Old School Outdoors: Retro sliding with cardboard toboggans

Yesterday after tubing at Norquay, we went into the day lodge for hot chocolate. At some point, one of the boys pointed out a poster announcing an upcoming cardboard toboggan derby. I didn't think about it again until we got home and they announced that they wanted to make their own cardboard toboggans.

So I went into the basement and pulled up a couple big sheets of cardboard that their bedroom furniture had been delivered in. Then, being the over-thinking adult of the family, I went online to find photos of cardboard toboggans to see how to make them. By the time I looked up from the screen, the boys were already cutting and taping. So I closed Google Images, shut up, and let them create.

The results? The old school cardboard toboggans slid better than 90% of the fancy plastic store-bought sleds we've tried over the years. We spent at least an hour going up the little hill behind my house, sliding down on the toboggans and our butts, getting snow up sleeves and down necks. When we were finally too cold to continue, we reluctantly headed back home, upon which a certain teenager was heard to say, "I can't believe we had that much fun with just pieces of cardboard."

Basic but effective

A little less snow in the face thanks to the deflector in front (the uphill end)

Tubing with Kids in Banff: Norquay is Just as Good the Second Time

You know you're doing something right when you go to a tube park and your 9-year-old says he wants to walk up instead of taking the magic carpet.

Last year when we went tubing at Lake Louise, walking up wasn't as big a commitment. But Norquay is hands down the tube park with the most vertical in Banff National Park. It's also steeper. That adds up to a good workout, even for an outdoor dad who's used to hauling his butt up mountains.

The reward was worth it, though. Whether you hurtle down one of the seven runs solo or as three tubers holding onto each others' tubes for dear life, you get a pretty wild ride. At the end of each run at least one of us walked away with a face that felt frozen into place by the rush of winter air we'd just blasted through.

After a couple walks up the hill, the magic carpet proved to be a valuable addition to the tube park since the first time we went to Norquay in search of tubing fun a couple years ago. Exercise and active kids are good, and so is just focusing on the fun of an activity without feeling like you have to maximize its fitness value. This was one of those days, and when my 13-year-old asked if we could take the magic carpet I didn't complain. You'd be amazed at how sitting on a tube and letting gravity pull you to the bottom can leave you breathless.

Also in tubing's favor: it costs less than skiing and has zero learning curve. Even for a skiing family like us, sometimes it's nice to leave the skis and boots and poles at home (not the helmets, even though they aren't required) and hit the slopes sans all the stuff.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

3 Things to Rember When Your Kids' Sports Come Between Your Family and the Outdoors

There are many benefits to kids playing organized sports. They learn teamwork, discipline and how to operate within the defined framework of rules. They develop their fine and gross motor skills, get active, and build confidence and self-esteem. Organized sports can be a lot of fun, too.

There are also many benefits to taking your kids hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and an endless number of other outdoor activities. They learn self-reliance and reliance on the group. They learn through unstructured experience. They develop their fine and gross motor skills, get active, and build confidence and self-esteem. They also develop a relationship with the outdoors and the environment that connects them to the world around them, and that can ground them in hard times and good. It's fun. I could go on, but you get the idea.

As an outdoor dad and a soccer coach dad to my two amazing sons, I can personally attest to how hard it can be to balance the organized and the outdoors. Organized sports, exactly because they are organized and scheduled, all too easily take priority. Especially when you're the coach. And when one of your sons plays on Saturdays and the other plays on Sundays. A game at 1 p.m. on Saturday and another at 11 a.m. on Sunday makes it difficult to drive an hour or more to the mountains, get in enough hiking or snowshoeing to make it feel worthwhile, and drive home.

At my older son's last indoor soccer practice before Christmas, we had a parents vs kids game (the 12- and 13-year-olds let themselves get tied by a bunch of old men). Afterwards, a few of us dads got talking about how being a soccer parent changes your life. They know I take my boys out to the mountains a lot, and asked how I balance that with practices and games three days a week. I'm not sure I gave them a very good answer at the time, but it got me thinking. How do I balance the outdoors with organized sports? These are the three things I came up with and that I have to consciously remember to remember:

1. The drive is worthwhile

Even a couple hours in the mountains is worth the drive. Just like I can see the pride in my sons' faces after a good game, I can see how at ease and relaxed they are after a couple hours in the mountains. Just as importantly, I can feel how my own batteries are recharged.

2. You don't always have to drive far to get your kids out

I'm willing to drive a little further to get away from the more crowded and popular trails closer to the city. In Kananaskis and Banff, the further you drive, the more snow you find in the winter, as well. But if we've only got a few hours after a game, there are plenty of good trails 30 to 45 minutes away in West Bragg Creek, the Elbow Valley, the Bow Valley and the Kananaskis Valley. My boys and I have had as much fun snowshoeing down a snowless-but-frozen Canyon Creek in Elbow Valley as we have floating on a meter of fluffy powder another hour's drive west in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

3. Take what you can get, when you can get it

Some days, even that 45-minute drive to West Bragg Creek to snowshoe just isn't possible. But a quick and fun snowshoe or walk up Nose Hill, a five minute drive from my house, is. On those days, I have to remind myself to take what I can get. Calgary is fortunate to have a wealth of large urban nature parks to play in, as well as a river pathway system that provides lots of opportunities to play in nature. Even taking the dog to an off-leash park like Edworthy, with its trails through the aspens and ravines, provides a solid dose of Vitamin N when soccer makes a trip to the mountains impossible.

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