Paws vs Skis

T and Nollind had been wanting to get out camping all winter but, first, the weather was great but there was no snow for skiing, and then there was snow but it got very cold for a whole month. Finally, and just in the nick of time before all the snow started melting, we headed off to Cypress Hills in southeastern Alberta for a winter camping and skiing adventure.

Our home in Elkwater Campground.

I didn’t ski of course, and camping is a bit of a stretch when you’re talking about staying in Sid the fifth wheel, but I chased humans on skis and slept in a campground (in my comfy bed with the furnace running to keep me warm at night).

Roughing it.

We’ve been to the Cypress Hills before, in the fall of 2017, but what we found in early March was a very different place. Elkwater Lake was frozen and covered with snow for starters, the businesses run limited hours, and only a few campsites in one campground are kept clear for parking. And, it is so, so quiet. We had the whole place to ourselves for the first few nights and only one or two campers the rest of the time.

Enjoying the peace and quiet on a warm afternoon.

Technically, dogs are supposed to be leashed at all times when in the park but a couple of things made it possible for me to go along on the ski days. Firstly, we were almost the only skiers on the trails so there wasn’t much risk of me interfering with another skier. Secondly, sinking into deep snow as soon as I left the groomed trail kept me from chasing off after squirrels. As soon as I saw a couple of them scampering across the top of the snow I ditched any illusions of a fair chase.

Being a good ski dog.

The first day, we skied a 10 km loop in an area called Spring Creek Trails. It had some gradual uphills and a 1.7 km downhill that had me running, but was pretty easy overall, for a fit guy like me. Day two was more challenging. We set off on the Horseshoe Canyon trail which is about 4 km of climbing, a kilometre or two across the top of the ridge, and then down a road that is closed to cars in winter and set for skiing.

As you can tell by the video, the uphill was more challenging for T and Nollind on their skis than it was for me on four paws, but I had to really hustle on the downhill. Chasing people on skis for 4 km of downhill was quite the workout. Thankfully, they did try to go a little slower than they might have without me there, and they made a few rest stops. As we neared the bottom of the hill, I was so happy to see Sid in our campsite down below. Home!

If you think I’ve lost my spunk at this point … you’re right.

I was exhausted, and ever so happy to hear that Friday was going to be a town day. We were off to Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, which meant lots of sleep time in the truck, a de-lish poutine and hamburger lunch, and a short (and flat) walk around town.

Poutine! Who is responsible for inventing this magic?

Saturday morning we were back up at Spring Creek Trails to ski a couple of smaller loops we’d missed on the first day. I didn’t notice the going much tougher, but T and Nollind had to stop a couple of times and put more goo on the bottoms of their skis. It was five degrees above freezing and the snow was wet and slippery. If Nollind didn’t like his skis so much, he might have taken them off and tossed them in the woods! Just like on the climb up Horseshoe Canyon, paws turned out to be an advantage.

Maintaining an easy lead.

Sunday was even warmer so the skis got left in the back of the truck while we set off on foot to explore along the Elkwater Lakeshore. I had to be on a leash but it was a beautiful day of easy walking so I didn’t mind one bit.

Elkwater Lake (it’s the white, snowy part).

Overall, I’d say our first crack at winter camping was a big success. We stayed warm and comfy at night in Sid, the weather was nice enough for lots of outdoor time, we all got a little more fit, and we spent some Little Red Campfire time which is always a good thing.

Little Red time.

When we got home, mine and T’s prairie ski trails were all but gone so it’s back to walking. I’m good with that. Humans are very easy to keep pace with when they’re on foot. In fact, I usually end up waiting for them.

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Ski Dog!

I’m sure many of you will agree that February was a cold, cold month. At least it sure was on the west side of the continent. Even the low elevation parts of Arizona, the places we normally spend the winter, had cold and snow. And February’s cold extended into March and is just now, finally, looking like it’s going to let us be.

Going for walk on one of the really cold days.

The cold weather did ground us a few times, when the wind-chill was just too nasty. We’d go out for a little while to tend to horses but then come right back to the house instead of heading out for a walk or a snowshoe.

The snowshoe tracks make the snow a little easier to stay on top of.

But, sprinkled very sparingly into the long cold stretch, were a few days that sneaked into the single digit temperatures (still below zero Celsius, of course.) On those days, we went skiing!

I’ve skied with T many times across the prairie. When there’s enough snow to cover the rocks and stubble, it’s her favourite way to get around in winter. Logan used to come too, back when he was better able to manage the deep snow, and T would sometimes attach one of us or other to a strap around her waist so that we’d stay close. Now that was entertaining! I may be a Heeler but I’m not much for heeling.

Our first interaction with oncoming skiers. I’m ready!

Anyway, the skiing this year hasn’t been on the flat of the prairie but out in the foothills of the Rockies. The biggest difference? Man, do they go fast as soon as there’s even a slight downhill section of the trail. I can’t remember the last time I did so much running. Lucky for me, the peeps aren’t in great skiing shape so we didn’t tackle any steep or lengthy trails, but I was still exhausted by the end.

Doing my best to keep up! (Stay until the end for when the cameraman almost falls.)

The first ski day, a couple of weeks ago, was my big test. They told me if I didn’t wander off the trail, bother other skiers, or cause any wipeouts, they’d bring me again. I almost blew it early on, trotted across the trail in front of T when I smelled something in the woods. If we’d been on a flat section it would have been fine but we were on a downhill and she was going pretty fast. It was more of a side-swipe than a dead hit so we both stayed on our feet, and I learned my lesson. Don’t cross in front of the skier. In the end, I passed with flying colours, got a bunch of praise and treats. It was a good day.

It was a good day.

We went out to the Bragg Creek Trails again this past Tuesday. The trail was a little tougher, more work going up for all of us, and I had to really hustle on the downhill section. What makes it possible for me to keep up is that the trails are all very well packed so it’s almost like running on bare earth. In the deep snow I’d be done for.

Ski Day #2 – Working on my gold star!

Again, I stayed on the trail, out of the way, and with the skiers. Another gold-star day! This is a good thing because I hear we’re headed out for a bigger ski trip next week, to the Cypress Hills, and I don’t want to be left behind in the trailer or the truck every day.

I’ll try to report in from the road!

Tuckered out at the end of the trail.

Flashback Fur-iday – How Logan Saw the World

Yesterday made five months since Logan died.  In some ways, life without him has become normal but there’s still this empty place in our lives, the place he used to occupy.

That he left at the end of September was good planning on his part, if he had any kind of plan. Winter would have been a struggle, especially this past month of colder than normal temperatures. I imagine him somewhere warm and sunny with soft, green grass, plenty of shady spots, and loose soil easy for digging dens.

Sunny days.

One of the things I miss most about my old pal is his way of seeing the world around us, not always accurate but regularly entertaining.

Our first experience with an ocean beach was on the coast of California north of San Diego. Wide open space to run, plenty of other dogs, and …

Cold, noisy, salty water that chases you — not my idea of a good time. To me, the beach didn’t seem so different from the desert, except that there were more people and it was a lot noisier. These big waves were crashing in on the shore and the water would race right up at me! Very unsettling. 

Jan 2012 – Beach Boys

Staying well away from the waves.

We were still on the coast for New Year’s Eve that trip and the peeps took us for a walk on the beach, early to avoid the fireworks … or so they thought …

The sky lit up and started to explode in all directions with the loudest popping and banging I’ve ever heard! I tried to head for the houses that were all along the beach, thinking someone would take pity on a poor, frightened dog, but Teresa and Nollind kept pulling me back to them, out there in the open, exposed to the terror! It felt like the longest walk of my life and I was never happier to see our trailer. I don’t see how terrifying dogs is a good way to celebrate anything — I may never understand the human species.

Jan 2012 –  Beach Boys

Early morning walk when the beach was safe from explosions.

I love to lie in the sun (Nollind sometimes calls me Sunny D), soak it up through my red and white coat. But hot, sunny days were a different deal for my buddy Logan …

Have you ever tried wearing a black fur coat on a hot, sunny day? Yeah, well, I don’t recommend it. When I was young it seemed like a smart idea to be well-dressed for any occasion, but that was before we started spending winters in the south.

Feb 2015 – Horses, Hiking, and Hazardous Places

In the shade of a mesquite tree near Wickenburg in 2018.

Logan was pretty much impervious to snow for the first five years I knew him, but when he got older …

I’ve been stuck in the snow more than once so I mostly tend to stay on the road and driveway. I actually got stuck head first in the yard when I tried to get to one of my caragana dens. Teresa had to put her boots on and come pull me out. I used to love the snow, but that was before it became my enemy.

March 2018 – Made It

On top of the snow … for the moment.

But melted snow, now that was a different story…

There’s just something about getting my feet wet and drinking from a fresh body of water that is soothing to my canine soul.

March 2018 – Da Boys at Da Beach

Spring run-off.

I could go on and on with Logan’s view of the world but I’ll save some for another day. Next week I’ll tell you all about my recent adventures in that frozen white stuff!