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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Home for the Holidays

It will be a different kind of Christmas this year … no desert … no Logan. The four of us spent the past two Christmases in and around Quartzsite, Arizona—exploring the desert, lying in the sun, lounging by the Little Red Fireplace. This year we’ll be here in Alberta, and just three of us, unless you count the horses and cats who bring our number up to ten.

Christmas Day last year at Dome Rock BLM (Logan in his favourite spot).

Logan was always the ringleader when it came to opening gifts, being a greater lover of toys than I am. Last year it was a little candy cane squeaky thing. Silly, but he loved it. No matter his age, he never lost the enjoyment of something that squeaked or grunted or otherwise made a sound between his teeth. I inherited a whole basket of the goofy things. I hope T and Nollind give me a bone for Christmas this year. I prefer quiet deliciousness to noisy tastelessness.

Logan with his Christmas toy.

We’ve been out walking in our winter wonderland every day since the snow came. T started out in boots when the snow cover was light, moved up to snowshoes after a dump, and now she’s back to just boots with all the Chinook melting that’s happened this past week or so. For me, it’s four paws all the time, although I wished I had some doggie snowshoes on those deep-snow days. On the plus side, I’m looking svelte, fitting up my near-ten-year-old body for the winter adventures to come.

I keep up just fine on the hard pack.

And by winter adventures I mean Canadian winter adventures, the kind with snow and sunshine and, yes, sometimes cold. T and Nollind had been planning to take us south in early December, then mid-December, then just after Christmas, and then early January, but they’ve decided we’re staying home entirely this year. Sounds like there are a few reasons why, not the least of which is the old horse, Nevada. He’s had some health issues since the end of summer and T wants to be here to care for him on a daily basis. She thinks he needs her right now, and she might be right. I see the way he looks at her every afternoon when she goes out to give him his extra feed and supplements, like she’s just saved his life yet again.

Home on the range

Logan almost kept us home last year but Nollind built him a ten-foot ramp and we were off to the south. Maybe he could do the same for Nevada? Instead of the Fang trailer behind Sid we could haul a horse trailer.

The ramp that made it all possible last winter.

But, since I don’t think that will happen, I’m settling in for a Canadian winter—putting energy into growing an extra layer of fur. I’ll be fine. I actually like snow, as you might remember from my I Love Snow post this spring. And, as much as I miss Logan, there are more frequent adventures and long walks in my days as a solo, easy-travelling dog. Life is good.

Making my version of a snow angel.

I’ve heard talk around the house that we might even head out for some winter camping to places like the Cypress Hills and Kananaskis. In our first trip south in 2011, we spent some time camping in the snow in Utah and northern Arizona. Playing in the snow during the day and tucking into a warm trailer at night? Sign me up!

Snow at Bryce Canyon in 2011

From my home to yours, or wherever you may be this holiday season, wishing you and your furry (and non-furry) family a very Merry Christmas!