Tubing at Mount Pakenham

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  

One of my favourite activities as a kid was to go sliding down our local hill. Growing up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, the hill was more like a bump compared to Ottawa standards but I still a great time. When I saw Mount Pakenham had tubing along with downhill skiing, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce our son, David and my wife, Sandy to the activity.  

We set out to Pakenham on the Sunday of Family Day weekend. The weather (for once) was perfect for outdoor sports. Arriving at the mountain, the first thing that struck us was the beauty of the place. Set in the Ottawa Valley, Pakenham has a family feel that might be lost at larger, more expensive ski resorts. As previously mentioned, being from Saskatchewan, downhill skiing is not my go-to winter sport so we opted for the tubing and snowshoeing option.  

We headed over to the tubing hill and picked up our inner tubes. There was not a lift taking us to the top of the hill but it was not an overly long walk and the pathway was well-maintained. Once we reached the top of the hill there were two possible runs open. David enthusiastically hopped in his inner tube and asked the staff attendant to give him the full spin option. We watched David speed down the hill with a smile on his face for the entire ride. Sandy and I romantically rode together holding each other’s inner tubes. We opted for the gentler push which still provided an exciting ride.

Tubing at Mount Pakenham

For the next go-around, David wanted to take a ride with me. On our climb to the top, he proposed doing the maximum spin-o-rama. By the time we reached the top of the hill, I was able to negotiate him down to the mild spin. Whatever way, we had a lot of fun. We took another three or four trips down the hill and had a blast.

Once done with tubing, we were able to borrow snowshoes and check out the trails. We took a scenic walk through the forest and were able to take short diversions off-trail because of our snowshoes.  

Snowshoeing at Mount Pakenham

After about a half hour exploring, we had worked up an appetite and headed back to the main lodge area. We opted for the cafeteria inside the lodge which offered comfort food like soup and sandwich, poutine and hamburgers. They also had lighter fare including salads. We enjoyed our meal in the convivial company of fellow tubers and skiers. The resort also has a lounge and bar that is open to families before a certain time. There was also an outdoor canteen that offered food as well.

We ended our time at the ski resort soaking in the sunshine and admiring the skiers racing down the mountain.

Skiing at Mount Pakenham

If you have time, the village of Pakenham is worth a stop. The Pakenham General Store was originally built in 1840 and has some of the tastiest cinnamon buns I have ever tasted. It is also worth to check out the five span bridge which was originally constructed in 1903 and is built completely out of stone.

Special thanks to Mount Pakenham for providing David and his family with tubing and snowshoe passes for the purpose of this article; all views are his own.


Where to skate in Ottawa

With all the cold weather we have been having it’s no wonder all the skating rinks around the city are filled with eager skaters young and old. To help you decide where to lace up, here’s a list of various ice skating rinks in and around Ottawa (and a little further out too). 

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Rideau Canada Skateway

Weather permitting, the Rideau Canal is open to skaters daily from roughly late December (whenever it’s ready!) to late February (when it starts to thaw). And it’s free! There are many change huts, skate rental shacks and snack stations (yum - Beavertails!) all along its 7.8 km length. We recommend checking the ice conditions before you head out to avoid disappointed little skaters should it be closed.

SENS Rink of Dreams

If the Rideau Canal is closed you can almost-always count on the SENS Rink of Dreams at City Hall to be open. This refrigerated outdoor skating rink is open from December to March from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. It’s a large rink that features LED lighting, a heated change hut, picnic tables and benches. Skate rentals and skate sharpening are available on weeknights and weekends, check out the City’s website for information on hours.

Landsdowne Park Skating Court

Weather permitting, the Lansdowne Park Skating Court is open from early December to mid-March. There is on-street parking nearby. Free open skating sessions are available daily.

Ben Franklin Place Skating Rink

Ben Franklin Place’s outdoor skating rink in Ottawa’s West End (Nepean) has a heated changing facility and is open daily from 11 am to 8 pm (weather permitting).

Rideau Hall Skating Rink

The historic skating rink at the Governor General of Canada’s residence, located on Sussex Drive, was established in 1872. Rideau Hall’s refrigerated outdoor skating rink offers free public skating sessions on Saturdays and Sundays from roughly December through March, weather permitting.

RiverOak Skating Trail 

Located in Metcalfe, RiverOak offers a unique outdoor winter experience with more than three kms of skating trails through old growth apple orchards. Their on-site facilities include a heated changing area in a charming log cabin, food and drink, and a hockey rink for pickup games. They also have unique events happening all winter long! For details visit their website at: www.riveroak.ca

Patinage en Fort (Skating Through the Forest)

Located Lac des Loups, Quebec (about 45 minutes north of downtown Ottawa), this skating rink is a 3-kilometer open-air ice loop which winds through tall trees. There is a heated chalet onsite. A very limited number of skate rentals are available, so if you can – bring your own! Visit their website for more information.

Perth Outfitters Skating Trail

About one hour south of Ottawa in Perth, Ontario is Perth Outfitters. They offer a 400-metre (0.2 mile) skating trail through the woods (including lantern skate events on Friday and Saturday evenings). There’s also a shinny hockey rink, log cabin and warm treats. A fun way to spend a weekend evening!

Arrowhead Provincial Park Ice Skating Trail

Although it’s a bit of a drive (about 3.5 hours from west Ottawa), this ice skating trail is considered one of the most stunning natural skating rinks around the world! The 1.3 km ice skating trail winds through think Muskoka forest and is magical anytime of day! The park is very busy on weekends, so the ark recommends visiting during the week if you can.  Visit their website for more information.

City of Ottawa Outdoor Ice Rinks

There are many volunteer-run outdoor community ice rinks across the city – several even have huts to change in and out of your skates. Check out the City’s website for more information.

City of Ottawa Indoor Ice Skating

Ottawa is home to several indoor arenas that offer affordable public skating sessions and skate rentals. Visit the City of Ottawa website for more information or to find an arena near you.

Family Vacation: Mont Tremblant

We just returned from March Break in Mont Tremblant. My parents graciously gifted us a week's stay at a cottage near Sainte-Agathe-des-monts in the Laurentiens, about a 30 minute drive from the ski resort of Mont Tremblant.

Getting There

We took a bit of a scenic route north-east of Ottawa, and the entire trip was 2.5 - 3 hours. There had been significant snowfall the day before, so we were held up by icy roads and snowplows. The more straightforward route along highway 50 to the 15 in Quebec would make the trip about 2 hours. A perfect length of time to be stuck in a car with little ones.

Where to Stay

Our cottage was fantastic - there was a beautiful view of (frozen) Lake Manitou from the porch, and we could warm our feet by the stone fireplace. It was everything that I like in a cottage - not too fancy, chock full of antiques, and that cozy cottage smell. And the price of renting a modest cottage is affordable. The hotels and condos at the base of the mountain can run you hundreds of dollars per night.

Cottage Fireplace

That said, there are disadvantages to staying outside the ski resort area. The main one is all the driving you have to do. With young children, I could definitely see the benefit to staying at one of the resort condos, and being able to hit the slopes right outside my front door. If cost is an issue, Tremblant runs flash sales and packages, so getting on their mailing list is a good idea. 

The second disadvantage to this cottage was that it wasn't very pedestrian-friendly. The road was small and windy, which made going for walks slightly terrifying when cars whipped around the corners. I think summertime would have made outdoor play much easier, with close access to a beach, playground and the cottage property (knee-deep snow was not great for trudging around with a 2 year-old!)

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What To Do

What isn't there to do? If you're outdoorsy, a winter vacation can be fantastic - our daughter tried three different activities for the first time - cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowshoeing. There are many trails located at Saint-Bernard but my parents discovered an even better (and closer) location in Sainte-Agathe, where the town's campground has been turned into cross-country and snowshoe trails in the winter.

And of course, the downhill skiing is fantastic! Our tiny hills in Ontario are no match for this mountain. After realizing that it had been 16 years since I'd strapped on a pair of downhill skis (and after taking out a poor kid on a snowboard in my attempt to get off the chair lift), I got some tips from a friend and stuck to the easiest green hills.

My daughter and I also checked out the Aquaclub, where you can find indoor pools, a hottub, and slides for the little ones. Some hotels on-site will include free passes to the pools, but we paid a whopping $24 to swim for 3 hours. That said, it was a great indoor activity for those who aren't keen on skiing every day.

Tips

  • The "village" at the base of the mountain is pedestrian friendly, so no cars allowed. You need to park in one of their three (free) parking lots, and then catch the (free) shuttle bus into the village. It's here that you can buy lift tickets, rent ski equipment, get some lunch, shop or check out the Aquaclub. Just remember to tack on lots of extra time to your trip for parking and the shuttle runs.
  • There's also the actual village of Mont Tremblant (with an old and newer section), where you can find shops and restaurants. When they say "Tremblant," they really mean the entire area including both the mountain and the town.
  • If I were to do it again, I would want a bag like this. Walking around in your ski boots for even a short period of time is painful and really tiring for kids. There are lockers available for $2 to store your stuff. 
  • Alternatively, you can take a longer drive over to the North side of the mountain, where the parking lot leads right up to the ski lifts. Much easier when dealing with kiddos, but alas, the bunny hills (and magic carpets!) are on the South side.
  • We brought lots of snacks, but found it easier to just buy a meal while skiing. It's pricey, but the food is REALLY good. And you can even enjoy a beer or wine with your lunch!
  • Don't want to ski? Our friends tried dog sledding, and as I mentioned, there are many snowshoe trails. Or just go shopping in the quaint little shops you can find in the older part of town on Lac Mercier. Unfortunately, we didn't get around to checking out the snow tubing, and the outdoor skating rink was closed for the season.

We'll definitely go back to Mont Tremblant one day, and we've all been bitten by the skiing bug. Later this week I'll be writing about our experience skiing with younger children - what worked and what didn't.

Have you ever been to Mont Tremblant? Did you enjoy yourselves?

Winterlude, Winter Sports

The Ottawa Public Library is back to share some of their favourite books for children with us. This month’s post is by Sue Townley from the Sunnyside Branch.

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Tacky and the Winter Games by Helen Lester
Tacky the penguin is back to compete at the penguin winter Olympics. While the other penguins train and prepare Tacky is his usual lazy self and continues to sleep through the exercises and eat all his favourite foods, pizza, chips doughnuts. In the end Tacky saves the day and leads his team to victory in his fun and zany way. A fun read aloud, especially during winter Olympics years.

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Pearl’s New Skates by Holly Keller
Pearl receives a pair of skates for her birthday and can’t wait to try them out. She practices her twirls and spins and dreams of how she will gracefully skate over the lake. When the lake finally freezes over she joyfully heads out to skate. She soon learns that it is not as easy as she thought, as she falls head over heels and soon wants to give up. With some encouragement from her Uncle Jack she learns about persistence and succeeds in enjoying herself skating.

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Hans Brinker by Bruce Coville
A beautifully illustrated picture book version of the classic Mary Mapes Dodge tale. This version is much shortened but keeps the key elements of the original story. Hans bravely finds medical help for his father, finds his family’s missing money, and shows his strength of character during the famous skating race. The illustrations by Laurel Long contribute to the classic, nostalgic feel of the book. A magical wintery classic for the older reader.

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Polar Skater by Sally Grindley
With charming, fanciful illustrations by Heli Hieta the reader is captured by the joy of a young girl learning to skate by herself for the first time. She slides off into an imaginary winter world filled with walrus’, polar bears, wolves and snow geese. Her happiness is contagious and the reader is swept up into the wonder of winter. With rhyming text this book makes a wonderful wintery read aloud for the preschool set.

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The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden
With talk of the Elfstadentocht taking place this year in Holland this is a perfect read to introduce young readers to the excitement of long distance skating. Set in 1941 in war torn Holland, we are introduced to ten year old Piet who must help his young neighbours escape from the Nazis, who have imprisoned their father for passing messages to the Allies. Piet, a strong skater, leads them along the canals the sixteen kilometres between Sluis and Brugge, Belgium, outwitting German soldiers. In the story we learn about Pim Mueller, the founder of the Elfstadentocht, the Eleven City race that takes place on the canals of Holland on winters the weather allows the 200 kilometre race to take place. Filled with action and tension this is a good read aloud for the older reader.

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Sam the Zamboni Man by James Stevenson
Young Matt comes to visit his grandfather, a zamboni driver, in this charming intergenerational tale. Matt has never seen a hockey game or a zamboni and when his grandfather takes him to see his first game his gets to see how important his grandfather is. His grandfather, a former hockey player, awes Matt with not only his zamboni driving skills but his skating skills as well, when he takes Matt to visit the stadium on a quiet night. The highlight of the trip is when Matt gets an opportunity to drive the zamboni himself. His grandfather promises to teach him to skate and play hockey next time he comes for a visit. This combination of hockey and machinery will surely be a hit with younger hockey fans.

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Just One Goal by Robert Munsch
Robert Munsch and hockey is a perfect combination. A fun filled story of a girl named Ciara who desperately wants a hockey rink on the river so that she does not have to go all the way across town to play hockey. With a bit of determination and some help from her father she builds that rink and everyone comes out to play. Somehow Ciara’s team cannot seem to win a game and by the final game Ciara is determined to score the winning goal. She is in a race with spring to get her goal before spring melts her rink. A rollicking, action filled tale by one of Canada’s great storytellers.

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Sophie Skates by Rachael Isadora
Rachael Isadora, best known for her ballet stories, turns her attention to the world of figure skating. Sophie, age eight, is determined to become a professional figure skater. Sophie’s day begins at 5:00 a.m., with skating lessons and continues through school and then back to the rink to skate some more. This book is an excellent balance between story and information with details about how to properly tie skates and ice-skating moves. With action filled illustrations this is a nice introduction to the hard work and dedication required of a young athlete.

Snowshoeing with kids

by Joanne Winters

Ottawa can be cold, and when you factor in the windchill it can be downright nasty!  Although the thought of hibernating indoors does sound very appealing we have had to find ways to keep ourselves active and have some fun outdoors in our frigid city.   

A few Christmases ago, before we had kids, I purchased snowshoes for myself and my husband. We lived in area with an open field nearby where we could go snowshoeing and enjoy the crisp cold air.  It was so beautiful being out there late at night, enjoying the star-filled sky as we trekked across the fields.    Now fast forward a few years… 2 kids and dog later, and we still enjoy it!   

When we first decided to take the kids out for a trek in the snow covered woods they were very excited.   We grabbed our snowshoes and a sled with a warm blanket, bundled ourselves up, packed a snack and headed to Mer Bleu.  The kids were so excited.  At first we stayed on the well established paths throughout the woods but then I decided to let the kids try out my snowshoes.  My daughter loved it – we strapped them on her boots and away she went.  She had no trouble going off the beaten path and staying above the fresh powder. My son also had a turn and away he went leading the way through the snow with ease.    Along the way we stopped to admire and feed many birds and explored the trails. If you bring bird seed with you and stay really calm the birds will come eat out of your hand. 

There are many opportunities to go out and snowshoe in Ottawa.  The National Capital Greenbelt offers a variety of trails to explore.  Also Gatineau Park offers 60 kilometers of trails for snowshoeing, ranging from easy to more challenging treks.  

A wonderful thing about snowshoeing is that it does not require a lot of equipment.  All you need is to dress for the weather and strap on some snowshoes.  If you want to give it a try and not invest in the snowshoes right away many places like Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Trailhead and Gatineau Park do rent them.  I suggest calling ahead to check on the availability. 

The best conditions for snowshoeing are when there is about 10 centimeters of snow on the ground.  The more snow the more fun.  Snowshoes work on all types of snow and ice.  You also don’t need to head out very far for your first trek; you may just want to start in the backyard after a snow storm, your neighborhood park or any field nearby.    

So next time the weather office is calling for a dumping of 10 centimeters of snow, don’t just think about the snow blower or the shoveling, think of it as Mother Nature laying the base for an awesome family adventure!