Monthly Archives: October 2016

Adventure in The Wintry Canadian Rockies With Family

There might be no better time than winter to round up the kids and head to the Canadian Rocky Mountains for some unforgettable adventures. Pack plenty of pull-overs, bribe the little ones with hot chocolate, and grab enough outdoor paraphernalia to ensure you remain upright in this vast and powdery playground. That includes skates, skis, snowshoes, cleats, snowboards, and maybe even an off-road fat-bike.

The best downhill skiing in the Canadian Rockies
Many Canadians start skiing as soon as they can walk. As a result, the Rocky Mountain area has plenty of facilities for children on its slopes. For a full-on downhill experience, the local national parks (Banff and Jasper) are particularly well-endowed offering four major ski resorts with several others perched temptingly on the periphery.
Top of the pile in more ways than one is Banff’s Sunshine Village wedged high up on the Continental Divide and famed for its heavy snowfalls and ski-in hotel. Next comes diminutive Mt Norquay, an under-the-radar day-use area located just outside Banff town.

However, the prize for the most family-friendly ski resort in the Rockies has to go to Lake Louise. Named for the robin-egg blue lake that enamours hikers and honeymooners in the summer, Lake Louise is the second-largest ski area in Canada (after Whistler) and offers an impressive web of 145 varied runs including lots of beginner terrain. Adding to its kudos are a tube park, bags of ski schools, guided wildlife tours (on snowshoes), and the finest snow-encrusted mountain views you could ever wish to see. In the unlikely event that your kids get bored or knackered, stick them on the Lake Louise gondola, a spectacular 14-minute cable-car ride worthy of a National Geographic documentary. If they’re really young, there’s a reputable childcare facility at the mountain base that offers kinderski classes for three- to four-year-olds. The resort’s only real drawback is that, despite its size, it gets pretty busy (read: long lift lines), especially at weekends. Crowd-haters might want to head to smaller, quieter Nakiska in Kananaskis Country just outside the national park, a favourite among in-the-know families from the nearby city of Calgary.

Cross-country skiing in Canmore and beyond
People with kids often dismiss cross-country skiing as too difficult, the lofty preserve of ridiculously fit Norwegian Olympians with hearts the size of elephants. But, while it might not have the rollercoaster appeal of downhill, cross-country skiing has a long Canadian heritage and it’s the only effective way to explore the Rockies’ rugged trails in winter.

A good initiation to the sport’s energy-efficient push-and-glide technique is the Canmore Nordic Centre. Nestled in the crock of the mountains to the west of town, this huge trail centre was originally developed for the 1988 Winter Olympics. In summer it’s one of the most comprehensive mountain-bike parks in western Canada, with over 65km of trails. In winter, many of the trails are specially groomed for cross-country. With its well-mapped network of terrain graded for different skill levels and anchored by a warm clubhouse that plies refreshments and offers equipment rental and lessons, this is one of the safest, family-friendly ski resources in Canada. The national Olympic team regularly use it for training.
With your confidence cemented at Canmore, the whole cornucopia of the Rockies is at your disposal. The real beauty of cross-country skiing is that it allows you to venture out and explore less crowded corners such as Yoho National Park in BC or the Great Divide trail at Lake Louise. Think of it as a faster, more fitness-enhancing version of hiking. Kids with their low centre of gravity and innate sense of balance will master it as readily as adults.

Skating
Skating is a national obsession in Canada and one of the most sociable ways for families to keep warm. Forget traditional rinks. Indoor skating is considered anathema in the Rocky Mountains, where ponds and lakes etched against a backdrop of heavenly scenery regularly freeze over for months at a time. You’ll never want to skate inside again once you’ve experienced the beauty of the world’s most spectacular ice rink, aka Lake Louise, framed by an amphitheatre of glacier-covered mountains.
Further north in Jasper, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge sweeps a large floodlit area for skating on Lac Beauvert, as well as another Zamboni-cleared oval on nearby Mildred Lake. Enterprising locals set up benches for sunny relaxation, while spontaneous hockey games erupt and free hot chocolate reinvigorates shivering youngsters.

Fat-biking
Fat-bikes are sturdy off-road bicycles with over-sized, low-pressure tires that are ideal for riding through snow. They’re perfect for Jasper National Park, Banff’s wilder, steelier northern neighbour. Jasper is revered by insiders for its extensive network of multipurpose trails. In contrast to stricter US parks, cyclists experience few limitations here and, over the years, the park has developed some of the most varied and technically challenging bike rides in North America. These trails have recently experienced a winter renaissance thanks to the relatively new sport of fat-biking. Jasper has plenty of fat-bike options from easy ambles through the Athabasca Valley to bracing workouts that will stretch, challenge and entertain teenagers and young adults. Numerous local operators rent bikes.

Ice walks
In winter, many of the Rockies’ iconic waterfalls freeze solid. Equipped with rappels and ice axes, fearless climbers can be seen tackling the slippery behemoths with breath-taking agility. Those with more modest ambitions (and who may have kids to entertain) can study the trippy ice formations, including ice caves, on a guided ice walk while observing the climbers vicariously. Wildlife sightings, an oft-forgotten winter attraction in the Rockies, will keep children happy along the way. Excursions to Banff’s Grotto Canyon and Jasper’s Maligne Canyon are organized by local tour operators. Warm boots and cleats are provided.

Hit the hot springs
Up here, the ultimate post-adventure winter indulgence is a hot bath, preferably taken in a steaming outdoor pool where you can still feel part of your frosty surroundings. The Canadian Rockies has three hot springs, two of which remain open during the winter. First is the family pool at Banff Upper Hot Springs, which sits at the base of the Sulphur Mountain and looks out at the giant geology lesson that is Mt Rundle. Quieter and less famous is Radium Hot Springs in BC, where, unlike Banff, the pools are odourless. Radium’s westerly location also provides a good excuse to explore the snowy wilderness of Kootenay National Park.

Should You Know Travel gear we can’t live without

Time for a little Lonely Planet show and tell. Travel gives us a chance to escape our everyday trappings and routines. But that makes it easy to grow some pretty strong connections to those few things we take do take along. In fact, it’s easy to look at regular little items – maps, water bottles, luggage – as beloved constant companions in these ongoing journeys.

With that in mind, we checked around Lonely Planet to learn about some personal favourite travel items of the most well-travelled staff in publishing.
Tom Bihn Travel Tray
I’ve got a Tom Bihn collapsible bag that’s always on my nightstand holding my phone, passport, a small flashlight, and glasses in case of a middle-of-the-night emergency. Late night in London one year, during Super Bowl Sunday back in America, I was evacuated during a small fire. I remember thinking ‘What are the odds I thought it through enough to be prepared for such a situation and it actually happened’. It’s gone everywhere with me ever since. It’s great to know the essentials are always there to grab and go.
At REI one day, I was eyeballing a cheaper jacket at the shop and asked the salesperson what he thought about the quality. He told me something that was either an outdoor truism or a clever sales tactic: ‘Don’t think about a rain jacket like a piece of clothing. Think about it as equipment that’ll protect and last a long time’. I caved and got the higher-end jacket and never looked back.
This thing has kept me dry from ocean spray and Hamakua Coast rain on the Big Island of Hawaii, and offered defense against crosswise sleet in British Columbia. It’s great for anyone heading to mild-to-hot climates where rain is likely. It’s perfect for active travellers because it’s lightweight and can be jammed into a backpack for long hikes.

Enormous scarf
I’ve got this huge cream linen scarf that I take on every trip – it’s really thin so it packs down easily, but it can expand out into a blanket. I’ve found it so invaluable that I now own the same scarf in a variety of colours and patterns! I’ve sunbathed on it in Cadiz when I forgot to pack a beach towel, wrapped it around my head, nose and mouth when camel trekking in the Sahara desert, used it to cover my shoulders for temple visits across Southeast Asia, and used it as a cosy blanket for long overnight bus trips in Vietnam. I picked my scarf up from Accessorize, a fashion accessories brand in the UK, but they can be found in shops and markets around the world.

North Face Refractor travel bag
This is a great all-in-one-bag for the short, 3 to 4-day trips I often have to take. It worked particularly well on a trip I took to Key West, where I had to take a tiny plane to the island and move quickly and efficiently through Miami’s labyrinth of an airport to make a tight connection. For longer trips, this is always my carry-on bag. It feels like a backpack but with the easy packing benefits of a traditional suitcase, thanks to the clamshell design. A dedicated laptop compartment makes this bag perfect for work or holiday trips.

Eagle Creek Packing Cubes
My fellow travel editors introduced me to the miracles that are packing cubes – it’s incredible how much of a difference they make when you are prepping for a trip. They not only save space, but they also keep you organized (no more messy bags two days into your trip!). As a former chronic over-packer, these things have changed my travel life – I’ve traveled all over the Caribbean with this gear (Dominican Republic, Curacao, Puerto Rico, Cuba) and I haven’t had to check a bag in over a year! I particularly like the Eagle Creek cubes because they have strong zippers and a nice shape that easily fits into a small duffel bag.

SIGG Water Bottle
It took me a long time to fork out for a SIGG but I have discovered now that it pays to get the real deal. It’s light when empty. It keeps cold water properly cold for ages, and the cap screws in perfectly, which is good when you’re just generally not that perfect (no more lakes in the bottom of my bag!). I got my first SIGG at a travel store but, since I’m as vague as I am klutzy, I lost it after a year. I grabbed my next one online (where you’ll find more design variety) immediately.
I remembered on a previous trip to Malaysia being appalled by the amount of plastic that travellers were leaving behind. But almost every hostel and restaurant (and even some street corners in Chiang Mai) has clean filtered water available where you refill your own bottle. Plus I saved money!

MATT PARISH | Senior Content Producer
Michelin North America Road Atlas (2004)
I can get my phone to navigate me to a parking spot 3,000 miles away at this point, but I still insist on taking this battered old spiral-bound atlas from 2004 on every road trip I take. Its strange configuration is part of the charm – all pages are at the same scale, disregard state borders, and take you on a snaking journey across the country as you flip through the book. It’s gotten me across every state in the lower 48. But the real reason I cherish it is the collection of familiar creases, rips, torn-out sections and hand-scrawled notes throughout the pages reminding me of old adventures, spontaneous camping trips, and near-miss refueling stops. Print maps are still great for practical reasons like scoping out the big picture when your GPS is spoon-feeding you step-by-step directions, or for providing essential backup for when the tech breaks down. I feel lost if I don’t see one lying around in the car.

Doc Martens
My war-wound red Dr. Martens aren’t just a pair of threadbare bovver boots; they’re the Swiss Army Knife of the footwear world. Scuffed, scratched and dirtier than a miner’s fingernails, my three-year-old DMs are river resistant and plough through snow like a Russian freight train. They also look like they’re handy in a fight.
I’ve hardly taken off my Docs since I bought them: they’ve roughhoused in rural Wales; bog-waded across Switzerland; and earned a winter tan on the golden sands of Praia da Marinha, Portugal. Their best asset though? There’s room to squeeze a sneaky bottle of scotch inside them if you ever go to a gig.

Tablet/e-reader
The right reading material is an important part of any trip, and e-readers have changed my life. No more heavy bags, or limited reading options! Bonus: It’s also a convenient way to carry your guidebook (Lonely Planet, of course).
The advantage with some books are obvious– reading a bio of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg without having to lug around all 800 pages of it, for instance. E-readers also make it easy to score copies of books discovered on the road. After learning about Ivo Andric in the Balkans, I was able to download The Bridge on the Drina in English for the plane ride home.

Joby DSLR Tripod
I couldn’t lug a full-length tripod down the Kalalau Trail on Kauai, so I opted for a 9oz, 10-inch tripod with bendy legs and grippy rubber feet. I could attach the thing to fence posts or tree branches to get good, stable shots. It came bundled with a camera purchase, and I never thought I’d get this much use out of it. I take it everywhere my full-length tripod can’t go. I’d recommend it to everyone, no matter the equipment – from smartphones to point-and-shoots, GoPros to full-size DSLRs.

MATT PHILLIPS | Destination Editor
Mammut 3mm static cord
I taken this cord everywhere – hiking the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska, paddling the Yukon River in northern Canada, backpacking through India, Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, and travelling solo through more than two dozen countries in Africa.

It worked a treat to hang up food away from bears when camping in the wilds of Alaska and Canada. And when travelling through Asia and Africa, it proved its worth on a daily basis: as a clothes line; to hang my mosquito net, whether from a tree in the Sahel or a pair of rusty nails in Uttar Pradesh; to secure my bag on the roof of trucks and buses; and even to replace broken shoe laces (one reason that now, 18 years after purchasing it, the length is down from 8m to 5m!).

Know the Future of Travel Tech

So your carry-on bag is a tangle of cables and your iPhone’s clogged with apps you rarely use? Take heart: the future of travel is lightweight and increasingly eco-friendly, with tips and itineraries beamed straight to your smartphone.

We asked experts at the sharp edge of travel technology to predict where they think the industry will transport us next.

Wearables get smaller and more chic

For many travellers, ‘wearable technology’ conjures up images of clunky Google Glass (now discontinued) and Apple watches, whose recognisable design screams ‘steal me’.
‘Wearable technology can be very conspicuous, which is the last thing you want while travelling,’ explains Dave Dean, founder and editor of travel tech website Too Many Adapters (toomanyadapters.com). But as wearable kit becomes more discreet, the possibilities for travellers are vast: especially when it comes to bridging language barriers.
‘In the next few years, it’s easy to imagine something like a pendant, watch or similar doing real-time two-way translation well enough to let people have a conversation without speaking the same language,’ says Dean. But he thinks more progress is needed before travellers can expect wearables to go mainstream.
‘I think the challenge for wearables is making battery life efficient enough,’ says Shawn Low, editorial director of trip planning and journalling mobile app Firef.ly (app.firef.ly). ‘If anything were to get huge, I’d love to see a wearable video camera with a battery that lasts at least six hours and shoots HD video.’
Trip planning goes live

Are user reviews unreliable? Will guidebooks become obsolete? Debates have raged for a while about how travellers build and book trips, but changes are already being felt, according to some experts.
‘We’ve seen Facebook and Instagram both add live features recently, but I’m predicting it will all be about “live” peer-to-peer chat,’ says Brian Young of G Adventures. ‘Instead of researching a destination on the internet for hours, people will just be able to “ask a local” in the destination, or someone who has been to the destination, for their opinion.’
Instant local advice is an exciting prospect. It remains to be seen whether live recommendations will eventually fall foul of the same criticisms – like partiality and fakery – as review websites.

Drones soar into the mainstream

Make room in your kit bag. As drone technology improves, aerial photography will be in easier reach of budding travel photographers.
‘Drones are going to peak in popularity as they become more portable, and as they ultimately become capable of self-flying and tracking,’ predicts Brian Young, managing director of G Adventures (gadventures.com). ‘This is already available on some drones, but as prices come down they will become more accessible.’
‘With the reduction in size and improvement in camera quality, these will push out the need for selfie sticks,’ says Young. Out with the forests of selfie sticks around major tourist sights, and in with swarms of hovering drones.
Seamless sightseeing services

Travel apps that streamline services are popping up everywhere, handling everything from booking functions to guide and map providers. Tech fans might want to look to the Nordic countries for an idea of how this could play out in a practical sense.

‘The most important app under development right now is the so-called MaaS (‘Mobility as a Service’; maas.global) application which aims at improved intra- and interconnectivity between different transportation modalities,’ says Paavo Virkkunen, head of Visit Finland (visitfinland.com). MaaS aims to bundle together transport solutions, from bike shares to taxis, into a smart online service that shows the easiest way to get anywhere.
‘This would also enable seamless transportation solutions for remote and/or scarcely populated areas where touristic services are available,’ adds Paavo. Trialled in Helsinki under the name Whim, MaaS is poised to spread to new locations in 2017.

Airport modernisations will have pros and cons for travellers © squaredpixels/Getty

Air travel, for better and worse

Air travel also has its sights set on a sleeker user experience, particularly when it comes to in-flight entertainment.
‘Many airlines who have tested or instituted streaming entertainment have realized that passengers like it and can get by in many cases without bulky seat-back entertainment,’ explains Jason Clampet, co-founder of travel industry intelligence site Skift (skift.com). The plane of the future won’t have seatback TV screens, and the superior picture quality on your smartphone or tablet means you won’t miss them.

Meanwhile airport modernisations will have pros and cons for travellers, according to Dave Dean of Too Many Adapters. ‘Some will be quite intrusive,’ he says. ‘There will be cameras that track you throughout the airport, linked to automated security scanners that you’ll be able to walk through without breaking stride or removing clothing’. Dean says others will be welcome changes, like being able to track your luggage at all times. The convenience of tracked airport experiences comes at the cost of submitting to surveillance.

Speaking of Big Brother, there remains a steep learning curve for travellers regarding data security. Many smartphones will automatically back up photos and other data to the cloud, and travellers can download an increasing new software and apps to browse the internet privately at public wi-fi spots. The technology is here – the trick will be making it sexier to travellers. As Dave Dean from Too Many Adapters put it, ‘Security is boring… right up until the point your phone gets lost or stolen.’