Sunday, December 31, 2017

Britches On A Branch

Please note this story first appeared on the Calgary Guardian website under the same name, but this version has additional photographs.

Looking up at the swanky tree at Sunshine Village. Photo Credit: Sunshine Village
Sometime around the middle of the twentieth century a new species of tree was found blooming in the vicinity of a mountain resort. This tree was unlike any other plant species previously discovered. It would blossom and grow during the darkness and cold of the harsh winter months and its leaves were oddly shaped and simply out of place next to Mother Nature's other creations. Although nobody knows for certain how such a tree began to take root it survived, some say thrived, and slowly began reproducing in the mountainous regions of the North American continent. If you haven't already figured it out I am referring to the infamous Underwear Tree, also affectionately known as the Bra Tree or the Panty tree, that grow within easy throwing distance of a chairlift.

This tree at Sunshine is below the Angel Chair. Photo Credit: Sunshine Village
The lineage of the first Underwear Tree has, unfortunately, been lost to time, but there are two common beliefs as to the whereabouts of the original specimen. During the late 1950's and early 1960's America entered what is commonly referred to as the Sexual Revolution where people first began challenging the accepted beliefs towards sexuality. The urge to find oneself and buck society's sexual norms likely played a role in sprouting the nation's first Panty Tree. Beneath the Bell Mountain chairlift at Aspen Mountain Resort the satiny buds of that early tree began to emerge. The women's undergarments, likely tossed by ski patrol's male members, were hung like trophies from the previous night's conquests. Depending on who you talk to it's also been said that the underwear needed to be stolen without the other person knowing before they could be contributed to the prized tree.

Looking down on the Underwear Tree at Lake Louise. Photo Credit: Jasper Johnson
The other commonly referenced origin story also places the tree at Aspen except its birth wasn't until the mid-1980's. According to a veteran patroller someone tossed a brazier into the tree bearing the name of a controversial figure within the skiing community. The humorous stunt was so well received that during its heyday more than fifty bras and other unmentionables could be counted hanging from the crowded branches. The tree transformed into a symbol of rebellion. Officials threatened to remove the tree and ban those who were participating in the knicker-lobbing escapades, which only lead to an increase in action.

As you can see this tree has had several contributions over the years. Photo Credit: Sunshine Village
Aspen's time in the skivvy spotlight was cut short due to the installation of their gondola and the discontinued use of the Bell Chair in the early 1990's, but the story doesn't end there. The Underwear Tree re-spawned at another popular Colorado ski resort, Vail. According to legend the initial pair of panties were procured during a particularly steamy gondola ride. After complaints from concerned families over its appropriateness Vail's original tree was chopped down, but it was reborn in one of the resort's back bowls and has flourished there ever since. If Aspen gets the distinction of being the first to have a Bra Tree than Vail is credited as the one to make it famous. The tree reached its pinnacle of popularity in 2004 when the after-dinner cocktail giant Grand Marnier used the tree as part of their marketing strategy. The tagline for the advertisement stated, "You just recognized a pair of panties in the Sundown Bowl tree...the conversation is waiting."

If you're looking to contribute, the tree at Lake Louise is below the Paradise Chair. Photo Credit: Jasper Johnson
Word travels fast, but tales of erotic triumphs are even faster. Combine all that folklore with Vail's critical acclaim and it's easy to see why countless winter resorts now boast a tree of their very own. The tradition has even spread north of the border and many resorts here in Alberta aren't immune to the Underwear Tree's silky blossoms. Lake Louise has one. So does Castle Mountain. Marmot Basin's is located beneath the Knob Chair, which cannot be a coincidence. Sunshine actually has multiple trees scattered throughout its boundaries. But the rest of Canada is not immune to the deluge of the provocative plant either. There have also been sightings at mountain resorts in British Columbia and as far away as Ontario.

You can see it's not just women's underwear, but also Mardi Gras beads and even a pair of sneakers! Photo Credit: Sunshine Village
I have no doubt the true spirit of that first tree still lives on to some degree, but I believe the reasons for disrobing today are far greater reaching than the original intent. Maybe it's just some spur of the moment fun or that skiing commando is the right amount of risque in your life or perhaps the occasion is a little more on the racy side, whatever your reason the tree will be waiting. These days you're just as likely to see men's boxers, briefs, and gitch suspended alongside those bright lacy panties and animal-print bras we've come to expect. The statement is obviously far less political and nowadays the one contributing the negligee is just as likely to be female in what was once a male dominated venture. Despite its lewd beginnings and contentious nature the Underwear Tree's lineage runs deep and is in no danger of being uprooted any time soon.

A close-up of the colourful contributions to one of Sunshine's trees. Photo Credit: Sunshine Village

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sixth Annual Christmas Tree Hunt

Trip Date: November 2017

This year marked Cooper's first Christmas and thus his first Christmas Tree Hunt. Christine and I were both really looking forward to having him along on this adventure and for many more years to come! For our sixth annual Christmas Tree Hunt we decided to try a new location. Instead of waiting until the calendar flipped to December we opted to go out the last weekend in November as those dates worked best for everyone. Due to the earlier than normal departure we were able to access some terrain that is typically closed at the beginning of December each year. Powder Face Trail, which is located in the Elbow River Cutting Area, is closed annually from December 1st to May 15th, so we'd never searched for trees along that road before. The gamble paid off handsomely as everyone managed to find gorgeous trees this year. In fact I think this year's trees were easily the best looking than all the previous years combined! There were even some rumblings of hunting in late November next year as well to ensure similar trees could be obtained.

Cooper's first Christmas Tree Hunt
This year's tree was a real beauty!
This little family photo actually made our Christmas Card this year
Playing around with my GoPro to get this action shot of me harvesting the tree
As with previous years the weather was fantastic and there was even some snow on the ground, which made the outing all the more festive. The day wouldn't be complete without the customary bonfire after the trees were harvested. This year we opted to try Dawson Provincial Recreation Area and it suited our needs just fine. The day-use sites were well-equipped with picnic tables and fire pits and the out-houses were unlocked and clean. It was the perfect way to cap-off our annual tradition and we were all looking forward to the after-party, being hosted by Ben and Jess this year.

Time for a bonfire
Me and my little man!
All that fresh air tuckered him out
Good-looking crew for this year's adventure
Helping dad set-up the tree
The 2017 edition of our tree after being decorated
If you're looking to start a new tradition of harvesting your own Christmas Tree please refer to my previous post, Searching For The Perfect Tree, for all the details on how to obtain a permit. I'm already looking forward to next year's adventure!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Nakiska Ski Area

Trip Date: November 2017

On Wednesday, November 1st Nakiska Ski Area announced they'd be opening for the season on Saturday, November 4th, making them the first resort in Canada to do so. But then Mount Norquay dropped a bomb on Nakiska's plans and declared they'd be opening a day earlier to claim the title of earliest opening this year. In the end who really cares because ski and snowboard season is once again upon us and that's all that matters.

On the road to Nakiska
Welcome to Nakiska Ski Area
Located less than 100km from downtown, nestled in picturesque Kananaskis Country, Nakiska is the closest resort to Calgary not named Canada Olympic Park. Like COP however, Nakiska played host to the alpine events for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games and today offers 1,021 skiable acres. The resort boasts something for everyone with 13% of the runs considered beginner, 59% intermediate, and the remaining 28% advanced. The resort also features the Na.Jib.Ska Rail Park, a skier/boarder cross course, and the Monster Glades.

These signs were posted all around the base area
Uploading and downloading via the Olympic Chair
Excited to hit the slopes!
Normally I'd wait a few weeks for the conditions to improve before hitting the slopes, but the team at SnowSeekers surprised Christine and I with lift tickets. One of my cardinal rules is never turn down free snowboarding (you'd have to be crazy to do that), so we secured a babysitter and made plans to head out for the day.

The snow-making machines were in full effect, hence the hazy conditions at the Mid Lodge
The visibility drastically improved as we ascended the Gold Chair 
Pretty good view from the top of the Gold Chair
We didn't make first chair because it's tough getting anywhere when you have a 5-month-old at home, but we made decent time on the drive. As we were about to enter the lift-line Christine discovered she had a busted binding buckle that needed to be repaired before we had any hope of riding. With some helpful assistance from the repair shop we were on the chair with very little time wasted.

Overlooking the mountains in Kananaskis Country
I can promise you there's a big grin hidden underneath all the layers of warm clothing!
The trees were coated in snow and reminded me of the Snow Ghosts at Whitefish Mountain Resort
The only accessible terrain was off the Gold Chair, so everyone needed to upload and download via the Olympic Chair. Even though Nakiska received 65cm over the past seven days many of the runs still weren't open. From the Gold Chair there were approximately 10 open runs including the Monster Glades, which gave us some varied terrain to explore. It was a chilly -20 degrees at the summit, but the sun was shining and there wasn't a breath of wind so it didn't feel too bad, although Christine described her day as "frigid"!

Christine riding through the Monster Glades
Good snow in the glades
GoPro selfie on the day's final run
Christine and I closing out a superb opening day!
For me the entire day was completely unexpected. I was caught off-guard when Nakiska announced they'd be opening this early, the lift tickets were a big, yet welcome, surprise, and the quality of the snow was better than we could have hoped for this early in November. I am so glad we went and now I'm even more excited for the rest of the season to get underway.

The sun sitting low in the sky as we made our way back to the base
A brief video showcasing Opening Day 2017 at Nakiska

For additional photos and information from opening day please refer to this post from SnowSeekers.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sulphur Mountain Gondola

Trip Date: October 2017

The final destination on my Brewster's Ultimate Explorer Pass was the Banff Gondola. The following is a recap of that adventure. You can also read about the Minnewanka Lake Cruise and the Glacier Adventure and Glacier Skywalk, which I visited during the summer and are also part of the Explorer Pass. You will also find this story on the Calgary Guardian website and lastly this marks the second time I visited the gondola, the first time can be enjoyed right here.

A neat take on a horse-drawn wagon as seen at the base of the Banff Gondola!
The Banff Gondola
Norman Bethune Sanson has likely summited Sulphur Mountain more times than anyone else. The former curator of the Banff Park Museum first climbed the peak in 1896 to record weather observations from an elevated position. He subsequently trekked to the summit more than one thousand times over the next thirty years to record weather data for his job as the federal government's official weather observer. If not for the sulphur-rich thermal springs (which are the basis for the entire national parks system in Canada) located near its base the whole mountain would likely be named in his honour. Instead the northern end of Sulphur Mountain carries the name Sanson Peak in recognition of the man who spent more time than most perched high above the town of Banff. Today you can walk in Sanson's footsteps and follow the Sulphur Mountain Trail (six-kilometres one-way and 750m gained in elevation) that switchbacks its way to the summit or you can opt to ride the Banff Gondola, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the park.

A solitary Larch Tree overlooking the town of Banff far below
From the summit ridge you can see far more than just the Banff town site
In just eight minutes you can travel from parking lot to mountain top inside a fully-enclosed gondola cabin. The original gondola was opened to the public in 1959, making it the first bi-cable gondola in North America and the first gondola of any kind in Canada. Over the ensuing years the gondola and summit complex have gone through various reconstruction and rejuvenation projects in order to keep up with demand, offer world-class visitor experiences, and to maintain minimal impact on fragile alpine environments and wildlife. After easily accessing the summit you'll be awarded with breathtaking views of six different mountain ranges and experience an entirely new perspective on the town of Banff. The summit facility also features restaurants, interactive exhibits in the Above Banff Interpretive Centre, a multi-sensory theatre, and a 360-degree rooftop observation deck, so there's more than enough to keep everyone entertained.

To celebrate Canada's 150th birthday these signs were erected across the country, including the Sulphur Mountain Summit Complex!
You can also find two sets of Parks Canada Red Chairs on top of Sulphur Mountain
From the summit complex there are a couple of trails waiting for you to explore. The most popular is the one-kilometre Mountaintop Boardwalk, which is a self-guided interpretive trail that leads to the Sulphur Mountain Weather Observatory. The historic stone structure was built back in 1903 and was in operation until the mid-1930s. The observatory is still perched atop Sanson Peak allowing visitors to peek through the windows and catch a glimpse of a time gone by. The more ambitious will likely tackle the South East Ridge Trail that runs south past the complex and eventually leads to Sulphur Mountain's true summit.

The historic stone weather observatory atop Sanson Peak
The observatory has been standing in the same place for over 100 years
In the mid-1950s Sanson Peak was chosen as the site for a Cosmic Ray Station that was built in conjunction with the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). The Cosmic Ray Station, one of nine that were constructed across Canada, was built by the National Research Council and was completed in 1956. Due to its high elevation Sulphur Mountain was considered the most important station in Canada. In 1960 the University of Alberta at Calgary took over the station and it closed for good in 1978. The station was completely dismantled in 1981 and a plaque now marks the site's location. Today the spot where the cosmic ray station once stood is now a National Historic Site of Canada.

The Summit Complex as viewed from the weather observatory
Sulphur Mountain is a prominent feature on the landscape and has been a stunning backdrop for countless photographs taken from downtown Banff. Experience this mountain in a new way aboard the Banff Gondola and heighten your senses as you gaze in wonder at the scenery as it unfolds around you.

Sanson Peak with the weather observatory as viewed from the Summit Complex observation deck
This awesome Canadian flag can be found inside the Summit Complex and a portion of the informative sign reads, "The Canadian Maple Leaf emblem here rests upon the weathered wood from the early backbone that connected this vast country: the Canadian Pacific Railway."
To learn more about the Banff Gondola or any of the other Rockies Attractions please visit the Brewster Travel Canada website or you can purchase the Ultimate Explorer Pass that provides admission to four of Brewster's top attractions. You can also connect with Brewster on social media (FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTubePinterest, and Vimeo) and don't forget to share all your gondola photos using the hashtag #BanffGondola.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Publications 2

As a follow-up post from this one I thought I would share a few of the places my work has been published since February 2016. It's been exciting to have my work featured in different places and on different mediums and I look forward to what happens in the coming months and years if this writing thing continues!

In March 2016 one of my trail camera photos won the grand prize of the annual Alberta Fish & Game Association's annual Trail Camera Photo Contest. The winning photograph and the accompanying plaque are displayed below. This was a fun contest, so I'll definitely be entering each year!

My winning photograph featured this coyote mom and her three pups
I was awarded this plaque for my winning photo
In April 2016 I had my story Critter Cams: Connect Students to Alberta's Wildlife Through Technology published in the pages of Nature Alberta magazine, which is published quarterly by Nature Alberta. My article discussed the trail camera program I started at Enviros Base Camp and the success we had with it. The article ran in the Winter 2016 (Volume 45, Number 4) issue of the magazine.

The cover of Nature Alberta magazine

This is what my story looked like inside the magazine
A couple of months later, in June of 2016, I was featured as Hiker of the Week in a campaign that's run by Hike By Faith. It was nice to be honoured in this way by a loyal Twitter follower.

My Hiker of the Week feature on Hike By Faith's website
In July 2016 I had another story published that was very similar to the one in Nature Alberta magazine. This time my article Critter Cams: Connecting Students to Alberta's Wildlife Through Technology was in the pages of Of Land & Living Skies: A Community Journal on Place, Land, and Learning, which is a collaborative journal between SaskOutdoors, the Sustainability Education Research Institute (SERI) with the University of Saskatchewan, and the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina. My story appears in the Water issue (Issue 6, Summer 2106), which can also be found online along with all their previous publications.

The cover of the Water issue of Of Land & Living Skies
The layout of my story from inside the magazine
In the fall of 2016 I was featured as a Health Champion by Ever Active Schools on their Instagram feed. In a series of three posts they showed photographs of me outdoors and captioned them with blurbs from the brief interview we did. You can view the three posts by visiting the links below the follow screen captures.

Health Champions Feature No. 1 - View full post here 
Health Champions Feature No. 2 - View full post here
Health Champions Feature No. 3 - View full post here
In November 2016 I was contacted by a gentleman (Andrei Vargas) from Brazil inquiring if he could use one of my photos for his stand-up paddleboard catalog. This sounded like an interesting venture, so I agreed provided he sent me a copy of the catalog. Later that month I received the catalog and was surprised to see my photograph on the cover of Inside Wave. This marks the first time any of my work has earned a place on the cover of a publication.

The front cover of Inside Wave
Inside the catalog
In May of 2017 I was contacted by Spirits West Merchants, a full-time liquor store and part-time antique dealer from Bragg Creek, Alberta. They wanted to use one of my trail camera photos in an advertisement that was to be featured in the May/June 2017 issue of City Palate. Of course I agreed and I think the ad turned out great! You can view the full digital issue right here.

The front cover of City Palate magazine
The Spirits West ad featuring my trail camera photograph
Later in May I was featured for the fourth time in More of Our Canada magazine. This time my story Rock Stars, about my amazing trek to the Burgess Shale, was given a four-page spread complete with photographs. The story appeared in the May 2017 issue and was also published online under the heading, Our Travels: Finding Fossils in the Burgess Shale.

The front cover of More of Our Canada

This is how my story appeared in the pages of More of Our Canada
Another story about my hiking adventure to the Burgess Shale was published in Hiker's Voice, the official newsletter of the Alberta Hiking Association. My story titled Yoho's Stone Bugs appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of the newsletter and can be viewed online right here.

The front cover of Hiker's Voice

My story about the Burgess Shale looked great in the newsletter
In July 2017 I was featured as part of the Humans of the Outdoors series that was created by Maman on the Trail. Humans of the Outdoors was designed to be a collective narrative created by and for those of us who have a passion to be outside. It was an honour to be included in this series alongside so many others who love being outdoors.

My feature from Humans of the Outdoors
This past summer (August 2017) I had my first ever contracted writing gig for Seekers Media. I was sent to Cypress Hills to report on the ever-growing mountain biking scene that's present there and the upcoming Battle Creek Showdown, which is a popular mountain bike race in the park. My story Mud, Sweat & Gears was featured on the ZenSeekers website and promoted heavily across all social media platforms. I really hope I can do some more work with them in the future because getting paid to do something you love is pretty awesome!

A screen capture from my article
In addition to all of the above I have also been contributing stories/posts to Curiocity Calgary's website. The website is in the style of Buzzfeed (if you're familiar with them) so they do lots of posts that are in the form of lists such as "Top 10 Spots For..." or "The Best Places To...". As usual my stories all have an outdoor focus and I hope to contribute more to them in the coming months. To view all of my past work please visit my author page.

As you can see it has been a busy year so far, but an exciting one as well. I am really looking forward to what the remaining months of 2017 will bring and what lies ahead in 2018. Stay tuned!