MEC Snowfest Ottawa 2014
There's no business like snow business! MEC Ottawa is looking forward to winter in the capital, and on Saturday, November 22 we're putting on our third annual Snowfest to celebrate it!
Featuring our ever-popular Snowswap - where you'll find unbelievable deals on great gear from MEC and fellow outdoor enthusiasts - plus clinics, activities, contests, information, and prizes to help you fall in love with winter all over again! Join our expert staff and instructors from local clubs to learn about everything from gear to training techniques, cooking to climbing, ecology, local winter treasures, and more.
DEMSIS will be on hand to sell Gatineau Park ski and snowshoe passes – and if you buy your pass at Snowfest, you’ll receive 15% off the early-bird price.
Plus, check out our Snowfest blog for sneak peaks at some of our clinics, to meet Snowfest exhibitors, and get winter tips and stories from MEC staff.
Come welcome winter with us at Snowfest!
For more information, contact Laurel Ralston, MEC Snowfest Ottawa Coordinator, at email@example.com.
MEC SNOWFEST OTTAWA 2014 CLINIC SCHEDULE
|Ski Waxing Basics AM||Mooney's Bay Ski Centre||10:00||Loading Bay|
|Outdoor Exploration with Forest and Nature School||Forest and Nature School||10:00||Meet at the Front Entrance|
|Ice Climbing Near Ottawa||Alpine Club of Ottawa||10:30||Community Room|
|Gourmet Outdoor Cooking||MEC||11:00||Front Entrance|
|Winter Cycling||Ottawa Bicycle Lanes Project||11:00||Tents|
|Ski Adventures for Everyone||Canadian Ski Marathon||11:30||Community Room|
|Keeping Your Ice Tools Sharp||MEC||11:30||Bike Shop|
|Adaptive Skiing with Kanata Para-Nordic||Kanata Para-Nordic Racers||12:00||Loading Bay|
|Intro to Snowshoeing||MEC||12:30||Tents|
|Becoming a Coureur des Bois||Canadian Ski Marathon||13:00||Community Room|
|Gear Up for Nordic Skiing||MEC||13:30||Loading Bay|
|Walking In Our Winter Wonderland||MEC||14:00||Tents|
|Ski Waxing Basics PM||MEC||15:00||Loading Bay|
|The Future of Snow||Ecology Ottawa||16:30||Community Room|
Loppet to me!
It's (almost) snow time
Winter running: you don’t have to be crazy
Getting to the trailhead
Commuting Is Play
A casual date with winter
Building balance for winter sports
The Experts Are IN
Fresh snow makes the best mattress
Ski waxing: a corking good time!
Get on the good foot
Everywhere the forest is home
Skiing in Ottawa - a limited-time offer?
Alright Ottawa, let it snow!
Autumn is in full swing – treating us to vibrant colours, crisp mornings, and some surprisingly mild evenings – which means that here at MEC Ottawa, we’re thinking ahead to winter. If you’re in the s tore this weekend, you might notice skis and snowshoes where the bikes used to be, and plenty of toques, mittens, and warm socks on display.
We’ll be giving winter an official welcome on Saturday, November 22 with the 2014 edition of MEC Snowfest, and we’d love for you to join us. This year’s event will be even bigger and better than the last, with new clinic topics and guest presenters, games and activities for young and young at heart, our famous Snowswap gear swap, and even hot chocolate courtesy of our soon-to-be neighbours at Equator Coffee Roasters.
Keep an eye on our clinic schedule for additions over the next few weeks, and check back in here at the blog for tips and stories about how to make this winter your most enjoyable one yet. Let it snow!
I murdered my racing skis.
It was a sad but not entirely unexpected event. I’d had these skis – a pair of thirdhand Madshus with other people’s names scrawled on them from their racing glory days – for about six years. They were given to me in anticipation of my first loppet, the 2006 Canadian Birkebeiner, by concerned loved ones, a family of Serious Skiers who forbade me from racing (I use that term loosely) on the waxless Karhus I’d used since I was ten years younger, six inches shorter, and (cough) pounds smaller. They were a little worse for wear, and I was skeptical about the difference they would make to my skiing experience (given my suspect classic technique and general laziness), but I had to admit that they felt a lot lighter, even after the half container or so of marine fairing I added to seal the cracks in their tails. And I learned to enjoy the meditative act of ironing glide wax into their scratched and pitted bases.
I barely finished the 2006 Birkie. I got food poisoning three nights before the race. By the time I made it to the start area, I’d consumed two bagels, a banana, several crackers, and precious little else over the previous 72 hours. I downgraded from the 55 km Birkie to the 31 km Journal Tour, determined not to waste my months of training. On the advice of my boyfriend, himself a Serious Skier, I brought flat Coke and Mars bars to sustain me. Health food. By the time I crossed the finish line, the temperature had changed by 21 degrees Celsius, and I’d been cursing my decision to leave my klister behind for over an hour. I wished I had brought my waxless skis. I walked with a pronounced lurch for the next two weeks, and I had to wear only button-up shirts because my upper body was wrecked from poorly-executed double-poling – I couldn’t raise my arms over my head.
Naturally, I was anxious to do it again.
I finally made it back to the Birkie six years later. It was mainly an excuse for a last-minute weekend road trip with two girlfriends. One of us had been training hard for months anyway, one of us was sensible and signed up for the 10 km event, and one of us registered for the 31 km Tour, figuring her natural grace and race-day determination would make up for a whole season of sleeping in when she should have been skiing. Ha.
It’s possible that the season of sleeping in was what caused me to finish an hour later than I did in my state of near-starvation the first time around, but I chose to blame it on my skis. They were more tired than I was, and by 20 km were yawning widely, their bent, protruding bases digging into the snow behind me. At 25 km I side-stepped off the track, dug out my Swiss Army knife, and performed emergency surgery, tucking the severed tails in my pocket because I’m a leave-no-trace kind of gal. I finished last in my age category, and never wore the skis again. I left them at the Free Store at my local waste transfer station and hoped that someone might find a use for them. People made fences out of used skis out there.
I’m now on the hunt for my next pair of skis. I’ll need something to help me finish last in the Canadian Ski Marathon next.
I haven’t seen it with my own eyes yet, but two sources I trust recently informed me that snow has fallen on and around Ottawa.
Upon returning to the store after leading a bike ride in Gatineau Park on Sunday, MEC Ottawa staff member Mike reported that flakes landed on the group that morning. And on Monday, as I perused homegrown tomatoes at a Byward Market produce stand, a farmer told me she had seen snow while she was setting up earlier in the day.
So, in honour of these auspicious occurrences, here are a few snow-related indulgences to help excite you about the season to come.
- Beautiful time-lapse video of snowflake formation
- Instructions for making six-pointed cutout paper snowflakes or, if you’re feeling fancy, crocheted snowflakes
- A recipe for mouth-watering snowflake cookies – and even homemade snow ice cream to make the next blizzard more fun
- And for the snow-geeks in the audience, a snow crystal primer about the evolution of water vapour high up in the sky into the intricate, sparkly powder we love here on the ground
Photo by Sebastian Anthony at www.extremetech.com
I ran my first marathon at Ottawa Race Weekend this year. I registered in early January, just after my birthday, when the race was 96% full. I started with
illusions ambitions of finishing in something close to twice my best half-marathon time (from ten years ago). I made a training plan. I posted motivational messages on my mirror. I started spiking my oatmeal with hemp hearts. In my head, I started calling myself a marathoner.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Running a spring marathon means training relentlessly through the winter, something that only moderately committed runners like myself prefer to avoid. The up side is that the cross-training options – Nordic skiing and skating – are fantastic. Both activities are non-impact and highly aerobic, and engage muscles that running doesn’t as much. The down side is that the running itself can get tricky, what with the uneven terrain, cold air, and shortened daylight hours. Healthy, enjoyable winter running requires adapting both your gear and your approach.
On the gear side, the keys are making sure you’re warm (most of the time) and dry, and having enough traction.
- Learn about layering, and choose pieces that will direct moisture away from your skin
- Invest in windproof clothing – guys, windproof briefs are a must – and a beanie or balaclava that will keep your ears warm and covered without causing you to overheat
- Dress for how you’ll feel a few kilometres in – which will likely mean being a bit cold to start – because it’ll take some time for your body to warm up once you’ve started running
- Bring two pairs of gloves or mittens with you – a warmer pair for the first part of your run and a lighter pair to change into once you’ve heated up
- Wear reflective clothing or a small light to keep yourself visible on dark mornings and evenings
- Help keep yourself sure-footed by wearing traction devices or modifying your running shoes with screws, or if you’re heading to the trails, try snowshoe running
- Consider growing a beard, both for insulation and for the perennially stylish icicle-faced post-run look
On the approach side, planning your runs a bit differently can help you avoid injury and deal with unforeseen circumstances – meteorological or otherwise.
- Choose a route that is relatively snow- and ice-free
- Consider running multiple loops of a shorter route to make a long run, so that if anything goes wrong, you don’t have a long, cold, and possibly painful walk home
- Allow yourself a good warm-up – which is a good idea at any time of year, but especially important in colder temperatures
- Shorten your stride for better stability
- Stay hydrated, even though you might not feel as thirsty as you would in the heat of summer
- Run with a group – say, with the friendly folks at the MEC bi-weekly run meetups – misery loves company, and all that
- Pay attention to aches and pains – if you’re used to running on smooth roads, winter running will probably have you using muscles you weren’t before, keeping you upright on hard, uneven ground, and they might require extra strengthening and care – and if you do get injured, look after yourself!
Finally, if you need a little extra motivation, sign yourself up for a race. The Winterlude Triathlon is a great Ottawa tradition that you can enter as an individual or on a team, there are plenty of spring events to train for – and, you know, a race in a warmer destination can be a good excuse to travel.
Ottawa is an exceptionally great winter city. Not only does the frozen Rideau Canal make for a cool downtown commuting option, but we have Winterlude to pick up our spirits in February, Gatineau Park just across the bridge, several ski resorts within a short drive of the city, and a seemingly endless trail network along our rivers and greenbelts.
One of the best things about Ottawa is that most of these winter adventures are accessible even without a vehicle – great news for folks who choose to live car-free, or would just rather avoid driving. If you’re new to town, or new to the car-free lifestyle, here are some options for getting to the trailheads.
Explore urban amenities
Ottawa’s huge network of bike paths and trails are great in winter, too! Put on snowshoes or skis and enjoy the crisp air on foot (where you see cross-country ski tracks, please be courteous and walk beside them), or if you prefer groomed trails, head out to the Mooney’s Bay Ski Centre – accessible via OC Transpo route 87. There are also over 50 trails at Gatineau Park, and many of them start at the Relais plein air du parc de la Gatineau, which is accessible via STO buses. (And your transfer or pass on either bus system can be used on the other, should you need both for the same trip.)
Join a club
Ottawa is understandably full of outdoor enthusiasts, and local groups like the Ottawa Outdoor Club and Alpine Club of Ottawa organize events year-round – snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, paddling, climbing, and more. Carpooling is usually available, and you’ll get the benefit of meeting new friends too.
Hop on the Ski & Ride Snow Express
Ottawa-based Ripple Adventure offers an online activity hub and seasonal programming to help folks connect with others who enjoy being outdoors and trying new activities. Ripple Adventure is also the home of the Ski & Ride Snow Express, a bus service offering transportation from several locations in Ottawa to Camp Fortune, Edelweiss, and Mont Ste-Marie ski resorts, and Gatineau Park. Ripple Adventure founder Erin Hope will be at Snowfest to share her suggestions for getting the most out of winter.
Get temporary wheels
If you are a licensed driver and are up for driving yourself (and maybe offering a ride to others), check out Ottawa’s car-sharing service, Vrtucar. Car-sharing is a lower-cost alternative to owning or renting a car, and vehicles are available at locations all around Ottawa – including one here at MEC.
For all the rest, use bungee cords
There’s a certain satisfaction in human-powered travel to trailheads. When I lived in downtown Kimberley BC, I walked 4.5 kilometres uphill from my house to the Kimberley Nordic Club with my skis attached to my pack – and I wasn’t the only one. The hardy winter cyclists out there like to attach their skis and poles to their bike frames. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
We're huge fans of the Ottawa Bicycle Lanes Project, promoters of protected bicycle lanes, tireless advocates of cycling for everyone, and all-around good folks. They've just added this fantastic post about winter cycling - how to dress, winter-proof your ride, and go - that makes biking in snow seem accessible and even fun. Be sure to check it out, and then check out project founder Michael Napiorkowski's winter cycling clinic at Snowfest.
Commitment. Many of us are afraid of it, some of us jump into it a bit too easily, most of us prefer to be well informed before engaging in it. Here at MEC, we’re convinced that the best approach to winter is to commit. Embrace the snow and ice and cold. Love it, even. Enjoy the opportunities it presents. Get out there and just have fun with it. But if you’re not convinced yet, here are some ways to give the best of winter a try before you commit for the season (or for your lifetime).
There’s plenty of fun to be had in Ottawa, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, much of it is easily accessible. Activities like snowshoeing and cross-country (Nordic) skiing are also – happily – quite affordable, since they don’t require too much special equipment (or even groomed terrain), making them a great place to start your love affair with winter.
MEC rents a variety of snowsports equipment, from kids’ sleds to snowshoes to cross-country, skate, touring, and telemark skis. You can check out our website for prices and policies, and call the store to reserve what you need. If you decide you really like what you’ve tried and want to invest in that same equipment, you might be eligible for a credit of one day’s rental fee toward your purchase.
You can also rent skis at the Mooney’s Bay Ski Centre – a lovely groomed facility right in Ottawa – and the daily facility use fee is only $2.65!
But maybe the very best winter bargain in town comes from a partnership between the National Capital Commission and local libraries. Gatineau Park ski and snowshoe passes are available to borrow – for a whole week at a time! – from the Ottawa Public Library, Ville de Gatineau Municipal Library, Centre régional de services aux bibliothèques publiques de l’Outaouais, and Chelsea Library. That's right – you can hit the region's most beautiful, well-maintained trails completely free of charge. The libraries' passes tend to go fast, so keep an eye on your library’s website to see what’s available and where.
Still need more convincing? Then join us at Snowfest – it’s free, and there will be hot chocolate! – and check out one of our introductory clinics, talk to product experts about gear, pick up used gear at Snowswap, and let the assembled crowd of snow-lovers help you warm up to winter.
Winter’s uneven, unpredictable terrain tests our balance – which can lead to anxiety about even routine journeys on foot. Luckily, we can train our bodies to respond quickly and calmly to unexpected bumps and slips, and help ourselves walk confidently all season.
One of yoga’s most well known postures – Tree pose – builds balance and strength at the same time. It's an excellent way to develop physical stability and mental focus, and it will help you perform better in whichever winter sports you choose – skiing, skating, winter running, you name it! You might want to practice this pose next to a wall, so that you can use the wall for support. Remember that each side can feel very different, so try to be patient and keep an attitude of discovery.
1. Start by standing tall with both feet on the ground, feet parallel at hip-distance apart, keeping your legs strong without locking (hyperextending) your knees. Allow your arms to rest at your sides. Feel your weight distributed evenly through both legs, and from front to back of your feet. This is Mountain pose. Take a few deep breaths in Mountain, feeling steady and strong. To start challenging your balance, close your eyes for a few more breaths.
2. Open your eyes, and gently focus your gaze on a fixed point ahead of you. Place your hands on your hips. Keeping both feet on the ground, shift your weight onto your right leg.
3. With your weight on your right leg, bend your left knee so that only the toes of your left foot touch the ground. Notice if this affects your breath – if it does, take a breath or two here to feel steady again. Then, rotating your left leg from the hip to turn the knee out to the side, keeping your toes on the ground, bring your left heel to rest above your right ankle. This is Tree pose.
If this feels challenging enough, stay in this version of Tree pose for several breaths, then gently place your left foot back on the ground, parallel to the right foot. Take a few breaths in Mountain before repeating the exercise on the other side.
4. For additional challenge, place your left foot against the side of your right calf or inner thigh, making sure to avoid the right knee. You can use your left hand to help guide your left leg into position, or release your hands from your hips so your arms can help you balance. Try to keep your gaze gently focused and your breath steady, but don’t worry if that’s not possible right away, or if you find yourself tipping over – trees like to sway, too!
Once you feel steady on one leg, join your hands in a prayer position in front of your chest, raise them in a Y above your shoulders, or play with moving them around – that way, you’ll practice keeping your balance even while your position changes.
5. For an extra challenge, bring your left foot away from your right leg, keeping your knee bent, and bring your left thigh up in front of you, parallel to the ground. From here, play with changing the position of your leg – moving the knee out to the left side, straightening the leg forward, and swinging the leg behind you. Try writing your name in the air with your left foot, or bending your right knee, or closing your eyes while you stand on one leg. Have fun!
6. Once you’ve finished playing on that side, gently lower your left foot back to the ground, parallel to the right, and return to stillness and steadiness in Mountain pose. Take several breaths in Mountain, closing your eyes if you wish. Allow the corners of your mouth to come up into a smile. Open your eyes, and repeat the sequence on the other side.
Snowfest is just around the corner, and we’re stoked to welcome product experts from some of the great brands MEC carries – Atlas Snow-Shoe Co., Black Diamond, MSR (Mountain Safety Research), Rossignol, Salomon, and SPOT Beacon. They’ll be on hand at MEC Ottawa Snowfest to chat one-on-one and answer your gear questions. Plus, play our exhibitor bingo game for a chance to win prizes from Patagonia!
Note: Following is an account of a very rudimentary, but completely delightful, winter camping excursion. For something more impressive, check out this 2013 article by MEC envoy Bruce Kirkby. And if you’re tempted to give it a shot, check out our winter camping clinic at Snowfest.
So far, I’ve only gone winter camping once.
It was 8 PM on an early January night when the idea hit, as we sat at the kitchen table, feeling restless.
“We should go camping.” – “Cool.” – “Like, tonight.” – “Uh … cool.”
It took about an hour to gather up gear – skis and related equipment, stove, fuel, food, sleeping bags and Thermarests, a four-season tent, etc. That part is a blur in my mind. We filled our packs, tossed everything in the trunk of the old Jetta, and hollered to the parental units that we were leaving for the night.
“Where are you going?” – “Dipper Lake, to camp.” – “Great idea, guys! I’ll meet you there in the morning and help carry your gear back out.”
It was a short drive to the trailhead at the Kimberley Nordic Club. The lights on the 3 KM loop were out, but it didn’t matter. We had a clear sky, a full moon, and fresh snowfall. We didn’t use headlamps, even after heading into the trees at the sign marked ‘Dipper Lake. Experts Only.’
I was not then, nor am I now, an expert of any kind, and definitely not on skis. Thankfully, fresh snow means soft landings, and we weren’t in a hurry. We took our time navigating the narrow trail and weaving through the trees on our way down to the lake.
We set up the old tent in a little clearing, stabbed our skis and poles into a snowbank for safekeeping, and snuggled into our sleeping bags, keeping our toques on. The quiet was deep and cozy.
Upon waking the next morning, we discovered that the tent had a few holes, and some of the night’s snowfall had invited itself in. We made tea and oatmeal, admiring the sunshine and fresh powder, and watched with amusement as Bill came down the hill to meet us, floomping occasionally into the snow (which made me feel better about my own clunky descent). The trip back was full of side-steps and herringbones, laughter and sweat. Lunch at home tasted fantastic.
That was over ten years ago. It’s been way too long, and anyway, it was just a taster. Last winter, some of my friends here at MEC went on a four-day excursion that looked like a blast – I couldn’t go. We’ve already started talking about renting a tent or hut or yurt this winter and getting away from it all for a little while. Why not?
(Neither of these photos is from the trip I've described. The first is at the Kimberley Nordic Centre in daytime, and the second is from a trip to Lake O'Hara. But you get the idea. Snow + skis (or snowshoes, or sled) + tent = happiness.)
Year after year, one of MEC’s most popular winter offerings is our waxing clinics – covering the basics from choosing between waxed and waxless skis, waxing tools, preparing ski bases for waxing, applying glide and grip wax, adapting to changing conditions, and more.
Our resident expert, Glenn – an avid skier, Canadian Ski Marathon Gold competitor, and ski technician – led a clinic just for MEC staff last night, and will also lead the afternoon Ski Waxing Basics clinic at Snowfest. Here’s a teaser of what you’ll learn.
Classic skis and skate skis: How different ski construction and technique affects what types of wax you’ll use and where for maximum effectiveness. Camber and weight shift and edges, oh my!
The Nordic skier’s toolbox: Which tools you need, which ones are nice to have, which ones are great to have, and one you can build yourself.
Keeping your bases healthy: How to use waxing techniques and equipment properly to preserve base structure (texture) and prevent oxidation. “Skis love to be waxed,” says Glenn, “and the more wax is on them, the happier they are.”
Strike while the iron is hot … but not too hot: Selecting the right iron for your needs, and using it safely – for you and your skis! It can be handy for taking stubborn wax off, too.
“One thing about snow – it’s friendly, it likes to be with its buddies. If it gets on your skis, it’ll want to throw a party.”
Snow, wonderful snow: How the properties of snow change with temperature and time, and how to adapt your wax. Learn how and why to use a cushion layer of grip wax, and why spring skiing is fast. Find out what the temperature ratings and snowflake symbols on wax canisters mean.
Glenn’s hour-long clinic was so packed with information that I can hardly do it justice here – you’ll just have to sign up for his Ski Waxing Basics clinic at Snowfest and experience it for yourself! You’ll get to watch a demonstration up close, ask questions, and bask in the warmth and fragrance of waxing irons and biodegradable citrus base cleaner. In the meantime, if you’re hankering for information, Glenn recommends checking out the Swix YouTube channel.
I don’t know about you, but I’m cold for about eight months out of the year. I’ve been wearing long johns more often than I care to admit for the past four weeks, but keeping my extremities warm is absolutely key for outdoor comfort. I’m also addicted to walking – I’d rather walk for an hour than wait for a bus for five minutes, even through the snow, ice, slush, sleet, freezing rain, gravel, and salt that covers Ottawa streets and sidewalks all season.
All this to say that I take winter footwear very seriously. So, here are a few things that keep my soles and soul happy through snow season. And for even more ideas, check out MEC Ottawa footwear expert Deirdre's clinic at Snowfest.
1. Wool socks: I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you that purchasing my first pair of wool socks (at the ripe old age of 24) was life-changing. They’re like sweaters for feet! Suddenly, wandering around aimlessly – which I love to do – was possible, even comfortable, on all but the very coldest days, and I stopped wearing heavy winter boots prematurely. From relatively light, elegant, patterned styles to cozy, chunky expedition socks, low-cut versions for running and knee-high versions for skiing, I want them all.
Who wouldn't want to walk all winter when the scenery is this good?
2. Traction devices: While there are plenty of boots out there with sturdy, sticky soles, sometimes a little extra anti-slip help comes in … footy. Last year, our members cleaned us out (repeatedly) of these Stabilicers practical everyday traction devices, sometimes returning to buy extras for friends and family members. My personal favourites are the Micro-Spikes, which apart from keeping me upright on steep downhill trails, also make an extremely satisfying crunching noise as they show the ice no mercy.
3. Hut booties: Pure toe-toastyfying awesomeness. I think I bought my first pair just because the floor in my house was cold, and I fell in love as soon as I put them on. For one thing, hut booties look ridiculous, so it’s impossible to take oneself too seriously while wearing them – definitely an advantage. But they’re also incredibly cozy and waterproof on the bottom, which makes them ideal for puttering around a winter campsite or making an emergency trip out to the wood pile for another log to put in the stove.
4. Snowshoes: Ok, I don’t use these for walking around town, but snowshoes are fun. They’re fantastic for exploring trails in fresh snow and require absolutely no special skills to enjoy. I’ve taken my mostly-indoorsy dad out tromping next to ski trails, and a couple years ago headed uphill with my visiting friend Michael through the Kimberley Nature Park to Moe’s Canyon. The last time we’d gone snowshoeing together was a grade 11 field trip with our French class, and between our inelegant technique, plenty of elevation gain, piles of fresh powder, and constant belly-laughing, we were absolutely exhausted (and giddy) by the time we got back to the trailhead. Try it. Borrow shoes from a friend, rent a pair from MEC, pick up a used pair at a gear swap, or if you’re really ambitious, make your own. Hit the Intro to Snowshoeing clinic at Snowfest, then hit the trails.
5. James Brown: Actually, The Godfather of Soul keeps me happy all year round. Put on your wool socks and hut booties, turn up the volume, and dance on the good foot!
After almost 12 years away, I recently moved back to the neighbourhood I grew up in – well, within walking distance of it, anyway. It’s a lovely part of Ottawa, close to two rivers and well served by public transit. I pass my elementary school every few days, when I’m out running or heading to the library, and almost always catch myself musing about how its surroundings have changed – the school itself has been renovated, and what used to be an undeveloped lot behind the school yard (out of bounds, of course, but we didn’t let that bother us) is now the site of several rows of townhomes. I remember spending lunch hours and recesses with my best friend, skulking in the weeds, building shelters out of twigs and branches, picking plants and imagining magical and medicinal uses for their stems, leaves, and seeds. It was tactile, olfactory, creative, and fun.
Forest and Nature School Canada, which recently opened a Forest School centre at Wesley Clover Parks, offers programming that helps bring children into that same close, creative relationship with nature. Its curriculum is largely emergent, child-directed, and play-based, allowing learners the time and space to develop their interests, skills, and understanding through practical, hands-on experiences – and as nature becomes the third teacher, sustainability is woven into the culture of the classroom. The educators’ primary role is to ask questions that help children lead their own learning processes.
“When students pursue their own ideas, as opposed to completing externally/arbitrarily assigned tasks, they are more invested in them and so are more motivated to persist in solving the problems that inevitably arise. They also use a wide variety of skills – social, verbal, logical thinking, physical, etc. – in concert with each other and in context. … When kids are allowed to pursue their own interests, a tremendous amount of learning comes about in a really meaningful, interrelated way, including the ability to sustain interest over long periods of time. But, perhaps even more importantly, when kids are allowed to pursue their own interests, there is a confidence that develops. Sometimes, by not doing or saying anything much at all, I am communicating to my students that I believe their ideas are worthwhile, and that I trust that they are capable of pursuing them independently.”
Take Me Outside reports that Canadian youth spend an average of nearly 8 hours per day in front of a screen. There’s plenty of evidence out there that spending time outdoors reduces stress, builds self-esteem, and even helps us learn to work together better. Getting kids – of all ages – directly engaged with nature and encouraging them to learn from the natural world is important not only for the appreciation of the planet and its ecosystems, but for developing the intellectual, emotional, and physical tools needed to navigate the challenges of everyday life – great and small.
We’ve had snow (and plenty of ice) on the ground for well over 24 hours now. Monday night’s offering wasn’t the first we’ve seen of snow in town this season, but this is the first time it’s stuck around. Last night, folks around me were wondering if this is it – the snow that forms the base for the rest of winter.
But how much longer will we be able to enjoy snow in Ottawa at all?
Snow and winter are important to our identity and culture in this city – what with our wonderful long skating rink, our exceptional cross-country skiing, and so much more – and as such are important also to our business community and economy. We stand to be deeply affected by climate change on many fronts.
Early this year, Ecology Ottawa hosted an excellent panel titled The Future of Snow and Skiing in a Warming World, bringing together athletes, folks working in the business of snow, and a climate scientist for a discussion of what climate change means to those of us who love and rely on our most notorious season. Ecology Ottawa’s Charles Hodgson, who moderated the discussion, remarked:
‘[The] thing that jumped out at me [in a University of Waterloo report commissioned by the National Capital Commission] was that there was a likelihood that there would be an end to skiing in Gatineau Park. I’m a skier and that meant a lot to me. And so it really got me more interested in being involved in climate change issues.’
We’re very excited to bring Hodgson, the NCC’s Renée Bellehumeur, and Carleton University scientist Dr. Stephan Gruber to Snowfest to continue the discussion – to learn more about what the impacts of climate change might be on our community and what we can do about it. Their presentation will allow plenty of time for questions and comments from the audience, so come ready to participate if there’s something you’d like to ask or say. Come get informed and motivated to save our winters!
Wow. After we had a snowy, chilly morning for Snowfest on Saturday, it's now 14 degrees in Ottawa, and most traces of last week's wintery weather have disappeared. What's up with that?
Winter will be back, though - sooner rather than later, we hope - and in the meantime we've got the memories of a super successful Snowfest to keep us in the snowy spirit. Thanks to all our awesome clinicians and exhibitors, thanks to Equator Coffee and Camino for keeping us warm with coffee and hot chocolate, and thanks to everyone who came out to join us for the day - you made the event great!
Have a wonderful winter, Ottawa! We'll see you out there!