Category: Winter

Video footage from within an avalanche

This video has amazing footage from inside an avalanche, and shows how an airbag and avalung can save lives. It also shows to not underestimate the power of avalanches…

Avalanche, from Different Perspectives from William Finnoff on Vimeo.

Nordic skates

These skates are the cat’s meow for going out onto natural ice. They consists of a skate blade with a skate-ski binding. Click in your skate-ski or classic ski boots and off you go. These are bar-none the most comfortable skates I have ever used, because the boots are so comfy, and provide lots of support. The blades are curved up at the front so they handle bumpy ice and snow better than regular speedskates. You can supposedly skate through several inches of snow.

For added speed and stability, add some nordic skate poles. And best of all, you can put on the boots in the comfort of your home, and just clip on the blades once you get to the ice. If you are skating in Holland, they are also great for klûnen. Once you have tried a pair of these, you’ll never go back to regular speedskates again. There is an importer in Vermont,, who sells all the equipment, or if you are in the Canadian Rockies, Wild Mountain in Jasper sells them as well!

Father of Boreal ecology passes away

Earlier this month Dr. Bill Pruitt passed away. He was called the father of North American boreal ecology, and one of the world’s leading experts on snow ecology. I had the fortune to work at his Taiga Biological Station near Walace Lake, Manitoba during a winter, helping his student Jim Schaefer track woodland caribou. We were out skiing transects every day in -30C weather, looking for caribou tracks. Never saw many tracks, let alone caribou. But it was great experience nevertheless. Pruitt recruited me at a conference with his famous line: “we can house you, we can feed you, but we can’t pay you.”  That sounded good enough to me, and the field station was sufficiently remote, so jumped aboard a train for Winnipeg as soon as I could.

As mentioned in his obituary, Pruitt was a firm believer in true, old-fashioned fieldwork, spending as much time outside as possible. His motto was: “the quality of one’s data is inversely related to the amount of glass and metal in one’s surroundings”.

He was, however, a strong supporter of everything Finnish, including saunas. No field station was complete without one, and ideally it should be built first, so it was available during construction of other buildings.

My time at Taiga station and Pruitt’s work on snow helped to inspire me to pursue a Masters in winter ecology, observing ptarmigan in the Yukon/BC for two winters. My accommodations in Chilkat Pass the first year were simple at best – Pruitt would have approved.


This video on icefishing is so classically Canadian! It totally reinforces stereotypes, but it’s great.

Spring in the city, winter in the mountains

Lonely treeWhat I love about Vancouver is the mountains just outside the city. Especially this spring, the contrast between the city is amazing. While here the cherries are in full bloom, 20 minutes away, on the north shore mountains there is a foot of fresh powder, adding to the 6 m of snow they have already. A brewing storm this weekend made for some great pictures.

Great experiences on PEI

Prince Edward Island isn’t as green in winter as it is in summer. In fact, it is rather snowy and a bit bleak. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to do at this time of year. When I was on PEI for work recently, I decided to take a day off and meet some of the locals. I ran across Experience PEI, and asked the owners if they could organize a day for me to meet some of the locals.

Bill and Mary of Experience PEI most certainly lived up to their website’s claim of offering introduce guests to the neighbours. I started the day by carving a candle, made from coloured was and PEI sand at the Victoria Playhouse. The carving was fun, but hearing all of Ben Smith’s stories was even better. After a delightful lunch at the Maplethorpe B&B in Bedeque (best and freshest bacon in town!), we went ice fishing, or more accurately spearing. One spears small smelt with a small three-pronged spear. Apparently this is only done on PEI. It’s a lot of fun, and requires more skills than just sitting there waiting for a fish to bite a hook. Again, our guide and owner of the fish shack had many tales to tell. We finished the day with a delicious mussel and lobster dinner at the Briarcliffe Inn.

I learnt more about the island in one day than I could otherwise have in weeks. These trips are highly recommended.

The Yeti Snowshoe race

What can be more Canadian than people enjoying a leisurly snowshoe stroll on a weekend? Well, try getting in with a group of 100 people eager runners, strapping on special running snowshoes (small and extra light), and running a tough 5-10km trail course through the mountains! That’s what the Yeti snowshoe race series is. Now in its seventh year, it is an ever growing event around Vancouver, attracting over 100 racers for each race. They even run a Yeti Snowshoe acadamy, where people can take snowshoe running clinics each week.

Highly recommended.

Winnepeg beats out Ottawa for longest skating rink

Ottawa may boast that it has the world’s longest skating rink on the Rideau Canal, but this year Winnipeg has beat them with their new nine km long rink. They’re expecting 20,000 skaters this weekend, while Ottawa has only been able to open a short 1km stretch, due to the warm weather.

It’s great to see that Canada has the two longest skating rinks. Of course, if ever it would freeze again in the Netherlands, they could easily beat either city. When there is ice, half the country is turned into one massive skating rink! Just a shame that they haven’t had much decent ice in the past few years.

Hemlock resort

Vancouver is known for its three ski hills just outside city limits: Cypress, Grouse and Seymour. And of course, there is world-renowned Whistler just two hours away, and Mt. Washington over on Vancouver Island. But there are three other smaller resorts within a three hour drive: Manning (3 hours, near Hope), Hemlock (2 hours, newar Harrison Hotsprings) and Mt. Baker (3 hours, in Washington state).

Hemlock is a great little resort with only three lifts, but lots of terrain, because the hill is in the subalpine, so you cna ski just about anywhere. It’s got 1300 feet of vertical, not bad for a local hill. And the snow is good – lots of it this year. They’ve got some reasonably priced accommodation on the hill. Well worth checking out.

What to do when it rains on the mountains

Birdwatching in Boundary BayVancouver had a pile of early snow this year, making for some great snowshoeing on the north shore. However, in January, the rains returned to the slopes, bringing up the question of “what else to do in Vancouver”. While most people don’t give the Fraser Delta much thought, it turns out to be one of the biggest shorebird and waterfowl wintering areas on the west coast. And there is no better place to watch them than at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. A small entry fee gets you into the sanctuary, with several well-maintained paths, and over 200 species of birds. And a bonus for photographers, it’s easy to get close to the birds. Sandhill cranes walked to within a couple of meters. Made for some great portraits of ducks. While most people may see this as a local/regional attraction, I met several people from the US there. Birding is a growing experiential product, not only in Europe and north America,but also in Japan.

There are several other good birding areas, including Boundary Bay (pictured above) and Iona Beach Regional Parks.