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Penner: How to enjoy the outdoors in the silly spring season


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Our professional tubing instructor (or whatever they call the happy-go-lucky dudes at the top of the icy chutes of doom) didn’t complicate the situation. “The skill required here is quite minimal,” he said. “You place your derriere into the middle of the tube, grab onto the handles, and, well, scream a little if you feel the need. That’s about all there is to it.” And then he snickered and shoved us off. And, as we approached Mach 3, there was screaming, foaming at the mouth, and maybe some other bodily things entering – then exiting – the equation. Ahh yes. Tubing. One of the finer things in life during “the silly season.”   

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While tubing at Banff’s Mount Norquay should rightfully be considered one of the world’s greatest sports, “the silly season” – you know, our alleged springtime when you can get a sunburn one hour and then suffer first-degree frostbite the next – presents some challenges. Yes, one moment you’re in a leopard-skin thong and a tank top sipping a margarita in your backyard thinking all is well in the world and then, wham!, suddenly you’re in a frantic scramble to dig a snow cave to survive a Hadean onslaught of freezing ice balls. It’s problematic. What to do? How to recreate?

Of course, it’s not just the weird weather that makes this in-between season challenging. If you’re not careful, you could easily find yourself on a trail that has become a mud bog. Or a deadly ribbon of ice. And many recreation areas and trails simply aren’t accessible. Festivals haven’t started. Campgrounds are still closed. Lakes are still frozen. Slowpitch hasn’t started. Golf courses are brown and ugly and you’ll probably only make it to the third tee before you’re hypothermic. To top it off, nearly all of the popular summer tours and outdoor attractions aren’t yet open and won’t be for weeks.   

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But, ye of right-stupid optimism and eternal hope that our still-brown-and-frozen wasteland will one day turn into a warm, beautiful, and green pasture of plenty, be of good cheer, there are some options. Tubing, for example, is doable. (And screaming burns calories.) However, you need to act quickly on this. The tube park at Norquay is scheduled to close on Easter Monday. Rats. 

But if you put your little sleet-ball-protective thinking toque on, you’ll find many other options. Here are a few activities that I’m fond of during the “silly season.” 

Hiking In The Foothills – True, most of the popular trails in Kananaskis and Banff will be snowbound for a while longer. However, trails in the foothills, especially if they’re south-facing and fairly exposed, will be good to go much earlier. Download the AllTrails app and try “Fullerton Loop,” “White Buddha,” and “Mesa Butte.” Those are three of my favourite short-and-easy early-season hikes that are within an hour from Calgary.

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Mountain Biking Close To Home – You don’t need mountains to go mountain biking! This time of year, while the mountain trails are mushy, I stick to the trails in Fish Creek, Bowmont Park, Carseland, and McKinnon Flats. If you’re willing to make the drive, Redcliff and Lethbridge are also excellent places to go if you’re looking for fast-and-dry mountain biking trails at this time of year.  

Golfing In The Deep South – Thanks to warmer temps and minimal snow coverage, the golf season in southern Alberta typically starts two weeks earlier than in Calgary. So courses like Paradise Canyon (Lethbridge), Desert Blume (Medicine Hat), and Speargrass (Carseland) are great choices early in the year. 

Spring Skiing – Don’t be fooled by the warm Chinook winds and dust storms in Calgary, the mountains are still snowbound! And the lifts and the major ski hills will be humming for a while yet. Some closing dates are Norquay: April 24, Nakiska: April 24, Sunshine: May 23, and Lake Louise: May 8. Bring your shades and sunscreen!

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Walk A River Path – Calgary is blessed with some of the prettiest riverside walking trails of any city in North America. And now is the perfect time to start your strolling program! You can even try Nordic walking. Using poles will activate your upper body muscles, reducing stress on your legs and giving you a full-body workout. 

There are many other options when it comes to outdoor recreation in spring. Horseback riding (my favourite place for a ride is Anchor D Outfitting near Turner Valley), picnicking at Allen Bill Pond (you can add a short riverside hike here), birding (lots of birds are migrating right now), and nature photography (the prairie crocuses are blooming!) are just a few more ideas. 

And, of course, when you venture outside, always be prepared! You never know when those nasty little ice balls will plummet down from heaven. Or wherever they come from. 

Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary. You can follow him on Instagram at @andrewpennerphotography

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