Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Clubs de plein air et FR/AN - Outdoor clubs and practicing French and English

Oui, il est possible de joindre pratique à l'agréable! Pourquoi pas faire des loisirs de plein air au sein d'un club qui vous sert d'immersion linguistique? Voici justement un guide des clubs et groupes de plein air à Montréal pour vous encourager de pratiquer votre français et anglais en même temps que de faire des sorties de plein air!:

Yes, you can be practical AND have fun at the same time! Why not join an outdoor club that serves as a mini language immersion? To help inspire you, here's a Guide to Montreal's Outdoor Recreation Clubs (with hints for practicing French and English):

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Skiing the King’s Trail: An Arctic Expedition for Everyone

Before this trip if you’d have asked me whether I’d ever consider an Arctic ski expedition, I would have said no. Between marauding polar bears and the sheer vastness and remoteness, the Arctic always struck me as a place for serious adventurers and experts – not for a mere mortal like me.

That is, until I discovered the genuinely accessible King’s Trail in Lapland, northern Sweden. With meticulously well-marked trails, a gentle gradient, and frequent, staffed and stocked huts, this popular multi-section trail makes an Arctic journey entirely doable for a wide range of people. An average cross-country skier in moderate shape with a taste for adventure can reasonably take on the challenge and ski one of the stretches. And with a guide, the trip is even more accessible.

The King’s Trail, or Kungsleden, was built in 1917 as a way to get youth outdoors, and was dubbed the “king of all trails”. The Swedish Tourism Association (STF is the common Swedish acronym) built and maintains the trail. Much of the trail is north of the Arctic Circle.

National Geographic cites the 400-km long trail one of the 15 best in the world. It winds its way between northern Sweden’s highest peaks and most dramatic landscapes. Skiers see Northern Lights on most clear nights. The trail passes through traditional reindeer herding land used by the Sami, the Indigenous People of Sweden.

The extensive hut network includes the possibility of buying canned or dried food in every second hut, meaning that you never need to carry more than a couple of day’s worth of food at a time. There are even wood-fired saunas beside many of the huts!

I’m a big fan of hut to hut ski travel, so I was intrigued when I heard about this trail. My husband and I live in Montreal, Canada and have already made a good dent into the numerous hut to hut possibilities near where we live. We were planning a family visit in Europe and convinced ourselves that a quick “detour” to Sweden’s Arctic was justifiable along the way. We settled on a 70-km long stretch from Nikkaluokta to Saltoluokta, the “second most popular” section, mostly because we could squeeze it into a week, but also because this section has fewer crowds and a more varied landscape. The most popular section extends from Abisko to the north and finishes 105 km later in Nikkaluokta, and also seems fantastic. The trail stays above treeline longer, and skiers are surrounded by craggy peaks for most of the trip. It’s even more popular for hiking in summer months. The STF provided extensive, extremely useful advice, helping me choose the best section for us, and answering all of my detailed questions.

The "second most popular section" - the one we did

Montreal – Stockholm – Kiruna - Nikkaluokta

And so in early March 2015, we flew to Stockholm.  March and April are the most popular months to ski because days are increasingly long, weather is warmer and the snow is still good. The Swedes tend to favour spring skiing and long sunny days in April, whereas the tough Finns favour the darkness, solitude and harsh conditions of February, or so we were told. STF huts aren’t staffed until late February when the light begins to return, and this can vary depending on the location so be sure to check before you go. We came across a few non-STF huts run by local organisations along the way but it would be harder to figure out who to contact for information about each of them.

Though our flight from Montreal was delayed by 6 hours, we were still able to catch our overnight train, arriving the following afternoon in Kiruna, an Arctic mining town around 1200 km north of Stockholm. We connected with a short local bus that brought us to our starting point in the Sami village of Nikkaluokta. Before turning in, we went out for a quick ski and saw our first white Arctic animals: Arctic hare and ptarmigan. We stayed in a cabin with a simple kitchen but opted to eat at the restaurant and sample some of the wild food on the menu. At the Nikkaluokta Sarri AB family-run accommodations and restaurant, traditional Sami objects and paintings adorn the walls.

The next morning, we met the owner, Anna Sarri, who answered my many questions about life in Nikkaluokta. She explained that her grandparents settled here in the early 20th century and helped the STF build Kebnekaise, a historic “Mountain Station” and major accommodations at the foot of Sweden’s highest slope (2103 metres). I was fascinated to hear that she not only copes with the entirely dark season in late December, but actually relishes the slower pace and calm energy it brings.

Anna helped us to send our “city clothing” and extra bags to the end of our one-way ski trip in Saltoluokta via Bussgods. It turns out that “gods” just means “goods” in Swedish, although our bags did get transported like magic!

Day 1 – Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise (19 km)

We finally set off along the trail, following the ubiquitous big red X’s on the signposts. We admired the quiet landscape, frozen lakes and low mountains around us. There were only a few scraggy birches. A slight headwind intensified as the day progressed. Snow began to fall, and as the wind picked up, began pummeling us in the face on its relentless, horizontal path. It seemed like an inauspicious start to our “accessible” Arctic expedition. Any Arctic expedition is not without its challenges, I told myself, as visibility decreased and I laboured to stay within sight of my husband, just metres ahead of me. We were grateful to have brought downhill ski goggles, neoprene facemasks and balaclavas. Even in the mild weather, just below freezing, it wouldn’t take long to get frostbite in these conditions. We focused on the making out the next red marker and staying on track.

The ski trails are marked but not machine tracked, although other skiers, snowmobiles and dog teams may come through depending on the section. This stretch would also have been possible by snowmobile transfer. It’s recommended to carry a bivvy sack (tent-like bag) in case you need to stop in the wind, a shovel to dig a snow shelter, a compass and topographical map.

An extenuating 19 kilometres later, we were relieved to arrive at Kebnekaise Mountain Station. Numerous dog teams rested outside the main building, also tired after a windy day of touring. Friendly staff welcomed us with a hot drink and assigned us a room in the original part of the Station, complete with short wooden bunkbeds originally used by the Sami porters who helped early tourists complete their ski trips. Accommodations are simple, with shared bathrooms, and numerous different options. It’s a good idea to reserve and pay ahead of time if you want a meal in the restaurant. The large sauna and truly tasty meal of local fare quickly made us forget the tough day. It was a real highlight to stay in this historic lodge.

In the restaurant, we were seated next to other travelers and traded stories of our day. A young couple from Scotland was just finishing their ski trip, having made it all the way from Abisko with almost no prior skiing experience! The STF also organizes guided tours and accepts beginners, as do numerous private companies. On the other end of the spectrum, serious backcountry/downhill skiers come to Kebnekaise to climb up and ski down the powder slopes.

Day 2 – Kebnekaise to Singi (14 km)

The next day we were rewarded with sunny weather. We reveled in the lack of wind as we skied through a higher mountain pass to the hut where we would spend the night: Singi. We were so far north that even at a relatively low altitude, we were above treeline. We stayed between 500 and 900 m above sea level during the entire trip.

Surprisingly, we had the hut at Singi all to ourselves. The hut was staffed by a “guardian” (warden), Jöm, who showed us the ropes of hut life along the King’s Trail. Guests must fulfill certain duties, such as hauling water up from a nearby stream and chopping wood to heat the cabin. Each STF hut has a warden, friendly volunteers who opt to spend a couple of months keeping the place running smoothly and living in a spectacular, remote setting in exchange. Wardens have access to weather forecasts, which they enthusiastically (and sometimes insistently) share with skiers, and also have the means to call for emergency help if needed.

You can’t reserve a spot in an STF hut, but no one gets turned away. There’s always an extra mattress that can be squeezed in somewhere. Some times of the year may be busier than others, such as holidays; it would be worth consulting the STF to avoid peak times. Huts provide mattresses, warm blankets, cooking stoves, cookware, wood, dishes, candles and toilet paper. Bring along a sleeping bag liner and the usual emergency gear and clothing you’d usually have on this kind of trip. You can save a few dollars per night by paying for the huts ahead of time. Otherwise, you’ll need to bring enough cash to pay for the huts, food and bus trips along the way.

Day 3 – Singi to Kaitumjaure (13 km)

The next morning, a brisk wind at our backs formed clouds of snow that twisted and danced up the mountains. The trail brought us back down below the treeline, where we spotted two moose and another well-camouflaged ptarmigan. We arrived at Kaitumjaure hut, perched on a small hill overlooking a long mountain lake. A special place indeed.

This hut had a store! We bought a can of chili and some rice and filled up on a few simple provisions for the next days. Hut stores contain very basic food that you’ll need to supplement with other food and spices. We carried wraps, sausages, cheese and dried fruit, as well as a freeze-dried camping meal in case we got stuck at a hut without provisions, which had actually happened to a number of other skiers we met. If the weather forecast is for high winds or stormy weather, the hut wardens strongly recommend staying put. No trees means zero visibility when the wind picks up. Since no-one patrols the trails, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Ideally, you should build an extra day into your schedule in case of bad weather, or else be prepared to put in a “double day”. This level of uncertainty is tricky when making train or Mountain Lodge reservations. It’s usually possible to pay a bit more to have a flexible ticket.

We got to chat with this hut’s warden, Anita, who was here for her third season. Anita hails from Kiruna and was looking forward to ice-fishing at the end of winter. During our conversation, we saw her husband head out ptarmigan hunting, dressed in traditional white clothing and wearing an enormous pair of old-fashioned wooden hunting skis.  

Day 4 – Kaitumjaure to Teusajaure (9 km)

Our fourth day of skiing became extremely windy but was mercifully short. It was once again hard to see the next trail marker. Suddenly, in the distance, we could make out a group of 6 skiers hauling massive sleds called pulkas, skiing at a perfectly synchronized pace. We met them later in the day and learned that they were from Finland, out winter camping for 2 weeks!

Our short and stormy route ended in an abrupt, 500 m downhill through a gnarled birch forest. As the gradient increased I resorted to “bum skiing”, arriving in style at Teusajeure hut to the bewilderment of the hut warden Curt and his well-behaved Rottweiler.

Curt has been spending time in these mountains since childhood, venturing off the beaten track onto the many side trails and even off-trail. This was his 25th season as a hut warden, a retirement project for himself and his wife.

That afternoon, I tried my hand at chopping wood, a task that I had otherwise left to my husband Fred. Sweden prides itself on being a gender-equal society, so I figured I’d better step up to the challenge! There was a wood-fired sauna at Teusajaure, which added to my motivation. Every other hut (or so) has a sauna, a relatively recent addition. You can heat water and clean off, a novelty compared to my hut experiences in Quebec. Bring your own soap and towel. We gleefully ducked into this tiny, piping hot sauna with a big mountain view, scrambling and whooping as we periodically cooled off by jumping in the snow outside.

Day 5 – Teusajaure to Vakkotavare (16 km)

We got an early start the next day, crossed Teusajaure’s frozen lake and set out to climb 400 m, made easy by the climbing skins we had brought. The horizon was nearly endless and at times it looked like Fred was skiing straight up into the sky. We crossed an empty, U-shaped streambed. Soon after, I was thrilled to come across wolverine tracks. People rarely get to see these elusive creatures, but their tracks are fairly common in the area. As we reached the highest point of the day, some of Sweden’s biggest mountains came into view. The sun shone brightly and the air was perfectly still. We felt so fortunate for this beautiful weather which allowed us to fully appreciate our surroundings. We started to ski down the other side of the hill, turning back and forth, free to ski wherever we wanted, and not just on the trail – the advantage of skiing above treeline. This was what we had come here for!

Birches started making their appearance as we skied further downhill and the trail dipped around a series of tiny hills called moors. The day ended with another long, crazy downhill through the trees to Vakkotavare hut, a vast lake, and a bus stop! This would be the end of the trail for us.

The lake across from Vakkotavare hut is stunning and vast, dotted with numerous snowmobiles parked beside ice-fishing holes. The hut itself is a funny place, because it’s literally in front of a bus stop. Skiers and hikers continuing south catch the bus here to get to Saltoluokta – a slight discontinuity in the King’s Trail before the next official section.

We went for a quick ski on the lake and chopped some wood in the sun. That evening, we met ice-fishing aficionado and hut warden Jan, who made us Swedish boiled coffee and regaled us with tales of travelers who had come through over the years.

Vakkotavare – Saltoluokta (by bus)

The next morning we caught the once-per-day bus heading back in the direction of Galliväre, another mining town. We opted to stop over at Saltoluokta, just 40 minutes from Vakkotavare. To reach this renowned Mountain Lodge, we had to get off the bus at the “Kebnats” stop, and then ski 4 km across a frozen lake. There was also the option to pay for a quick shuttle by snowmobile, but it struck me as absurd to “pay to not ski”.

Swedes speak fondly of Saltoluokta. It’s a warm, friendly lodge with a historic feel. The food is fresh and home-made, featuring local ingredients, and lived up to its reputation. We made good use of the wood sauna with a view. And greatly enjoyed seeing families from Eritrea and Iran being introduced to winter as part of a settlement program in northern Sweden. That night we were finally treated to Northern Lights, a spectacle that reliably entertains visitors whenever the sky is clear.

Saltoluokta – Gallivare (by bus)

And thus began our journey back home. We took the bus to the small northern city of Gallivare, and then the overnight train back to Stockholm.

All in all, the King’s Trail is a great playground for would-be Arctic explorers. It is just remote enough to require some clear thinking and planning, yet makes the grandiose, endless white landscapes accessible to so many.

Practical Information and Hints

STF web page about the King’s Trail: https://www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/omraden/kungsleden/

Stockholm Arlanda ARN is the main airport. Many trains stop here so you may not need to go into Stockholm at all. The Arlanda Express takes 30 minutes and there are frequent departures. www.arlandaexpress.com

Train schedule: www.sj.se. When we finally got around to buying tickets, the train we wanted appeared to be sold out on this website. Fortunately, we found tickets on http://www.scandinavianrail.com/ for the same train, and they were even a bit less expensive.

Bus schedule: www.ltnbd.se

Nikkaluokta Sarri AB (accommodations and restaurant): www.nikkaluokta.com

Currency: SEK (Swedish krona).
In December 2015, 1 SEK = 0.15 CAD

Cost of this trip: In 2015, this trip cost us approximately $800 (CAD) per person, starting at the Stockholm airport, including transportation, accommodation, food etc., for about 9 days (including 6 full days of skiing).

Food in the huts cost around 100-200 SEK/person/day
Huts cost us around 300 SEK/night/person
There is no cost to access the trails or parks.
STF membership (gives access to better rates on lodging and food): 295 SEK/adult or 450 SEK for a family

Example of an STF-guided trip along the northern-most stretch: https://www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/aktiviteter/lappland-kungsleden-abisko-kebnekaise-vinter/  8 days at a cost of $1125 for intermediate-level skiers, not including transportation to Abisko (the starting point) and from Kiruna (the ending point). runs from March 12 – April 9, 2016.

The STF also organizes beginner ski trips in the region, but not this exact itinerary.

Approximate altitudes of the huts we visited:
Nikkaluokta, 450 m
Kebnekaise Fjallstation, 720 m
We climbed a bit after that and came back down
Singi, 700 m
Kaitumjaure, 620 m
Teusajaure, 500 m
We climbed up to around 900 m and then skied back down
Vakkotavare, 480 m

A huge thank you to the STF, to the lovely hut wardens we met, to Anna Sarri in Nikkaluokta, for welcoming us and helping us with our trip, and to my husband Frédéric who shared this experience with me!

Hut to Hut in Norway – Back to the Origins of Skiing!

I’d heard that cross-country skiing in Norway in March was fabulous – great snow, long days, mountainous landscapes and a culture that is firmly anchored in cross-country skiing. As someone who is mildly obsessed with Norwegian ski pioneer Jackrabbit Johannsen (who, along with his friends, popularized skiing in North America), this was a return to my roots so to speak! In March 2014, I finally decided to take the plunge and go for it, with my husband Frédéric.

We regularly organize hut-to-hut ski trips around the province of Quebec, from 2 to 7 days long, with friends, so we were no stranger to the concept. But organizing this kind of trip from across the Atlantic Ocean and in a different language was definitely a challenge. A fun challenge, that was entirely worth it! The purpose of this somewhat rambling article is to share what I learned. Be sure to double check everything because things might have changed since our trip.

An experienced friend recommended checking out the Huldreheimen mountain area. It’s located about 1 hour northwest of Lillehammer (itself a 2.5-hour train ride north of Oslo, the capital). Norwegians think of the Huldreheimen as the “friendly wilderness” because there are even more remote and extreme ski areas out there. With all of the unknowns involved, starting with something accessible suited us just fine.

My friend correctly advised me to avoid Easter, which is a hugely popular time for Norwegians to get out to their backcountry cabins. Onsite, I learned that it’s also good to inquire about school breaks (in early March), which can get busy too. And also good to know: these huts aren’t even open until mid to late February, typically. Before that, the days are just too short and the conditions too harsh. Norway is pretty far north!

The Huldreheimen earned its friendly reputation because the huts aren’t too far apart and you can get to them within a comfortable few hours of skiing. Huts are between 10 and 20 km apart. There is less risk of getting stranded between huts. Also, the topography isn’t too challenging. We started at an altitude of around 800 metres in the village of Espedalen, and never got much higher than 1300 metres during our 5 days of skiing.

What was new for us was being above the treeline most of the time. In Norway, the treeline is around 800 m, because it’s so far north. Actually, the big advantage of skiing in Norway is easily and quickly gaining access to the spectacular, above-treeline landscapes, without the challenge of actually getting yourself up to a very high altitude.

However, treeless  means lots of wind. Just before our trip, people kept checking the weather and wind speed and direction for us. At first we weren’t sure why, until we felt the full force of even the slightest breeze up on the high, treeless plateaus.

We were lucky and had clear, sunny days the whole time, so we were able to navigate based on a detailed topographical map which we could compare with the landscape forms we were seeing around us. But if the least snowstorm or windstorm would have kicked up, we would definitely have needed a good GPS. We’ll know for next time!

Because there are often no trees, trails are mostly marked by discrete sticks stuck in the snow at 30 metre intervals or so. But roaming troops of reindeer can come nibble on the sticks, and sections of trail might not be marked as indicated. Often, the trail was marked in a slightly different location than on our topographical map.  It’s important to not rely on these trail markers entirely. There were occasionally signposts indicating various directions, but we also found these confusing at times – sometimes they seemed to refer to summer-only routes. The trails are not machine tracked, though often a snowmobile or other skiers had come through before us.

The other challenge of skiing above the treeline was that if we needed shelter, to stop for lunch or in case of emergency, there were no trees or rocks to rely on. We couldn’t anchor a tarp nor count on finding wood to start a fire. Norwegians always carry a break-down shovel on these trips. School children learn how to dig out effective survival shelters in the snowbanks. Another option is to bring along a bivouac bag (or bivvy sack). Made out of windproof tent material, it’s literally a bag that you sit in to get out of the wind. It packs up quite small, is very claustrophobic yet effective, and also works as a sail! We bought one when we got to Norway from the trailhead/office (DNT) in Oslo .

It did get quite windy one day, reducing visibility considerably and making it slow going. Fortunately, there was not much new snow to kick up in our case. We had hit upon unusually icy and difficult conditions; usually there is a lot of fresh snow up there. During windy days, you can’t really stop for any reason – you just have to hope to not need to eat or pee in between cabins!  We were caught slogging along for 2 hours without any sort of a break which was quite intense. I’d never recommend setting out deliberately in a wind storm up there.

What was different for us was the sheer whiteness of the landscape. White mountains all around, while we were on a white plateau. When it was a grey-ish day, I almost felt vertigo from all the white in every direction. The treeless landscape afforded very long views so we’d be skiing for hours towards a destination without changing view significantly, until coming around into another valley.

What made our trip easier to organize was the existence of the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT), the country’s biggest outdoor club. The DNT maintains hundreds of backcountry (and frontcountry) huts as well as thousands of kilometers of tracked and/or marked ski trails. They offer great, detailed advice about routes and are very responsive to phone and e-mail inquiries. They have offices and booths in Oslo and other major cities. Their website is http://english.turistforeningen.no/. Another extremely useful website for hiking or skiing route and hut descriptions is: http://ut.no/. Google Translate will be of help here! This site can generate incredibly detailed trail maps complete with elevation changes.

There are basically 3 kinds of huts in Norway. The DNT maintains “full-serve” and “self-serve” huts. Full serve huts serve full meals, have saunas, and are quite well-equipped, though they usually don’t have running water or electricity. The DNT is famous for their “self-serve” huts which are not staffed but which include a well-stocked pantry of dried and canned food onsite. You just show up, keep a list of what you’ve eaten, and leave a credit card number in a safe when you leave. Huts also have propane stoves, dishes, and sleeping bags. You’ll need to bring along a sleeping bag liner. Also, be sure to check opening dates on the DNT website for each hut before going there; opening schedules can vary from year to year.


There are also more rustic huts, maintained by a smattering of different local organizations. They are smaller and have fewer amenities; some may have sleeping bags, others not, for instance, and they rarely stock food. We stopped into two of these huts for lunch and found them very cleverly built and charming, as well as considerably less expensive than the DNT huts. However, the challenge would be to find the information about each hut from afar – the organization to contact to find out whether they are open and what’s in the hut. Also, all of these huts are first-come, first-served; it would be a problem to arrive to find a small hut full in the middle of the howling wind and need to continue on for several hours to the next hut.

We became members of the DNT, which is worth it if you’re planning on staying in their huts for 4 nights or more. For the 2016 season, membership cost 640 NOK per person (or 1150 NOK per family) which comes out to $96 per person or $173 per family (as of writing, the exchange rate is 1 NOK = 0.15 CAD). Membership offers significant discounts on huts, food in huts, and even hotels in ski areas. At the reduced membership rate, the self-serve huts cost 240 NOK each per night as of 2016 (around $36). This is actually a great deal as there is virtually never a fee to enter mountain areas, parks or use any ski trails, and considering how expensive everything else in Norway is for Canadians. The quality of the huts is truly excellent. They are well-stocked, comfortable, charming and better insulated than my apartment in Montreal! Just to compare, a stay in a seriously rustic hut in Québec’s SÉPAQ system, including park access, probably now costs at least $35-$40 per person per night.

You could get by just eating hut food, but it’s good to have a look at the list of what’s typically in the huts, and perhaps bring some food to supplement. The DNT can send you such a list if you ask. There were no granola bars or nuts to speak of in the huts we stayed at, and we were happy we had brought along sandwich ingredients for lunches. They provide dry “Wasa” crackers, tinned fish and Vache-qui-rit-style cheese. We were happy to have bought a massive hunk of Jarlsburg cheese, sausage and wraps in a grocery store in Oslo before setting off. Note that you’ll pay per item in the huts: per tea bag, per packet of sugar or salt, or jam container; it would be considerably less expensive to bring these items with you, though heavier. We got a kick out of sampling the canned reindeer meatball stew, though the idea was more exciting than the actual food!

It’s not possible to reserve the huts. You make a deposit of around $20 for a universal key (at the DNT office in Oslo and probably at other DNT offices too), and just show up. Seniors and members have priority in terms of actual bunks. There are often extra mattresses around that can be pulled out. The policy is that no one gets turned away.

For water, people just melt snow. Onsite in the huts there is always a wood stove, lots of wood, buckets for gathering snow and a big pot for melting it onsite, as well as clever racks for stacking buckets of melting snow. There are propane stoves and propane, as well as pots, pans, dishes, and cutlery, so you don’t need to carry too much at all.

Even the outhouses are pretty neat and clean. One of them even had a basket of dried flowers in it! The huts were so nice, well-maintained and well-stocked that they gave me a sense of inferiority. If one of these huts existed here at home, would we just trash the place, eat all of the food and not pay? If Norwegians visit our huts in winter, I bet they’ll find our outhouses pretty atrocious!

Incidentally, in the huts there were matches, and candles onsite in the self-serve cabins, and toilet paper in the outhouses.

We flew to Oslo via Paris, because we were planning on visiting my husband’s French relatives after the trip. The train ride from the airport is frequent and efficient, but like everything in Norway, pretty pricey. At the time, things felt about twice as expensive in Norway compared to Canada.

The first thing we did in Oslo was to head to the DNT office to get our key. We also picked up some good advice, a recent topographical map (indispensable), and a bivouac bag. Timing was tight: we arrived at the Oslo train station at around 1:30 pm on a Saturday, and the DNT office closed at 3 pm, only to reopen Monday morning.  We had to work many aspects of logistics around the fact that most things are closed on Sundays. The DNT also has offices in other cities.

Traveling to the Huldreheimen area can be by train to Lillehammer, then by local bus to Espedalen or Strand. The local bus only cost 110 NOK or so in 2014 (payable in cash in the bus) but doesn’t run on Sundays. Alternately, a hotel can come pick you up at the Lillehammer train station, at considerably more cost though. Booking your train online ahead of time affords considerable savings, though then you won’t have the option of changing or cancelling your ticket.

Timing-wise, we had to stay in a hotel at the base of the mountain area before heading up for our first day of skiing. We stayed at Strand Fjellstue, a charming “ski lodge” that helped us with many aspects of logistics. Most hotels in the area cost a lot more on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights. Strand Fjellstue was overall less pricey than nearby Espedalen Fjellstue. Our hosts were a couple from Norway and Thailand, and they served up fabulous homemade Thai food for supper! Which can be made as mild or spicy as you want! Most of these hotels rent out backcountry skis with metal edges (wax skis).  At Strand I noticed they were using NNN bindings. At the time I got the impression it could be hard to rent backcountry skis elsewhere, though recently I noticed a list of ski rental options on the DNT website. We brought our own skis from Canada and paid the surplus on the flights. It was annoying and heavy to lug them around everywhere, but it was probably less expensive overall, plus there was less risk of getting blisters.

Everyone was skiing on what I’d call “light” backcountry skis; not too rigid a boot, not heavy like telemark, but still sturdy and with metal edges. Though the skiing itself was dead easy (straight, pretty flat), we had difficult icy conditions that required metal edges. There was one incredibly steep pitch that we could have avoided via a lengthy detour. We were sufficiently remote and without cell phone access, so it was good to have sturdy gear in general. Norwegians tend to be snobs in their unquestioning preference for wax skis, though we were happy to have waxless skis because we had near-zero temperatures. It was critical to bring along sealskins, in our case because of the icy conditions. Generally for backcountry trips it’s a good idea – you never know what’s coming.

Many people traveled with packs, but some dragged sleds behind them, called “pulkas”.  Given everything that is provided in the huts, your pack shouldn’t be too heavy, though it’s important to have appropriate emergency gear including a warm down jacket and some extra food just in case.

You should have prior hut to hut experience to spend time skiing in this area. If not, you can take part in a guided trip with the DNT or find a guide with a private company. In 2016, guided DNT tours cost, for instance, 6100 NOK (about $915) per person for members, for a 6 day trip starting at the Oslo airport, including pretty much everything except for a couple of meals and the cost of membership itself.

We started our trip at Espedalen (720 m), and did a gentle climb up to our first hut, Storholiseter (980 m), which was formerly a farm. The huts had grass roofs and were particularly charming. We were happy to share our space with a group of 8 Dutch skiers on a guided tour, and one Norwegian man out for a ski. Our hotel had driven us to Espedalen. It would be totally doable but steep to climb up directly from Strand. We then stayed at Skriurusten (1040 m), Haldorbu (1025 m) and then Storkvelvbu  (1200 m) huts. They were all great. Storkvelvbu is quite spacious and a favourite with many people because it’s located above the treeline in an otherworldly landscape. Personally, I really liked Storholiseter.  Distances were between 10 and 13 km per day.

A lot of people were surprised to see Canadians doing a trip like that. Wasn’t there any snow in Canada, they wondered?

We didn’t see much wildlife – a few white ptarmigan and lots of tracks. In theory there are troops of reindeer (we did see their considerable traces, i.e. hoof prints, pee, poo and nibbled trail markers), wolf, fox, wolverine, lynx, and sleeping bears. There were many enticing tracks along the way.

In Oslo, hotels are exorbitant. Even the youth hostel, around 4 km from the centre of town, isn’t cheap. We found an “AirBnB” for a fraction of the price of a hotel, centrally located.

But it’s worth spending some time in Oslo to get a sense of the incredible urban skiing that is possible there. Cross-country skiing, at least according to what we observed in the ski museum and all around, really is the national sport. It seems to have helped in nation-building in the early 1900s. My kind of place! The ski museum (Holmenkollen) and ski jump were worth it – lots of fascinating tidbits about ski history and culture, plus a spectacular view of Oslo and the surrounding area from up top.

It was an unusually mild winter in 2014 in all of Europe. In Oslo in March, it really felt like springtime, with no snow in sight. We were surprised while taking the metro out to the ski museum at Holmenkollen to see plenty of folks board the metro decked out with their cross-country skis. They actually manufacture artificial snow for ski races outside of Oslo, so there was still snow at Holmenkollen for at least a few kilometers of skiing. Others continued on to the very end of that metro line to even more skiing. The last stop is only for skiing or hiking – there’s literally nothing else there. Depending on snow conditions, there can be up to 2000 km of tracked, free cross-country skiing accessible from that metro stop, of which 50 km or so are lit up at night. There are some DNT huts in that network too. This area is called the Nordmarka forest and there are many different access points. Here is a map of the trails with conditions: http://www.skiforeningen.no/marka/tpl/. Incredible!

All in all, it was a great adventure to finally ski in Norway. And there seem to be endless parks, trails and huts to discover if we get the chance to return!

Some more useful information:

Norwegian State Railways - https://www.nsb.no/en/frontpage
-          Oslo S (central station) is located at Jernbanetorget 1, which is very central and close to the DNT office.
-          Lillehammer station is located at Jernbanetorget 2, only seconds from the bus station.

Airport Express Coach – Flybussen - http://www.flybussen.no/en
-          this is the express bus that links the airport to the city. There are frequent departures.

Buses:  Opplandstrafikk.no - Téléphone: 07 177
-          Local bus system between Lillehammer and Strand, which cost 107 NOK at the time. You buy the ticket on the bus. The correct bus at the time was number 200, the Skabu line, which didn’t operate on Sundays. The weekend schedule was slightly different than the weekday schedule. We got the bus right outside the hotel to head back to Lillehammer.

-          The Oslo office is located at Sturgata 3 in Oslo. It is open during the week, as well as from 10 am – 3 pm on Saturdays, and is closed on Sundays.  Tel: +47 22822822, info@turistforeningen.no

Sample rough cost estimates in 2016:

Bus from Oslo airport to Oslo, round trip, one person, bought online in advance – 265 NOK
Air BnB type accommodations in Oslo – 700 NOK per night x 2 nights
Food in Oslo (simple restaurants) – 400 NOK per day x 2 days
Train Oslo – Lillehammer, round trip per person, online in advance – 500 NOK
Bus Lillehammer – Espedalen, round trip per person – 240 NOK
DNT membership – 640 NOK per person
Hut accommodations – 240 NOK/night/member
Hut food – 100 NOK/person/day

Cost person for 8 days (2 nights in Oslo, 2 nights in Strand, 4 nights in huts): 5305 NOK, i.e. $800/person

Other costs might include taxis (astronomical), metro tickets, ski rental, museum, of course getting to Oslo, supplemental fees to bring a ski bag on a flight, etc.


A big thank you to Bob Henderson for telling me all about this trip and giving me great advice, all the great people we met on the trip and who helped advise us as well, and to Frédéric Ménagé with whom I shared this adventure!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Affiche hiver 2016! Winter 2016 Poster!

Raquette et conversation AN/FR - Snowshoeing and FR/EN Conversation

Raquettes et échange linguistique
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Les échanges linguistiques en plein air, ça marche, puis c'est super agréable! Cet hiver, dès le 7 janvier, tous les jeudis soirs en janvier et février, je vais animer un échange linguistique anglais-français avec une sortie en raquettes dans la neige! RdV dans le parc Jeanne-Mance où il y aura des raquettes à prêter au besoin. Ensuite, on va marcher sur le mont-Royal en raquettes, jusqu'à 19h45 environ. La moitié de la sortie se déroulera en anglais, et la moitié en français. On discute, on s'entraide, on s'amuse! 60$ pour 8 sorties (plus taxes et carte de membre annuelle de 10$). De 10-60$ pour nouveaux arrivants à faible revenu. Pour vous inscrire (auprès de l'Association récréative Milton-Parc): http://www.miltonpark.org/fr/cours/adultes/plein-air-interculturel#raquette-et-conversation, 3555 St-Urbain, 514.872.0566. 

Cette activité est organisée en collaboration avec la Maison de l’amitié et Mountain Equipment Co-op. Merci !

Snowshoeing and Conversation

Language exchanges while outdoors really do work, and they’re fun! This winter, starting January 7, join us on Thursday evenings for an English-French language exchange and snowshoe outing! It’s for 8 Thursdays. Meet at 6 pm in Jeanne-Mance Park where we’ll have some snowshoes to lend if you need them. Then we’ll snowshoe in on Mount Royal until around 7:45 pm. Half of the outing will be in French and half in English. We’ll all help each other, discuss, and get some exercise! The cost is $60 for 8 outings (plus taxes and an annual $10 membership card). It’s $10-$60 for low-income newcomers to Canada. To sign up, contact the Milton Park Recreation Association at http://www.miltonpark.org/courses/adults/intercultural-outdoor-recreation#snowshoeing-and-conversation, 3555 St-Urbain, 514.872.0566. 

This activity is organised in partnership with the Maison de l’amitié and Mountain Equipment Co-opThanks!

Fin de semaine refuge–raquette–ski de fond - Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Ski Weekend in a Hut!

Fin de semaine refuge – raquette – ski de fond
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Rejoignez-nous pour une fin de semaine typiquement québécoise dans le refuge rustique Swaggin, le long du magnifique sentier national dans la région de la Matawinie!  Découvrez la vie en refuge ! Nous allons utiliser des raquettes pour explorer ce beau sentier en forêt, et nous allons également vous apprendre le ski de fond dans ce réseau ou alors aux sentiers de St-Côme! Du 5-7 février (départ vendredi soir depuis Montréal).  Bienvenue aux débutants, c'est pour vous justement ! Le prix est de 115$ (105$ pour nouveaux arrivants) plus taxes et une carte annuelle de membre de 10$, incluant: l'hébergement, les skis de fond et raquettes, l'animation, sacs de couchage etc. Transport en covoiturage/location de voiture et repas communautaires en sus. Pour vous inscrire (auprès de l'Association récréative Milton-Parc): http://www.miltonpark.org/fr/cours/adultes/plein-air-interculturel#fin-de-semaine-dhiver, 3555 St-Urbain, 514.872.0566. 

Cette activité est organisée en collaboration avec la Maison de l’amitié et Mountain Equipment Co-op. Merci !

Winter Weekend in a Hut with Snowshoeing and Cross-country Skiing!

Join us for a typical Quebec winter weekend in the rustic Swaggin hut along the National Trail in the Matawinie region! Experience life in a backcountry hut! We’ll go for snowshoe hikes along this amazing trail, and will teach you how to cross-country ski around the hut and/or on the St-Côme trails. It’s from February 5-7, and we’ll leave Montreal Friday evening. The cost is $115 ($105 for newcomers to Canada) plus taxes and an annual membership card ($10) – this includes lodging, access to skis, snowshoes and trails, sleeping bags and mats, and instruction. We welcome beginners! Communal meals and transportation (carpooling and/or car rental) extra. To sign up, contact the Milton Park Recreation Association at http://www.miltonpark.org/courses/adults/intercultural-outdoor-recreation#outdoor-weekend, 3555 St-Urbain, 514.872.0566. 

This activity is organised in partnership with the Maison de l’amitié and Mountain Equipment Co-op.  Thanks!

Initiation aux sports d’hiver! Intro to Winter Sports!

Initiation aux sports d’hiver!
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Apprenez à aimer l’hiver grâce aux sorties en ski de fond, raquette et patin! On mettra l’accent sur le ski de fond. RdV en bas du mont-Royal ou à un autre parc proche. Parfait pour les débutants et pour apprendre à aimer nos hivers à Montréal! 8 séances pour 85$ (75$ pour nouveaux arrivants), plus taxes et carte de membre annuelle de 10$.

Trois cours différents :
8 vendredi après-midi de 13h30 à 15h30, à partir du 8 janvier
Ou 7 samedi matins de 10h à 12h, à partir du 9 janvier (dont une journée complète)*
Ou 8 lundis soirs de 18h30 à 20h30 à partir du 11 janvier

Nous aurons souvent du matériel à prêter ou à louer à petit prix. Parfois, il va falloir louer votre propre matériel.  Nous fournirons plein de conseils à ce sujet et il y aura toujours la possibilité de louer dans les parcs que nous visiterons.

Inscriptions : auprès de l’Association récréative Milton-Parc, 3555 St-Urbain (métro Sherbrooke), 514-872-0566 ou http://www.miltonpark.org/fr/cours/adultes/plein-air-interculturel#initiation-aux-sports-dhiver. Faites vite, places TRÈS limitées !!!!!

*Au besoin, transport par covoiturage et frais d’accès au centre de plein air en sus pour la journée complète.

Cette activité est organisée en collaboration avec la Maison de l’amitié avec le soutien de Mountain Equipment Co-op. Merci !

Introduction to Winter Sports

Learn to love winter through cross-country sking, snowshoeing and skating! We’ll emphasize skiing when snow conditions permit, with snowshoeing and skating to fill in the gaps. Meet in Jeanne-Mance Park across from the Mountain, or in another nearby park. Perfect for beginners and anyone who wants to learn to love the winter! 8 outings for $85 ($75 for newcomers to Canada) plus tax and a $10 annual membership card.

Two separate courses:

8 Friday afternoons from 1:30 – 3:30 pm, starting January 8
7 Saturday mornings from 10 am – 12 pm, starting January 9 (including a full day)*
8 Monday evenings from 6:30 – 8:30 pm, starting January 11

We have some used gear to lend or rent inexpensively. Occasionally you’ll need to rent your own skis, snowshoes or skates, but we give lots of advice on inexpensive places to find them and there will always be the option to rent onsite.

Registrations: Milton Park Recreation Association, 3555 St. Urbain (métro Sherbrooke), 514.872.0566, http://www.miltonpark.org/courses/adults/intercultural-outdoor-recreation#initiation-to-winter-sports. Don’t wait, this is very popular!!!!!

*For the full day outing, carpooling and an entry fee to an outdoor centre will be extra if we leave Montreal.

This activity is organised in partnership with the Maison de l’amitié with the support of Mountain Equipment Co-op.  Thanks!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Offrez l’hiver comme cadeau! Give the gift of winter!

Chers participants, amis, bénévoles, contacts et collègues,
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Avec 25 000 réfugiés syriens qui arriveront au Canada d’ici février, il est plus important que jamais d’aider les nouveaux arrivants de tout statut et origine à apprendre à aimer l’hiver. Si vous connaissez l'hiver au Québec, vous savez que sortir dehors et s’amuser dans la neige est la clé du bonheur (et de la bonne santé mentale!). Participer aux sports d'hiver aide les nouveaux arrivants à mieux comprendre et à apprécier notre pays froid. Nous sollicitons actuellement des dons pour permettre aux nouveaux arrivants à faible revenu d’essayer le ski de fond, la raquette et le patinage cet hiver.

Nous vous remercions sincèrement de l’appui que vous donnez déjà au Programme de plein air interculturel, une initiative de l'Association Récréative Milton-Parc et la Maison de l'amitié de Montréal, un organisme charitable enregistré. Plusieurs d'entre vous nous ont déjà donné de l'argent, du matériel, des conseils ou du bénévolat,  se sont inscrits à nos activités ou nous ont référé à un ami.

L’hiver dernier, vos généreux dons ont permis à une cinquantaine de nouveaux arrivants à faible revenu venant du monde entier à participer à nos initiations au patin, au ski de fond et à la raquette. Malgré le froid historique, les participants ont trouvé que l’hiver est passé trop vite! Un participant de la Colombie craignait de s’ennuyer après la fonte des neiges! Nous offrons ce programme d'hiver depuis 2011, et nos organismes proposent de la programmation accessible et interculturelle depuis des décennies.

Pour participer à la plupart de nos activités, nous demandons une contribution modeste pour nous aider à payer pour le matériel et l’encadrement. Mais afin de s’assurer que nos activités soient accessibles à tous, cette année, nous nous donnons comme objectif de ramasser 2000 $ pour parrainer la participation de 50 nouveaux arrivants à faible revenu aux sports d'hiver. En moyenne, c’est seulement 40 $ pour aider un nouvel arrivant à connaître et aimer l'hiver. Pourquoi pas offrir l’hiver en cadeau à un nouvel arrivant en faisant un don? Nous vous enverrons un remerciement personnalisé et les impressions du nouvel arrivant que vous aurez parrainé ! Donnons généreusement d'ici au 31 décembre 2015, avant le début de notre programmation hivernale.

Si c’est possible pour vous de faire un don, veuillez cliquer ici. Ce lien vous mènera à la page de dons de la Maison de l'amitié/CanaDon. Veuillez cliquez sur "Faites un don", puis sélectionnez "Plein air interculturel " à la fin du menu déroulant. Un reçu officiel de don émis par CanaDon au nom de la Maison de l'amitié de Montréal vous sera envoyé. Nous acceptons avec gratitude tout don de 20$ et plus pour parrainer les nouveaux arrivants à faible revenu au moyen de contributions en ligne.

S’il n’est pas possible pour vous de faire un don en ce moment, pas de problème ! Vous pouvez beaucoup nous aider en aimant et en partageant notre page https://www.facebook.com/Soutenirpleinairinterculturel, en nous référant à un ami, en partageant ce message, ou en vous inscrivant à une activité. Nos sincères remerciements pour tout votre soutien et encouragement et à tous ceux qui nous aident déjà de plein de façons!

Comme toujours, veuillez me contacter afin de rajouter, modifier ou enlever un courriel de ma liste.

Au plaisir,

Adrienne Blattel
Coordinatrice et animatrice, Programme de plein air interculturel
Association récréative Milton-Parc et La Maison de l’Amitié de Montréal

Dear participants, friends, volunteers, contacts and colleagues,

With 25,000 Syrian refugees arriving in Canada by late February, it’s more important than ever to help our newcomers of all origins learn to love our winters. Anyone who’s experienced the Canadian winter knows that getting outdoors and having fun is key to our happiness (and sanity!). Enjoying winter sports helps newcomers to better understand and appreciate our chilly country. We are currently seeking donations to enable low-income newcomers to Canada to try cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and skating this winter.

Thank you sincerely for supporting the Intercultural Outdoor Recreation Program, a joint initiative of the Milton Park Recreation Association and the Maison de l’amitié de Montréal (a registered charity).  So many of you have already donated money and gear, volunteered your time, registered for activities or told a friend about us.

Last winter, thanks to your generous donations, 50 low-income newcomers to Canada from around the world were able to take part in our introductions to skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Many were surprised to find that the winter went by too quickly, even if it was the coldest winter on record! One participant from Columbia was actually worried he’d get bored after the snow melted! We’ve been offering this winter program since 2011, and our organizations have been delivering accessible programming to a diverse clientele for decades.

Most of our activities involve a modest fee to help us pay for winter gear and instruction. But to make sure our activities are accessible to all, this year we aim to raise $2000 to sponsor the participation of 50 low-income newcomers to Canada in winter sports. On average, that’s just $40 to help a newcomer get to know and love the winter. Why not give the gift of winter to an individual newcomer to Canada by making a donation? We’ll send you a personalized thank you and account of how it went from the newcomer you sponsored! Let’s raise the money by December 31st, 2015 so it’s ready for our winter programming in January.

If you are able, you can donate by clicking here.  This link will take you to the Maison de l’amitié’s online donation page via Canada Helps. Click on “Donate Now” and then select “Intercultural Outdoor Recreation” at the bottom of the scroll-down menu. A charitable receipt issued by Canada Helps on behalf of the Maison de l’amitié de Montréal will automatically be sent to you. We gratefully accept donations of $20 and more to sponsor low-income new immigrants through online contributions.

If donating isn’t possible right now, never fear! You can help by liking and sharing our page https://www.facebook.com/Soutenirpleinairinterculturel, telling a friend about our activities, sharing this message, or signing up for an activity. Thank you so much for your time, consideration and help!

And as always, please don’t hesitate to be in touch to add, modify or remove an e-mail address from my list.


Adrienne Blattel
Coordinator and guide, Intercultural Outdoor Recreation Program
Run by the Milton-Park Recreation Association and La Maison de l’Amitié de Montréal

Nos activités sont organisées par l’Association  récréative Milton-Parc en partenariat avec la Maison de l’amitié. Merci à Mountain Equipment Co-op pour son soutien!

Our activities are organised by the Milton Park Recreation Association in partnership with the Maison de l’amitié. We thank Mountain Equipment Co-op for its support!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Conférence Plein air en transport en commun en hiver - Presentation, car-free outdoor recreation in winter

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Dimanche 29 novembre, à 14h30, je vais donner une conférence gratuite au sujet du plein air en transport en commun en hiver. C'est ouvert à tous! Venez apprendre: 
- quels sont les sports d'hiver ici au Québec
- où les faire si vous n'avez pas de voiture
- les meilleurs parcs et centres
- les trajets

La conférence se déroulera en français et aura une durée de 50 minutes environ.

C'est au MEC Marché central - 8989 boulevard de l'Acadie, lors de l'événement Festineige!

Notre organisme (Plein air interculturel) aura un kiosque d'info toute la journée. Venez nous voir pour dire bonjour et connaître notre programmation d'hiver!!

Festineige aura lieu de 10h à 16h environ et c'est également gratuit et ouvert à tous. Il y aura un petit Marché de matériel de plein air usagé (arriver tôt, arriver avant l'ouverture!). Il y aura des ateliers et conférences aux sujets divers tel que: 
- comment s'habiller pour les sports d'hiver
- le camping d'hiver
- l'escalade de glace
- le fartage des skis de fond
- le vélo en hiver

Pour plus d'infos: mon_evenements@mec.ca


On Sunday November 29 at 2 :30 pm, I’ll be giving a free presentation (in French)about car-free outdoor recreation in winter for Montrealers. It’s open to anyone! Come learn about:
-          Popular winter sports here in Quebec
-          Best parks and centres
-          Where to go if you don’t have a car, and how to get there!

The presentation will last about 50 minutes.

It will take place at MEC at Marché central, which is at 8989 Boulevard de l’Acadie. It will be part of MEC’s annual free Snowfest event.

Our Intercultural Outdoor Recreation Program will have a kiosk at Snowfest all day. Come say hi and learn about our winter program!

Snowfest will happen from 10 am till around 4 pm and it’s also free and open to everyone. There will be the ever-popular sale of used outdoor gear (get there early! Get there before it opens!). There will be many presentations and workshops on topics such as: winter camping, winter biking, ice climbing, dressing for winter sports, how to wax cross-country skis, etc.! For more info, write to the organizers at: mon_evenements@mec.ca