“That’s the one,” our son insists, with a grin. His younger sister agrees, nodding enthusiastically. Her eyes shine brightly as snowflakes settle on her red fleece toque. After carefully inspecting nine potential trees, my husband is thrilled we’ve chosen the smallest one. It’s a family tradition to find and cut our own Christmas tree in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Permits are free and the tree is by a donation that supports children’s outdoor activities.
The snow-frosted setting is pretty spectacular too. We always start with a few runs on the toboggan hill near Hidden Valley Ski Resort. Then the hunt begins. Debating the merits of each tree is part of the fun. When we finally choose “the one,” my children’s shrieks of excitement can be heard throughout the park. After the tree is carefully packed on the toboggan, we tromp through the snow singing carols all the way back to the car. There’s no better way to get into the festive spirit.
A Winter Sports Playground
Sitting at an elevation of 1,468 m (4,816 ft) at its uppermost point, Cypress Hills is the highest spot east of the Canadian Rockies. It is also the first and only interprovincial park in Canada, straddling the eastern Alberta and western Saskatchewan border. Add to the list its designation as a Dark Sky Preserve and you’re in for fantastic stargazing. Sometimes in winter you can see the northern lights, even this far south. So much to do! Cross-country ski, snowshoe, ice fish, ice skate – on the special skating loop or play pick-up hockey on a rink. Kick sled or toboggan with the little ones or try the luge – a big banked snow slide. You can even camp, with numerous winter campsites and three cozy backcountry huts that accommodate overnight guests.
The park is a very special place for our family, filled with warm memories. Our kids learned to cross-country ski here and can now navigate most of the 30 km (18.6 mi) groomed trail system. Last year we refreshed our skills at one of park’s Nordic ski clinics and then in March participated in the Frozen Fescue Loppet. The 7.5 km (4.6 mi) family loop was a fun challenge welcomed by the children. They’re so proud of the accomplishment and want to try the 17.5 km (~11 mi) track this winter.
Celebrate the Start of Winter
In a few weeks we’ll return for the Winter Start celebration. I haven’t tried snowshoeing yet and the park is offering free trials at the event. There’s also a big campfire and an arts and crafts station with a graffiti snow wall. My son, who spends the whole summer mountain biking, is thrilled about riding a fat bike in the snow. Our neighbours are bringing their four-year old twins to try kick sledding. It’s a great alternative to cross-country skiing that allows parents to get some outdoor exercise, while the little ones sit in a chair up front. We’ll create more memories while we celebrate winter, one of Canada’s most beautiful seasons.