Friday, 26 December 2014

Vancouver's VanDusen Gardens and Capilano Suspension Bridge" light" up for the holidays

by Keith and Heather Nicol

    Vancouver has some fine displays of lights for the holiday season and if you have never been to the Festival of Lights at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens then you are in for a big treat. This year is the 30 th anniversary for this seasonal event which runs until January 4, 2015. There are over 1,000,000 lights on display and you need a programme for all of the other performances that are taking place as well. We took in a few and we really enjoyed  the dancing lights show on Livingstone Lake . Strolling along many of the themed walks like the Gingerbread Wood and Candy Cane Lane make this truly a family event which is suited to people of all ages. Our suggestions are to bring a tripod so that you can do some time exposures of the lights and print the progamme ahead of time so that you know in advance when and where the various performances are taking place. For more information see:

The lights at the VanDusen Gardens are amazing!
  The  next night we headed  to the Capilano Suspension bridge to see their Canyon Lights display. They have decorated the world’s tallest Christmas tree at over 150 feet and lit up the suspension bridge as well as many of their other adventures like the Cliffwalk and Tree Top Adventures. We also enjoyed listening and singing along with the carols at the Trading Post. Again we suggest that you bring along a tripod to capture the lights. Although we went around 6:00 pm if you want to actually see the Capilano River and see  how high above the ground you are on the Cliffwalk you might want to head over just before sunset.  That way you can see both the dramatic views and the lights. The Canyon Lights display continues until January 3, 2015. Since the weather forecast is looking good for the next week or so there are still many nights left to enjoy it. For more information see: 

You can join in singing some holiday music at the Capilano Suspension Brdige

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Early winter at the Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish, B.C.

 by Keith and Heather Nicol
 On Sunday, December 21 we decided to check out the Sea to Sky Gondola which is located near Squamish, B.C. Although the weather was not ideal, the web cam from the summit lodge showed views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains. We had visited the Sea to Sky Gondola in May 2014 when it first opened and were blown away with the great views from the deck as well as the varied vistas from its walking trails. We arrived at the base after a quick 45 minute drive from Vancouver and were curious to see if the weather would hold. We put on our hiking boots and grabbed an extra layer and took the 10 minute gondola ride to the top. We entered a cloud layer and thought that would be the end of the visibility but a few minutes later we emerged from the clouds and arrived at the spectacular summit lodge. 
Taking a photo of Howe Sound from the suspension bridge

Looking around we could see that winter was “on hold” and that the tubing, snowshoeing and backcountry skiing activities that are planned would have to wait until the typical snow base began to build up. But the lack of snow meant that the walking trails could be explored in regular hiking boots and we walked across the suspension bridge and did the short .4 km Spirit Trail followed by the 1.6 km Panorama trail. The clouds prevented views of the higher peaks but the swirling clouds below meant the views were constantly changing and gave an almost magical feeling to our trek. 
Walking along the popular Panoroma Trail
 After our walk we headed into the cozy summit lodge where we ran into mountain host Ray Wilburn. He told us that the summer season had been amazing with visitation up 40% over what they had expected. He also told us that this is their first winter of operation and that they are hoping to offer tubing and snowshoeing on a regular basis. “As well the summit lodge can act as a jumping off point for people who want to do backcountry snowshoeing and backcountry skiing ” Ray added.  For more information about what holiday events are planned and other details about this great new visitor service see:   We can’t wait to visit in the next couple of months when some of the main winter activities are in full swing. 
The gondolas whisk you to the top in just 10 minutes

You can grab a light meal in the well appointed Summit Lodge

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Skating tips for improving your “no poles” roller skiing technique

by Keith and Heather Nicol
              Roller skiing without poles is a great way to get ready for the cross country ski season since it helps skiers develop the all important skill of balance. I usually practice the basic free skate action to start with which means balancing momentarily on a single ski roller.  I swing my arms directly down the track as shown in photo 1.  I stand tall while I glide and I then flex at the ankles, knees and hips to develop power as I skate off to glide on the other roller ski.  As well as practicing the conventional free skate I also like to practice the arm timing for some of the other skating actions. In this case I simulate the various poling techniques that I would use while skate skiing. 
Actively swing your arms down the track when you practice the free skate
    In the following video I demonstrate some tips for working on your no poles skating. This video provides tips for improving your free skate as well as other skating techniques. For instance, in the 2 skate (or V2 alternate) I try to focus on my arms going through a full range of motion-flexing to start and extending well past my hips to finish. With the 1 skate (or V2) you will need to recover your arms faster and I try to stand tall in between skating actions which will help lengthen your glide. Be sure to adjust the terrain you pick for roller skiing since you want to have fast conditions for the 1 and 2 skate and then choose an uphill for practicing the offset skate (or V1 skate). It also pays to practice the offset skate on your left side as well as the right side.  As with all of these simulated skating actions I try to work on developing a strong leg push as well as performing the proper arm actions. The following video  shows examples of these drills and I thank  Rossignol, Jenex Roller skis and Infinity Ski poles for their help with this blog and video.Always wear a helmet when roller skiing and some skiers like to wear other safety equipment like knee and elbow pads. I find that the best roads for roller skiing are those that have been recently paved and are generally flat like the road shown above.

When I simulate the 2 skate I work on finishing with my arms well past my hips


Friday, 5 December 2014

Enchanted by the tall trees of Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island

 by Keith and Heather Nicol
This Douglas Fir is over 800 years old
Vancouver Island is known for its tall trees and Cathedral Grove in MacMillian Provincial Park is one of the easily accessible and most visited areas to see some of these giants up close. We stopped into see Cathedral Grove on Thursday, December 4 and although it was cool and raining lightly we still were enchanted by this magical setting. Cathedral Grove is located just over 20 kilometers west on highway 4 from the main island highway.  Highway 4 is also the route to Port Alberni and Tofino and so it is well marked. 

 Cathedral Grove is especially known for its tall stands of douglas fir located on the south side of the road. One massive douglas fir is 76 meters tall, 9 meters around at the base and is over 800 years old! There are also impressive stands of ancient Western red cedar on the north side of road. Our only regret is that we didn’t bring a tripod since the trails that wind through the large stands of trees are quite dark even during the day. We ended up having to balance to the camera on some of the wooden fencing to get these pictures.For more information see:
The vegetation is lush and comes in numerous shades of green
Heather looking up toward the tree tops