We were always going to do winter 'right' when it came to living in Canada. So, when friends mentioned the art of snowshoeing, we were more than intrigued. Six months earlier, we’d made the 5,600-kilometre journey from our home in Ireland as my husband Paul embarked on a one-year training program for work. Ireland’s winters are temperate: the slightest dusting of snow and our little country comes to a standstill. There’s never enough to warrant building a snowman, never mind partake in an activity like snowshoeing.
If you want to experience a snow-filled winter, you usually head to the mountains of Europe. But almost as soon as we’d arrived in Ontario—in the height of summer—locals began describing what to expect from the winter ahead of us, and we were so excited to be living somewhere we could experience such activities right on our doorstep.
Most of our adventures involve adapting to bring three young kids along for the ride, so Paul and I strapped those big, foreign paddles onto our feet, hoisted in one child each, pulled the third in a sled, and headed out into a very wintry scene on a southwest Ontario golf course.
Our group of six (not including kids) trudged down a vast, sprawling landscape, smothered in powdery white blankets as far as the eye could see. The effect of the heavy snow resting on tree branches made for a beautiful, droopy effect, reminiscent of a scene from Narnia. The sky was clear blue, and the low-lying sun projected its rays brilliantly.
As I got used to the feeling of the snowshoe bouncing back up to hit my heel after each ankle-deep stride, I noticed that some people were using poles. Poles are definitely a good idea to power through deep snow, especially while carrying a little one. My youngest daughter was small enough that I could still lug her around in a sling on my front, whereas Paul had the more laborious task of carrying the three-year-old on his back with the hiking carrier.
Most of the powder was perfectly untouched, save for some tracks where skiers or other snowshoers had gone before us. The golf course is a popular local hangout for winter activities. Every now and then, a cross-country skier whizzed past, making me envious of the freedom and speed they were experiencing, as we shuffled together like a herd of animals guiding our young.
At times, my five-year-old would become so excited by her first sight of so much snow that she would throw herself down and roll around as puffs of white flakes flew up into the air. The three-year-old was happy to maintain a comfortable position high on her dad’s back, sometimes lifting her head up and sticking out her tongue to catch falling snowflakes.
After a few hours of start-stopping, a mountain of snacks and more photo opportunities than our phones could handle, the girls started to protest, so we made the arduous journey back to the parking lot while the rest of the group continued a little farther. The sun was down, the temperature had dropped dramatically to -14C, and threatening clouds were rolling in.
Starting to shiver, I urged Paul to “hurry up and unlock the car,” but it dawned on me as I watched the panic rise on his face and he frantically searched one pocket after another, that the keys had fallen out somewhere along the six-kilometre stretch of snow-covered greenway. Almost not believing him, I ordered him to check his pockets again, and every other possible key storing gap.
With no one else in sight, we had no choice but for Paul to head back out and hope that the keys would miraculously appear. Meanwhile, in the gloomy abandoned parking lot, I huddled the girls together against the car to stay warm. Their excitement displayed earlier in the snow had now turned to fear and discomfort at being stuck outside in the cold, with the younger two starting to shout and bawl, while me and my eldest daughter attempted to comfort them. After what felt like an eternity, he returned, shaking his head. No keys. We called our friend Lawrence for help, who was 30 minutes away. Not long after, the rest of our group appeared. We rushed to them with our dilemma.
Bill produced a huge flask of hot chocolate, along with enough cups to make me think he had a party planned! We got the girls into Alex’s car to warm them up. Lawrence arrived to drive Paul back to our house to search for a spare key. Fast forward another hour into complete darkness, and we were finally on our way home in our own car.
But the story doesn't end there. Paul spent the next few days stewing over our lost key, annoyed at the careless mishap, when he had a eureka moment. He remembered that smartphone photographs store GPS coordinates and that it was likely that the key had fallen out when he took his phone out of his pocket. So, with an opportunistic thaw the following week, we ventured back to that fateful golf course in a last-ditch key scavenger hunt attempt. Not feeling overly optimistic but with nothing more to lose, Paul set off while I waited in the car. Not even five minutes later, I saw him running back across the course, waving the lost key in the air, and I rubbed my eyes in disbelief! He had returned to where he’d taken the last photo that day but was struggling to see anything with a lot of snow still on the ground. About to give up, he looked down between his feet and there, frozen to the ground, was the lost key.
It's true what they say: “it takes a village.” Our little outdoor community pulled together in our hour of need. They were the ones who had encouraged us to try snowshoeing, eager for us to experience their winter, and even when it turned to misadventure, they quickly rallied to ensure we weren’t deterred too much. And I think we actually might have taught them a thing or two about using location services on your phone.
Tips for winter adventuring with kids:
- Get your kids involved as much as possible: making sure they are active will keep them warmer for longer and minimize boredom
- Pack extra layers, in case you end up out in the cold longer than you were expecting...
- A flask of hot chocolate will go a long way to ease cold, tired kids… big and little.
- Take the pictures—you never know the clues that will turn up in them—and enable location settings on your camera app
- Go in a group for extra support
- Always make sure your phone is charged in case of emergencies
- If you think you've packed enough snacks, pack some more