It was our last day, but we were agreed we wanted to take it a little easier. We all got one request for what to do: my husband and son wanted to try skiing. My daughter (who, as we recall, is frequently Done With Snow) voted for the indoor pool. I was interested in another snow-shoe expedition. So after some hasty scheduling, my husband took the kids swimming while I joined a tour on winter survival.
From my limited experience, it seems that all snowshoe guides will take you off trail at the first opportunity, although in this case we were finding a spot to gather wood and build a fire. The kids and I had made little, fifteen-minute, fires over the summer and even bought a flint (we have yet to turn sparks into a fire). This minimal grounding made me the most experienced member of the group, so I helpfully advised the teenage boys with the firestarter tool to "try hitting it really hard."
|Peeling papery bark from birch trees for kindling|
|Digging a hole in the snow for a firepit|
Not that it worked as the bark was too cold for sparks to take. Our guide had some char cloth and scraps of frayed rope; a spark got the cloth smouldering and that ignited the rope, but it still took a couple more attempts before we could get anything but the bark to burn. The resultant fire gave off so little heat that we were colder standing around it than we were walking—obviously we only had a few minutes and were just using sticks, but coaxing a fire to burn larger logs would be a long, daunting test of patience in sub-zero temperatures.
The other people in the party were a family from New York (Mom and teenage sons, all prepared for the cold) and a family from Florida—three adults, three kids, all wearing snow boots but, crucially, jeans and leggings rather than snow pants. Ironically, the latter gave us our biggest lesson in winter survival as the loose powdery snow found its way into their boots then packed around their feet. We had to cut the walk short (only by a little) because they were too cold to safely continue. This made me appreciate how well our hastily assembled warm weather gear actually worked. Kitting us all out for the holiday had been a big expense on top of the already costly resort booking, but for the entire trip, we stayed warm and dry.
Meanwhile, the rest of my family had stripped down to swimming costumes to enjoy a warm hour or so in the pool. This was nothing fancy (the resort has a nicer pool with slides and such for the summer... outdoors), but it had a floating basketball hoop. More importantly, it was warm and a welcome change from muffling up for snow-play.
After lunch, the boys went off for a skiing lesson—neither had tried it before, and they soon discovered that two hours is a long, painful, introduction to the sport. They were sore and aching long before the end. My daughter decided to get our money's worth out of the fireplace by sitting next to it while playing on her iPad. To be fair, we don't have a fireplace at home, so this was a vacation treat. I decided to pick my battles, and instead of dragging her out into the cold, I used the time for some clearing up and packing. I didn't want to leave it all for the evening, as I had other plans...
Those plans were I Did A Sled, a scheduled activity at the introductory ski slope. The resort provided all comers with cardboard and duct tape, and we had forty minutes to build a sled before putting our creation to the test—with ourselves as guinea pigs. True to stereotype, Dad took over the design, our daughter did the bulk of the painting, I sat back and took pictures and our son mostly got in everybody else's way. We probably spent at least fifteen minutes of the build time just on a cardboard Union Jack.
When time was called, I felt reasonably confident in our creation until we found ourselves looking down from the top of the hill. Our sled could hold three, and my husband volunteered to sit out, which seemed less sacrificial as we sat at the crest of the slope, realising that we had absolutely no idea how fast we were going to go down.
The answer was "very fast", but fortunately not "too fast". (Unfortunately, in terms of the competition, "not fast enough!" For anybody seeking to create a cardboard sled, the biggest tip I can give you is to ride lying down.)
Most surprising of all, the sled survived the run—if not fully intact. We were told that the lights would be on for another hour, so we could slide down as many times as we wanted. My husband promptly ran back to our condo and got our actual sled. We spent a good half hour riding down that hill, long after everybody else had got bored and left. Best sledding conditions we've ever had—even our daughter loved every minute. It proved to be a fantastic high note to end our holiday on.
The next day, the temperatures plummeted, which made it easier to say goodbye and head south. We did take a few minutes to try freezing bubbles again—except the kids weren't interested, so it was just my husband and myself messing around with this little bit of physics.
|Frozen to the wood.|
|I poked a hole in the top. For science!|
All that was left was checking out and the long, long drive home. The cold followed us down. Good thing we've got all the gear to protect against it! We're already talking about doing another trip to colder climes since we do have the warm clothes... just don't tell my daughter.