Winter is subjective in Calgary. Snow can fall from the sky any month of the year (seriously). And, there is always at least one real snowfall before Hallowe’en, without fail. Mother Nature usually waits until October, but sometimes it even happens in September! One such storm was so epic it was dubbed “Snowtember”. We have also had record-breaking snowfalls in early October.
Never fear, these are all superlatives. For eight or more months of the year, Calgary is dry, sunny sunny sunny, and an excellent climate to live in. For the other four, most of it is dry, usually with not much snow (because it’s so dry), and relatively mild for winter. Admittedly, we can get chilly snaps, but they are usually followed by a natural phenomenon known as a Chinook. Sometimes it can turn downright balmy depending on the Chinook. 20ºC on the 20th of December? It has happened.
In 2017, winter struck the day after Hallowe’en. Temperatures plummeted well below 0ºC and we had a good blanket of snow, everywhere. While winter solstice wasn’t set to happen for another six weeks or so, the studs went on.
How we roll
We keep on riding through the winter. Sometimes we opt to walk. The first fall we moved back to Calgary, my husband made a snowfall-related commuting rule about taking transit when it snowed; he applied the rule one morning and slipped and fell on his way to the bus stop, breaking his wrist. He no longer has a rule about snowfall (or it is a much higher threshold now).
I haven’t really had much reason to “commute” in the traditional sense since we moved back to Calgary. In Vancouver, I had been a committed any-and-all weather bike commuter; upon arriving back in Calgary I had a newborn baby and no paid work to get to every day. Starting in 2017 one of my two kids commenced full time school located a long enough distance away that biking is the preferred mode of transportation. We commute to school, mostly by bike.
So, that’s what we do. Rain, sleet, hail, or snow. It’s all good. It’s tricky after a fresh snowfall, but it’s a good challenge and totally doable even with two young kids along for the ride. (Although, I could really do without the sleet and hail.)
Reflections from late 2017
It is now month three of school and my eldest has never had a ride to school… in the traditional sense of the expression “ride”. She has ridden herself to school and has been a passenger catching a ride on the back on my husband’s longtail cargo bike. But, she has not set foot in a car or bus to get to school. She has ridden, been a passenger in our bakfiets, or walked home for all but three occasions (when we needed to keep moving westward after school and biking didn’t work logistically-speaking because of bedtime).
This is something that I’m proud of. It also saves us a shit-tonne of money and keeps me relatively fit and sane.
When I started my new chapter of commuting actively — this time with kids, I had two small children in tow and my eldest was starting preschool. My rule was that I had to self-propel one way, at least. Three years later and now it is a rarity to take the car, if ever. I now mostly bike, but sometimes walk if I still need to squeeze in a dog walk. It’s a nice change of pace, too.
I suppose that I am lucky where I live. We are within spitting distance of a world class off-street pathway system that takes me to many of my (curated) destinations. I hint at “curated” because I tend to pick and choose the businesses that I frequent or the extra-curricular activities that I sign our kids up for based on their proximity to good to excellent cycling infrastructure. We took a hit for housing size and quality in return for excellent accessibility to this network so that at least one of us could actively transport ourselves to work. I am so glad that we did.
Keep your eyes peeled on this space to read about my musings on winter riding. Things I love. Things I’m not a fan of. My favourite hacks. Special gear. Riding with kids. Cargo biking in the winter. E-assist in the winter. You name it. In fact, feel free to ask this cargo biking mom any questions in the comments section, below.
If you are in Calgary this coming Thursday, November 16th,
I’m going to be a part of a rad panel discussion called
“Shift Into Winter: Winter Cycling Workshop”
held at Two Wheel View from 6-9 pm.
Please RSVP, tickets by donation to help support this amazing organization.
Keep riding all winter long because you can. Because it is a wonderful way to start the day. Because it is peaceful. Because we’re Canadian and we have a winter that we might as well embrace. Because YOLO.
Other posts in this series
- Special Equipment that Helps
- Keeping Kids Warm
- Snow snow snow
- Tips on How to Stay Vertical
- Winter Tires
- Canadian Weather Facts & Stats