A Winter Woodland Expedition

During the brutal cold snap we had around New Years, there was one day that was a balmy -15C. A perfect day to go camping in the woods.

The quinzee on Caribou Lake.

The quinzee on Caribou Lake.

I have never gone winter camping before, in fact I have barely gone summer camping before. Having a grown up with a cottage on Star Lake, I never really thought to go camping. Holidays and vacation time were spent hanging out on the dock and the boathouse.

So this winter camping trip to Caribou Lake was a great new adventure for me. Caribou Lake is an isolated little lake, just northeast of Caddy Lake. It has no cottages on it and is not accessible by road, so we took the snowmobiles through the woods to get there.

Hollowing out the quinzee.

Hollowing out the quinzee.

Firewood had been previously chopped and snow had already been piled up for the quinzee. You want to do this in advance so you don’t work up a sweat before sleeping in the quinzee. We got there around two in the afternoon. About six of us had sledded in, but only two of us were going to spend the night.

We started off the day with ice fishing for walleyes. The walleye on this lake aren’t huge, but they are a perfect eater size. What is really interesting about the walleye on Caribou Lake is that they have blue fins! According to the fishing experts and zoologists I was with, this is most likely because of the water colour in the lake. Fish can vary in colour from lake-to-lake as the water colour varies. However I was told that apparently there is a certain type of blue walleye, but not found in these areas.

A very blue tail on a walleye from Caribou Lake.

A very blue tail on a walleye from Caribou Lake.

After landing about five or six fish, we hollowed our the quinzee. The previous cold snap and massive amounts of snow had made it quite firm.

Cliff copy
A large cliff with a little nook in it made the perfect natural spot for a fire as the rock cliff reflected heat back quite nicely. This was the perfect place to sit and keep warm throughout the evening, and it also was the perfect place to cook dinner. My boyfriend had brought a deer roast – An entire hind leg wrapped in tin foil. Low and behold, there was a little ledge in the side of the cliff right above the fire; a perfect place to cook the deer roast over the fire. It was a true caveman style dinner… Except we had injected our roast with garlic-infused olive oil. The deer roast cooked for over the fire for about five hours. To be honest, I wasn’t overly confident in the idea of cooking an entire roast on a rock by the fire, but it turned out to be the best deer meat I have ever had!

The deer roast cooking over the fire.

The deer roast cooking over the fire.

Sitting beside the fire.

Sitting beside the fire.

After dinner my boyfriend took the rest of the crew home on the snowmobile, giving me some time to myself in the woods. They took the remainders of the deer roast with them – And thank goodness. While I know wolves are highly, highly unlikely to approach a human, when you’re alone in the woods in the dark your mind can have a tendency to run away on you. The last thing I wanted was to be sitting there alone with a delicious garlic-infused deer roast! However I enjoyed the fire for awhile while the others were gone, and no wolves were seen.

The candlelit quinzee.

The candlelit quinzee.

When it was the end of the evening, we rolled the snow door over the quinzee for a long winter’s nap. Well, it wasn’t that long. The quinzee was candlelit and actually created a lovely atmosphere, but our only mistake was that we should have layed down a tarp inside the quinzee to provide a bit more of a barrier between us and the ice. However the temperature outside was around -20C and the inside of the quinzee stayed at about zero degrees so we had a decent temperature to sleep in.

This was a great experience and a true outdoor adventure. I would recommend anyone to give winter camping a try. If you come equipped properly it is an amazing experience and an awesome thing to check off the ol’ bucket list.

Written by Marney Blunt.

The Road From Falcon Lake To Sochi

Falcon Lake’s local Olympic biathlete is on the home stretch to the Sochi 2014 Olympics, her second Olympic games.

Imrie has recently left Ruhpolding, Germany, where she raced a couple races while struggling with jet lag, she says. She now in Antholz, Italy, where she will be racing the final world cup race before the big event in Russia. Image“I’m finished with the jet lag,” said Imrie in a recent newsletter update. “And just like we would sometimes do in an open field with our horses: I just want to get on my skis and let them run.”

As she travels from country-to-country to race, Imrie receives support from many, including the Rocky Mountain Soap Company. The company is selling their limited edition Great White North Soap with all proceeds going toward Imrie’s Olympic journey. For all you Manitobans, the soap is available at the Rocky Mountain Soap store in Polo Park Shopping Centre.

Tomorrow in Italy, Imrie will be competing in a sprint race followed with pursuit and relay races on the weekend. Her parents have flown in from Manitoba and are there to cheer her on as she makes her last laps before heading into the Olympics.

Experience the Whiteshell would like to wish Megan Imrie the best of luck in her races this weekend. Go Megan go!

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Bass Fishing in the Whiteshell

By: Jeff Gustafson

As someone who loves to fish and be on the water, growing up in Northwestern Ontario was great because there was never a shortage of top-notch fishing opportunities outside my door – I grew up with a fishing rod in my hand throughout all seasons.

Jeff Gustafson shows off a nice Falcon Lake smallmouth.

Jeff Gustafson shows off a nice Falcon Lake smallmouth.

My passion for bass fishing and competing in tournaments first brought me to the Whiteshell region back in the early 2000’s to participate in the annual opening day bass tournament on Falcon Lake, an event that has been put on by the Manitoba Bass Anglers Association for many years.

Since the tournament always took place on the opening day of the fishing season, we were never able to pre-fish (or practice) for the event.  We just showed up the day of the tournament and went fishing.  After several years we learned the lake a little bit better and our catches went up significantly.

Eventually my friends and I started making day trips over to Falcon Lake so that we could catch a bunch of fish.  It’s funny because as many people as there are that use Falcon Lake, very few of them take advantage of the great smallmouth bass fishing available there.

The author's wife with a new West Hawk Lake smallmouth.

The author’s wife with a new West Hawk Lake smallmouth.

My experience there has always been earlier in the season, in May and June and our expectations when we go there now is that we’re going to catch big numbers of fish.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever caught 100 bass in a day there, but 50 plus fish, including some really nice ones, is quite common.  Factor in the shot at a monster pike or walleye and you have a great place to fish.

As far as location goes, it’s all about finding structure around the lake.  From a boat it does not look like Falcon Lake has a lot of structure because it is so open and exposed, but when you turn on your depth finder and watch it as you troll the shoreline it quickly becomes apparent how many little bumps and humps there are around the lake, all prime bass habitat.

Baitfish make up the bulk of the diet for all sport fish in Falcon Lake, species like shiners, perch and cisco in particular so anglers should use minnow imitating lures in their pursuit of all species.  Over the years I caught hundreds of bass on three and four inch suspending jerkbaits.  Simply cast them out and work them back to the boat in a jerk-jerk-pause cadence.  Some days the fish like a longer pause, some days shorter is better.  Let the fish tell you what they want.

Across Highway 1 to the north is another gem of a lake in the Whiteshell Provincial Park.  West Hawk Lake may very well be the deepest lake that I have ever been on in my life.  It’s deep, cold, clear water is not the best bass habitat but the many shallow bays that surround the main basin of the lake provide plenty of good water for bass to live.  Much like Falcon, local anglers are much more interested in the walleye and lake trout that live on the lake than they are in the bass population.

A quick screen shot shows how deep the water is in the middle of West Hawk Lake. Those are lake trout, shown suspended on the screen.

A quick screen shot shows how deep the water is in the middle of West Hawk Lake. Those are lake trout, shown suspended on the screen.

The secret to finding bass on West Hawk is to find stretches of shoreline in these bays that have a sand or boulder bottom composition.  These are going to be shallower stretches of water that much of the smallmouth bass’s forage prefer.  Much like Falcon, many types of baitfish are prevalent in West Hawk so minnow imitating baits are best.

For anglers looking to visit the Whiteshell Park, I assure you that you won’t be disappointed with the beauty in the scenery or the fishing opportunities that await.  Fishing licenses can be purchased at the gas station in the heart of the town of West Hawk, one of prettiest little communities you will ever visit during the summer months.  Out of province anglers should know that Manitoba has a province wide barbless hook rule in effect, so if you visit these lakes, remember to pinch your barbs.

Today, Jeff Gustafson makes his living as a professional bass tournament angler, fishing tournaments across the United States on the Walmart FLW Tour. He is also host of his own TV fishing show called Fishing with Gussy, an active outdoor writer and photographer as well as an all-season fishing and hunting guide.  You can find him online at www.gussyoutdoors.com 

Jeff Gustafson on-stage at a 2013 FLW Tour bass tournament.

Jeff Gustafson on-stage at a 2013 FLW Tour bass tournament.

SNOWDANCE: Festival of Music and Winter

Falcon Ridge ski hill is gearing up to host the third annual SNOWDANCE Festival of Music and Winter again this year, and the date has been set for January 18 and 19 2014!
snowdance_1Music has long been a part of the Falcon Ridge Ski Hill experience, with a staff comprised of about three quarters touring musicians, and a year long concert series hosted at the resort, it only makes sense that the two worlds be combined in a ski hill winter music festival, and if we’re lucky all this music and dancing will appease the snow gods and we will be rewarded with a season of that white stuff we love so much!

Photo by Sabine Trégouët.

Photo by Sabine Trégouët.

January 18 & 19 will bring two days of concerts, festival style workshops featuring winnipeg favourites Nathan, Red Moon Road, the Sweet Alibi, Darwin Baker (of the Crooked Brothers), Beth Hamilton, as well as some local talent to include Brooke & Ben, the Heinrichs Maneuver, and a fiddle concert featuring students from the local school.

Photo by Cheyenne Rae Music Photography & Video.

Photo by Cheyenne Rae Music Photography & Video.

In addition to the music, folks visiting the festival will be able to enjoy downhill skiing and snowboarding, tubing, x-country skiing, ice skating, outdoor campfire and a bannock bake, snow sculptures, night tubing, great food from the on site kitchen, and an organized sauna and polar bear swim.

Photo by Sabine Trégouët.

Photo by Sabine Trégouët.

 Tickets for the weekend are $35 which include full access to the two days of music, a lift ticket, a night tubing pass, and all the outdoor fun you can dream up!  Individual day passes are also available.
For more info, go to the website at www.falconridgeski.com/snowdance.php, including a full lineup for the weekend, prices, and videos from last year’s SNOWDANCE!

The Wolves of the Whiteshell: Part I

Timber wolves are possibly the most elusive, beautiful, and mysterious wildlife in the Whiteshell Provincial Park. Wolves in the Whiteshell are a rare sight, although the amount of tracks in the winter are a strong reminder that they are around in good numbers. You are far more likely to see wolves in the winter as they cross the frozen lakes in search of a deer making its way through the deep snow. Occasionally you can hear their eerie howls in the wind, a beautiful yet haunting sound that can send chills down your back.

The wolves of the Whiteshell are the January ‘Wildlife of the Month’. Check back for several other ‘Wolves of the Whiteshell’ posts throughout the winter.

Have you captured the wolves of the Whiteshell on your camera lens? Be sure to send them to whiteshell.lakes@gmail.com for a chance to be featured on Experience the Whiteshell.

Photos by Anne Klassen.    whiteSONY DSCcreek2creekSONY DSCSONY DSC

Whiteshell Business: Falcon Trails Resort

Written by Emily Christie & Caleigh Christie.

960047_559212490834233_1781299275_nFalcon Trails is a family-run resort located at the southeast end of Falcon Lake which welcomes guests year round to enjoy private lake-front cabins with hot tubs, magnificent views, friendly people, and the beauty of the Boreal Forest and Precambrian Shield. It is a perfect mix of wilderness and rustic luxury. Owners and operators Barb Hamilton and Craig Christie first started building the resort in 1996 after teaming up with two other couples; Mike & Yuki Valasman and Rich & Lois Pettit, who worked together to dream up a business proposal of a year round resort which would provide a crutch to the struggling local ski hill. The resort accommodation would allow for visiting skiers to have a place to stay and thus make the ski hill operation a more viable business. Today, the ski hill and the resort operate in tandem and are run solely by Barb, Craig, their three daughters Emily, Caleigh, Brooke, and an amazing host of staff who contribute what has become a vibrant micro-community workplace.

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The resort embraces a progressive environmental ethic by striving to reduce their ecological footprint wherever possible. Some of the sustainable initiatives include:

  • All Natural Cleaning Products: we use non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning products to maintain all our Falcon Trails and High Lake cabins.
  • Well-insulated cabin design to save heating energy.
  • Passive solar lighting utilizing large windows on the southern wall.
  • Cold-water washing with phosphate-free detergent for all laundry.
  • Composting and recycling program to minimize household waste.
  • Naturally focused landscaping embracing the local habitat.
  • Native plant garden.
  • Inspiring a love for the environment by getting people outdoors and in the woods!
High Lake Eco-Cabin.

High Lake Eco-Cabin.

One initiative that the resort is particularly proud of is the High Lake off-the-grid Eco Cabins which were the winners of the Tourism Manitoba Eco Tourism award in 2003. These four cabins which are located on High Lake, 2.5km from the rest of the resort boast incredible luxury in a very remote and private setting.

373911_176271789128307_1968856398_nThe cabin’s shared features include:

  • Built using largely reclaimed or local materials.
  • ‘Remote Access’ to avoid habitat destruction and to promote sustainable transport alternatives (walking, running, biking, cross country skiing).
  • Solar-powered electricity.
  • Gravity-fed water supply.
  • State-of-the art indoor composting toilets.
Whiskey Jack, the straw bale eco-cabin on High Lake.

Whiskey Jack, the straw bale eco-cabin on High Lake.

The latest two additions to the Eco Cabin rental fleet include a log and straw bale cabin. The log cabin which was built with the help of local swiss log builder Walter Keller is a beautiful, rustic cabin made for couples with a fantastic lookout over the lake, right from the master bed. The straw bale cabin, with an interior timber frame design, is a beautiful example of how an unconventional yet extremely smart and environmentally friendly building technique can also be luxurious and comfortable. Falcon Trails pursues these efforts to respect and sustain the environment for ourselves and future generations to live, work, and play.

395515_499700016749672_496207185_nIn recent years, the resort has become akin to Manitoba’s vibrant music scene.  As an intimate live music venue, playing host to many concerts from artists such as Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans, The Crooked Brothers, Red Moon Road, Fish and Bird, Ridley Bent, Scott Nolan, Oh My Darling, the F-Holes, and many more. In addition to this, the resort and its cozy little cabins have acted as recording studios for a handful of albums. To offset the lack of weekend music festivals in the winter Falcon Ridge Ski Hill has recently started hosting the “Snow Dance Music Festival” where people can come out, go skiing for the day and enjoy music workshops all the day through in the comfort of the warm chalet, with a cup of hot chocolate of course!

1470207_559211180834364_1889254026_nClearly Falcon Trails is about more than just cabin rentals.  It’s participation in music, outdoor recreation, community, environmental ethic, and hospitality makes for an excellent opportunity for folks to get out and explore, participate and really experience what the Whiteshell has to offer.

Photos by Emily Christie.