When Sandy and Tom Fransham bring their daughters Danika, 10, and Reese, 7, into the mountains, they’re showing them what a healthy lifestyle is all about, and sharing in all the joy and fun of being outside together, staying at an Alpine Club hut.
“These are great memories for our kids,” says Sandy, who organises a family-focused trip at an Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) hut every year.
“We really enjoy ourselves when we organise trips with other families. The huts provide a great place for all the families to get together. It gives us a comfortable base. We arrive at the hut, roll out the sleeping bags, turn on the burner and start making dinner. (Staying at a hut) gives us more time to play with our kids.”
Staying at an Alpine Club hut is a comfortable and convenient alternative to camping. Many huts – located in spectacular alpine settings – give you a wilderness experience, but with all the basics taken care of –a sturdy roof over your head, foam mattresses to sleep on, kitchen facilities to prepare and eat meals, and pots, pans dishes and utensils.
For the Franshams, staying at a hut allows them to pack a lot more, compared to going backpacking, Sandy adds. “Sometimes we bring in board games or guitars. In the winter, we haul in sleds and, the kids go tobogganing. And we can bring in deluxe meals as well.”
Another huge benefit to staying at an Alpine Club hut, is the people, according to Sandy. “When you’re staying at the huts, you really get to know other people. Your kids are meeting other active kids, and you are meeting other active parents. It’s a nice bond with other people who have the same interests as you. The relationships with the other families are deep bonds.
“We’ve really created our own little community. We parent communally when we’re together. We all look out for each other’s kids, and that eases the workload on parents. We take turns cooking meals. It’s accessing this whole community of people that you can enjoy your time with to lighten the load.”
The Franshams are already seeing the difference that these kinds of mountain holidays have made in their children, especially in their older daughter, Danika. “That is when she is at her best. That’s when we see her leadership skills, and we see her pure joy when she is in the mountains,” Sandy explains. “It’s great to be able to share that passion with her, and see that she enjoys it just as much as we do.”
David Roe, past chair of the Alpine Club’s Calgary section and a lifelong Alpine Club member, remembers family holidays when he was growing up, spent at the Elizabeth Parker Hut in Lake O’Hara, where his father regularly served as hut custodian. “We had a blast. It’s a really kid-friendly place, as is the Wheeler Hut and the Stanley Mitchell Hut,” he recalls.
Now, David and his own family continue that tradition of spending time in nature, based out of an Alpine Club hut in the Canadian Rockies.
“Once you’re at the hut, you let them go. It’s quite incredible,” David says. “I don’t think there’s anything better than free play out in nature for kids. They have a great time and make up their own games. It’s good for them emotionally and mentally to leave the trappings of the electronic world behind. They will spend the entire day playing outside if we don’t round them up and take them for a hike, which we often do.”
Longtime Alpine Club of Canada member Pat Payne and her family are also big fans of the Alpine Club huts. “You’re out of the bugs, and you’re out of the rain,” Pat says. “It’s a really comfortable and convenient way to get out with your kids. It’s really fun.”
The Alpine Club of Canada’s network of mountain huts includes several family-friendly huts, which ACC marketing and communications manager, Keith Haberl, describes as ‘rustic’ and ‘a shared experience.’ “Sleeping kitchen and living areas are communal,” he notes. Guests are expected to bring their own sleeping bags, food and personal items.
The ACC’s family-friendly huts include Elizabeth Parker (Lake O’Hara), Stanley Mitchell, Elk Lakes Cabin, Wheeler (Rogers Pass), Wates-Gibson (Jasper); Kokanee Glacier Cabin, Silver Spray Cabin and Woodbury Cabin in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. The Alpine Club’s Pat Boswell Cabin and Bell Cabin at the Canmore Clubhouse are also family-friendly.
Additionally, the Alberta government recently announced three new backcountry huts, to be built in the Castle Wildland Provincial Park, near Pincher Creek in southern Alberta. These huts, which will be operated by the ACC, will offer hut-to-hut hiking and will come online in the next two years.
There are many benefits to ACC membership, Keith says, including discounted rates when staying at ACC huts, as well as advanced hut booking privileges, with members able to book up to one year in advance.
“We want people to go out and experience the backcountry,” Keith says, noting that many people’s first overnight stay in the backcountry is spent at an ACC hut. “We want them to fall in love with the backcountry wilderness alpine environment.
That’s our goal: to have people love those places, care about them and protect them.”