We (and Kananaskis Mountain Rescue, and Alberta Parks, and pretty much everyone else) tell you that, before you do your outdoor adventuring, you should “Do Your Research!” But no one (including us) has said what “doing your research” really means – until now. On this page, we’re going to:
- Tell you what ISN’T research;
- Tell you what good research really looks like;
- Give you links where you can find good and reliable information. And we’re going to do our best to try to keep it up to date, too. So bookmark this page, and check on it regularly.
Is asking questions on social media “research”?
Social media – Twitter, Facebook & Instagram in particular – isn’t always bad. There are certainly things that you can (and should) get from social media, but other things you should avoid like the plague.
It’s GOOD research to ask on social media:
- For current conditions on a trail. Be precise: “Has anyone been on XYZ trail in the last few days, and can tell me the current trail conditions?” Because the Parks official trail reports only cover official trails, this may be your ONLY source of good condition info for routes. Do NOT be surprised if answers come back critical of your selection of trail. Hopefully, if you follow the advice below, that won’t happen. And remember: before you ask, search the group. People are often asking condition questions without even doing enough research to see that the exact info they need was posted just hours before they asked. Don’t be them;
- “Does anyone else wants to join me on a hike/bike/ride to trail Z on this date” This can get you connections, but be cautious about who you might get. They could be fitter, faster, slower, noisier, more skilled, less skilled, have the right training and equipment, or not have the right training and equipment compared to you.
- If a trail is open or closed. There are reliable websites listed below that will tell you that with 100% accuracy;
- If a trail has avalanche danger. 1) Avalanche risk is NEVER listed for a trail; 2) You need to be able to assess avalanche risk yourself, and take AST 1. Otherwise, you’re asking for an expert opinion from people who may know exactly nothing about avalanches, and you’re putting your life in the hands of a total stranger;
- Is a trail “dog friendly” or “Can I take my dog on this trail?” In the summer, there are exactly NO trails in K-Country that are off-limits to dogs. We were reminded that it is true that dogs are NOT allowed on groomed XC ski trails in PLPP, SVPP (Shark area), the Canmore Nordic Centre, Ribbon Creek and the Sheep in winter. For rules for dogs in the West Bragg area, see this link. When you get the trail status from the sites listed below, you’ll know all that;
- Deciding to do a hike because of a pretty picture you saw on social media is NOT a way to pick a hike or do research. Asking “Where is that?” is NOT research whatsoever.
- Backcountry YYC is excellent for current backcountry skiing and snow stability conditions; They report avalanches, but are also are very good about posting that same info on Avalanche.ca. Checking here is GOOD research
- Cross Country Skiing YYC was a FB group built as a companion to the original SkierBob (now SkierRoger) site for the more social media focused, trail (not back country) cross-country skier folks (see more on SkierBob below);
- Mountain Biking Trail Reports for Calgary and Area by YYCMTB is, for a pleasant change, exactly what it says it is. It’s virtually nothing but trail reports. Very valuable info, and GOOD research, even if you’re hiking and not biking;
- Scrambling in the Canadian Rockies can often be GOOD research. About 80% of the posts have useful info to help you plan. The rest are “look at me on the top of the mountain” posts;
- “Hike Alberta”, the “Alberta Hiking Association”, “Rockies Kingdom” and many, many others are very risky places to source info; checking these is NOT good research (which is why we have not linked them). They break every rule listed below (especially the “posts on illegal trails” rule). That doesn’t make them bad groups, just bad places to do research.
Learn to avoid bad Social Media resources
Here’s how to ID a Facebook Group that is NOT a spot for good research, and is a poor place to ask research questions:
- You’ll normally find people posting “look at me on the top of a mountain” pictures. But they DON’T ever report on conditions they encountered along the way that can help you or others plan;
- If you see lot of posts with the name of a location (“Wasootch Peak”) and little or no other text, but a boatload of pictures, you’ve found a group that is NOT good for research;
- There are lots of posts of just videos. Videos CAN offer some visual info, but are NEVER current info;
- There are summer posts and pics in the winter, and vice versa. These are promoting the individual that took the pics, not your research;
- Posts in the group are not curated. Accordingly, you’ll find there are regular posts from people illegally on trails in closed areas, people harming endangered trees or plants, people attempting to commercialize their websites or YouTube Channels for profit without giving useful planning info, and the like;
- The group has rules, but the rules don’t involve sharing info, or the rules they have are not enforced. A really good group has an admin that must approve your post. Admire the admins in these groups – doing that screening is a lot of work;
- The group is open, and anyone can join. Good groups are closed, and you have to ask (and answer a questionnaire) to join.
There ARE some good individual users available in every Facebook Group (Matthew Clay, John Shellenberg, FKC Director Derek Ryder, Kamala Dixon, Doug Lutz and a few others spring to our minds) who post accurate and useful planning information. But they are few and far between in many Groups, and you have to be in Group for quite a while to figure out who actually knows what they’re talking about.
Alberta Parks started a Social Media Ambassador program a few years back. These ~10 individuals are worth following if for no other reason than that Alberta Parks sanctions their content. They are all on a variety of social media platforms. They all know what they are doing, and they post GOOD information.
Beware of GPS Tracks
Finding and downloading – then following – a GPS track from a website is NOT research at all. Just following a track you found – which many people do – tells you NOTHING about the hazards of that route, so does not prepare you for your adventure. You generally don’t know about the individual that uploaded that track. Do they know what they’re doing? Some – including those listed below– certainly do, while others do not. Can you tell the difference? The “download and follow a track” approach has resulted in the need for numerous rescues in K-Country.
What good research looks like
We have a lot of info and links on those pages that give EXCELLENT ways to research your adventures. The first of that series, What To Know Before You Go, is critical. It hits on another key message:
Looking at an app such as AllTrails is NOT good research.
Apps – especially AllTrails – don’t give adequate descriptions of trails. They don’t say what the exact hazards are, and how to get around them. They’re crowdsourced, which works for some things, but ANYONE can put a track in AllTrails, including people who don’t know what they’re doing or talking about. AllTrails is uncurated; no one is fact checking the information. AllTrails contains numerous, known inaccuracies regarding trails in K-Country. AllTrails does NOT remove routes in closed areas, or illegal trails. AllTrails is terrible about telling you which trails are inaccessible during seasonal travel, road or wildlife restrictions and closures. AllTrails NEVER has info regarding avalanche risk. Alberta Parks has even posted warnings about relying on info from AllTrails and other apps.
That doesn’t mean AllTrails is useless. Use AllTrails to:
- Check for current trail condition info. If there have been no updates on a trail in AllTrails in a while, DON’T immediately go onto social media to ask why. A quick check of a guidebook or one of the trail condition websites listed below will quickly tell you why;
- Sort to find adventures. Want a 6-8km hike with less than 200 m elevation gain in the Sheep area? AllTrails will give you a list in seconds. Then read a guidebook that lists them to find out if it meets your needs. That’s GOOD research.
Guidebooks >> Apps
Reading a reliable guidebook is GOOD research. Good guidebooks are regularly updated, offer very detailed descriptions, are VERY clear about hazards (like avalanche issues), are relentlessly accurate, are unbiased, and offer far more insight than could ever go in an app. They’re not perfect, but they are far and away better than any app on the market. Even hopelessly out of date guidebooks (such as the “Don’t Waste Your Time”/”Where the Locals Hike” series) are better for planning than any app you will find. Even just looking at a GemTrek map is GOOD research. Their curated hikes listed on the map’s reverse are excellent starters. On their maps, you can establish hike/bike distance and height change.
Beware of folks with websites promoting “Best Of” lists. Their version of “best” and yours could be radically different. GOOD research involves finding out what is the best for you, not for them. Best for your skill level, for the experience you want, for the challenge you’re looking for. As we note in our links above, choose your experiences based on data like distances, elevation gains, hazards, experiences – all of which are better described in a good guidebook than on any website. And, for the record: every adventure in K-Country is a fantastic one. You’ll seriously miss out if you just do someone else’s “Best Of” list, and you’ll find more solitude avoiding their “Best Of” adventures.
Reliable on-line information sources
In addition to above noted Facebook groups – or if you’re not into social media – here are just straight websites that are promotion & advertising free, unbiased, GOOD research info. None of the sites below are in it for anything other than sharing accurate information.:
- Alberta Parks Kananaskis Country Trail Reports. The GO TO SOURCE for conditions info for EVERY official trail in K-Country. Trail conditions are updated fairly often. In the winter, there is access to live XC grooming reports. Includes closures, warnings and other useful info for official trails;
- Alberta Parks Kananaskis Country Advisory and Public Safety page. All trail & facility closures are listed here, as are all wildlife warnings and closures. This will list EVERY closure, including those on both official trails and unofficial routes;
- Alberta Parks Kananaskis Country Annual Trail Closure Page. There are 6 trails in K-Country that are closed annually for part of the year. Every trail is listed here;
- Alberta Parks Kananaskis Country Annual Road Closure Page. There are 10 roads in K-Country that have seasonal closures. Every date is listed here;
- Our friends at Bragg Creek Trails keeps an exceptionally up-to-date trail report specific to the trails at West Bragg. This includes real-time XC grooming reports in winter;
- Gillean and Tony Daffern’s Kananaskis Trails blog. Gill posts updates to her outstanding guidebooks here. There’s a Trail Finder tool that comes close to what AllTrails can do to narrow down your searches. The topographic maps from her books are downloadable. There are brief trail descriptions that make the ones in AllTrails pale in comparison;
- Bob Spirko’s Scrambling Page. If there’s a scramble that can be done, Bob has done it, including everything in Kane’s and Nugara’s books and then some. And he’s blogged about them all, posted tons of photos, been very detailed about how difficult they are, and normally added a GPS track you can download;
- Vern Dewitt’s scrambling page. Vern used to do what Bob Spirko does. A few years back, Vern started to wonder if doing all of that was wise. He discovered that too many people were just downloading his GPS tracks and following them, as was noted above. So he stopped putting up tracks. He’s since reinstated them, because it “essentially it came down to ‘might as well give people tracks they can actually trust'”. Vern clearly illustrates the points noted above regarding NOT just blindly downloading GPS tracks;
- SkierRoger.com. If you are interested in XC skiing anywhere in the region, Roger covers it. A deep, rich and well used blog that is constantly updated all season long with trip and condition reports. Roger took over when beloved Bob (of SkierBob fame) retired;
- Avalanche.ca offers the GO TO source for regional avalanche conditions, updated daily. Drilling into the site will show details of the Mountain Information Network’s avi reporting, lots of weather data as we mention here, and even has really good raw weather information, plus some amazing educational resources like AvySavvy. But neither Avalanche.ca nor anywhere else offers avi conditions for any particular trail. Avalanche.ca’s info is regional;
- WildSmart offers a weekly bear report that summarizes bear activity and wildlife issues in K-Country, though it is primarily focused on the Bow Valley. It’s worth signing up for their weekly newsletter;
- The Friends Website and social media feeds. We are leading experts on K-Country. If there’s news worth sharing, we share it. Our website is chock full of useful advice on safety, Leave No Trace, and about 200 other topics. We have bookmark-able links to a ton of other resources. As noted above, all of the pages in our Planning series offer numerous links, from weather to estimating hike timing to the difference between scrambling and hiking. Delving into our (rich and curated) website further is GOOD research – and a lot of it has been produced in partnership with Kananaskis Mountain Rescue.
Do you think YOU have a great research resource? Pass it along to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share it.
Start doing your research here.