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Out of their element...and loving it

March 13, 2017
A dogsled team leads an excursion through the scenic environs near Canmore during a winter activity weekend provided to teachers on exchange from Australia.

Over the Family Day weekend, a group of Australian teachers who are currently living in Alberta on a year-long exchange participated in three days of winter activities in the Canmore area. Here are some of their impressions of their experiences and Canadian winter.

Winter wonderland can be summed up in one word

Lisa Matzanke

Magical. There is no other word to explain the snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes and majestic trees that greet you in Alberta. Like that isn’t impressive enough, grab a pair of snowshoes, ice skates, skis or a snowboard and you will love the snow and ice even more! None of these activities are an easy feat for newcomers to winter sports, but the challenge involved in achieving something new in one of the most beautiful places on earth is all the encouragement you need.

I travelled here with my eight-year-old daughter and we have already attempted all of the above activities as well as tubing at Mount Norquay. Our favourites are snowboarding and ice skating, although tubing was so much fun!

Teacher Lisa Matzanke and her daughter Zali enjoy a snowshoeing trek in the Canmore area.


The chilly temperatures are amazingly bearable when dressed correctly and wearing hot packs in gloves — worth their weight in gold! Our number-one highlight, however, was dog sledding in Kananaskis. As I said, I can think of only one word to explain the feeling of being amidst the frosty lodgepole pines, skyscraper mountains and aqua-coloured lakes alongside six gorgeous huskies: MAGICAL!

Lisa Matzanke is from the beachside suburb of Newcastle, New South Wales. She is currently teaching Grade 3 at St. Edmund’s Elementary/Junior High in Edmonton.

Winter activities provide many amazing moments

Ali Montgomery

I had a wonderful weekend in Canmore with all the other exchange people. It was lovely to swap stories, get some tips on things to do and see, and to experience all the “Canadian” activities over the Family Day weekend.

I arrived on Jan. 2 to minus 27 degrees and remember thinking “what on earth have I done?” It was 35 degrees when I got on the plane in Sydney! But after a few weeks, and many shopping trips for more appropriate clothing and footwear, I think I have acclimatized quite well. I love being outside in the snow, and it was amazing to have a weekend filled with wonderful activities.
It’s hard to choose a favourite activity from the weekend. I loved snowshoeing. It was hard work uphill, but to then be amongst the trees and feel the dead silence was just mind-blowing. The views from the top were amazing, and it was fun learning about tree wells and how to walk off track. I loved jumping off fallen trees into soft, dry powder and not sinking up to my waist.

Teachers and family members from Australia ham it up for the camera after taking on the cross-country ski trails.


The cross-country skiing was amazing. I had done it once 20 years ago at university but had never really been taught technique. By far the funniest moment was when I got way too confident and was in a full tuck coming down a hill toward the day hut and had a massive fall — skis everywhere, ice burn on my hip and stomach, and then a local lady thanking me for the best crash she had seen in a long time.

Then we did the dog sledding. Oh wow, wow, wow! This was amazing, and then we found out we had to drive! I love dogs and was so happy to be able to have some cuddles and then to work with them while they took us around the loop. There was a beautiful blue sky when we started, but as we went through the forest, it started to snow heavily. Emerging onto the lake was spectacular, and the silence after the fresh dump of snow on the way home was just amazing.

Ali Montgomery is from Bowral, New South Wales, and is currently teaching Phys Ed at Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton.

Mountain experience stunning and refreshing

Maxine Johnson

Teacher Maxine Johnson enjoys a dogsled ride with her son Todd while her husband Ian takes a turn at the helm. 


My photos say it all, I think. It was a refreshing time away in stunning surroundings. My ­favourite activity was dog sledding, although I did freak out just a little when I found out we were being let loose with a team of dogs on our own!

A close second was being able to wander around the Canmore town centre by myself while my husband and son went cross-country skiing. This place, with its coffee shops and boutiques, reminds me of my annual weekend away in Bowral (New South Wales, Southern Highlands) with my best friends.

Maxine Johnson is from Sydney and is currently teaching Grade 2 at Coloniale Estates School in Beaumont.


Fourteen Australian teachers from various parts of that country are currently teaching in Alberta schools in Beaumont, Calgary, Edmonton, Sherwood Park and Stony Plain as part of a one-year exchange that began in January.

The exchange is organized by the International Education Exchange Programs (IEEP), which the Alberta Teachers’ Association administers under an agreement with Alberta Education.

For more information on participating in teacher exchanges, visit


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