Dillon Lowen: Why I’m a Winter Camper

Dillon Lowen, Assistant Store Manager, Atmosphere Market Mall, Calgary, AB

Winter camper for 5 years

"Pack to avoid unnecessary suffering”  

What got you into winter camping?

I went on a trip with a hunter friend just to see and explore a new area. Winter camping is unique in that it presents you with a perspective of the mountain terrain that is lost to most people who aren’t willing to put up with the mild discomfort. In 2012 I began winter camping more seriously as a way to facilitate longer ice climbing trips which is another winter activity I’m extremely passionate about (along with snowshoeing and winter hiking).

Camping in the winter is definitely more gear intensive (but I’m a gear-head so that’s not a problem for me!), requires better quality equipment and more attentive maintenance of that equipment.

The solidifying moment for me was in 2012 on my first multi-day winter trip into the Ghost River area. The combination of the serene views (fresh and unbroken snow in difficult to access parts of the enormous range) and the easy access to immense and challenging ice walls which was afforded to me by braving the elements for a few days was paradigm shifting for me.

Sounds like you really love spending time in the outdoors all year round. Is that one of the reasons you chose to work at atmosphere?

My motivation to work at atmosphere is two-fold. It affords me greater opportunities to learn about new equipment and activities and gives me greater access to new gear. Secondly, it also allows me to meet new people interested in the same activities and make new connections which support my endeavors.

This not only helps me but I feel also lowers the barrier for access to new avenues of mountain sport for all our customers. I love getting people excited about the outdoors so this is inherently satisfying for me.

I guess if you had your way everyone and their dog would be all-mountain, all-season enthusiasts. You like teaching people about things you’re passionate about. Have you learned anything from customer’s you’ve met?

Yes! And they often surprise me with their knowledge. I meet such a wide variety of people day to day and often find myself learning new things about my sport and activities that I didn’t even know I wanted to learn. And that’s just from an off-the cuff conversation!

I’ve also gotten to meet some top athletes from around the world thanks to Atmosphere. We’re kind of among the greats around here as a brand I think.

Can you tell us about some of the skills and knowledge you’ve developed?

I’ve become very proficient at moving efficiently in mountain terrain in the winter, seems like I’ve found that happy balance between speed and avoiding over exertion. It’s easy to tire yourself out in the winter as the travel is so much more complicated and staying dry and conserving energy are essential skills.

I also feel very accomplished at fire starting and route finding, both important skills when camping in the winter.

What’s challenging you right now about your winter camping abilities?

One of the most challenging experiences I’ve had was simply dealing with cold, cold weather. On one climbing trip we ended up camping in conditions with temperatures below -30 C. That’s how cold it was for three days and three nights. Living and climbing in those temperatures is absolutely brutal even when everything is going right.

But one of my major skill struggles right now is maintaining my edge as a new parent. When I’m on my own it’s very easy to push myself into colder temperatures or harder climbs but having a child has really forced me to balance my endeavours against her well-being as well as my own. Basically, how can I keep things fun and safe while still maintaining some level of skill-developing challenge?

A year from now I’ll be happy to see my skills maintained as they are. Five years from now however I want to see myself accomplished enough to safely take my daughter out and share the unique experience of winter camping with her.

What kind of advice would you give new and experienced winter campers or winter outdoor enthusiasts?

The single most important skill to cultivate in winter camping is organization.

I feel that in order to improve and get comfortable as a winter camper for the purpose of any sport, you need to be able to plan far enough ahead to account for any eventualities the weather or terrain may throw at you while being efficient and shrewd enough to recognize what is essential vs non-essential equipment.

It’s also very important to determine where your priorities lie in terms of comfort vs function as this will inform your packing style and hence the amount of weight you’ll have to post hole into your campsite.

Put simply: Pack to avoid unnecessary suffering.

You’ve been winter camping for a decade, has anything surprised you about it over the years?

Winter camping is full of surprises around every turn. Each and every trip comes with its own unique suite of problems, solutions, benefits and joys to keep you invested in the next trip. If I had to name one thing that was the most surprising I’d say it’s how easy it really can be to stay warm and have a great time with the right gear.