Cross-country skiing doesn’t offer as much downhill exhilaration as its sister alpine sport, but the skinny-ski experience has its own unique set of thrills. The meandering trails through forests, across lakes and along rivers and the vast wilderness vistas will appeal to any outdoor enthusiast. Terrain varies tremendously, from novice to expert, so anybody can give it a go. Best of all, you don’t need mountains or even hills, so there are amazing cross-country ski centres throughout Canada and many more just south of the border. The following are a few of the best.
Gros Morne National Park, N.L. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gros Morne will take you back billions of years to when the continents were still dividing, with breathtaking mountain views. Dress appropriately as it can get very windy and remember to bring your camera, because the park is teeming with wildlife.
Sugarloaf Provincial Park, N.B. Don’t be fooled by the name: Sugarloaf Mountain is not for softies. About four hours north of Fredericton, the park has more than 20 kilometres of trails and will satisfy both beginners and seasoned skiers. For adventurous types, there are eight winter camping sites.
Stowe Mountain Resort/Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont A short drive down from the Quebec border (or a short flight from Toronto on Porter Airlines, from mid-December to early April), the Stowe area’s options include the Stowe Mountain Resort’s 45 kilometres of groomed trails and 30 kilometres of backcountry terrain or the adjacent (and connected) network at the Trapp Family Lodge. Operated by the famous von Trapp family (yes, those von Trapps), there are 60 kilometres of groomed trails and 100 kilometres of backcountry skiing, all accessible from the Austrian-inspired lodge.
Le P’Tit Train du Nord, Que. Follow the tracks of a former Laurentians rail line and ski the longest linear park in Canada. Stop along the way at converted train stations for food and drink, or book hotels along the route for a multi-day excursion (luggage shuttle services are available). The season runs between December and March.
Gatineau Park, Que. Just half an hour from downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park (top) has more than 200 kilometres of trails for classic, skate or backcountry skiing, with routes to suit all abilities. To really get a feel for the park’s winter landscape, book a trailside camp site.
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ont. About four hours north of Toronto, Algonquin Provincial Park is a cross-country skiers’ playground. The park has three trail networks for cross-country skiing: two are groomed and one is set aside for backcountry. For the experienced skier, Leaf Lake Ski Trail offers a rollercoaster ride of steep climbs and sharp descents.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alta. Nothing beats the rugged wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. Nestled in Kananaskis Country, an hour west of Calgary, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park offers more than 85 kilometres of groomed trails and, amid rolling foothills, forests, lakes and an alpine meadow, more of a wilderness experience than the nearby Canmore Nordic Centre.
Silver Star Mountain Resort, B.C. Noted for its early-season snow and warm winter temperatures, Silver Star is a destination of choice for x-c skiers from around the world. With ski-in/ski-out accommodations, more than 100 kilometres of impeccably groomed trails (if you include adjacent Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre) and a chair lift you can ride to the top of the system, you can’t go wrong.
Strathcona Provincial Park/Mount Washington Alpine Resort, B.C. British Columbia’s oldest provincial park (established in 1911) spans nearly the entire width of Vancouver Island and features a couple dozen kilometres of trails that are maintained by the adjacent Mount Washington Alpine Resort, which has rentals, lessons and a range of accommodation.
Norman Wells, N.W.T. Located on the Mackenzie River, Norman Wells has a ski season that starts in November and lasts well into April — i.e., ski in shorts! But fret not in the colder months: the 40 kilometres of trails run by the local crosscountry ski club are narrow and provide plenty of shelter on windy days. And if you want to venture beyond this comfort zone, the untapped snow of the Mackenzie Mountains awaits. 867-587-7165