Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 22, 2022
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Nordic Trails

Staying close to home might be your best bet in finding the ultimate cross-country ski trail

Canada's bountiful ski country is a lot closer than you might think. Within an hour of most major centres, there are a variety of trails that take cross-country skiers far away from the bustle of city life and out into the great outdoors. From the 224-kilometre trail network in Quebec's Laurentian forest at Mont-Sainte-Anne, to the backcountry lodges in Alberta's Rocky Mountains, to skiing with your dog in Ontario's Hardwood Hills, there are a range of cross-country ski trails available for beginners and experts.

Canmore, Alberta
An hour's drive from Calgary, the Rocky Mountains unfold to the delight of cross-country skiers. Canmore, the site of the 1988 Winter Olympic Nordic events, offers a cross-country and biathlon trail system for recreational, training and competitive users. The Canmore Nordic Centre (Suite 100, 1988 Olympic Way, Canmore, AB T1W 2T6; tel: 403-678-2400; fax: 403-678-5696; ca/env/parks/prov_parks/kananaskis/ cncpp.html), at the tip of Kananaskis Country, sits at an elevation of 1425 metres. Seventy-two kilometres of trails are groomed to accommodate both classic and skate skiing. They also have night skiing along a lit 2.5-kilometre recreational trail.

For a more extensive trip, you can take a seven-day guided ski tour to rustic backcountry lodges in the Rockies with White Mountain Adventures (#7, 107 Boulder Crescent, Canmore, AB T1W 1K9; tel: 403-678-4099; fax: 403-678-5187; The first 15 kilometres run along Red Earth Creek and rise 350 metres until the trail reaches Shadow Lake Lodge, originally built in 1930 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The next day, a 13-kilometre round trail takes skiers across frozen Shadow Lake, with Mount Ball as a constant companion and into the high sub-alpine zone toward Haiduk Lake.

The last half of the tour starts with a helicopter flight around the southern boundary of Banff National Park to Mount Assiniboine Lodge, also built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1928. Options during the following days include a telemark tour toward Nub Peak or following trails that lead toward Elizabeth or Og Lake. On the last day, skiers have the option of taking a helicopter or skiing the 26 kilometres out to Mount Shark. $1865, all taxes included.

Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec
Half an hour east of Quebec City, there are trails that lead through snow- laden pine boughs and dense hardwood forest to suit every technical ability and preference. Here snow falls at an average of 400 centimetres per year and blankets rivers and forest trails. Located in the Laurentian forest, the Mont-Sainte-Anne Cross-Country Centre (2000 boulevard Beau Pré, CP 400, Beaupré, QC G0A 1E0; tel: 800-463-1568 or 418-827-4561; fax: 418-827-3121; features 224 kilometres of classic trails, including a 135-kilometre network for skating stride. More than a quarter of their trails, ranging from three to 13 kilometres, are designated as easy routes. Forty percent of the trails are intermediate and offer from five to 24 kilometres of skiing. The demanding, steep hills on the black diamond trail network make up the bulk of the advanced routes. Note that skiers can take cross-country ski lessons to sharpen their skills before tackling these trails.

A highlight here is the L'Auberge du Fondeur, a B&B that sits in the middle of the trail network. After a long day's ski you can relax by the fireplace in the living room or enjoy a hot sauna. The innkeeper serves a hearty breakfast in the morning and leaves the kitchen at the guest's disposal for lunch or supper. A waxing room is also available. Along the trails, seven shelters offer a welcome break, including two with lodging facilities for eight skiers. Weekday rates start at $116 and weekends at $132 per person in a four-person room.

Some of the first circuits that open for the season are also the most scenic. The trails that run along snow-capped rocks in the Jean-Larose River allow skiers to loop back over the bridges if they want a shorter run for their first day. Number 36 trail is an 18.8-kilometre backcountry trail. Ungroomed, it offers skiiers a chance to fully experience the woods and freshly fallen snow.

Hardwood Hills, Ontario
One hour north of Toronto, 42 kilometres of trails lead through 263 hectares of rolling terrain on the Oro Moraine. The privately owned Hardwood Hills (402 Old Barrie Road, Oro Medonte, ON L0L 2E0; tel: 800-387-3775; fax: 705-487-2153; has all its trails groomed for classic and skate skiing. They've added several trails since they hosted a World Cup cross-country ski competition in December 1991 to accommodate beginner skiiers as well. Their 7.5-kilometre Meadowlands trail runs through flatter terrain for easy skiing. Other than the five-kilometre Pine trail, the rest of the network is intermediate to advanced.

All loop trails interconnect from main trails that lead off from the chalet. On a clear day, take the 3.5 kilometre Kim's Loop and you'll be able to see Lake Simcoe from the lookout. For those who want a challenge, the 7.5 kilometre Olympic trail system is technically demanding with banked corners and many steep hills. The seven-kilometre Wilderness trail is ungroomed for backcountry skiing. The only other tracks you'll see are those of snowshoers, deer and dogs. Yes, you don't have to leave your dog sulking at home. As long as he's on a leash, he can run alongside your skis.

Hardwood Hills also operates an eight-week children's program, the Jackrabbit. Parents can drop off their children for the two-hour weekend ski-skill program and take to the trails. The program is available for children aged five to twelve and costs $90, plus tax. The Hardwood Inn, a five-room B&B located on the grounds has doubles from $75 to $95 including breakfast.


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