Derek’s Cross-country Skiing and Snowshoeing Antics
As far as low-impact, family friendly outdoor winter activities are concerned, there are few that are as accessible while potentially also exhilarating as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. These two activities can be as benign or as extreme as you want them to be. Based on my previous blog post about outdoor winter activities you will quickly realize that I err on the side of caution. Benign suits me fine! I’ve not had much success with winter activities and have been a casualty to every popular outdoor winter pastime that I’ve attempted. That being said, that’s not necessarily a reflection on the inherent risks in the activity but rather on my confidence and competence! None the less it should prompt a reminder that regardless of how tame an activity may seem, it’s best to be prepared and stay safe.
My one and only cross-country skiing endeavor was in 2017 when, on my birthday, Christa and I picked up some rental equipment from Sports Rent (navigate to their location on 16th Ave NW here). We headed out to West Bragg Creek (navigate to this location here) where we encountered the most spectacular winter setting and weather conditions. It was wind-still, allowing the biggest snowflakes I’ve ever seen to drift undisturbed through the enchanted alpine scenery, coming to rest on a fresh accumulating blanket of pure white powder. Everything about it was perfect.
It didn’t take long for that unspoiled, tranquil scene to be punctuated by mayhem and laughter. Our rental equipment was great. My natural skiing ability was sadly not! I’m embarrassed to say that I managed to endure only 45 minutes on the trails. In all that time I think I spent 30 minutes rolling around on the ground trying to either regain my composure or merely trying to stand up again. 10 minutes were spent trying to not slide backwards down the slope I’d just attempted to summit. And the remaining 5 minutes were spent desperately trying to avoid obstacles that seemed to attract me to them while staying upright and being thrust forward on my skis. Did I mentioned that the tracks had been beautifully groomed? I had no excuse. The bottom line is I’m just not good at balancing on my pins. Christa, on the other hand, was a natural! Despite not having tried skiing for many years she found her rhythm in no time at all and managed to make the most of being outdoors for both of us! This location is idyllic for cross-country skiing since it has a variety of trails for pre-beginners (like me!) through to routes for the more skilled skiers. There is ample parking and washrooms. This site is transformed into a hiking and mountain biking paradise from the spring. Be sure to put this on your radar of places to visit.
Snowshoeing, on the other hand, was significantly less deflating (to my ego), yet equally fun. My most memorable walks have been in the Troll Falls area of Kananaskis, west of Calgary (navigate to this destination here). Access to easy parking is plentiful, the scenery is stunning, the walking routes are clear and varied, and the memories were heartwarming. The degree of difficulty need only be as tough as you choose to make it. Fresh, deep snow is clearly more energy-sapping than compacted pathways. The walking action may take a little bit of getting used to. Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’ve had a good working over 24-hours later when your legs start to rebel and seem to want to disassociate themselves from your upper body! At that point you may want to look back on your photos and remind yourself why you did it and why it was worthwhile! Once again, we rented equipment from Sports Rent, our last-stop-shop on highway 1 heading west towards the mountains. We were very satisfied with the quality, price and ease of rental pick-up and drop-off.
With that being said, here is my list of recommended groomed and ungroomed cross-country ski and snowshoe destinations within and beyond Calgary.
Free, groomed cross-country ski areas within Calgary and maintained by the City of Calgary or 3rd Parties:
- Shaganappi Point Golf Course (SW)
- Confederation Park Golf Course (NW)
- Maple Ridge Golf Course (SE)
- South Glenmore Park (SW)
- Bowness Park (NW)
Free, ungroomed cross-country ski areas within Calgary are at:
- Lakeview Golf Course (SW)
- Weaselhead Natural Environment Park (SW)
- Edworthy Park (SW)
- Fish Creek Provincial Park (SE)
- North Glenmore Park (SW)
Recommendations cross-country and / or snowshoe destinations within 150km from Calgary:
- West Bragg Creek, Bragg Creek (~70km)
- Troll Falls, Kananaskis (~100km)
- Ribbon Creek, Kananaskis (~100km)
- Canmore Nordic Centre, Canmore * (~110km)
- Peter Lougheed Park, Kananaskis (~140km)
- Mt Shark in Spray Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis (~150km)
- Sandy McNabb Recreational Area, near Turner Valley / Black Diamond (~100km)
(*) Day use fees apply
Information has been supplemented with updates from the City of Calgary.
Here is my equipment checklist that you may want to draw on before you head out:
- Skiing and snowshoe equipment, as required;
- Cell phone and car charger;
- Drinking water;
- Snow pants;
- A change of clothing (in case your sweaty clothes cause you to catch a chill afterwards);
- Extra socks;
- Good, insulated and preferably water-resistant foot wear;
- Backpack (to carry the clothing you may need to shed as your body temperature rises from exerting so much energy);
- Camera with charged batteries;
- Toilet paper!!;
- Whistle or ankle bells to frighten off bears or other critters;
- Safe storage for your car keys, especially if you’re out in the woods;
- Let someone know where you’re going, particularly if you’re going alone!
Please leave comments of your feedback or recommended winter outdoor activity destinations below so we, too, can explore more!