Temperatures are falling, and so is the snow! Winter is going to be with us for a while, but one thing we Canadians are good at is enjoying some outdoor fun. Snow isn't an inconvenience -- it's an excuse to don some skis and enjoy some après-ski indulgences.
We're all familiar with places to get that downhill adrenaline rush, but cross-country or Nordic skiing offers a great workout and a chance to take in the scenery. There are over 500 cross-country skiing areas in Canada, some of which have hosted major events like the Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games and the Cross Country World Cup. Teams from around the world come to train on snowy terrain.
In the spirit of embracing the season, here are five destinations to get you planning:
Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club, Yukon
When it comes to the great outdoors, there's more to the Yukon than Kluane National Park. This ski clubs offers 75 kilometres of groomed trails for every level from beginner to advanced. (There are even special trails for the family pooch to join in the fun.) Special events are held throughout the season, including a Free Ski Day every March.
Day passes are available ranging from $12 for adults to $25 for families. If you're in the area for a few days, you can purchase 3-day passes for $30 or 5-day passes for $50.
While not an all-in-one resort destination, the club is just five minutes from downtown Whitehorse and easily accessed by bus or cab. One must-see experience while you're in the area: get out of town for a view of the Northern Lights.
Whistler Olympic Park, British Columbia
It's hard to beat the Rocky Mountains for alpine skiing, but BC has many great cross-country options too. One of the newest is the Whistler Olympic Park, built to host the Nordic ski events during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Combined with nearby Callaghan Country, another top ski spot, the two offer more than 90 kilometres of groomed trails.
Day passes for Whistler Olympic Park start at $22 for adults (pets can come too for $5). Make a getaway out of it with a dinner or lodging package at Callaghan Country, which offers its own luxurious ski lodge and fine dining. Its "Ski In/Ski Out" packages start at $169 per night.
Looking for more of the Olympic experience? The Sliding Park offers bobsleigh and skeleton rides, but you'll need to book ahead and these bragging rights will set you back $149 per person for a two-hour session.
Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, Alberta
Of course, Vancouver isn't the only city to have hosted the world. Originally built for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, the site got an upgrade in 2005 and has since played host to the Cross-Country World Cup. Today, it's home to Canada’s national Cross-Country and Biathlon ski teams. The 65 kilometres of trails include both groomed and track-set trails -- some specially designated for skating technique. (For more information, visit AlbertaParks.ca.)
Day use of Alberta's provincial parks is usually free, but you won't find many of the luxuries you'll see at resorts. Be sure to budget for equipment rentals, lessons and special programs you want to enjoy.
If you're looking for an all-inclusive getaway, try the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise -- known for its spa services as well as its beautiful location
Hardwood Ski and Bike, Oro, Ontario
Ontario also has its fair share of trails in provincial parks, including three trails in Algonquin Provincial Park. Some places focus on downhill, while others are all about cross-country -- like at Hardwood Hills near Barrie. Its seven trials -- all named after Olympic host cities -- have loops ranging from 5 kilometres to 22 kilometres, and many of them offer some challenging terrain.
Day passes go for $21.00 for adults, but you can save by opting for afternoon only ($18.50) or evening ($15.00). While Hardwood Hills doesn't offer accommodations, there are many cozy options nearby, like B&Bs and condo suites. The area is about an hour north of Toronto, offering a perfect add-on to a city stay -- or a way to escape the city.
For more information, visit www.hardwoodskiandbike.com.
Ski Mont-Sainte-Anne Mountain Resort, Quebec
Still thinking, "Go west" when skiing comes to mind? Quebec is home to the most cross-country ski trails in the country -- about 130 of them, in fact. With over 200 kilometres of trails, Mont-Sainte-Anne's Cross-Country Ski Center is the largest ski centre both in the province and in Canada. You'll find this resort nestled in the Laurentian Mountains just 30 minutes outside of Quebec City. And just because you go cross-country doesn't mean you can't enjoy the view -- head to the Summit Lodge overlooking the snowy mountains and nearby St. Lawrence River.
Afternoon passes are $19 per adult, and a full day will run you $24. Looking to stay for a while? The Cross-Country Classic Package gives you three nights of accommodations and skiing for the price of two. Prices vary according to accommodations, and you'll find a variety including standard rooms, condos and luxury chalets.
For more information, visit www.mont-sainte-anne.com.
BEFORE YOU BOOK
- Learn more about the trails. Don't let the size of the park fool you -- trails are designed for different purposes and levels, so you may need to do a little research to find what's right for you. Pay attention to the types of trails and their length -- there are often smaller loops within trails for a shorter jaunt. Most destinations have trail guides and images on their websites.
- Consider the amenities. Are you looking for a day trip or a longer stay? See what amenities like dining, lodging, heated shelters and other outdoor activities are available. Some resorts even offer daycare for the little ones, and services for people with disabilities. A spa is a definite plus for people who aren't as inclined to sports.
- Look at the all-in cost. Fees are just one part of the budget -- transportation, food, equipment rentals and special activities can all add up. Most listed prices don't include taxes -- a cost which varies by province.
If you plan to include some downhill skiing too, beware that fees can be more than double the price of cross-country in some places during the peak season.
- Check out the discounts. Discounts are offered for youth, students, seniors and families. You can also find special rates for multi-day passes or packages that include meals.
If you'd rather dodge the crowds than see the scenery, many parks offer discounted rates on their lit trails at night.
ON THE WEB
This list is just a small sample of the many cross-country trails across Canada. For more information on trails near you, visit www.canadatrails.ca.
Source: Canadian Tourism Commission
Which top spots would you add to this list? Post your favourites in the comments.
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