Ski through Saskatchewan’s history
The historic canoe routes of Saskatchewan draw people from around the world to follow a multitude of rivers and relive its heritage etched in the fur trade. However, a canoe is not the only way to experience it, nor is summer the only season.
Cross-country skiing in Saskatchewan is a departure from the hordes of people bustling about major ski centers like Banff and Jasper. In contrast, the beauty of Saskatchewan skiing lies in quiet, solitary ski trails that wind through forests, coulees and Canadian history.
In southern Saskatchewan, Hwy. 13 spans the province east to west. Known as the Red Coat Trail, it follows the route of the Great March of 1874, when the North West Mounted Police marched west to halt the illegal whiskey trade. These days the Red Coat Trail transports more skiers than whiskey traders and their destination is Moose Mountain Provincial Park.
Great trails for beginners
Located roughly 250 kilometres southeast of Regina, and 125 kilometres north of the U.S. border, Moose Mountain offers about 50 kilometres of groomed ski trails. Situated on the highest plateau in the southeast, Beaver Lake and Youell Lake are excellent s trails for novice skiers.
The Riding Academy Trails, just west of Fish Creek Campground, with 45 kilometres of looped trails, will challenge even the most experienced skier. Along the way, there are several shelters equipped with woodstoves, handy for warming up or boiling up water for hot chocolate. Ski equipment is available for rent, but you should call ahead to confirm.
This part of Saskatchewan was home to the Sioux Chief, Sitting Bull, and his 5,000 followers following the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Follow Hwy. 13 west to the junction of Hwy. 18 and Wood Mountain Post Provincial Park, and you’ll arrive at reconstructed buildings and displays of the NWMP and the Sioux Indians.
Heading northwest of Regina, the traveller will find the Louis Riel Highway. Formerly Hwy. 11, the entire 364 kilometres route to Prince Albert is named after the leader of the North-West Rebellion of 1885. Some 90 kilometres north of Saskatoon is the community of Duck Lake and the site of the first battle of the North-West Rebellion, the last armed conflict on Canadian soil. Riel and his followers surrendered two months later, in Batoche.
Today, historic sites mark the past battles. Just 10 minutes north on the Louis Riel Highway, you can follow a series of ski trails that weave through the same countryside that harboured and hid Riel and his men over 115 years ago.
Next page: Be aware of what trails offer
Eb’s Trails, started more than 25 years ago by Eberhard Fass, are today the responsibility of the Nordic Ski Club Saskatoon. Nestled in the Nisbet Forest, Eb’s Trails are a series of classic ski trails far removed from the amenities and services of provincial parks.
The two trail entrances are on the west side of the Louis Riel Highway (the first is just north of the “Prince Albert 39 km” sign) and the second entrance is just two kilometres north. Each entrance has a warm-up hut set 100 metres from the trail entrance. The trail system comprises 42 kilometres of sheltered classic ski trails, connected by intersecting loops and signs. The N1 Trail is the longest loop at 13 kilometres, followed by 10 additional trails that snake through the Nisbet Forest.
Take care with gear
The Nisbet is a mixed wood forest covering a rolling, and at times, hilly countryside that provides a challenging course for skiers from novice to expert. However, skiers can often find themselves alone on this trail system, and since the ski trails are remote and not patrolled, it’s crucial to dress and pack accordingly.
At the northern terminus of The Louis Riel Highway is the city of Prince Albert. The Can-AM Highway Hwy. 2 continues northward to the town of La Ronge and some of the finest cross-country skiing in western Canada.
The Saskaloppet Ski Trails wind through approximately 60 kilometres of boreal forest, Precambrian Shield and fur trade history. The ski trails accommodate both classic and skate skiers. Five overnight huts have been built along the trail system.
The huts are suppliedwith wood stoves (not designed for cooking) and wood. Although these trails are well groomed, caution is strongly advised due to the remoteness of the area. The trail system has two starting points. The most widely used is the Nutpoint Campground located five kilometres east of downtown La Ronge.
The five kilometres of campground loops are lit for night skiing (skate and classic) and the main trail appears on the left side of the main campground road. The second starting point is roughly 20 kilometres north of La Ronge, along Hwy.102.
Join the festival
The Don Allen Ski Trails are a series of loops of varying length that provide skiers with steep hills, sharp turns and beautiful scenery. These challenging trails were the site of the ’95 Western Canadian Ski Championships. Access to the main ski trail (the Saskaloppet Trail) is across Hwy.102.
There are two trails, roughly 50 metres apart and either trail returns you to the Nutpoint Campgrounnd, a distance of roughly 22 kilometres. The Annual Saskaloppet Ski Event, held in the first week of March, often has over 400 participants skiing events from the 80-km. overnighter down to the 8-km. course for youngsters.
For more information on this destination visit the Canadian Tourism Commission website at www.travelcanada.ca