If you’re looking to get outside and make the most of winter why not hit one of these five cross-country ski trails. They are all within an hour of Calgary.
West Bragg Creek
You are spoiled for choice with well over 40 kilometres of cross-country ski trails in the West Bragg Creek area just 45 minutes away from Calgary. When there’s fresh snow this place is magical. Personal favourites include the Telephone Loop if I want a long day of skiing with lots of ups and downs without running into many people; the Iron Springs/Elbow Loop for meadows, stands of aspen, and some fun hills and the Moose Loop – considered the most scenic trail with expansive views, plenty of hills, meadows and views of course of Moose Mountain.
Dogs are allowed but must remain on a leash. There is lots of free parking.
Shaganappi Point Golf Course
There are times, especially after a big dump of snow that you don’t want to drive far but you do want to get outside. The Shaganappi Golf Course in Calgary fits the bill. The trails aren’t long – up to about 7 kilometres in length – but you can do several loops and feel like you got a great workout. Of course you can drive but you can also ride the C-train to Shaganappi. Don’t bring your dog.
Skogan Pass from Ribbon Creek
Ski to Skogan Pass if you want a big workout and a fast, super fun descent. Its 21 kilometres return with an elevation gain of 625 metres. Expect it to take approximately three hours to climb to the pass and under 90 minutes to return. The views from the pass are excellent as are the Nakiska Ski Resort views along the way. Start at the Stoney Trail parking lot off of Mt. Allan Drive.
Bill Milne Trail
The flat and easy Bill Milne Trail (a bike path in summer) follows Ribbon Creek from Kananaskis Village all the way to Wedge Pond. It’s 9.7 kilometres one way – but because it’s an out and back trail you can turn around at any point. Enjoy the mountain views no matter what direction you’re going.
Canmore Nordic Centre
For skate and classic skiers who like well-groomed trails and all the services – including a well-stocked rental shop along with an onsite restaurant, head to the Canmore Nordic Centre. You’ll find approximately 65 kilometres of trails, 6.5 kilometres of which are lit at night. While there are enough easy trails to keep a beginner happy, there are also loads of intermediate and difficult trails. If you need to warm up, look for the beautiful hut that is centrally located. There is a fee to ski here – ranging from $9 for kids to $15 for adults.
What to wear cross-country skiing
I have a tough time when it comes to dressing for cross-country skiing. It’s such an aerobic sport that I warm up quickly even though I’m often starting off in temperatures as low as -25°C. There’s no way I can wear Lycra tops and bottoms (like the skate skiers I see) when it’s like that. I prefer to start warmer and peel off layers as necessary.
As a Sporting Life ambassador I make monthly forays into the store to see what they’ve got that’s new – and what might work for my upcoming adventures. Here’s what I would suggest for cross-country skiing.
Socks are so personal. I like a lightweight sock no matter what the temperature while my husband prefers a thin merino wool sock as a liner and a thicker one for warmth. The ones I’m using and loving are the Bridgedale socks, a merino wool blend – so they are warm but they’ve got a slim fit. With the wild choice of patterns I can easily find their mate after a wash.
Pants – base layer combo
I discovered the most incredible pants made by Arc’teryx – the women’s SS Gama MX. They have a wind resistant outer layer and fleecy inner layer so I don’t even need to wear long underwear with them UNLESS it’s below -20°C. I tried them out in Ontario under very cold conditions over an eight hour snowshoeing trip and they did the trick. I have been looking for exactly this kind of pant for literally years. They don’t bag in the crotch, like most I’ve tried; they flatter and they have two zip pockets and two Velcro closed pockets. They don’t seem to be for sale online so head into the store and you will be wearing these for anything aerobic you plan to do in the winter for years to come. They retail for $249.99.
Tops and base layer
I like merino wool as a base layer and everything I have tried by Icebreaker has been excellent. Choose a zippered top if you have a tendency to overheat. On top of that my preference is a fleece – because once I’m warm enough I can peel off my light-weight down jacket and cross-country ski or snowshoe in the two layers. Sporting Life has just started to carry a Swedish brand called Houdini, a company that designs products with a focus on sustainability and functionality. I picked up the Women’s Hairy Houdi Jacket and despite the fact my son tells me it looks like I’m wearing fur I happen to love it. It’s warm for its weight and packs down well for travel.
It depends on the temperature but ideally I like to take my light-weight Patagonia down jacket with a hood. It weighs next to nothing and is one of the best long term investments you’ll make as it’s perfect to take on summer backpacking trips as well.
Hats, mitts and neck warmers
I rarely need a neck warmer when I’m cross-country skiing unless it’s bitterly cold – and then I’ll wear a fleecy one for softness. For hats, pick one that covers your ears and offers lots of warmth without being scratchy. I like the Icebreaker Women’s Shuss Cuff Beanie. For mitts again it depends on the day. It it’s really warm I wear nothing but carry a pair of gloves. But if it’s cold I love La Swany Down Mittens.
Wear the right clothes, carry the 10 essentials and go have fun cross-country skiing.
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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