Tips for beginners, a gallery of Manitoba trails and this one’s for enthusiasts: Loppet!
Winter is beautiful. The pink skies on cloudy nights are breathtaking, and the navies of clear nights are rich and deep. The satisfying crunch that snow makes when you step outdoors on incredibly cold days is one of my favourite sounds. The joy of exploring seasonal paths on frozen waterways, and discovering your winter-loving neighbours have all had the same idea for their Sunday afternoon. Frosted eyelashes and rosy cheeks are always paired with huge smiles and warm hugs.
These are truths known to all winter-loving prairie enthusiasts. For the uninitiated, one of the best entry points for embracing our long, cold winters is to take up cross-country skiing (also known as nordic skiing).
Cross-country skiing can be an incredible work out or an easy conversational stroll, it is affordable, suitable for all ages and fitness levels and, most importantly, a ton of fun. “If you are new to skiing, start with a lesson,” advises Karin McSherry, Executive Director of the Cross Country Ski Association of Manitoba (CCSAM), “Cross-country skiing is a highly technical sport and you will do yourself a service by having a friend or family member show you the ropes or attending a private, semi-private or group lesson.” The CCSAM offers lessons for all ages and abilities out of the Windsor Park Nordic Centre in Winnipeg.
The most important thing to learn about cross-country skiing technique is balance, says McSherry, “Skiing is all about weight shift and being able to balance on one ski while gliding, otherwise you’ll end up shuffling along and that’s not really skiing.” Shuffling, as opposed to establishing a good kick and glide rhythm, is slower and will tire you out a lot faster. Newbie tip: Don’t lock your knees or try to ski with straight legs. “People tend to stiffen up and be straight-legged. You’d never try to walk or run like that, so don’t try to ski like that: keep your legs loose and bend your knees.”
As for buying equipment, McSherry says, “A new ski package is an incredible investment. They can be purchased at any retail bike and ski shop for about $300, and, since skis don’t really wear out like some other sports equipment, they should last you around twenty years.” If buying new isn’t your thing, CCSAM holds an annual ski swap every November, so mark your calendar now for next year. It is a fun event, with great deals to be had on used skis — especially for kids’ equipment. In the meantime, you can also look online for equipment on the CCSAM website, or any other online buy-and-sell platform.
What about those decades-old hand-me-down skis that so many of us pull down from the garage rafters a couple times per season, grumbling all the while about cold feet and pinched toes? “Replace them!” McSherry advises. “If your skis are an older model (made more than a decade ago), you should really consider an upgrade because new equipment has vastly improved. Buying equipment constructed within the last ten years means you will get warmer, more comfortable boots, your skis will perform better and you won’t be struggling with your bindings.” Old-school wooden skis with three-pin bindings make great decor, not a great skiing experience.
For those looking for a taste of skiing before they invest, renting is a great way to experiment before you commit to the sport. Some clubs, like the Windsor Park Nordic Centre, rent equipment on site, or you can rent from your local retail bike and ski shop.
For enthusiastic skiers looking for a challenge this season, McSherry recommends signing up for a Lopett to test your endurance. Traditionally, a Loppet is a cross-country ski event that covers a long distance (thirty+ kilometers). The fortieth annual Manitoba Loppet will take place in Pinawa, Manitoba, on Saturday, January 23 and features distances for all skill levels. For more details and registration information, consult the Whiteshell ski club.
Need ideas about where to ski this season? Visit the CCSAM website for a comprehensive list of trails, or check out our gallery of trails, made possible by the generosity of Manitoba’s cross country skiing community (is your favourite trail missing? Add it to the comments section):
Windsor Park Nordic Centre, Winnipeg
Features fifteen kilometers of well-groomed trails. If you buy the twenty-visit pass, you can carry it over to the next season.
Amenities: lights for night skiing, rental ski equipment for all ages, clubhouse with fireplace, snack bar, bathrooms, wax room, ski school and a Wednesday night race series.
La Barriere Park, St. Norbert, Manitoba
Features six kilometers of trails maintained by the City of Winnipeg. Details for all cross-country ski trails maintained by the City of Winnipeg can be found here. Amenities: washroom (non-modern, not shown on map), dog friendly.
The Seine River, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Un-groomed, but a popular choice. Go at dusk and you are guaranteed to see deer.
Beaudry Park, West of Winnipeg, Manitoba
Features sixteen kilometers of groomed classic trails. The Oak Trail is intended for pulling children on sleighs and/or skijoring.
Amenities: warming huts, washrooms (non-modern), dog friendly (restricted to certain areas).
Grand Beach Provincial Park, Manitoba
Features sixteen kilometers of beautiful trails. Well-groomed for classic and skate skiing.
Amenities: warming shacks and washrooms (non-modern).
Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba
Looking for the extra challenge? Try skiing across the lake from Grand Beach to Gimli. Be sure to know your limits, wind direction and the lake ice conditions. Expert level only.
Shannondale Trails, near Thornhill, Manitoba
Features sixteen kilometers of classic trails and seven kilometers of skate trails. The terrain is hilly and trails are rated for their difficulty. The trails are lovingly maintained by Dave Lumgair, who is known throughout the skiing communities for his hospitality.
Amenities: Warming huts, dog friendly.
Burwalde Woods, between Winkler and Morden, Manitoba
There are many trails to choose from for classic or skate skiers, all well groomed and maintained by the Boundary Trails Nordic club.
Amenities: clubhouse, ski rentals available when the Nordic Centre is open. Note: dogs are not permitted on any trails.
Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, Manitoba
Features forty-one kilometers of trails, well groomed for classic cross-country skiing. Fans of the ski trails rave about the park staff.
Amenities: warming shelters, washrooms (non-modern), rental cabins for overnight stays. Note: skating and tobogganing are also available.
Spruce Woods Provincial Park, Manitoba
Features sixty kilometers of groomed trails for classic cross-country skiing.
Amenities: warming shelters, emergency telephone, washrooms (non-modern).
Have young kids? They can experiment in the yard, or a snowy sidewalk. Hot chocolate, and no driving time means no pressure to keep them out longer than they are having fun.
Shawna Culleton is a freelance writer and editor living and working in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Why, you ask? Because it is her answer to the question, “if you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?”