With the winter well underway and COVID-19 continuing to limit outdoor recreation options, Edmontonians have taken up cross country skiing in huge numbers. As a sport that is accessible to almost any level of fitness and one that makes social distancing easy, it’s not hard to see why. If you’re new to the sport like me and managed to get a hold of some gear, or just dusted off some old stuff, congratulations – you’re one of the lucky ones. Getting started might feel intimidating, you’ll have to figure out technique, how to wax, and where to ski. While I won’t be able help you out with those first two (YouTube is your friend), I can most definitely share my experiences with different trails around the city. While I’m just learning this year, I’ve had the chance to ski at most of the Edmonton-area sites already, so if you want a beginner’s perspective of where to ski, keep reading!
Where You Should Ski
The Goldbar trail system, composed of the Capilano, Goldbar and Goldstick trail networks are maintained by the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club and therefore are the class of the lot when it comes to grooming in the city. They offer several lit trails at night so you can get in an early morning or late night ski. Goldbar has a mix of loops for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers, so if you’re just starting out and haven’t already, head there for a great ski and try to hone your skills on some uphill and downhill segments.
City Maintained Trails:
My favourites: Victoria Golf Course, Riverside Golf Course, Mayfair Golf Course, Hawrelack Park, Argyll
The golf courses are almost entirely flat, so they are great for new skiers. However, I enjoy all these trails for how you can get into a good rhythm, zone out and relax while working on your technique. I find these trails have a nice relaxed atmosphere and are super family friendly. Victoria’s main loop is 2.5km, so if you’re working up to a 5 or 10 kilometer ski, just count the laps. Riverside, Hawrelack and Mayfair offer slightly longer loops, but nothing crazy.
Dark Horse: Argyll. While I’m certainly biased as this one is the closest to me, Argyll definitely deserves mention, especially for beginners. It has two loops, 1.2km and 0.8km, and is entirely flat. Earlier in the winter when the temperatures were above freezing and there was little snow, I found Argyll held up better than anywhere else. I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason they didn’t melt like other city trails. Since the loops are in a field above the Mill Creek Ravine trail system, they don’t accumulate debris from trees after strong winds. Argyll is one of the least intimidating places to ski, if you want a relaxed place to practice your skills without worry. Also – it’s skijoring friendly, so you can ski with your pup! If the weather hasn’t been cooperating, definitely consider Argyll.
Near the City
Strathcona Wilderness Center
SWC is a popular spot and for good reason! It’s expertly maintained and has countless loops that can be combined into any length of ski, truly a first-class Nordic center. It’s the one ski area nearby that has rentals on site – bring a friend! If you want to head there over weekend, either go super early, or in the afternoon, since parking can be at a premium. SWC is a great option if you’re wanting to try a longer ski, or if you want to ski in a beautiful Aspen-Parkland setting.
Devon Golf Course
The Devon trails are volunteer run by the Devon Golf Club and the Devon Lions Club, who do a great job with grooming and are exceptionally friendly. Devon trails are located down by the river and so often receive different weather conditions than in the city. As a result of its location, Devon holds up better during warmer temperatures, so as the days pass and we move to spring skiing in March, I imagine Devon will continue to be a great place to ski. It’s beautiful here and is a worthy day-trip from the city.
Cooking Lake Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
I love it here. CLB has over 100km of trails, so there’s no shortage to explore. It’s impressively wild, your ski is almost as likely to feature moose, deer, porcupine or coyote as it is other skiers. The trail network has several backcountry shelters, meaning it’s a great place to double up your ski with a picnic or a fire. It has four staging areas, Waskahegan, Islet Lake, Central, and Blackfoot. Waskahegan is the most popular starting point, and the parking lot can get busy on a nice day. Skate skiers should note that the only trails wide enough to provide skate skiing are accessed from the Blackfoot staging area. CLB is also the site of the famous Birkebeiner race! With such a big trail system, grooming is obviously harder to maintain, however after a big snowfall Cooking Lake Blackfoot is bliss. If having a good adventure while you ski sounds fun, this is the place for you.
Listen, this post is far from a complete guide, but it might help you get started. Below I will include links to sources that will describe other places to ski, as well as more detailed accounts from more experienced skiers. Edmonton has an abundance of places to cross country ski and we’re lucky for it. It’s important we thank the dedicated people who contribute to this sport wherever possible.
Embrace the winter!
There’s an app for that! Your one-stop-shop for user reviewed trail conditions is the YEG Cross Country Ski Conditions app. Android users can get it from wherever they get their apps, while the app is under development for Apple products. Stay tuned…
Mike Stern has compiled a comprehensive guide to Edmonton area skiing, he offers his own take on the trails, as well as details concerning trail facilities, access points, and way more. By all means check out Mike’s Guide.
Another great resource is the Northern Region Trail Report, it’s your go-to source for northern Alberta grooming reports and trail descriptions all in one place.
If you’re looking to ski Banff, Kananaskis, Yoho, or anywhere near Calgary, check out Bob’s blog. There are daily posts from Bob and contributors with trip reports – often with pictures! Thank you Skier Bob!
Author- Callum Macnab
Check me out – Instagram: @macnabcallum