Although downhill sliding activities garner most of the attention along the Escarpment, there’s another gliding sport that that predates the alpine varieties in this area and has a huge following. Of course, I’m talking about Nordic Skiing otherwise known as cross-country skiing. With a history that dates back over 5000 years, cross-country skiing is more than just a winter activity, for some, it is a means of transportation.
Growing up alpine skiing on the Escarpment didn’t leave much time (or money) for the Nordic variety. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered the thrill of cross-country skiing. To be honest, I’m a little embarrassed it took me so long to get into this amazing sport, considering I live only minutes away from some of the best cross-country skiing trails in Ontario. As for the expense, well it turns out you can get into the sport for less money than the average family’s cell phone bill.
My introduction to the sport started as a Christmas gift idea for my wife and I. I wanted to get us classic Nordic skis for exploring the forest that surrounds our house. For those who don’t know what I mean by classic, let me educate you with a plethora of knowledge I have gained in only three short years… Cross-country skiing has two main variations: Classic and Skate-Ski. Classic is sort of like running, where your skis remain parallel and your arms and legs swing in opposition along a diagonal stride. Skate- skiing, as the name might suggest, is similar to ice skating in that your skis are pointed outwards in a V shape, while you alternate pushing off one ski and gliding on the other. Classic skiing can be done just about anywhere, as long as you have snow. Skate-skiing on the other hand needs a groomed or compacted surface. Fortunately for us there are some world-class Nordic centers along the Escarpment that offer perfectly groomed trails for both skate and classic – but we’ll get to those in a bit.
Learning a new sport can be a bit daunting. When I chose to get into Nordic skiing, I really had no idea what type of equipment to buy. I decided to check my ego at the door and enlist the help of a professional. Enter Kris Baumgarten owner of Kamikaze Bikes in Collingwood. Kris took me through the many options available for classic equipment. We began by figuring out where my wife and I would spend most of our time skiing. For our backyard excursions and destinations like the Kolapore Uplands, “backcountry” skis would be more aptly suited. These skis are wider than traditional skis and have metal edges to help with control and edge-hold on icy surfaces. Due to their width however, backcountry skis won’t fit in a classic groomed track set (which are typically six to seven centimetres wide). Since we live three minutes away from Scenic Caves, I figured we would want to be able to enjoy their groomed trails as well.
The next decision to make was whether to go with waxable or waxless skis. Waxable Nordic skis are just like their alpine cousins, with a wax base running along the entire length of the ski. The tip and tail sections have a fast glide wax, while the middle section has “grip wax” (or kick wax), which provides traction from which to push off. Waxless skis re just that – waxless. The entire base is plastic, with a textured surface in the middle that grips snow when it’s weighted. So which should we go with?
As Kris pointed out, waxable skis are great for experienced skiers who have a variety of wax for different conditions. They are typically faster, but require more maintenance (waxing) and are more susceptible to base damage from rocks and branches – I planned on hitting lots of those. Waxable skis are also typically a little more expensive. Since I was starting from scratch, I had to buy all the equipment, including skis, boots and poles, I decided I should go for the less expensive, more durable option. We settled on a “backcounty” ski that was still narrow enough to fit in a classic groomed track. The best of both worlds.
Next up was ski length. As it turns out figuring out ski length for novices is pretty simple as it is based on your weight. The heavier you are the longer the skis. This is because the stiffness of the camber (the arch in the ski) increases with length. Too soft a ski and you won’t glide as well. Too stiff and you won’t be able to flex the ski enough to push off from the middle “kick-zone”.
Experienced skiers tend to go with a stiffer ski, because they have already mastered the proper technique that allows them to bend the ski more efficiently. Stiffer skis also allow for more glide, which makes them faster. Although I like going fast, I had already accepted the fact that I didn’t know anything about the sport and it was probably best to follow the experts advise. After a few minutes of standing on skis on the shop floor, shifting my weight back and forth while Kris slipped a piece of paper along the bases, we were all set. All said and done, our complete Nordic setup cost just over $400 each. Not bad.
My wife Haily was thrilled on Christmas morning when I presented her with our new pastime/sport. And with our fresh equipment and plenty of snow on the ground, it was time to set off on our first excursion. We started by touring around our property, as well as a few of the adjacent fields to get a feel for things. Haily and I both caught on fairly quickly, and we were ready for the next step. Exploring the many Nordic destinations that the Escarpment has to offer.
Kolapore…The Kolapore Wilderness Trails Association manages a 50-kilometer network of trails in the Kolapore Uplands. As one of the only backcountry wilderness cross country ski trails in Southern Ontario, it is truly a jewel of the Escarpment. The intricate network takes skiers through mature hardwood forest, with plenty of hilly terrain. Intermediate to advanced trails can be found in the northern section, while to the south (also known as the County Forest) trails are more suitable for beginners. The trail network is quite extensive and users are strongly recommended to purchase a trail map. Maps are available at the Ravenna Country Market, and the Kimberly General Store, or online at kolporetrails.org. When there is snow on the ground the network is off limits to hiking, snowshoeing and dogs.
Scenic Caves… Located at the very top of the Escarpment, Scenic Caves offers breath-taking views and professionally maintained trails. Due to its elevation and distance from Georgian Bay, Scenic Caves also enjoys excellent snow conditions with more consistently cold temperatures. 27 kilometers of trails groomed for both classic and skate ski, meander through hardwood forest and rolling terrain. Stunning vistas of Collingwood and Georgian Bay can be viewed at the many lookouts along the network. The trail difficulty ranges from novice to advanced and provides an exciting experience for all abilities. Offering both introductory lessons and a rental fleet with all the gear to get you going, Scenic Caves is the perfect location to try out the sport. If you think it’s for you and want to save a few bucks, a portion of their rental fleet is sold near the end of the season. For the more experienced skiers, Scenic Caves offers chal- lenging and varying terrain for both classic and skate ski.
“The Nordic experience at Scenic Caves is different,” explains Mark Woodburn, General Manager. “I hear it over and over again—the trails are intimate, just wide enough and they are truly interesting in the rhythmical way they weave through the almost 400 acres of old growth forest, right at the base of the Escarpment’s limestone and dolostone cliffs. It offers incredible skating and classic skiing, on really well maintained snow in a very special place. Guests can also enjoy Southern Ontario’s longest Suspension Bridge and its panoramic views over Georgian Bay.”
Complete with a warming hut, snack bar, change rooms and ski waxing facility, Scenic Caves is one of the top destinations for Nordic adventures. Day pass rates are $17 mid-week and $22 on weekends with discounts for seniors and youths. sceniccaves.com
Highlands Nordic… Nestled in the hills near Duntroon, Highlands Nordic en- joys ample snowfall and cold temperatures. Often one of the first locations to open for the season, and with 25 kilometers of groomed classic and skate ski trails, Highlands Nordic provides the perfect training ground for competitive skiers. The Highlands Trailblazers, a not-for-profit community ski club, calls Highlands Nordic home. One of only a handful of locations in Ontario that offer the sport of Biathlon (cross country skiing and rifle shooting).
“Highlands Trailblazers Ski Club is all about inspiring a lifelong passion for biathlon and cross-country skiing,” explains Richard Lemoine Club President. “It starts with our incredibly dynamic Jackrabbit program and Biathlon Bears with over 100 skiers as young as 4 years old.
We have a variety of competitive groups for youth skiers provincially and nationally. And then we have a group of recreational skiers who just love skiing together. It’s an incredibly supportive environment for everyone in the family, with some of Canada’s top coaches right here in the highlands of Duntroon providing advice, tips and clinics throughout the season.”
It is not just competitive skiers that will enjoy the Highlands. The facility offers full rental packages, beginner lessons, a pro shop, large cafeteria and stunning views of Georgian Bay and the “lowlands”. A full day trail pass for adults is $21 on weekends, and $16 weekdays with discounted rates for seniors and youths. For more information please visit highlandsnordic.ca
Wasaga Beach… The Wasaga Breach Provincial Park offers over 30 kilometers of trails, with 22km groomed and track set for classic skiing and 12km groomed for skate ski. The trail network winds its way through tree covered sand dunes and provides exceptional terrain for both beginners and expert skiers. Ample wildlife and stunning scenery have made this a popular Nordic location. The Wasaga Nordic and Trail Centre offers a warm up hut with food and refreshments, equipment rentals, and outback ski shelters along the trails. wasagabeachpark.com
Markdale… Located southwest of Markdale, the Glenelg Nordic Ski Club offers 25 kilometers of groomed track set trails for classic skiing. The trails include moderately hilly terrain and travel through mature hardwood forest. Day use fees are only $10 per adult, and children under 18 ski for free. glenelgnordicskiclub.org
Owen Sound – Massie Hills… The Owen Sound Cross Country Club maintains the 10- kilometre trail network located between Meaford and Owen Sound. Trails are groomed twice weekly for classic skiing only and provide a “backcountry” skiing experience. Dif- ficulty ranges from easy to intermediate with rolling terrain through a mixed cedar, pine and hardwood forest. Although there are a few challenging hills, overall the network is relatively easy and fun for the whole family. Day passes are $10 per person or a family pass for $20. massiehills.com
Sawmill Nordic Center… Located on Highway 6 between Shallow Lake and Hepworth, the Sawmill Nordic Center offers 11 kilometers of groomed trail for both classic and skate ski. Well-marked beginner to advanced trails are cut through rolling terrain and hardwood bush, with their signature “Jack Rabbit” trail which is lit for night skiing. One of the locations the Bruce Ski Club calls home, The Sawmill Nordic Center hosts events throughout the year for both novice and expert skiers. With a heated ski hut open daily, and equipment and rentals available just down the road at Suntrail Source for Adventure, the Sawmill Nordic Center is one of the most popular destinations in Bruce County. Day pass rates are $8 per adult and $2 for children under 12. bruceskiclub.ca
Colpoys Ski Trail… Just north of Wiarton by the village of Colpoy’s Bay, this 11-kilometre trail network runs through sheltered woods and open fields and offers breathtaking views of the Niagara Escarpment and Colpoy’s Bay. The easy to moderate trails are groomed and track set for classic skiing only. The Bruce Ski club also uses these trails for training and events, although there are no facilities available. Day pass rates are $8 per adult and $2 for children under 12. bruceskiclub.ca
Stoney Island Conservation Area… The Kincardine Cross Country Ski Club grooms the eight-kilometer network for both classic and skate ski. Located four kilometers north of Kincardine, the Stoney Island Conservation Area Trails offer moderate to challenging terrain. This year the club completed a new one-kilometer loop over flat terrain designed for all trail users. There is a warming hut with equipment available to borrow. Trail fees are only $3/day individual or $5/day for a family. For more information please visit the Saugeen Conservation svca.on.ca
Sauble Ski Club… The Sauble Beach Cross Country Ski Club offers some of the best classic Nordic ski trails in Ontario. Located just north of Sauble Falls, the club has 18 kilometers of trail that is groomed and track set for classic skiing. Trail difficulty varies from beginner to ad- vanced, and takes skiers through evergreen forests, hardwood forests and open fields. The club operates a chalet that is open on weekends and holidays throughout the ski season offering free hot cider when you finish your day. Trail passes are available at the chalet, with a daily rate of only $8. Children under 16 are free. skisauble.freehostia.com
One of the major lessons I’ve learned in my short time cross country skiing is the importance of proper clothing. You warm up quickly while out on the trails, and it is essential to layer your clothing appropriately. It only took me a couple outings with wet ankles to realize that at some backcountry locations like Kolapore, it is a good idea to have gators around your boots, especially with a fresh snowfall on the ground. And of course, proper hydration is key. Drinking water is not often something you think about while out in the cold, but it is important to keep a bottle or two with you.
Starting out in any new activity can become pricey rather quickly. However, with relatively inexpensive equipment and even cheaper user fees, Nordic Skiing is an excellent option to get you outside in the winter on a budget. With so many locations to choose from, it is no wonder that the Escarpment is a hot bed for cross country enthusiasts. We have listed some of the major centers for Nordic skiing along the Escarpment, but there are so many more places to enjoy. Simcoe, Grey and Bruce counties all have helpful resources on their websites.
A few other great sites include ontariotrails.on.ca, ontarioparks.com, brucecountytrails.com and southgeorgianbay.ca.
Have fun, be safe, and enjoy your Nordic Adventures this winter. |E|