In the summer, Edmonton’s river valley trails are bustling with runners, dog walkers and cyclists. But tonight, in the winter twilight, I have my backyard trails all to myself – except for the occasional beaver. In Edmonton, you can cross-country ski just about anywhere there’s a good stretch of snow.
Twilight After-Work Ski
After a busy workday, I often escape to Goldbar Park’s river valley trails. The groomed single-track trails are lit by early nightfall, and I’m not the only one who likes the winding glide through the aspen forest. There’s just something magical about skiing when the stars come out.
This 10 km (6.2 mi) network of urban trails is well-loved and maintained by volunteers from the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club. And since the city installed snowmaking equipment in Goldbar, the trails are reliable even in rare low snow years.
Beginners ski the inner loop with only a slightly rolling contour, but more often, I take the intermediate detours for bigger ups and downs and a full body workout. Sometimes I’m keen for a hard clamber up a couple of the really difficult hills and sometimes I just like to glide.
Watch Wildlife in the Countryside
When family and friends visit from away, we drive less than an hour east of Edmonton to Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area with its 65 km (40 mi) of cross-country ski trails at. Along these double-tracked, packed and groomed trails, we watch for wildlife and warm up at shelters along the way.
With kids and new beginners, we start at Waskehegan and take the Spruce Hollow Trail through low pockets of old spruce. Often we’ll see snowshoe hares on Hare Trail and active beaver colonies on, you guessed it, Beaver Loop.
The Blackfoot stage has packed trails, but no set tracks, so it’s a little tougher. Good for a day with buddies who share my passion and fierce skills. These trails are challenging and remote and we always spot lots of wildlife – birds, porcupines and white-tailed deer (and not just on Whitetail Trail). It’s worth taking the hilly west side around Elk Push Lake to an unforgettable viewpoint on a ridge between two lakes.
Feast Like a Viking
The Canadian Birkebeiner brings 2,000 Nordic skiers here, just east of Edmonton, every February. The loppet honours the arduous trek of two Norwegian warriors in 1206 – which explains all the Viking horns – and takes skiers over 55 km (35 mi) of challenging terrain, some carrying a 5.5 kg (12 lb) pack.
The best place to be is at the finish when happy skiers in ice-covered toques wrap themselves in blankets, swap stories and then feast like Vikings. It’s a party that I, along with hundreds of other volunteers, never miss.