- Skiers in the inaugural Cypress Hills loppet –
I made it a goal of mine this winter to check out the newly developed xc ski area at Cypress Hills Prov Park in the southeast corner of the province. Most of the skiers come here from Medicine Hat, about a 45-minute drive, and is referred to more commonly as Elkwater, the name of the surprisingly large townsite.
This is the first year where they’ve had a Pisten-Bully to groom the trails. I didn’t realize the Spring Creek cross-country ski trails are at the same elevation as the Canmore Nordic Centre, so there’s plenty of snow, au naturelle.
This was Cookie race weekend in Kananaskis, and while I hated to miss that excellent event, I thought it would be nice to come here for the first annual Cypress Hills loppet and give this new area some publicity. Not only that, but I haven’t visited my brother in Medicine hat for a long time, and tonight we’ll get to eat at the amazing Star Cafe in Maple Creek, SK.
The Spring Creek system consists of about 11K of relatively easy trails. It would be a beginner skier’s dream location to get started in this wonderful activity. There are hills, but they’re very long and gradual. I believe there’s an elevation difference of about 70 metres from the lowest to the highest point.
At the trailhead there’s a comfortable shelter with a wood stove for heat. Today there was a roaring fire in the stove, a tea kettle to make hot chocolate, and lots of happy skiers and even a friendly dog named Pepper.
After skiing 1.1K from the trailhead, the remainder of the trails are set up in a series of four loops which range in distance from 2k to 6K. For the 17.5K race , we skied each loop starting with the longest. There was also a 7.2K race.
This event was modest and pretty low-key compared to the major events we’re used to in Kananaskis and Banff, but just as much fun with lots of enthusiastic skiers and volunteers. I think all those big races started out similar to this.
There were no age categories, but there were categories for men and women, classic and skating. The fastest 17.5K skater finished in one hour and eight minutes, and the fastest classic skier in one hour and 20 minutes. Timing was precisely calculated by I-Phone.
The snow conditions were good, albeit with some drifting in the tracks in open areas. Air temperature was -2°C at the start but had warmed up to +1 by early afternoon. I used VR45(-2/-8) and it worked well, but was fading near the end of the race.
There are other Pisten-Bully groomed trails around the lakefront and a 4K steeper trail called Ferguson Hill road. As well, you can ski on some snowmobile-packed trails such as the Spruce Coulee trail.
The Visitor Centre at Elkwater rents skis and is open daily.
I’d be interested in getting some reports from the Cookie race. How were the conditions?