Beginners and skate-skiers

Here’s an email I received this morning from Chelsie:

Hi, I don’t know if you can help, and if not do you know what websites or resources we might be able to use?
We are new to cross country skiing so I’m looking for beginner/flat trails
to start off on, hopefully in kanaskies. We’ve been up to lakelouise, but hard to go there all the time. I’m having a hard time finding trails on the web other than the prov. parks. Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you

Ribbon creek

It’s a given that the Great Divide trail in Lake Louise is the best beginner’s trail on the face of the earth. We’ve talked on here many times about the beginner’s trails in PLPP: Pocaterra, Wheeler, and Spruce road. It sounds, however, that Chelsie would like to ski more and drive less, so what is there within an hour’s drive of Calgary?

Canmore Nordic Centre is one place you can try. There’s a large practice area right in front of the daylodge with at least 10 tracks where beginners can find their ski legs. When you’re ready for the trail, Banff trail is pretty easy but it does have some small hills.

Bill Milne trail

Let’s take a look at the Kananaskis Village – Ribbon Creek – Wedge Pond area.  I went there today and checked out four trails where beginners could ski. I also had a wonderful skate-ski on a freshly groomed trail. Of course, it depends on where you’re starting from, but it’s about an hour’s drive from Calgary.

My first stop was Ribbon creek. The snow is still cold, the tracks are excellent, and it’s a very gradual slope for 2.5K. The return trip is fast enough in places that you’d want to have some snowplowing ability in the event that you had to stop quickly. In the Kananaskis brochure for Ribbon creek it states, “This is a great trail for the novice skier.”

You can start on the Bill Milne trail from the Ribbon creek parking lot

Also starting from the Ribbon creek parking lot is the Bill Milne trail. It’s been single trackset with a skating lane. No other trail in Kananaskis offers the incredible views that you’ll get while skiing along here.

There are a few inconveniences. Within the first 1.5K you’ll need to remove your skis twice, once to go under a bridge, and once to go over a bridge. I also noticed a few thin spots where the  tracks were gritty, or pavement was showing. If you have mastered the art of getting in and out of the tracks quickly, it’s no problem to simply ski in the skating lane until you pass the hazard.

Terrace trail near the trailhead can get pretty beat up from all the walkers

The Bill Milne has no significant hills. There’s one small climb about 5k along as you get near the golf course. With it being in the open, it also deteriorates quickly when the weather warms up, and you’ll feel the wind.

Right now, with the tracks being thin in places, I’d recommend it more for the skaters.  If you are  a skater, and start at Ribbon creek, you can skate for 12K one-way to the Evan-Thomas trailhead.

The conditions on Terrace trail improve as you get further along

Terrace trail starts right at the village, but make sure you take the trail north and not south. If you take it all the way to Kovach junction(1.6K), don’t turn right or you’ll descend some very steep hills with turns(that in the future you will think is fun), but for beginners, turn left for a couple hundred metres on Kovach, then left again onto Terrace link and return to the trailhead.

The Wedge connector, with the famous wedge straight ahead.

Terrace has small hills but nothing scary, as long as you follow the above instructions. It sees a lot of foot traffic, so it can look pretty grungy near the beginning. As you can see in the photos, once you’ve gone 700 metres, conditions improve considerably.

The Wedge connector was absolutely marvelous today. It was groomed and trackset yesterday with a single track and a skating lane. It’s flat for the first 1.5K, at which time it gains about 15 metres of elevation over a 300 metre stretch. Just enough to test your snowplowing ability on the return.

The bridge ahead is the end of the Wedge connector trail. The other side of the bridge is the Evan-Thomas trail.

It’s 2.6k to the bridge. On the other side of the bridge is the Evan-Thomas trail which has been groomed, but it gets walked on by hundreds of elephants every weekend.

You start at the Wedge pond trailhead which is 6.5K south of the Kananaskis Village turn-off. After skiing 400 metres, you’ll come to a junction with a trail leading to your left. Don’t take it. Go straight. The trail on your left is a lot of fun once you have graduated to intermediate level.

It’s a rarity to see the Evan-Thomas trail this pristine and untracked

A rare occurrence

(I’m not recommending this for beginner skiers, unless you are skating.)I skied the Evan-Thomas fire road for the second time in my life, but this time it was on my skate skis and what a lovely trail. If you get there early tomorrow morning, it might still be skiable, but by nightfall, it will have been walked on by dozens of hikers and snowshoers who use it to access the Evan-Thomas creek trail. Today, it had the footprints of only two hikers who kept to the side of the trail.

Here’s the same bridge over Evan-Thomas creek, but later in the day

It goes for 1.9K to the same bridge over Evan-Thomas creek that I skied to on the Wedge connector, and climbs gradually, gaining about 60 metres of elevation. It’s enough to feel like you’re flying on the way back. I would do it again in a minute if conditions were good.

Bear in mind that conditions can change rapidly on these trails. There could be a big dump of snow which will completely hide the tracks. A strong wind can deposit pine needles and debris. Warm weather will make it difficult to get grip if you’re using waxable skis, but that’s where skating is advantageous. As a beginner skier, you should go to a trail where the snow is cold and the tracks are well-defined and there aren’t any significant hazards. Let’s hope it stays fairly cold for a long time.


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  1. Pingback: Wedge Pond |

  2. Fully agree with Shaganappi. I have been learning skate skiing here, and it is a great spot. No major investment to get there, and adequate terrain. Pray for snow. Getting thin in spots.

  3. Pocaterra Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is another trail for novice skiers, Chelsea. Also the Braille Trail near William Watson Lodge (in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park) & the Lodgepole Trail near Peter Lougheed Visitor Ctr. Even closer to Calgary, when there’s sufficient snow, tracks for XC skiing are set on Shaganappi Golf Crs. & in Confederation Park. Lessons are offered by local ski clubs, Canmore Nordic Ctr. & the U. of Calgary.

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