Question from a reader:
“Can you recommend some beginner trails, that is, ones that don’t have really steep runs and perhaps maybe would only appeal to other beginners?”
I want to preface this with a word about snow conditions. For a beginner cross-country skier to have a satisfying ski experience, favourable snow conditions are essential. There’s no substitute for a trail with plenty of cold snow which is machine-groomed and has well-defined tracks to follow. As a beginner, you want to stay away from thin snow which may have ruts and dirt, or slushy, wet snow. Don’t go near icy trails. Check the trail reports and this blog before you go out.
I wrote an article which covers MOST of the beginner trails in Canmore and Kananaskis. I was limited in the number of words, so there is one more trail I’d like to add…
A trail with no hills does exist- Spruce road and William Watson Lodge(WWL) access trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park(PLPP).
Starting at Elkwood Amphitheatre, you’ll ski about 100 metres at which time you have to remove your skis and cross the road. Now on Lodgepole, ski a short distance, and you’ll come to the junction of WWL access trail.
The WWL access trail is super easy and is 600 metres long. It soon connects with Spruce road which is an 800-metre loop. Total distance would be 2.4K return. On the WWL access trail, you will pass the Braille junction. Braille is also easy for the first 700 metres.
A recent development which didn’t exist when I wrote the article is the Rolly Road training grid near the Pocaterra hut. Start at the Rolly Road trailhead, accessed directly from the Pocaterra parking lot, close to the outdoor biffy. Take the easy trail for 200 metres at which time you’ll come upon an eight-lane training grid in a thicket of trees. Practice to your heart’s content. The access trail is probably as useful for training as the grid itself. When you have your technique perfected and your confidence up, go skiing on Pocaterra trail.
You can ski on easy terrain on Pocaterra for 700 metres. Stay left onto Come-Along where you can ski a further 900 metres before coming to the huge hill on Come-Along, for a total distance of 1.6K. (In my article I said 1.2K which is incorrect. I was stopping too soon, at the old Pocaterra /Come-Along junction.) There is one small hill on Pocaterra, about 200 metres from the hut, which has an elevation gain of about 8 metres. If you’re not ready for the climb, or the downhill on the other side, just take your skis off and walk it.
If you’re willing to make the long drive to Lake Louise, the Great Divide trail, also known as Hwy 1A, would be number one on my list. You can ski a long ways, about 7K, before you encounter a significant hill.
Not far behind, also at Lake Louise is Moraine Lake road. Slightly hilly, but the hills are gradual, not steep, and the trail is wide. You can ski for 2.6K, to Paradise creek, before encountering the daunting big hill.
The loops at Protection Mt. Campground on Bow Valley Parkway are really good for a beginner. Unfortunately, the parking lot isn’t ploughed so you have to park in the pull-off on the south side of the road just west of the campground and either walk back along the road or cross the road and go through the trees a bit until you hit the Baker Creek trail that leads you to the campground. The trail is almost always well groomed and there’s hardly ever anyone else there, except for later today of course when the Lake Louise to Banff race will be passing through there!
PS: Bob, when I tried to click on the link above to your article, I got a 404 error.
I’ve fixed the link. Thanks for the heads-up.
My recommendation for a beginner is to not only ski on beginner trails (the ones pointed out here are excellent) but is to practice on a small hill.
Find two small hills that have an acceptable worst case scenario (if you lose control, it’s flat on the bottom and therefore you do everything wrong, you’re still OK).
The first should be one that is not track set. Practice your snowplough. Get some speed, and plough like the wind :). Try to practice stopping, modulating your speed, and turning. Remember, don’t just point your toes together, separate your feet, and dig the inner edges of your skis into the snow. Visualize the entire length of your inner edges scrapping the snow. Scrape the heck out of it… it’s just snow, it will grow back. Bend your knees instead of bending over forward. Remember, you picked a safe hill… falling = learning. Turning is basically putting more pressure (weight) on one inner edge than the other. It’s also VERY difficult to practice the snowplough if you start from the plough position. You need to get a bit of speed first. I can’t emphasize how much easier this makes it.
Next hill should be track set. This is where you practice slowing yourself down while “in the tracks”. This was my worst fear when I first started xc skiing. Here you are on a super fast day (warm), and you get into a long downhill, and the track setter has decided for you that it’s perfectly safe to stay in the tracks. You get locked in, and as you near Mach 1, there are people in front of you and you get scared. As you cross the sound barrier, your life flashes before your eyes. You realize there is more you wanted to accomplish on Earth, but you can’t slow down!! You need to be able to slow yourself down in this scenario. Practice the half snow plough. You need to learn to put all your weight on your right leg (in the track) and lift your left leg out (without falling over) and plough with just the left leg while the right leg remains in the track. You can’t just let the left leg coast along in the half V plough… you need to be able to modulate weight on this leg. More weight on the leg in the track, the faster you go, more weight on the left “plough” leg, the slower you go.
Once you have mastered the above two things, you don’t need to ski just easy trails. You can do the moderate ones, and even the difficult ones on a non-icy day. You may not look like a pro, but you will have your “get out of jail free” card handy should you find yourself screaming down the hill.
One such hill exists at the start of Tram Line just as you cross the bridge (Lake Louise). Another near Pocaterra warming hut after you cross the highway (towards Braille).
In my personal experience, after I practised the above, and starting bringing a flask of scotch with me, there was no hill I was afraid of and have skied all but the most difficult trails.
Best of luck
Don’t forget another option from the Elkwood parking area. Head to the south along Wheeler and then take the left hand turn on Amos. Continue through the camping area and you end up in an open meadow with fantastic views of the mountains. That’s where I would take beginner skiers!
Hi Bob. When I skied the Bankhead trail a few years ago after they started tracksetting it, I immediately thought that this would be a fantastic place to take beginners. Gentle terraine and great views. It is unfortunate that we don’t have beginner trails as good as the Great Divide closer to Canmore or PLPP.