A love affair which started 20 years ago

This is where it all started 20 years ago. The Terrace trailhead at Kananaskis Village.

This is where it all started 20 years ago. The Terrace trailhead at Kananaskis Village.

Today, I returned to the scene where I skied for the first time in my life and retraced the steps which helped me fall in love with this activity 20 years ago.

Heading south from the village on Terrace trail

Heading south from the village on Terrace trail

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a life-changing event when I skied a 6K loop on the Kananaskis Village trails in Feb 1997.

Climbing on Kovach

Climbing on Kovach

My girlfriend and I went to stay for the weekend at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis. Arriving late Friday afternoon, we went for a walk and stumbled upon Terrace trail. “What are those grooves in the snow for?” was my first reaction, then a couple skiers came down the hill and I realized it was a cross-country ski trail.

Aspen trail was my first taste of the downhills

Aspen trail was my first taste of the downhills

It looked like fun, so the next morning we rented waxless skis, boots, and poles at Peregrine Sports Rentals at the village and headed out. It was a very cold day, so I first purchased a warm hat at one of the stores in the hotel. I was decked out in blue jeans and a big down coat.

We decided to head south on Terrace trail. I don’t remember doing any research on the elevation or difficulty of the trail. If I remember correctly, the paved walking path was actually groomed and trackset going south from the village rather than as it is now, where the trail runs through the open field. I guess Tracksetter Jeff would be the final authority on whether my memory is accurate. Pretty sure he groomed the trails for my first ski trip.

A happy group of ladies on Terrace Link

A happy group of ladies on Terrace Link

Terrace ski trail ends at 600 metres and you start climbing Kovach on those S-turns. Climb, climb, climb I thought it would never end. I was wearing my coat around my waist by now. It’s about a 65-metre elevation gain to the Aspen junction at 1.7K.

Aspen gave me my first taste of the fun with some very exciting downhills. I also remember one of the turns gave me my first experience of a faceplant but I’m sure I came up laughing and grinning. I was sold!

Lunch bag which I acquired in 1997 (click for larger image)

Lunch bag which I acquired in 1997. Photo is from 2015 on Tyrwhitt. (click for larger image)

The loop was completed with more fun going downhill on Kovach, then onto Terrace Link and Terrace. Thinking it was going to be a long day, we even took bagged lunches which the hotel provided. I still use the lunch bag.

After all that fun, I thought I should give downhill skiing a try, which I did, and enjoyed it too. The peace, quiet and remoteness of the xc trails is probably what convinced me that I was going to be a cross-country skier.

I don't have a lot of photos from the early days, but this is one from 1999. Can you name the trail I'm on?

I don’t have a lot of photos from the early days, but this is one from 1999. Can you name the trail I’m on?

I didn’t go again that winter, but in October I bought my first set of skis. In the winter of 1997-98, I went skiing 12 times and logged 89 kilometres, many of them on Ribbon Creek which was a perfect beginner’s trail back then.

Today, I was out early enough to be able to use my waxable skis with VR50(0/-4) but the sunny spots were already becoming soft and wet. The temperature when I left Kananaskis Village around 1 pm was +9°C.

In the photos below, notice how faded the colour has become on my backpack. I’ve skied over 21,000 kilometres since that first fateful day.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Enjoyed your story, Bob. We are fortunate that your enthusiasm led to your hosting this great community resource. Thanks! My first x-c experience was in the countryside northwest of Toronto in late spring 1975. I took a 20 min. spin on my friend’s x-c skis and that was it. The next winter I moved west, taking the train from Toronto to Lake Louise to a job at the Chateau and to x-c ski heaven.

  2. Love this story. My first outing was December 2015 at Pocaterra. I couldn’t believe how beautiful and fun it was. I went out and bought my own set the very next week. This is my first full winter xc skiing, and I am absolutely in love. I have finally found a winter sport and find myself annoying everyone around me with phrases like “The high is going to be +9 tomorrow. I am so disappointed. How am I supposed to ski in this weather?”.

    Thanks for running such an informative blog Bob!

  3. This sounds like a tremendous initiative! What’s the most efficient avenue to communicate concerns to parks?

    • Hi Steve:
      Yes you can enter the website at Alberta parks and look for ” contact us ” which will prompt a selection pf different topics, I selected ” Complaints ” but even “Skiing ” will do; manifest your point of view as well as concerns and in the near future there will be a reply informing you about what is boiling in the pot and the changes that will take place for the best.
      One reminder: Despite all the lack of clarity concerning the use of the x-country trails, the government is still committed to ensure that Kananaskis will be there for future generations to come as a pristine area where monitored activities will take place which means the preservation of the facilities for the use to which they have being assigned and nothing else.
      I think the next step is to convince this government to reverse the status of Kananaskis from a general multi use designated area to a Provincial Park as it used to be before the Ralph Klein era, this will categorically exclude any hunting/trapping activities as well as motorized vehicle access not to mention the limitation of logging, cattle raring and campsites available throughout the territory.
      If we want to be a happy lot we need to be the proverbial squeaky wheel that gets the oil.
      Thank you for your awareness

  4. Wonderful story

    I have no memory of my first ski, but I do still think back to my childhood winters in New Brunswick every time I smell pine tar. The only set track I ever saw was for the old Maritime Marathon Ski Tour.

    I have to thank you for reigniting my passion for skiing. I never stopped, but wasn’t skiing seriously until I happened to see a post you made about the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet. I was thinking at the time that I should get into better shape, thought “why not”, and went for it. Since then I have never looked back, and my whole family has been happily dragged along. Your blog is a part of our daily life – thank you.

    • My start was in the little town of Pinawa MB. I was 21, had just moved there and discovered that winter was long and boring if you didn’t get outside. I blindly bought skis, and spent a few winters on the ski trails local ski trails without a clue what I was doing. It was after skiing with Will around Edmonton a couple years when I suddenly discovered technique on a trail by Athabasca Falls. I’d heard the term kick and glide but mainly used trudge and trudge! My love was truly set on a picture perfect moonlight ski on Lake Louise.

      And in Will’s defense I don’t think we feel ‘dragged along’.

      Thanks Bob.

  5. Sounds like you were an adult when you started…gives me hope and motivation as someone just starting this year and wishing I had started many years earlier!

  6. A great tale of finding your ski legs Bob! I think Ribbon was my first mtn ski earlier that decade too, though learned as a youth the previous one on (very) cold tracks through Sir Wlfred Laurier Park -for still most gravitated to the sublime clarity and crispness of snow sliding on those sharply polar days.

  7. Bob your story triggered memories of my first “cross country” ski at age 15 ( 50+ yr ago) up Cirque Mountain using sealskin skins on heavy wooden skis, and for many years after that before trails got groomed/trackset which we ploughed through to break our own trails. Very thankful for those groomers who make our trails so skiable.
    But what you have done with your enthusiasm is quite frankly outstanding and worthy of great merit. Through your blog and other supporting activities you have created a great information source and a community of cross country skiers.
    Thank you for your gift to all!

  8. Hi Bob, Great post! I also share this experience as my first trip was somewhere on the Ribbon Creek Trails around 2000. I’m going to guess that your classic pic was the grind up from the power lines on the slogan loop! Just before the top where the fun begins.

    Kaptain Kananaskis

  9. Similar beginnings myself winter of 98/99. Stayed in Louise with a girlfriend and did some snow shoeing (pipestone and near the lake). Saw folks skiing a downhill section at pipestone and immediately decided that was way more efficient and fun. I had skied before in high school in a different province, so that was it for the shoes. Got some sticks shortly thereafter and our first ski in the mountains was also at ribbon creek trails in November (thinking it was a regular occurance). After the first full year in Alberta it was clear that the mountains are best when blanketed in fresh white snow. Then I learned you could go “off trail” and even climb peaks in winter. The cross country gear got used less. Rediscovered cross country a few years back thanks to the blog and the wonderful trip reports. Great stuff.

  10. That ski trail is the junction of the old yellow trail at Chester / Sawmill if I remember right you could hang a left to take the top part of the yellow or go straight up and tie into the orange trail and also the green. Always great snow up there.

  11. Great story Bob – thanks for sharing.

  12. Saw the sleigh in the field. They still run it?

    I think mostly around Christmas -Bob

  13. Hi Bob,
    I am so glad you picked a day all those years ago when the conditions were good and your first experience was a very positive one. We as groomers love to see people get hooked on the sport in part because of all of the work we do to make the experience as good as possible.
    You’re right on the walking path it actually used to be groomed from the Village Center to the beginning of Terrace and also connected the the top of Bill Milne. Pressure from the hotels and fire codes stated that there had to be a clear access all the way round the Village Rim and through the Village. That is why it is plowed now and the ski trail now goes through the ball field. The horse and sleigh also used to run all winter that is why Terrace is so wide which now serves as a beginner skating trail and snowshoe trail.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *