The easiest, longest, most scenic beginner trail in Kananaskis

Lionel: Plenty of room for double tracksetting and a skate lane


An update to this with better photos has been posted Lionel

This trail would create thousands of happy skiers every winter. Wider than Moraine Lake Road, exactly the same distance, without the long drive to Lake Louise. Alf Skrastins has explained the logistics of bringing it back to life in today’s trip reports. Alf started at Pocaterra hut and skied an 18K loop back to the hut. He found the old Sounding Lake trail in order to access Lionel, which is actually Hwy #40. Check Alf’s comment on the Trip Reports for a detailed photo story on how to get to Hwy #40 from Rolly Road/Pocaterra Hut, and how to complete the 18K loop. 

Lionel. The guard rail could separate the ski trail from the snowshoe trail. Photo by Alf Skrastins

Alf further elaborated in an email…

“The closed portion of Highway #40 is the Kananaskis Version of the Moraine Lake Road. It’s a wide, easy ski with plenty of snow and no hazards.  It would be the best “green” ski trail in all of Kananaskis Country.

The new snow on top of the melt-freeze crust got deeper with every southward kilometre. After about 6 km, you could see the “back door” entrance to Pocaterra… which also used to be part of the Lionel trail.

Returning on the groomed Pocaterra trail

The “back door” segment had the deepest snow.  It joins Pocaterra Trail at a T-intersection.

For snowshoers, it would be very easy to set a separate trail (and pack it by snowmobile) at the west edge of the road cut, adjacent to the forest.  In a few places, you could duck in and out of the forest, just to add some variety. And at the major creek crossings, you would bring the trail up to the west side of the guard rails.  The guard rails would provide an obvious physical separation.

It seems like re-activating Lionel as a ski trail should be a no-brainer.  The highway is much wider than Moraine Lake Road, so adding a skate lane should be no problem.  Even if this was the only skate ski trail in PLPP, it would be a good length(9K) from the winter gate to the “back door”.  If the winter gate was the only place where skate skiers could park, then you would only need “classic XC skiing only” signs at the junction where Lionel joins Highway #40 and where the “back door” branches off.  But at least that way skate skiers who drive all the way down to PLPP have somewhere that they can go… rather than turning around and driving back to Ribbon Creek.”


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  1. Lionel was one of the engineers who surveyed the lakes for Calgary Power. 1930’s. Remnants of their camp remain on the little peninsula opposite Upper lake boat launch. My Valley – the Kananaskis, Ruth Oltman, p. 53.

    It would be wonderful to have another beginner trail but …

    There’s no way to know if this year’s sudden covid-related boom in outdoor activity will persist. Parking pass revenues could take a big hit post-pandemic, as early as next winter. Keeping some surplus funds as a reserve would be wise.

    Some will argue that surplus revenues should be used to reduce the cost of parking passes.

    Hwy 40 is plenty wide but any loop off of the highway would presumably need to exploit existing trails which it seems are just too narrow for multi-use.

    If Lionel is resurrected, I would be one of the first to ski it, though.

  2. To Alf’s comment: “seems like reactivating Lionel as a ski trail should be a no brainer” — I’m not an expert in this stuff, but I don’t think it is quite as straightforward as we might all like it to be.
    1) Grooming 8km of trail even once a week is a significant addition in terms of labour. It isn’t just one pass with the PB 100 – it would likely be four (or five to return). What other grooming would we be prepared to give up for this?
    2) My understanding is that some years ago one of the grooming machines broke through the ice on Sounding Lake with a major rescue operation necessary to save it – and this is the reason it is no longer groomed for skiing.
    3) Providing for parking at the gate (washrooms too) would be a pretty significant incremental cost – and moving the gate could also be expensive.
    Not arguing against the idea — just trying to add a sort of reality check here.

    • You are absolutely correct, Ken. Adding any additional grooming, even on trails that already physically exist would be a significant additional cost. Not just an extra shift or two of staff time each week, but also new map and educational signage, etc. Operating a groomed ski trail network is an expensive undertaking.
      This would completely depend on the funding generated by something like the Nordiq Alberta Parking Pass program or a Parks Pass. And it assumes that the cross country ski community is growing and that the demand exists for more beginner friendly trails and skate ski opportunities.
      This years parking pass program seemed to show that current skier volumes are sufficient to pay for more ski grooming than is currently being provided.

    • Ken and Alf, I don’t think the Sounding Lake trail would have to be groomed. I expect skiers would be willing to ski a short ungroomed trail in order to complete the loop(less the deadfall). I think the “carrot” of a new trail would generate more parking pass revenue, too.

      • I only skied via Sounding Lake because it is so easy and scenic. Lionel actually starts from Rolly Road at the Come-Along junction. It’s only about 150m from there to the Sounding Lake junction.

    • Ken and Alf,
      I think some washroom facilities are needed at the highway gate irregardless of any grooming plans. As it is now, there are people parked there most winter days: snowshoers, postholers, etc. It’s also a busy cycling trailhead later in the spring when the snow has melted off of the road.

  3. I think Alf has a great idea for the beginners. That trail allows for a great introduction to x country skiing along with the space for skate skiers. If it were to be track set and packed it would add to the already great trails. I would suggest that along with the aforementioned it would also add to a round trip if the lower Pocaterra to the hut were to be remade. That would allow for two return routes from the Lynx intersection – one for beginners and one for intermediate to advanced skiers.

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