There is something about being in a forest in the middle of winter gliding across the snow that refreshes the body and mind. In the SkierBob domain, you are treated to magnificent scenery, snow-laden trees, perfectly groomed trails, occasional animal tracks, and all under the watchful gaze of towering mountains with names like Wintour, Wedge, and Kidd.
This article is for raw beginners who want the mountain experience without significant hills. I’m not including any city trails.
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.
Another consideration is trail width. You want to start out on a wide trail that gives some room for error. Narrow, single-track trails in trees are not for beginners.
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 parking lot, 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.
Pocaterra and Rolly Road training grids
These are near the Pocaterra hut. I favour the Rolly Road grid because it has a 200-metre access trail which serves as an excellent beginner trail.
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, you can try skiing on Pocaterra trail.
Pocaterra trail has a small hill about 300 metres from the start. It has an elevation gain of 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 undeterred, you can ski on easy terrain on Pocaterra for 700 metres. At the junction, DO NOT go right. 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(3.2K return).
The Great Divide at Lake Louise would be number one on my list, but Wedge is close behind, and it’s a much shorter drive. You can ski for 1K without encountering any hills. The small hill which starts at 1K should be easy enough to climb. The trail continues on to the Evan-Thomas creek for a total distance of 2.6K. When returning, you can get a feel for what it’s like to get some speed up(but not scary speed) on the gradual, almost-straight downhill where it’s easy enough to stay in the tracks.
The only trail at WBC without a hill is the Bunny Loop which is accessed near the trailhead. Mountain Road has a couple small, gradual hills but you will want to have snow-plowing ability before you tackle it.
The Tunnel Mountain trails in Banff are an excellent training ground for raw beginners.
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. There are some very gradual, small hills over long distances but the trail is straight so you can stay in the tracks. You can ski a long ways, about 6.6K, before you encounter a significant hill. The trail is wide, scenic, and has excellent snow for most of the winter.
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 Bill Milne trail in Kananaskis is a terrific, easy, scenic beginner trail, but it can be annoying for a beginner skier because of all the road crossings. If you ski the 7K flat stretch between Ribbon Creek and the highway, there are nine places where you have to remove your skis and cross a road. If you make a 10th crossing across Hwy #40, you’re into some significant hills.