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The Magical Mystery Tour is 	Waiting to Take You Away
© Cross Country Skier: December 2006, Vol. 26 Issue 3
The Magical Mystery Tour is Waiting to Take You Away
By Ron Bergin

Top: On the trail to Skoki Lodge.
Center: Maligne Canyon Ice Walk.
Bottom: Typical view on the way to
Skoki Lodge—not too hard on the eyes.
Last year, I had the opportunity to tour a portion of Alberta, Canada. Since I had never visited the province before, it was all pretty much a mystery to me. Now, after having been there, trying to convey the vast depth of Nordic skiing adventures and magical beauty of the Canadian heartland in a few pages is a daunting task, but here are a few highlights. The Province of Alberta, about the size of the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming put together, spans a geographic spectrum from flat open prairie to the majestic Canadian Rockies. Along the way, there's some pretty spectacular skiing to be had and equally spectacular scenery to be seen.

My Alberta magical mystery tour began in the city of Edmonton, yes, in the city. This huge metro area is home to an intense pocket of Nordic skiing enthusiasm. A city of almost one million people and the sixth largest city in Canada, Edmonton is surrounded by prairie with few trees, save for stands of aspen. Economically, it's boom time in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, thanks to its plentiful oil, natural gas and tar sands. With this extensive extraction industry and the related processing and refining jobs, Alberta boasts an extremely low unemployment rate. Royalties from these industries to the government have generated a huge surplus—an enviable position for any government, some of which has found its way back into recreation and sports facilities.

Strathcona Wilderness Center
In Edmonton, a stop at the Strathcona Wilderness Center is a good way to ease into the local scene. In suburban Sherwood Park about minutes from the city, the center offers a varied series of year round outdoor education programs and in the winter, offers snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of kids go through this county-run facility every school year. Through acres of wilderness habitat, km of ski trails loop in stands of aspen and visit remote campsites and bunk houses. Cattail-lined Bennett Lake provides an ideal attraction for snowshoeing and during the summer, for canoeing. In addition to the main center, the facility includes group camping, a cookhouse and bunk houses. The main lodge functions as a day use area for skiers, and also host groups, parties and weddings.

The relative ease of the trails, coupled with its easy access and pleasant setting make the Strathcona Wilderness Center a popular destination for beginning and intermediate skiers, or for those looking for an easy to get to place to ski and unwind after work. Strathcona's director, Jean Funk, is the local Nordic diva with more cross country ski irons in the fire than the most active skier or event organizer would care to entertain. Besides her day job, her volunteer roles include Cross Country Alberta, the Canmore World Cup and the Canadian Birkebeiner.

Top: Skiing to Skoki Lodge
Bottom: Bow Lake and environs
as seen from Num-Ti-Jah Lodge.
Cooking Lake—Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
The nearby Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area plays host to the Canadian Birkebeiner Society's annual ski festival. As a destination area unto itself, however, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot has much to offer the Nordic skier, namely km of double track-set trails and another km of skate trails—that's km of trail! The area is accessed via four trailheads or staging areas: Waskehegan, Central, Blackfoot and Islet Lake. The trails run through an almost entirely aspen forest and open grazing lands, with isolated stands of spruce that were spared when fires ravaged the area many years ago.

The trails are mostly rolling—not overly difficult except for a couple of more challenging hills. Skiing the last few kilometers of the Birkebeiner course, I passed numerous wetlands, often skirting them on narrow ridges, looking down on frequent giant beaver houses, some of the largest I have ever seen. Moose tracks wandered in and out of the trail, but I never caught a glimpse of Monsieur Moose. Other ungulates like elk graze in fields within the park. Multi-use trails, too, include a network of equestrian trails that provide access to the inner reaches of the park, some of which are utilized to provide a connection for the Canadian Birkie racecourse.

The park management enjoys a particularly good relationship with the Birkebeiner Society. The park is the beneficiary of a new Bombardier groomer, purchased by the Birkie with assistance from the province and used to regularly groom this substantial trail system.

Elk Island National Park
Just next door, the Elk Island National Park offers additional trail opportunities. Machine-groomed trails range from km to km. Woodland bison can be viewed within the park and from the highways. My more-than-full itinerary did not include time to explore these trails, so they'll have to wait until next time.

Edmonton Nordic Ski Club
Meanwhile, back in Edmonton, the Gold Bar Park Trail provides city dwellers a delightful cross country ski diversion, without having to leave the urban confines. Though only about km, the Gold Bar Trail has plenty of enjoyable terrain—from flat to hilly. Looping and climbing into the trees and back onto itself, these fun trails are used by the members of the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club and the general public. A convenient warming building provides a welcome respite from the elements. Even this far north, snow can sometimes be a challenge, which is why the club has visions of developing snowmaking for the trails. A -inch water main running beneath the park will provide the needed water for this endeavor, should they manage to attain this goal.

These city park trails reminded me of Minneapolis and its many in-town trails. But the Gold Bar is no "walk in the park." With its good night lighting, if I lived there, I know where I'd be a few nights each week.

Edmonton Biathlon
Biathlon is big at the club level in Canada. Far more so, it appears, than in the U.S., with a significant percentage of the larger clubs having at least a basic shooting range and biathlon specific trails. Such is the case in Edmonton, where there's a strong following for this mixed discipline Nordic sport. However, here it's not your every day, run of the mill biathlon facility. For starters, it's sited in a relatively urban setting, but not in a downtown area. Several miles from the Gold Bar Trail, the biathlon facility sits in a fringe industrial area adjacent to public recreation lands near the Strathcona Science Park.

Like most youth sports initiatives, the Edmonton Biathlon program is founded on enthusiastic parental involvement and support. Young biathletes are supervised and herded about by a corps of dedicated parents who help tend to the logistical and organizational details of the club's activities. For greater expertise in skiing and shooting, the club relies on the skills of a couple of young coaches—both former elite performers in their own right, now attending the local university. There wasn't much natural terrain at the Edmonton Biathlon site, so what did they do? They created it, building several climbs and a rolling flow into the trails. Across the way, there's even a modest alpine ski hill that was similarly created; the club hopes to expand in that direction someday. With a limited amount of real estate with which to work, the club has done a great job fashioning a few Ks of trail including an obligatory penalty loop that is also used as a short cut for younger kids. And since darkness falls early in that neighborhood in mid winter, much training is done after school or in the early evening under the lights, the power provided by the club's own generator. The generator, fencing and other equipment are stored in a locked trailer adjacent to the range. The range is set up to accommodate younger skier-shooters who use air rifles and shoot at targets about meters distant. Older skiers use standard caliber rifles at meters. I had the opportunity to ski the biathlon trails and was amazed what the group had done given the physical limitations of the property. The climbs, to meters at the most, worked well providing appropriate training efforts for the young skiers and the open, looping layout of the trails afford good views for spectators.

I even got to try my hand at the range, first on the air rifle where I shot clean and with the I knocked down four out five, but was told that they were giving me an advantage. "I suppose you have someone down there knocking the targets down for me?" I joked. No, but they did have me shooting at the slightly larger targets normally used when shooting from the standing position, and I was shooting prone. Of course, the other advantage was that I didn't come in from skiing hard to try to shoot.

Jasper National Park
My Alberta magical mystery tour took me next to Jasper. As a gateway to the Canadian Rockies, the population of Jasper can swell to as many as during summer months, five times that of its normal residency. So obviously, the time to go is winter. While there are not a lot of groomed tracks, the area abounds with light touring potential, as well as more serious backcountry options. According to Murray Morgan, manager of the Jasper Adventure Center and the go-to guy when it comes to the local Nordic scene, there's interest in developing more trails and instituting regular grooming, but being in the middle of a national park layers on myriad bureaucratic challenges. Campgrounds and fire roads comprise the bulk of the organized skiing in the immediate area. Wabasso Campground has eight kilometers of classic skiing and four kilometers for skating; the Whistler Campground Loop, km of easy skiing; the Pipeline Trail, also easy, a km out and back where elk and moose are common; and Pyramid Lake Fire Road, a km round trip rated more difficult. All trails except Whistler allow canine companionship.

One of the factors limiting expanded trail grooming in some areas is the presence of a herd of caribou. The herd had at one time been as large as , but marginal habitat and wolf predation has taken its toll. In fact, grooming at some areas has been discontinued to reduce access to the caribou for wolves. It is even recommend to avoid skiing into some areas where caribou might be, as wolves will travel in skier-set tracks. The Friends of Jasper National Park annually sponsor the Caribou Loppet, a non-competitive event to develop awareness and educate the public about the plight of the local caribou. Of course, other options include spring skiing on area lakes. Murray piqued my curiosity with one suggestion, skating the spring crust on Maligne Lake, km each way, up the lake and back, in mid to late April or early May. I have to figure out how to get back there to do that one.

A not-to-be-missed diversion while visiting Jasper is the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk. A night snowshoe hike into this stunning frozen river gorge is simply outrageous. Offered by Jasper Adventure Center and other outfitters, the tour is not a difficult hike, perhaps three kilometers up a trail and down into the canyon. Snowshoes with good cleats are a must as you frequently walk on ice sheets, frozen overflow and up heaved chunks of ice. Tours to the canyon are particularly spectacular when timed to coincide with clear skies and a full moon. It's possible to position yourself to see the moon from the bottom of the canyon as it glints off the frozen river, ice falls and suspended icicles.

Back in town, one of the more popular watering holes is the D'ed Dog Café, adjacent to the Astoria Hotel. As the story goes the original owner posted a photo of his recently deceased dog and others began to follow suit, resulting in the café’s name. I chuckled at one of their T-shirts that read: "In dog years, I'd be dead." More on the fine-dining end of the spectrum, another great place to check out is the Sawridge Inn.

Athabasca Lookout Nordic Center
I took a day out of the action-packed itinerary to backtrack to Athabasca Lookout Nordic Center in the town of Hinton, where I skied with Murray, his wife Bev and Rick Zroback, another local Nordic guru. Located about an hour east of Jasper and two hours west of Edmonton, the center's trails reminded me of skiing in the upper Midwest, particularly parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin: heavily forested, lots of terrain variations, real hills. Unlike the majority of cross country skiing opportunities in Jasper, the km of trails at Athabasca are all groomed. And even more new trails are planned, including an easy trail and an approach to the Lookout. In the further reaches of the trail network, a telemark hill awaits those willing to earn a few turns.

Managed by the Hinton Nordic Ski Club, the Athabasca Nordic Center's rustic wood day lodge is the hub of this well-developed operation that not only includes facilities for recreational skiing, but a fully appointed stadium area, complete with a competition and timing building and a biathlon range. The Athabasca Center was the site of the Alberta Winter Games, a series of competitions for racers under age . The place even has its own luge run.

Though the area had been somewhat snow-challenged resulting in some track setting irregularities just prior to my visit, I could easily see that under more favorable, normal snow conditions, skiing here would not only offer plenty of challenge, but thoroughly enjoyable skiing.

The majority of the system consists of modern width skate lanes with a track on each side. The Marathon Loop forms the system's perimeter and is used for the club's annual race. Even though the Athabasca trails are part way up a mountain, you are paid back handsomely for your climbing effort with some wild downhills. Among the many climbs is the infamous Barf Hill, which doesn't really require any additional description.

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge
The magic really kicked into high gear at my stop at Num-Ti-Jah (num-TIE-jah) Lodge along the Icefields Parkway, miles north of Lake Louise. Built by hunter-trapper-naturalist-artist Jimmy Simpson, it was originally a shack built on Bow Lake in that over time has expanded to the -room log lodge it is today. Its rustic mountain lodge feel is amplified by old skis and the many taxidermy animal mounts decorating the walls, including one of the lodge's namesake, the Pine Marten. "Num Ti Jah" is the Stoney Indian word for this member of the weasel family. The main dining room and most of the several other common areas are adorned with dozens of paintings, most resulting from artist retreats held at the lodge. There are several fireplaces, sitting rooms with game boards and even a large map table at which to peruse backcountry travel routes. Perched on the shores of Bow Lake, the lodge affords panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the distant Crowfoot Glacier, the source of the lake. There are no groomed trails at Num-Ti-Jah, but there is skiing—right out the door on to and across Bow Lake. The more adventuresome ski across the lake and over a small pass that takes you around the canyon-like gorge that funnels glacial run-off to the lake. On the back side of the ridge, you drop into an open glacial outwash, with moraines, windblown cirques and rocky debris poking through the snow. Once here, you can ski toward the glacier's headwall and from a safe distance appreciate its blue ice beauty. Save for a couple of other skiers and a few gray jays, I saw no one and heard nothing—the quiet was absolute. This is definitely a light touring or backcountry route, requiring some descending skills to maneuver safely the return trip. The most adventuresome continue from here on a route to Bow Hut and onto the icefields.

The other skiing opportunity starts just behind the lodge and takes you into one of the prettiest winter meadow settings you're going to find. Here, like Jasper, grooming is restricted by national park regulations. One would think that with the tremendous amount of snow the region receives that there wouldn't be much of an issue. But bureaucracies being what they are, at this point it is not possible, though the lodge's management definitely would like to work with the park toward that goal. Skier-set tracks take you through pillowy hills and dipping through occasional drainages along the edge of the denser forest for about three kilometers. Though I was duly impressed by the four-plus feet of snow and almost lost my pole trying to measure it, a skier I passed along the way commented that the snow was somewhat "low" because you could still see the creek in the lower meadow. This was a wonderfully mellow ski of rolling trails, mountain back drops and an occasional ptarmigan waiting to burst out of the snow and scare the living daylights out of you.

Winter at Num-Ti-Jah is a quiet time, and during mid-week, it's even quieter. But rustic comfort, idyllic mountain surroundings, not to mention its food and a killer desert menu, make it a do-over for my magical mystery tour of Alberta.

Banff/Lake Louise
Mention the Canadian Rockies and more than likely the image of Lake Louise leaps to mind. Little wonder this is one of the most photographed places in the entire region. The beauty just defies description—the splendor of the mountains, the history of the lake and the opulence of the Chateau Lake Louise make it an enormously popular destination. Though downhill skiing is the principal draw in the winter, there's enough satisfying cross country skiing to keep the average Nordic skier happy. On the easier end, the trails from the lower parking lot are a good place to start, particularly because the first segment along the Tramline Trail is one of the longest, gradual descents you are going to find anywhere. Double tracked through a narrow corridor of balsam and spruce, all you need to do is kick a few times and double pole the rest--for a kilometer and a half. Dumping out onto the Moraine Lake Road, a wide summer road groomed for skate and classic, I was disappointed to see the free ride end. Turn left here, and you can ski all the way into town. This out and back road segment forms the second leg of this loop, and you do have to give back some of that free ride, climbing back up until you turn off and duck back into the narrower Fairview Loop. "This is more like it," I thought as I skied through the conifers, winding, climbing and descending until leveling out in a mini meadow under stark rock outcrops over head.

More trails, including the Lower Telemark Loop (telemark skiing not required), emanate from the Chateau along the perimeter of the lake, snaking through the woods behind the hotel. These trails I found reminiscent of years gone by—tight single and double track, sharp turns, quick descents followed by long sections of easy kicking through the deep woods. A couple of wider groomed roads provide the necessary connections to continue the loop. But back in the woods the narrow tree-lined corridors bring you safely back to the Chateau.

These and the other Lake Louise trails are enjoyable and appealing enough to do a couple of laps or repeat the next day. Trail maps indicate a few other trails, too, that I did not have the opportunity to ski. Snowshoe tours are also offered daily from the Chateau. The numerous luxuries and amenities make this stop on the tour a must-do, whether as a day's ski outing or a full-blown, high-end vacation.

For those who enjoy a little competition in their cross country skiing diet, the Lake Louise Loppet, a -km classic technique race with a -km option is offered in January. Run by the Calgary Ski Club, it starts and finishes on Lake Louise and incorporates many of the area's core trails.

Skoki Lodge
The highlight of my Alberta M.M.T. had to be my excursion to Skoki Lodge—a backcountry hut accessible only by skis. It had all the elements of a journey to Shangri-La—albeit decidedly shorter and easier. To access the trail to Skoki Lodge, Lake Louise Mountain Resort provides a shuttle to the trailhead. The route to Skoki requires an -km ski that takes three hours at a steady pace. You cross a couple of downhill ski runs, but except for dodging a few kamikaze snowboarders, you are otherwise on a narrow three- to four-foot-wide path.

Constant gradual climbing with occasional small dips revealed backcountry meadows and hillsides, as the remaining hints of civilization, distant ski lifts and skiers on the back side of the ski resort dwindled from sight. Soon, your only company is mountains and towering rock faces. Somewhere part way up are the remnants of an old cabin known as the Halfway House, but I'll be darned if I could find it, either coming or going. I stopped along the trail to slam a sandwich after an hour and a half of skiing. Almost immediately, I caught the attention of a pair of gray jays. Just for the heck of it, I extended my hand over my head and wouldn't you know it, a jay flew in and lit on my finger. I froze for the seconds or so that he was there, unfortunately unable to take a photo, but it was a thrill to say the least.

With light touring skis with metal edges and climbing skins, the trip in was relatively benign except for a couple of steep climbs. I do wish, though, I had slightly heavier gear. The next major landmark was Ptarmigan Lake, an exposed frozen kilometer-long lake, followed immediately by the climb up Deception Pass. I had been warned about this portion of the trip and initially it didn't look too foreboding--hence the name. After climbing one long pitch, I felt I had it knocked, but, of course, then came the next pitch followed by an even steeper finish. Dropping off the top of the pass, you traverse an open cirque and soon reach the beginning of the descent.

The fun really begins here. There were two choices: a long downhill run on a fast, narrow, hard packed trail, or my choice, ski off the trail in the powder among the small trees. Once down, it was a pleasant and surprisingly short ski through the valley to reach the Lodge—Shangri-La had been achieved. I arrived in time for afternoon "tea" served from about to —herbal tea, coffee, cakes, breads, cheese, crackers and that day, a welcome hot squash and vegetable soup—hearty and yummy.

The lodge has rooms that can accommodate up to , plus three cabins including the "Honeymoon" cabin, as well as staff cabins. Amenities are limited to a wood-fired sauna and the common areas in the lodge, equipped with games, cards and a small library with books on local history and flora and fauna. Numerous historic photographs and ski equipment dating back to the early s decorate the lodge. Solar panels provide power for the hut's radio phone and CD player, and a generator powers the kitchen appliances except the stove and refrigerator, which run on propane. All food and other supplies are hauled in by snowmobile or helicopter.

After replenishing my fuel supplies with soup, tea and cakes, I opted for a late afternoon ski down Pipestone Creek near the lodge. With its many irregularities filled in by the deep snow, skiing was very reasonable. The creek gradually opened into an expanding and deepening canyon. It was so inviting and the scenery so stunning, that I had to stop every meters for another photo. The many dipsy-doodles, side steps and the rolling and twisting character of the "trail" made it quite fun. Not at all your average ski trail, it sometimes required bi-level skiing, with one ski in the packed trail and the other on the bank. The trek down the creek ended far too soon as it bottomed out in a wide open meadow. I chose to ski a clockwise loop around the meadow and wander around the far side in the trees before picking up the return trail and skiing up through Merlin Lake campground. The one-mile ski back to the lodge was a steady, but not difficult climb. Skiing this loop in the opposite direction would have been a quick, fun run going down, but climbing up through the canyon would have been quite awkward. The route makes a great snow shoe hike, too.

Today, Skoki Lodge is owned and operated by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, the same company that owns Lake Louise Mountain Resort. It was the first facility built to specifically cater to ski tourists on a commercial basis in Canada (and possibly North America). A group of Banff residents who formed the Ski Club of the Canadian Rockies first managed the lodge's operation. The first guests arrived for skiing in the spring of . The main lodge building was made of locally-harvested logs and assembled with saddle-notched corners. A long, one-story kitchen was added in the summer of . Between and , Jim Boyce who took over as manager in from founding managers Catharine and Peter Whyte, added the upper floor and roof dormers and what is now the living room. He also added three or four log cabins to increase the original capacity. The lodge was substantially renovated in .

Visitors base out of Skoki Lodge and take day tours into the backcountry over a series of established routes. There are plenty of options with maps and guidebooks available describing routes. Hearty meals are served family style, and after my long day of skiing, dinner was especially welcome—pesto chicken, marmalade carrots (lots), cauliflower au gratin (with red, yellow and green peppers), Skoki salad and toffee date cake for dessert. Since most people are off skiing at mid-day, lunch isn't served, but in the morning a spread of fixings is provided so you can make your own sandwiches for the trail to eat at your leisure.

Kananaskis Country
Canmore Nordic Centre
Leaving Banff and Lake Louise behind, I eased on down the road to Canmore. The Canmore Nordic Centre is operated within Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, part of the system of parks and protected areas known as Kananaskis Country. Site of the Nordic ski and biathlon events for the Winter Olympic Games, the Canmore Nordic Centre is not an ordinary Nordic center. In fact, the term Nordic center is really insufficient to fully describe the scope of the facility. Since the '88 Olympics, the Canmore Centre has evolved considerably and continues to evolve today. It continues to be home field for the Canadian National Nordic ski and biathlon teams. In addition to the trails, the infrastructure includes the most-contemporary of facilities, including one of the nicest day lodges on the continent—no log cabin in the woods or retrofitted recycled buildings here. The facility is equipped with locker rooms, weight training, meeting rooms, food concession and other amenities.

The Canmore Centre boasts km of trails. In as much as the entire center is tucked into the side of a mountain, the trails climb almost immediately from the large stadium area in a series of tiers with interconnecting loops. Grades are reasonable, except for a few grunts to access the higher reaches of the system. But these are not the same trails used in the Winter Games.

In December , the Canmore Nordic Centre played host to two days of World Cup racing. In the run up to these events, the Canmore Center underwent a $ million makeover that included reconfiguring most of the trails and developing trails that would be appropriate for the World Cup competitions, some with steep challenging climbs. The refurbishment returned it to international standards for competition. The Alberta Centennial FIS World Cup was the first international cross country ski event hosted at the facility since .

The refurbishment also refined other trails to make them more appropriate for recreational skiers and increased year-round recreational use. In addition to the trails, snow making, high end trail grooming, trail lighting, ski school, ski rental and sales shop and the day lodge now provide a world-class ski experience. In the summer, the center operates mountain biking trails, bike shop, hiking trails, a paved roller ski loop and a disc-golf course.

The two-phase implementation of the Canmore improvements first included a new -km cross country ski competition trail system, a new -km recreational ski trail with lighting, a snowmaking system capable of up to 20 km of trail coverage, new grooming equipment, a new -km biathlon competition trail system, modification of cross country and biathlon stadiums to meet international standards, refurbished and new wax and team room buildings, expansion of the biathlon timing building, a new biathlon target system that meets international standards, new trail signage, expanded parking and a new road system. This phase was completed in time for the December World Cup. Phase two of the plan, scheduled for completion this year, includes returning the biathlon course to international standards, expanding and renovating the day lodge, installing a paved -km roller ski trail and final site landscaping.

From World Cup competition to a large active Jackrabbit (youth) program, the Canmore Nordic Centre caters to all level of skiers and tallies a remarkable skier visits per season. Already an impressive skiing facility, these refurbishments have catapulted Canmore into a class of its own, for recreational skiing as well as cross country and biathlon competition. Couple that with the magnificent mountain backdrop, and this site is a natural once again to host Olympic level competition. And there's a lot more to Kananaskis Country that I did not get to see, like the over km of trails at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Sandy McNabb, Simth-Dorrien, Ribbon Creek and Mount Shark ski areas. Did I mention there was a lot of skiing in Alberta?

Canada Olympic Park, Calgary
I concluded my tour of Alberta with a visit to Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. Like it's counterpart in Park City, Utah, the Canada Olympic Park (COP) was the site of several Winter Games events, principally ski jumping, bobsled and luge. Today, the COP is a public facility that includes a modest downhill area and a short system of Nordic ski trails. Most of the original Olympic competition venues are still used for training and some competition; others like the in-door ice house provide state of the art training and testing facilities.

Close to the city of Calgary, families, students and aspiring athletes utilize the ski hill, Nordic course and snowshoe trails daily—almost a million visitors from around the world each year. In the summer, a moderate to rather gnarly system of mountain bike trails with numerous technical features twines its way along the perimeter of the park.

The COP is also slated for major improvements, including a $600,000 upgrade to the ski jump facility, a new ice house start training facility, a world-leading gymnastics center, a 22-foot snowboard half pipe that emulates the half pipe being used at the Olympics in Whistler, B.C. and an expansion of the park's Nordic ski trails.

If you've never stood at the top of a ski jump and seen it from the jumper's eye view, here's your chance. And simply walking through the museum and competition facilities thoroughly enhances one's appreciation of what these athletes experience. What a better way to wind down my winter tour of Alberta than by visiting this historic site.

So much to see, so little time. Though I certainly made a dent, the wealth of adventure in this winter paradise seemed endless. In the end—magical? Yes, but no longer a mystery.

Canadian Birkebeiner
The big daddy cross country ski event in Alberta is the annual Canadian Birkebeiner. Like its counterpart in the U.S., the Canadian Birkie is fashioned after the original Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet, which commemorates the historic rescue of the infant heir to the Norwegian throne, Prince Haakon Haakonson. Though not quite as dramatic as the original course, the Canadian Birkebeiner annually attracts up to skiers in its various divisions.

Sadly, the Canadian Birkie was canceled in due to lack of snow. Ironically, snow fell later on March and again later in the month. With this season's early snows already gracing the trails, organizers are confident that all systems will be go for the edition, scheduled for February and . The Birkie starts at the Ukranian Cultural Heritage Village, a restored village of over historic buildings and open-air museum where costumed role players portray real-life early pioneers. From sets of tracks through the fields and across Goose Lake, the course eventually drops to two sets of tracks for the duration. The full distance is km with two divisions, one carrying a -pound pack (representing the infant prince) and the Birkie Lite, with no pack. A shorter -km version utilizes the same start area and course, but takes several cut-offs to shorten the distance. In addition, there is a 13-km Mini Birkie, 2.5-km kids tour and a 5-km snow shuffle.

In a tip of the hat to its sister events in the U.S. and Norway, the Canadian Birkebeiner Society presents a stylish pottery award to skiers who have completed the long course races at all three events. To date, only 57 individuals have received the coveted Haakon Haakonson Award.

For more skinny:
Travel Alberta/ALBERTA,
Cross Country Alberta,

Edmonton Area
Edmonton Tourism,
Canadian Birkebeiner Society,
Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area ,
Edmonton Nordic Ski Club
Elk Island National Park,,
Strathcona Wilderness Center,
Ukranian Cultural Heritage Village,

Jasper Area
Jasper Tourism & Commerce,, Astoria Hotel/De'd Dog Café
Athabasca Lookout Nordic Center/Hinton Nordic Ski Club
Friends of Jasper National Park/Caribou Loppet ,
Jasper Adventure Centre ,
Jasper National Park ,
The Sawridge Inn and Conference Center ,

Banff/Lake Louise Area
Banff Lake Louise Tourism ,
Banff National Park
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise ,
Lake Louise Loppet ,,
Lake Louise Mountain Resort ,
Num Ti Jah Lodge ,,
Skoki Lodge ,,

Calgary Area
Calgary Ski Club,, Canada Olympic Park,
Foothills Nordic Ski Club,,

Kananaskis Country
Kananaskis Country (403)292-3362
Canmore Nordic Centre (403) 678-2400,,

Selected reading
Calgary Goes Skiing, A History of the Calgary Ski Club, David Mittelstadt
Powder Pioneers, Ski Stories from the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains, Chic Scott
Skoki - Beyond the Passes, Kathryn Manry
Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies, 3rd Edition, Chic Scott
All titles published by Rocky Mountain Books,

© Cross Country Skier: December 2006, Vol. 26 Issue 3

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