Go Nord, Young Skiers, Go Nord
Mount Washington Alpine Resort, Courtenay
by Jack Christie
Whether you tour, skate, or noodle about on classic skinny sticks, nordic skiing in BC is celebrating its place in the sun.
Cross country skiing has long held its own in the province, thanks to strongholds like Hollyburn Ridge on Vancouver’s North Shore (cypressmountain.com) and nearby Manning Provincial Park in the North Cascade Mountains (manningpark.com). But with the approaching Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, there’s a big new kid on the nordic block – the Whistler Olympic Park – and that’s good news for anyone into exploring the outdoors, self-propelled style.
Suddenly the world’s best cross-country skiers are living, breathing, and training in BC – not just in Whistler but all the way from Mount Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island to Silver Star Mountain Resort in the North Okanagan Valley.
National nordic teams are already out on the same trails with visitors and residents clocking their kilometres, testing everything from waxes to weather conditions. Just try to catch them; these greyhounds will leave you in their powder. At the same time, Olympic athletes are a friendly, colourful bunch. Don’t be shy about asking for some pointers. After all, we share the same universal love of snow.
Herewith is a selection of nordic ski destinations to consider for your next cross-country snow safari.
Callaghan Valley, Whistler
Vancouver, Coast & Mountains
Whistler Olympic Park (whistlerolympicpark.com) may well prove to be one of the most significant legacies of the Games. Not only does the scenic site provide a companion venue to Whistler’s much-admired Lost Lake cross-country centre (crosscountryconnection.ca/winter), the park’s 55 kilometres/34 miles of trails – five kilometres/three miles of which are lit for night skiing – also do double-duty in summer for mountain bikers.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the park was been built exclusively for elite athletes. When it comes to recreation, these trails welcome all comers, whether you plan to simply schuss off into the sheltering, old-growth forest for a picnic or set a new personal-best lap time. Exploring them on skis or snowshoes offers all the rewards you seek.
By car, the Callaghan Valley, site of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games’s Nordic ski events, lies 90 minutes north of Vancouver, just south of Whistler Mountain.
Mount Washington Alpine Resort, Courtenay
Since 2005, Vancouver Island’s Mount Washington Alpine Resort (mountwashington.ca), a 2.5-hour drive north of Victoria, has positioned itself as the international training centre for a variety of nordic ski teams, including Germany and Sweden this year. What’s the hook? The snow quality and elevation is the same as Callaghan Valley’s Whistler Olympic Park, which lies due east across the Strait of Georgia.
This winter promises to deliver as much excitement for cross-country fans as at races in 2010, plus the chance to get much closer to the action. With that in mind, you may want to time your visit to coincide with the International Paralympic Committee World Cup cross-country and biathlon races in March. You’ve never seen skiers like these athletes; this is one competition where heroes come out to play.
Although Mount Washington is one of BC’s busiest winter resorts, cross-country skiing here is usually filed under “best-kept-secrets.” No more, as testified by the spacious Raven Lodge. The peeled-log beauty anchors the Nordic ski centre on the doorstep of 2,450-square-kilometre/945-square-mile Strathcona Provincial Park, Vancouver Island’s largest protected area (bcparks.ca).
Backcountry touring may be more of a workout than most of us bargain for, which is why 55 kilometres/34 miles of groomed cross-country trails with another 25 kilometres/15.5 miles for snowshoeing will more than satisfy. One caution: Beware the stealthy gray jays – also known as whiskey jacks – out to steal your energy bar when you take a break.
Mount Washington is located 100 kilometres/62 miles north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island; thanks to the new Inland Island Highway (Exit 130), adventurists can drive all the way to the top.
108 Mile Ranch – 99 Mile House
Cariboo Chilcotin Coast
Nature seemingly designed the Cariboo Plateau’s rolling landscape for cross-country skiing. As if to emphasize that fact, the world’s tallest pair of cross-country racing skis form an 11-metre/36-foot archway above the South Cariboo Visitors Centre as blue skies stretch out forever. In the distance, the peaks of the Cariboo Mountains promise extended, untracked snow trekking routes for alpine touring. Closer at hand, arguably the best track-set, cross-country skiing is found at 108 Mile Ranch, anchored by the Hills Health Ranch’s Nordic Centre (skithehills.com). (As for the numbers, they refer to original roadhouse stops along the 1860s Cariboo Gold Rush Trail.)
One hundred and fifty kilometres/93 miles of tracked-and-packed community trails (including the 99 Mile trails) link the historic ranch region with 108 Mile Ranch. The terrain close to 108 Mile Ranch is gentle, perfect for the gliding style that makes cross-country skiing such a rhythmic experience. Beginner and intermediate skiers will find these groomed routes just their speed. Closer to 99 Mile you’ll discover 20 kilometres/12 miles of steep, high-performance trails with tight corners and a variety of technical sections suited to marathoners. Many of the trails in both 108 Mile and 99 Mile are also lit for night skiing, though nothing tops a moonlight outing.
The local 100 Mile House’s Nordic Ski Society (100milenordics.com) is one of the most active, well-organized cross-country ski clubs in BC, fittingly housed in a large log chalet. As well as being North America’s log home capital, 100 Mile House is home to the annual Cariboo Cross-Country Ski Marathon in February. Whether you’re on the sidelines or in the thick of things, nothing matches the excitement of the massed start. As over 20,000 visitors a year come to enjoy the cross-country skiing here, book well ahead.
100 Mile House is situated on Highway 97, 450 kilometres/280 miles from Vancouver via the Trans Canada Highway (Highway 1). For more information on cross-country skiing in the Cariboo, visit the South Cariboo’s tourism website (southcaribootourism.com).
Silver Star Mountain Resort, Vernon
Nowhere else in BC are downhill and cross-country trails as integrated as at Silver Star Mountain Resort (skisilverstar.com). Over 60 kilometres/37 miles of trails link with the adjacent Sovereign Lake Ski Area in Silver Star Park (bcparks.ca) whose ski club has its own nordic lodge (sovereignlake.com). Not that things aren’t cosy enough in Silver Star’s car-free village, where cross-country trails at both Silver Star and Sovereign Lake open earlier in the year than any other resort in Canada.
Boasting the light, fluffy “hero powder” for which the Okanagan’s semi-desert environment is renown, it’s small wonder that Forbes magazine rates Silver Star as North America’s best nordic destination. Traditionally among the first to arrive is the Norwegian National Team who will be joined in training this season by their Russian, Finnish, Swiss, Australian and New Zealand cross-country counterparts. Chances are good that you’ll hear a whole lot of international accents on the trails as you pole along. Draft in behind and you’ll be drawn along in their wake as they warm up for the World Cup season, including a stop in the Callaghan Valley in January.
While there are plenty of both on- and off-mountain accommodation options to choose from, some of the most charming places to stay here are the ski-in, ski-out condominiums in the Knoll neighbourhood, where Victorian Gaslight replica homes are decorated in four or five exterior hues and trimmed with cookie-cutter moulding (staraccom.com).
Silver Star Mountain Resort lies 22 kilometres/14 miles northeast of Vernon, 450 kilometres/280 miles northeast of Vancouver.
For a complete listing of BC nordic destinations, visit www.bcnordic.com. For more information on other British Columbia destinations and travel information, call 1-800 HELLO BCÂ® (North America) or visit www.HelloBC.com/ski