Comedian Steven Wright said it best. “Cross country skiing is great. If you live in a small country.”
The thing about nordic skiing sojourns out here, contrary to the skullet-ed stand-up’s observation, is that that Kootenay-country is biiiig. And the crowds? What crowds?
Get the Superlative Skinny
From tip to tail, starting in late November and running even into May, there are cross country skiing areas in or near seven towns, all with regularly groomed tracks for classic and skate skiers. We’re talking 300 kms and then some. And just as many routes that are just slightly off the beaten path — along beautiful rivers, beginner-friendly railbeds-turned-rec trails and pretty much anywhere an adventurous set of skinny skis will take you.
For over half a century, the Castlegar Nordic Ski Club has been putting a heap of TLC into the super-scenic 45-kilometre trail network that sprawls throughout the Paulson Recreation Area and its evergreen awesomeness. Paulson is a quick 25-minute trip from Castlegar or Rossland, just west of the junction of Highways 3 and 3B past Nancy Greene Lake. A note of interest: while the lovely lake is named after one of the region’s greatest winter super stars — alpine ski legend Nancy Greene — the West Kootenays have in fact born an impressive slate of nordic Olympians and Canadian national team luminaries including Remi Drolet, Julien Locke and World Cup medalist George Gray.
Fun for Everyone
Paulson trails are beginner-to-advanced — there’s something for everyone. A 7.5 km circular route from Mud Lake to the Ben Shaw cabin is a beauty for families. Groomed and tracked mainly for classic skiers, intermediate, expert-level skiers will also find wider pack trails for skate skiing too. Advanced backcountry nordic types have an additional eight kms of untracked trails to explore. Paulson has its Viking Centre and four warming huts, making the place ideal for one hour laps, or all-day excursions. If you’ve got a four legged friend — they’ll have to grab a bone and stay in the cabin or cab of the truck. Paulson prohibits pooches.
That said, if you’re looking for a dog trail or two, there’s four clicks of canine-friendly paths — and some of the nation’s best cross country skiing — in Rossland, at the superlative Black Jack Ski Club. This is Nordic Nirvana. A blue chip experience on a potato chip budget.
Get this — 50km of pristinely packed trail for classic and skate skiers (all inventoried daily with a GPS grooming map), 2.5 kms of night skiing, a biathlon range, a big ol’ beautiful trailhead cabin and three warming huts. Black Jack is THE destination for anyone who wants lessons or group programs.
Closer Than You Think
About an hour east, the gloriously flat Slocan Valley Rail Trail runs within a snowball’s toss of the legendary Slocan River, though mixed forests, meadows and frozen wetlands.
Over in Nelson, the cross country experience is slightly more old-school, a bit more remote but classic Kootenay. Although you’re just ten minutes south of town, the Apex and Busk areas feel out-there, with shorter loops and challenging climbs amongst 25 km of groomed skate and classic trail, and a sweet lit loop for night skiing, as well as multiple warming huts and washrooms. And if you head up the Whitewater Ski Resort road, you’ll find five kilometres of groomed, track-set and hilly trails with spectacular views of Ymir Peak.
Out along the massivity of Kootenay Lake, you’ll discover wintery open water panoramas and sweet snow in the shoreline communities of Balfour, Kaslo and, across the world’s longest free ferry ride, Crawford Bay.
There’s cross country trails strung along the perimeter of the Balfour Golf Course. Kokanee Springs Resort fairways are open to the public. Tracks are set from time to time. Otherwise, fly at ‘er across the snowy fairways. The views back up into Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park are as awesome this time of year as they are from the tee-box in summer.
Up towards the north end of the lake — the drive is worth the time — the Kaslo Nordic Ski Club takes care of twelve kilometres of groomed classic cross-country trails, and two warming huts.
What Are You Waiting For?
So now ya got the skinny. BC’s most sublime selection of Nordic skiing holidays getaways is awaitin’. Why are you? Click or call — kortsbc.blogspot.com, skiblackjack.ca, castlegarnordic.ca and nelsonnordicski.ca and book your accommodation in one of these stunning communities: Castlegar, Rossland, Nelson, Kaslo and Crawford Bay.
To learn more about xc skiing in the area visit the tourism websites.
Enjoy your #KootenayRoadTrip