Snow joke: Edmonton has some great cross-country ski trails. You know the type. The person who eagerly awaits the changing colour of the leaves, can’t stop smiling when the temperature dips below zero and seems just a little more cheery than normal when Environment Canada announces a snowfall warning.
Whether you’re as excited as I am about cross-country skiing or simply want a way to spend a bit of time outdoors during Edmonton’s winters, our city’s river valley and nearby areas have some of the best urban ski trails in Canada.
Here are three places that folks who love to kick and glide on skinny skis go to have fun in #YEG: Gold Bar, Capilano and Tiger Goldstick parks. There are not many cities in Canada that have groomed, lit trails designated for cross-country skiing, complete with snowmaking, within a 10-minute drive from downtown. But Goldbar, Capilano and Tiger Goldstick parks are exactly that. On any evening, you might find everyone from Olympians to first-timers skiing through those parks in east Edmonton.
Your best bet is to leave your car in the main Goldbar parking lot, just east of 50th Street on the south bank of the river valley. From there, you will find flat, beginner-friendly trails that meander around the park’s pond. And, even for more advanced skiers, the trails that climb and send you careening down through the valley are sure to get your heart rate up. From the Goldbar trails, making the effort to go up the hill past the refineries into Tiger Goldstick Park, or crossing 50th Street into Capilano Park, is a great way to add some variety. But note that those trails are not lit at night.
The Goldbar pavilion is also the perfect spot to chat about wax tips or technique with fellow skiers while you warm up, or to sip the hot chocolate you brought along after you’re done on the trails. Let’s go skiing!
Green to White
Some of Edmonton’s golf courses become beautiful places to cross-country ski in the winter. Victoria, Riverside and Royal Mayfair Golf Club, as well as the Pitch and Putt at Kinsmen Park, are all groomed and available for cross-country skiing. These trails tend to be relatively flat, but are a good way to practice and build some fitness and confidence before moving to more challenging terrain.
Given their central location and proximity to public transit, they’re also a great place to go if you’re on a tight deadline and just want to squeeze in a quick ski. We’ve even heard of folks who quickly hit the trails on their lunch breaks!
Strathcona Wilderness Centre
If you enjoy cross-country skiing in Edmonton, you need to do yourself a favour and make the half-hour or so drive east to the Strathcona Wilderness Centre. The SWC, as it is known to local skiers, recently won Cross Country Alberta’s Outstanding Ski Area award. There, you will find some of the most meticulous grooming in the world, kilometres of spectacular trails that roll through the natural central Alberta beauty and the convenience of a heated, modern chalet complete with WiFi and machines stocked with healthy snacks. There’s also a pretty good chance you’ll see a moose or a porcupine. Simply put, we spend as much time as possible there, as it truly is the best place to ski around the capital region. It might also be helpful to note that the SWC offers very affordable cross-country ski rentals. So, if you’re not sure whether you want to invest the cash to really get into the sport, you might want to go for a ski there to try it out first — realistically, if you don’t like skiing there, you’re probably not going to like skiing anywhere.