Winter recreation in Kananaskis Country

Cross Country Skiing winter recreation Kananaskis Country Canmore Nordic Centre

Canmore Nordic Centre trails and facilities are open to novice and professional cross-country skiers alike. Photos courtesy Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park

Cross-country skiing, skating and snow biking at Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park

Banff National Park is a world-renowned downhill ski destination, but an array of quintessentially Canadian snow sport experiences is easily and cheaply accessible in nearby Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park.

“This is a perfect place to enjoy the Canadian winter,” says Michael Roycroft, Canmore Nordic Centre area manager. He stresses the park has something for visitors of all ages and abilities. “It’s not just for the high-performance athlete. Yes, we hosted the Olympic Winter Games here in 1988, and several World Cups, and we’re the home of Canada’s national Nordic ski team, but we’re also a place where somebody who’s never cross-country skied can have an enjoyable time.” Alternately, the park offers tobogganing, winter disk golf, winter orienteering, snow biking and designated snowshoe loops.

The centre is situated just outside the town of Canmore, less than a half-hour drive east of the Banff town site on the Trans Canada Highway. Its day lodge, various stadium facilities and Trail Sports as well as its rental, lessons and sales centre are located at the entrance to Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park. This 4.5 square kilometre preserve is part of Alberta’s famed Kananaskis Country mountain park system.

Over 70 kilometres of cross-country ski trails feature a range of terrain from easy to challenging. The winter sport season starts here in mid-October when snow carefully stored away at the end of the previous winter is applied to a 2.3 kilometre public-and-professional ski track. With the benefit of new man-made and nature-produced snow, the balance of the facility’s trails opens by mid-November. The snow season typically runs until the end of April.

Cross-country skiing

The centre’s 65 kilometres of groomed trails are open to the public for a day-rate or seasonal pass available at the day lodge. Occasionally, portions of this network are cordoned off for racing. Though many visitors bring their own gear, it can be rented at Trail Sports. A dedicated ski-waxing building is also available to the public. At any time, skiers can warm themselves in the day lodge, which features a cafeteria with a fireplace and comfortable chairs. (Naturally, hot chocolate is on the menu.)

A meadow at the heart of the trail system is a favourite destination for skiers. “The views from the meadow are tremendous,” says Roycroft. “You look down over the entire length of the Bow Valley towards Cascade Mountain or the other way towards Pigeon Mountain. It’s quite open and expansive.”

Both private and group cross-country lessons are available at Trail Sports, and instructors conduct trail tours. The centre’s green-jacketed snow hosts also patrol the trail system providing guidance to trail users.

Winter Recreation Kananaskis Country Skating Canmore Nordic Centre

Take the whole family skating at The Canmore Nordic Centre outdoor skating rink, then warm up with sandwiches and hot chocolate in the day lodge. Photos courtesy Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park

Ice Skating

The town of Canmore features several excellent outdoor ice skating rinks, and Canmore Nordic Centre has its own as well. Typically operational from Christmas until late March, this free, outdoor rink is located at the south end of its cross-country stadium. An alternate to cross-country skiing, visitors are welcome to use their own skates or rent them at Trail Sports. Again, the scenery makes this spot truly special. “The views are incredible,” says Roycroft. “You can see the Three Sisters, Ha Ling Peak and Rundle Mountain.” The facility’s outdoor lights switch off at 9 pm.

Snow Biking

Allowing cyclists to pursue their sport year-round, snow bikes are outfitted with fat, low-pressure tires that roll well on groomed snow surfaces. “If you can ride a bike, you can ride a snow bike,” says Roycroft. A pilot project in its third year, snow biking is allowed between the facility’s stadium area and the meadow mentioned above, primarily on machine-made snow trails. More popular in other Kananaskis areas (West Bragg Creek Trail for e.g.) where no fee is charged, biking here is subject to a day-use fee. Nonetheless, Trail Sports is offering snow bike rentals for the first time this winter.

Canmore Nordic Centre facilities are open 9 am to 5:30 pm daily. Trails and the skating rink can be accessed after 7 am and prior to 11 pm.

Getting there

Calgary to Canmore

Banff Airporter offers regular, daily shuttle service from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to Canmore and Banff. Brewster Travel Canada offers regular deluxe motor coach service to Canadian Rockies destinations including Canmore.

Banff to Canmore

Roam is the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission public transit bus system. Buses depart Banff on the hour and depart Canmore at 24 minutes past each hour.

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