Manitoba may not be known for its elevation, but you don’t need a mountain to get a full-body workout on a pair of skis. Manitoba’s a prime place to cross-country ski, with groomed trails throughout the province featuring fun dips and dives, and plenty of tough straightaways to get your heart-rate up and your calories burning.
Bundle up, we're going cross-country skiing! Even though you'll be working up a sweat on the trails in Manitoba, dressing for the weather will still ensure you get the most of an outdoor outing. Here are a few essentials to consider when heading out for a short day on the trails.
All dressed up
Layers are a must when cross-country skiing, you may start out feeling chilly but as you start moving quicker you'll heat up quite quickly. A good base layer with long johns or tights are a good place to start. Your next layer is for insulation – polar fleece or wool will keep you nice and warm (jeans won’t!). The outer layer comes last and should be windproof and breathable so you’re protected from the elements without overheating or trapping in moisture. You may be tempted to bulk up even more with a large winter coat and ski pants but smooth movement is important for cross-country skiing and heavy clothing can be restrictive and often lead to overheating. The one exception for adding layers is on your feet. Wear just one good pair of wool sock. Contrary to popular belief, adding more won't keep you warmer. You should be able to wiggle your toes in your boots so they stay warm.
Heads, hands and neck are the next spots to keep warm. A good toque that covers your ears will keep your noggin cozy. A balaclava or neck warmer works better than a scarf which can easily fall off or get tangled and end up in the way. And keep your fingers together and toasty in a pair of mittens.
And finally, bring a friend! Don't head out on a ski trip alone, especially if the trail is new to you. Plus having someone to share the experience with always makes it better.
Now that you and your ski buddy are bundled up, you’re nearly ready to head out. But first…the skis of course!
There are a few places in Winnipeg that rent cross-country skis, boots and poles. Head out for a day on the trails with help from these stores:
Mountain Equipment Coop has friendly and knowledgable staff to help you gather everything you need for a ski day. They rent cross-country ski packages with boots, skis and poles included and if you've forgotten one of the essentials mentioned above, they also sell outdoor wear.
Woodcock Cycle Works specializes in biking in the summer and cross-country (or nordic) skiing in the winter. They have three different types of cross-country skis for rent so it's a great stop if you've already got a large knowledge of the sport.
Windsor Park Nordic Centre is both a rental location and a spot to learn to ski. They have limited rentals for off-site use but 70 pairs for rent if you want to ski on-site.
Other locations around the province sell skis, both new and used, so if you want to race full speed into cross-country skiing, there’s opportunity to find a pair of used boots and skis that can last years.
Now you’re ready to head out, but where should you go?
The trails await
There are over 100 cross country ski trails in Manitoba, we won’t list them all but here are a few good places to get you started:
A bit of advice for first-time cross-country skiers: be ready to fall down. The trail suggestions below are mostly flat and straight but it's likely you'll still take a couple of tumbles into the fluffy snow when you lose focus while admiring the beautiful natural surroundings along these Manitoban trails.
For first-time skiers there's no better place than Windsor Park Nordic Centre in Winnipeg. As mentioned above, they rent skis on-site but they also offer lessons, ski programs for kids and weekly meet ups welcoming new and experienced cross-country skiers. The centre grooms their 15 kilometres of trails daily and has a club house where you can unwind and grab a hot chocolate after a good cross-country workout.
Once you've got your footing, Birds Hill Provincial Park is a great place to start skiing without instruction. It's just 20 kilometres outside of Winnipeg meaning it's close to the rental locations and perfect for a short ski trip. It has five designated cross-country ski trails, totalling 38 kilometres, which are groomed regularly. The natural beauty of the park itself makes you feel as though you're much farther from the bustling city than you are and is quite peaceful on a quiet winter day.
The Whiteshell Cross Country Ski Club grooms and maintains many of the ski trails in the Eastern region of the province, including those near Pinawa. Using the Pinawa club as a starting point, you can ski 7 kilometres on the Pinawa Golf Course and 40 additional kilometres across the incredible Canadian shield.
In northern Manitoba, cross-country skiers can get their fix in Thompson on the Jack Crolly Cross Country Ski Trail, located along Highway 6 and in The Pas along the trail in Clearwater Provincial Park. Both are offer beautiful views in the incredibly pristine wildlife of Manitoba's north.
If you're looking for a nice spot South of Winnipeg, stop at Burwalde Woods. Located between Morden and Winkler, the trail is great for young skiers and families. As with many public ski trails in the province, it's maintained by the local ski club and donation boxes at the trailheads help keep the trail clean and accessible to all skiers.
Falcon Ridge is a great place to go if you want to try cross-country skiing but also want to spend a weekend relaxing in the woods. Falcon Trails Resort has cabins for rent and easy access to 30 kilometres of cross-country ski trails that include flat straights on the frozen lake as well as more challenging areas with small climbs and descents.
For the more adventurous
While Manitoba is definitely a prairie province, we've also got dips and dives in the central and southwest regions of the province that offer a bit more of a challenging trek for cross-country skiers.
Shannondale, Pumpkin Creek and the Birch Ski Area are all located in the 40 kilometre area between Morden and Notre Dame de Lourdes, southwest of Winnipeg. All three areas have small hills to climb and valleys to swoosh into for those looking for a little extra challenge. Pumpkin Creek and Shannondale also have small clubhouses at their trailheads so you can take a breather after your ski.
In the southwest corner of the province, Turtle Mountain is one of the skiing spots in the province with the most elevation gain. The provincial park has 37 kilometres of groomed trails that loop through the trees around Adam Lake and James Lake.
Riding Mountain National Park has 23 cross-country ski trails across the park which range from easy to difficult. Some of the difficult trails are more remote and have spots that require crossing over wet patches where small streams feed into the nearby lake. Some of these trails are up to 40 kilometres away from the main townsite of Wasagaming, so make sure to pack water, a snack and any extra supplies if you're planning a ski excursion on these trails.
If you want to branch out and explore even more of the trails in the province, check out the Cross Country Ski Association of Manitoba’s website, they have detailed information on most of the cross-country trails in the province.
Races and meets
Now that you've honed your cross-country skills, consider participating in a Loppet! A what? A loppet is a long distance cross-country ski race, traditionally more than 35 kilometres long. In Manitoba, our loppets are a bit shorter and many events offer varied distances so even first-time racers can get a small taste before skiing the full course distance.
The Manitoba Loppet is the longest running race in the province, celebrating its 44th year in 2020. It has four race categories with distances from three kilometres to 30 kilometres, all taking place in Manitoba's beautiful Whiteshell. It started as an event for families and has developed into an important event for cross-country ski enthusiasts across the province.
On the other side of the province, the Turtle Mountain Loppet offers another opportunity for skiers to compete as they race through the woodsy beauty along the southern border of the province.
The most recent addition to the ski race scene in Manitoba is the Floppet Loppet Ski Race in Falcon Lake. This race embarks into its third year in 2020 with four available race distances from an easy breezy 1.7 kilometres for "minnows" to the most challenging 35 kilometres for "northern pikes". Along the trail participants can stop at fun check points and then wind down at the banquet and concert at the nearby Falcon Ridge Slopes' chalet in the evening.
Something a little different
An added challenge jumps into the snow with skijoring. Derived from the Norwegian word for “ski-driving” it’s essentially dog sledding except you’re on skis instead of in a sled and there's usually just one or maybe two dogs pulling you along the trails. The key to a good skijoring run is having a well-trained dog, you don’t want your pup to go dashing off into the woods if they see a rabbit hopping off the path.
There are specific trails for skijoring in the province, most notably at Birds Hill Provincial Park. Snow Motion has training lessons for human and dog duos, meet up events and races for skijorers of all skill levels if you're interested in taking your cross-country skiing to another level.
The snow is here and the trails are groomed, so grab your skis and get going!