As Edmontonians, we know winter. Shovelling the driveway for the third time that day, scrapping ice off our windshields, sliding right into a fender bender…yep. We know winter. But we also know that there are so many gems hidden behind the snowstorms and the icy roads. Winter is magic if you let it be – and getting outside and taking advantage of what mother nature gives us is one of the ways to uncover the secrets behind the magic trick.

I was basically born on skis. In my early years, I wasn’t like most kids. I wasn’t on the soccer team and I was clueless about video games. I spent my evenings and weekends out on the cross country ski trails with my family – leaning into something that would later consume the greater part of my youth. My outfit of choice quickly became my bright yellow Salomon ski boots, my red and black Madshus skis signed by Olympic gold-medalist Beckie Scott, and my bamboo poles whose baskets would constantly get caught on the tips of my skis – but man did I love it. 

When you think of cross country skiing, you likely think about someone in wool socks up to their knees, wearing boots fastened by metal straps onto long wooden boards, carrying a child on their back (the Birkebeiner anyone?). But in the past twenty years, xc skiing’s appeal has expanded – especially in cities with long winters. It’s no longer a sport where the poles are bamboo and you have to lock your boots into long, heavy wooden skis; it’s all about speed, agility, and is one h-e-double skis of a workout!

The sport is becoming increasingly popular – and for good reason. From its roots 5000 years ago in blustery Scandinavia, cross country skiing has evolved into an activity that everyone in your family can enjoy. Edmonton Nordic Ski Club offers lessons for people of all ages. Skiers train out of Gold Bar Park, with trails extending along the river valley into Rundle Park and up the infamous Esso Hill into Tiger Goldstick Park. Mild conditions bookend Edmonton’s winters, but with new snowmaking machines at Gold Bar Park, skiers can continue to train even with minimal snow.

If you’re looking for somewhere a little closer to home, the Victoria Golf Course and Park is tracked all winter, as well as the trails in Kinsmen Park and William Hawrelak Park. Riverside Golf Course, Hermitage Park, and Millcreek also have groomed trails throughout the winter months.

Places like Track ‘N Trail, Fast Trax, MEC, and Totem Outfitters have a great selection of skis, boots, and all of the essentials you need to get you striding. If you’re not quite sure if xc skiing is for you, Totem Outfitters also carries rentals. Or if you feel like heading out of town, check out Strathcona Wilderness Centre located just 30 minutes east of Edmonton, fully equipped with rentals.

It’s important to take care of our bodies and our minds, especially during the winter months. Cross country skiing offers something more than just the sweet taste of the great outdoors. Skiing gives you the ability to fly – hover – over the earth. Your breath begins to make a rhythm with the chopping of your poles into the snow, as you listen to the sound of winter under your feet. And even on your worst day, you can’t help but crave that familiar tune.  

By Megan Hall