Part Two: Cross-Country Skiing for Newbies – Get Your Swish On!

Are you feeling inspired to start cross-country skiing? Here’s a simple guide to get you started on gear and where to go in the Bow Valley. It might also be worthwhile to take lessons to help learn the basics.


If you don’t currently own, consider renting to see what style of ski suits you best. There are many decisions to make when purchasing new (or used) equipment so it’s important to know what you like and where you want to go.

Skis can be wax-able for different temperatures or wax-less with small fish scales on the bottom. New-er on the market are skis with built-in skins.

There are also two types of XC skiing: classic and skate. Classic is typically easier for beginners to learn and will give you more options for less-groomed “wilderness” trails. Skate skiing will be easier for the beginner on machine-groomed trails like the Canmore Nordic Centre. There is more technique to learn with skate skiing and as you acquire the skill, it is faster. A hybrid backcountry XC ski is also an option. They are heavier, wider, more rugged and have a metal edge; ideal for those who want to explore ungroomed snow and blaze your own trail (not to be confused with alpine touring gear).

There are a number of retail outlets in the Bow Valley that sell ski gear. For used gear, check out the Facebook Buy & Sell pages or Switching Gear in Canmore. For rentals check out Trail Sports at the Canmore Nordic Centre or Gear-up in town, Snowtips-Bactrax in Banff or Wilson’s Sports in Lake Louise.

Tips on what to pack:
Where to go

Starting out, you’re going to want to look for trails with flat terrain, usually with a green rating. As your skills and confidence improve, you can start to tackle “blue” trails and work on your hill technique including pizza wedges for the downhills and herringbones for the uphills. If you are new to the sport and are looking for options, the Canmore Nordic Centre has a great learning area in front of the stadium and lessons are available at Trail Sports. Keep in mind that a Kananaskis Parks Pass is required if you are driving to the Nordic Centre (as it falls within the park boundary) in addition to user fees for the facility. Trail use in the national parks (ie. Banff and Yoho) and Kananaskis are free but a parks pass is required. Here are some suggestions for local ski trails that are fun, flat and friendly for newbies:

Great Divide Cross-Country Ski Trail, Lake Louise (aka: The Old 1A)

Distance: 10km one-way
Why I like it: It’s flat, scenic, has wide trails for both classic and skate with the added entertainment of the sled dog antics from Kingmik. There is only one downhill section at around the 7km mark that leads down to the Continental Divide as it crosses into Yoho National Park in British Columbia. There are side loops for the more adventurous and the out-and-back trail makes it easy for people to choose their own adventure as to how far/long they would like to go. Plenty of flat to find your rhythm.

Bow River and Campground Loop, Lake Louise

Distance: Varies with options, 6.6km for river loop and 2.2km for outer campground loop
Why I like it: Scenic bridges, riverside skiing and gorgeous forests. Lots of variety in surroundings makes for a choose-your-own adventure feel given the multiple loop options.

Tunnel Mountain Campground, Banff

Distance: 8km for all loops, 4km front side, 4km back half
Why I like it: It’s close to town, a short drive and flat. Check with Parks Canada to see if it is lit at night as it offers a good evening option but I would still recommend bringing a headlamp. The downside – the snow tends to be inconsistent and it doesn’t get regularly groomed. There are lots of ungulates who like to drop bombs in the tracks and if a chinook blows through, it can be icy. Check the trail report for updates.

Wedge Connector, Spray Valley Provincial Park – Kananaskis Country

Distance: 2.7km one-way
Why I like it: Beautiful landscape transitioning from a mixed coniferous forest into a large aspen grove. It’s double track-set and only a few small hills along the way. This is part of a larger trail network with endless options.

As with any mountain adventure, advance planning is key to ensure your overall success and enjoyment. Check the trail report for grooming updates, know the weather forecast for the day and be prepared for sudden weather changes. Consider bringing bear spray for early and late season trips. Stay hydrated and bring snacks. If it’s a shorter ski, I like to keep a thermos of herbal tea in the car for the drive home and a healthy snack to refuel. Consider taking a lesson or join a friend who can show you the ropes. Most importantly – bring your sense of humour and have fun! Winter in Canada is long so get out there and enjoy it!

Read Part One: Cross-Country Skiing for Newbies, Why You Should Try It to find out some of the many health benefits of cross-country skiing.

– Kiley Torti is an Active Living Consultant with the Bow Valley Primary Network