Guest Blogger: Conor Mihell Based in the cross-country ski mecca of Sault Ste. Marie, Conor Mihell skis thousands of kilometres each winter at the Hiawatha Highlands and Stokely Creek Lodge. He writes for Cottage Life, Canoe & Kayak, explore and The Globe and Mail, and won a 2010 Northern Lights Award for travel writing excellence. His first book, The Greatest Lake, is a collection of adventure, profile and environmental non-fiction set on Lake Superior’s Canadian shore, and will be published by Dundurn Press in the spring of 2012.
It’s easy to see why the communities surrounding Lake Superior are home to more people of Finnish descent than anywhere outside of Finland. The lush boreal forest and rolling granite hills resembles the landscape of northern Europe. Thunder Bay has its own little Finland and so does Sault Ste. Marie; in both communities, diehard cross-country skiing roots have developed some of the best trails in Canada—all within city limits.
The Hiawatha Highlands are barely a 10-minute drive from my house in Sault Ste. Marie. Finnish-Canadian skiers conceived Hiawatha’s 45 kilometres of groomed trails half a century ago, and the area remains home base for the ever-vibrant Soo Finnish Ski Club today. For my wife and I, skiing at Hiawatha is a daily event. I never get bored of skate-skiing the advanced terrain of the Crystal Creek system; each uphill is a battle, and the long, winding descents are pure joy. The 10-kilometre-long Pinder trails are beginner-friendly, with just enough moderate ups and downs to break a sweat. The slightly longer Red Pine system has more of a wilderness feel, with old-growth pines punctuating the ridge tops.
The Lakehead boasts great skiing too. The Lappe Nordic Club is said to have the most impeccable grooming in Canada, its 20 kilometres of trails traversing diverse terrain in Thunder Bay’s north end. Not to be outdone, Kamview boasts 28 kilometres of trails, including a 5.5-kilometre lit section. With great terrain, excellent grooming and staunch communities of enthusiasts, Northern Ontario lives up to its Nordic roots.
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