Outdoor Adventure

The Arrival of Winter

Guest Blogger: Connor 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.

Cross-country ski season is finally in full swing. These days, I’m most likely found lapping the trails at the Hiawatha Highlands in Sault Ste. Marie. I love the fast, heart-pumping excitement of skate-skiing—easy incentive to build up my daily distance in preparation for participating in the Sleeping Giant Loppet near Thunder Bay in early March. But sometimes I crave something different.
Luckily, I need not travel far. The red-trimmed, cedar-shake buildings Stokely Creek Lodge have a distinctive Norwegian feel—especially when they’re draped in fresh snow on a crisp, clear day. This world-class Nordic skiing destination is located less than an hour’s drive from Sault Ste. Marie, amidst the rugged Algoma Highlands of Northern Ontario. People go to Stokely for three reasons: The food, quaint accommodations, and great cross-country skiing (often in that order).

I love waxing up my classic skis and kicking and gliding on the rolling Peterson Trail, which departs Stokely’s 25-room headquarters and enters over 3,000 hectares (8,000 acres) of lake-pocked wilderness. With over 100 kilometres of trails the options are endless, but I usually make a long ascent of the hardwood-covered north flank of King Mountain. The view from the top of one of the highest hills in the region is worth the climb. And what of the long, rollercoaster downhill that follows? You’ll just have to try it yourself.
Now for the reward: A sauna, gourmet meal in Stokely’s friendly dining room, a dark, star-filled sky, and a well-deserved sleep in a Nordic mecca.

Have you taken a cross country ski trip in Ontario this season? What is your favourite trail?

4 replies on “The Arrival of Winter”

Beautiful. Have not skied in Northern Ontario – although I find myself in North Bay at times and wonder about bringing skis. I am spoiled with Gatineau Park for some wonderful skiing!

Cross country skiing is one of the winter sports to be enjoyed in a number of ways. For first timers I recommend starting on a frozen lake with a snow cover….flat surfaces will help skiers find the right balance….as you progress and want to try something more adventurous there are a number of inns, resorts, lodges where you can arrange accommodation and trail passes (in some cases trail use is free. See more than 30 getaway package options http://www.400eleven.com/getaways-crosscountry.html

It’s a toss-up between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie when it comes to who has the best cross-country skiing. Of course I’m partial to the Sault because it’s my hometown (I also tend to believe catches more lake-effect snow) but the trails at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (45 minutes east of T Bay) are spectacular, and the wilderness skiing options in Quetico sound fantastic.

Stokely Creek is a place every Nordic skier should experience. It feels like you’ve travelled to Scandinavia with the cedar-shaked buildings and bright red trim, as the camaraderie of sitting down with a bunch of like-minded people for dinner. Stokely’s ski trails have a real wilderness feel; they are also fabulously diverse and well-maintained.

Would love to hear Conor Mihell’s view of Ontario’s cross country skiing in general. Have always felt the breadth and quality of cross-country, particularly in northern Ontario is under valued. I remember when the World Nordics were held in Thunder Bay years ago. Thought then and still think today wouldn’t it be cool if T’Bay were to host the Winter Olympics!!
Have never skied Stokely but have this romantic notion of the place based on what others write about it. Conor’s post included. Interested to hear he’s training for Sleeping Giant Loppet. Wonder if he’s ever participated in the Cross Quetico Lakes Tour hosted by the Beaten Path Nordic Trails club out of Atikokan, Ontario? Would love to see a post about it. Good luck with Sleeping Giant’s event this year. I understand skiers from both sides of international border come out for it every year.

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