The Peak of Ski Season

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.

I’ve enjoyed some of my best cross-country skiing later in the winter, when the longer daylight hours encourage dawn patrol outings in the crisp morning air and afternoon blue skies seem more vibrant. One of my most memorable ski trips was to Hardwood Ski and Bike, a popular Nordic ski facility located in the snowbelt just north of Barrie. In a typical year, the area averages nearly 12 feet of annual snowfall. Tons of the white stuff and impeccable grooming make Hardwood’s 60 kilometres of route options one of the best destinations in the province.

On my visit, I warmed up skiing classic on the Lillehammer trail, which passes through Hardwood’s namesake maples and stately groves of pine. Then I switched into my skate skis for a heart-pumping lap of the 10-kilometre Vancouver loop. The route alternates between tight turns and steep hills with names like Bobled, Waterfall, Eliminator and The Wall, making it one of the most thrilling skiing experiences I’ve ever had. But like all good trails, it ends far too soon.
Algonquin Provincial Park is another good, lesser-known ski destination that’s at its prime in February. Located just inside the park’s East Gate on Highway 60, the Leaf Lake trails offer challenging terrain in a wilderness setting, providing visitors with a glimpse of Ontario’s most popular park in winter. Groomed trails at Fen Lake and the backcountry Minnesing circuit at Cache Lake round out this lesser-known Nordic destination.

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