Cross-country or Nordic skiing is to downhill skiing what cycling is to motorbike riding - it's not as fast or scary, fewer lessons are required to get you started and it gives you a much better workout. Whether you're a novice, an experienced skier or simply want to give it a try, there's no better place to cross-country ski than Canmore Nordic Centre.
Drop-in lessons, gear hire and a myriad of cross-country trails for all abilities are available at the Centre, which was developed to host the 1988 Winter Olympics.
One of the few remaining Olympic Nordic Skiing venues in the world, the Canmore Nordic Centre provides 65km of groomed, machine-made and natural snow trails around the base of Mount Rundle. Most trails are suitable for both classic and skating techniques.
We went for a drop-in lesson run by the on-site company Trailsports early one Friday morning and were lucky enough to have the one-and-a-half-hour session all to ourselves. The fee was CN$45 each and skis/shoes/sticks hire CN$20 each for two hours or CN$25 for the whole day.
Having watched classical and skating skiers in action we opted to learn the classic technique, which our instructor informed us is easier to learn but more difficult to master. The following week we returned to practise by ourselves.
At the Day Lodge, where there is a roaring fire, lounge, café, washrooms and lockers, you need to pay the trail fee of CN$15 for a day pass before setting off. This is where you can also pick up the winter trail map, showing you all the trails with the distances covered and the degree of difficulty for each. The map is useful but not essential as all the trails are very well sign-posted and colour-coded.
The easiest route, which is suitable for beginners, is the Banff Trail which takes you 5.5km in one direction before you need to turn back and retrace your steps – so 11km there and back. We tried this but found it quite exhausting for our first time out. A better option for novices is to take the Banff Trail for 3km to Mine Meadow and then head back via the Banff Loop which rejoins the main Banff Trail. This provides a round trip of 6km.
The green trails are undulating and sufficiently challenging for beginners to make for an interesting and energetic few hours in the snow. There are, of course, more difficult trails for the more experienced skier. All trails are two-way and many have double tracks where you need to keep to the right. There is also a 6.5km illuminated loop which is suitable for novices.
Many of the trails go through forested areas and there is a warning sign at the start of the trails about potentially meeting wildlife so it is advisable to take bear spray (not for the bears as they hibernate in winter) if you venture out alone and stay together if you are in a couple or group, just to be on the safe side.
If you want to improve your technique further, Trailsports offers everything from private and family lessons up to five-week courses and certification up to instructor level. Meanwhile, if you're a beginner and a bit nervous you can book a tour of the trails with an instructor before going solo.
Always check the website before venturing out to check the weather, lesson times and other relevant information.
We travelled to Canmore Nordic Centre from Calgary, which is about one hour's drive along Interstate 1 and parked in the Centre's car park near the Day Lodge. Afterwards you can have lunch in one of Canmore's wonderful cafes and restaurants, such as the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company.