Looking for a challenge this winter? Consider participating in a virtual loppet.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, some of our favourite loppets have gone virtual. Here’s what the Canadian Ski Marathon, the Canadian Birkie and the Gatineau Loppet are doing this winter.
Please note that if heading out to ski, check websites regularly to ensure that you are up to date on and following COVID-19 protocols, including physical distancing and wearing face coverings.
Virtual Canadian Ski Marathon
February 6 to March 7, 2021
The Canadian Ski Marathon is Canada’s oldest ski tour. It welcomes all ages and all ski levels.
Typically, the Canadian Ski Marathon is held on a weekend in February in the Mont Tremblant and Gatineau region, in Quebec, on a trail that is only groomed once a year. It covers 160km that is divided into 5 sections, averaging 16km per section. Participants can ski as much or as little as they wish.
For the virtual version, participants are able to ski on any trails in their own regions. Keeping with tradition, they are offering three categories as noted below. Registration fees vary based on category and age of participant.
Tourer – Ski as many 15km sections as wanted between February 6 to March 7, 2021
Half marathon – Ski 45km in a single outing
Coureur des Bois:
Bronze – Ski 50km for two consecutive days
Silver – Ski 50km for two consecutive days while carrying a minimum load of 5kg
Gold – Ski 50km for two consecutive days while carrying a minimum load of 5kg and sleep outside between the two days
The Canadian Birkie (Birkebeiner) is one of the three Birkebeiner loppets in the world – the other two being in the United States and Norway.
Typically, the Canadian Birkie is held over the second weekend in February in the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area in Alberta. The Canadian Birkie was founded in 1985, but legend of the Birkebeiner dates back much further: During a civil war in 1206 in Norway, the infant heir to the throne was rescued by two Birkebeiner warriors who carried him safely over a 55km route across two mountain ranges.
For the virtual version, participants are welcome to classic ski, skate ski, roller-ski, skijor, cycle, run, ice skate, snowshoe, or walk the 4, 8, 13, 31 or 55 kilometres in their own regions. There are several options available and registration fees range from $15 to $35 per participant.
The Gatineau Loppet is Canada’s largest international cross-country skiing event.
Typically, the Gatineau Loppet is held over three days in February in Gatineau Park, Quebec and sees approximately 2500 international participants each year. Founded in 1979, it remains the only event of the Worldloppet series that takes place in Canada.
For the virtual version, participants can cross-country ski classic or free technique, fatbike, snowshoe, bike, roller ski or run, any distance of their choice, anywhere they want. There are several options available as noted below. Registration fees range from $5 to $15.
There are five options:
Virtual 10km challenge (allows skiers to complete over several outings)
Virtual mini 2km (available for children 10 years and under)
Note: At the time of writing, 22nd Jan 2021, the Ontario government is discouraging travel except for essential purposes. We are publishing this article for your information only in the expectation that it will be safe to travel at some time in the future. When that happens, check websites regularly to ensure that you are up to date on and following COVID-19 protocols, including physical distancing and wearing face coverings.
Brendan has written about some of the, let’s say, more likely places to ski. I’m going to add a few less likely places to ski. These are all non-commercial ski areas with limited or no facilities. And that means limited or no trail fees. You are unlikely to meet many people on these trails which, in these strange times, can be considered an added bonus rather than a problem.
All of these are located in the Grey County area which is west of Collingwood and east of Owen Sound as that’s the area I’m most familiar with. I’m sure other parts of Ontario have similar hidden gems.
These areas are all on the Bruce Trail and do not have groomed ski trails. While you can ski on them, they are more suitable for snowshoeing.
This is a Provincial Nature Reserve located between Meaford and Owen Sound, close to Georgian Bay. It borders a large area of land officially called the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre but known locally as the ‘Tank Range’. Although it’s been a while since any tanks ranged over it, the Department of National Defence takes a dim view of human trespassers:
especially as there may be unexploded munitions scattered here and there. Deer and coyotes wander around undeterred by fences or warning signs.
There’s a small parking lot located on St Vincent – Sydenham Townline about 4.8km north of highway 26. (GPS: 44.637539, -80.733406). The trail to the left of the parking lot is part of the Bruce Trail proper (white blazes), while the trail to the right is the Bayview Escarpment Side Trail (blue blazes).
The trail is ‘twinned’ with the Lebanon Mountain Trail:
There’s a longer loop (including the River Kwai Side Trail) that’s about 13.9km or a shorter loop that cuts back along the Bayview Escarpment side trail and is about 4.5km long. We took the shorter loop. Parts of it should be quite ski-able but there are some parts on the west side of the loop that have dense trees and may require removal of skis. This bit also has a number of crevices that you don’t want to fall down. Snowshoers should have no difficulty.
This is in the Beaver Valley section of the Bruce Trail south of Meaford. It’s located on the western side of Beaver Valley so has some good views out over the valley toward Blue Mountain and of Nottawasaga Bay. It’s a 3.8km loop and is quite flat and easy. The only challenging bits are some low hanging tree branches that may require going on hands and knees depending on the snow depth.
It should be easy enough to ski this loop; however, one part is along an unpaved road, so if the road is sanded you won’t want to ski on it. The terrain is quite varied: everything from a beaver pond, wetlands, open farmland and pine forest.
A parking lot of sorts is located on Sideroad 16C (GPS: 44.437418, -80.564526), 1.5km east of 7th line.
Margaret Paull Loop
This is a 3.5 km loop on the Bruce Trail quite close to Collingwood. It’s not as well known or accessible as nearby places like Kolapore or Loree Forest, so you likely won’t see many people here. It’s more suitable for snowshoeing but could be skied if you don’t mind removing your skis in one or two places.
There is a parking lot on 18th Sideroad near 5th Line (GPS: 44.4948031, -80.3784017). The trail heads off along an unmaintained road allowance that is the continuation of 18th Sideroad. After about 200m, the main trail (white blazes) diverts into the woods while the side trail (blue blazes) continues straight along the road allowance. You can choose to go clockwise (left) or anti-clockwise (right).
If you are on skis, you are better off to go anti-clockwise as the road allowance has a nice hill in it. You should be able to cover the first kilometre or so on gravity alone. As you whiz down, you may notice a nice view of Georgian Bay on your right. You may also notice some strange white domes on your left. These are neither missile silos nor are they some high-tech farming device but are small observatories belonging to members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Why there? Apparently, it’s relatively dark being away from the light pollution of towns.
When the road allowance turns right, you will go left and follow the blazes along a fence line. After what seems like someone’s very long driveway, there’s a stile over a fence and the trail heads off into woodland. When the side trail rejoins the main trail, be sure to go left. If you go right, you will be faced with a steep drop down a ravine!
The trail winds along the top of some deep ravines that contain various tributaries of Indian Brook. Look out for some ‘flowerpots’ and crevices. There are some benches overlooking waterfalls – a good place to stop for a snack.
Finally, there’s a stretch of open fields before the trail heads back into woodlands and a short, steep climb up the escarpment. This is likely too steep and narrow for skis, so you will probably have to take them off for 100m or so. A short meander along the top of the escarpment brings you back to where you started, just below the parking spot.
These are trails that are maintained by various ski clubs for the purpose of skiing. With the exception of Kolapore, they all have tracksetting.
Beaver Valley Nordic
This club maintains and tracksets about 8km of trails at the southern end of Beaver Valley. It intersects with the Bruce Trail, but the ski tracks are separate. They ask you to pay a day-use fee of $10 per adult. You can pay via their website. The ‘Register Now’ button lets you pay the day-use fee without actually becoming a member. Facilities are just about zero, other than very good maps that are posted at each trail junction and also on their website.
The entrance is a little tricky to find. Go to the very end of the Beaver Valley downhill ski parking area on Windy Lane past the equipment yard (GPS: 44.3622154, -80.5562603).
The trackset trails are not suitable for snowshoeing. However, some adjacent ‘multi-use’ trails (i.e. dog-walking trails) can be used for snowshoeing and, of course, the Bruce Trail is close by.
Perhaps this should be called ‘Massie Hill’ as there’s only one hill … and it’s not too challenging at that. It’s located between Meaford and Owen Sound, south of Highway 26. Although it intersects with the Bruce Trail, most of the ski trails are separate from it.
There are about 10km of trails that are trackset for classical. Much of it is double tracked or one-way ‘side-by-side’ trails. The trails are maintained and groomed by the non-profit, volunteer-run Owen Sound Cross Country Ski Club. Payment is on an honour system: there are locked boxes at the two entrances where you can leave $10 per person (or $20 per family of 4). You can snowshoe but not on the groomed tracks!
There are no facilities other than a portable toilet at each of the two entrances. There are some benches situated along the trail. Parking is along the roadside; however the road is plowed wide and there’s plenty of room.
This is another volunteer-run ski club that maintains, grooms and tracksets a network of about 25 km of trails. It’s located near the villages of Markdale and Flesherton (GPS: 44.2768959, -80.6728203), close to Highway 10. The area is a mix of private property and county forest lands. It’s not close to the Bruce Trail.
Although this is a relatively flat part of Ontario (i.e. west of the Escarpment), the trails do have some definite ups and downs. Most of the trails are single tracked but ‘two-way’, so you’ll have to watch out for oncoming skiers. Snowshoeing does not appear to be encouraged
At the entrance, there is a cleared parking lot and portable toilets. The fee of $10 per person can be left in a lock box along with the obligatory waiver (children ski free).
A well known area at the south end of Beaver Valley, it has a network of 50 km of trails. These are not groomed or trackset but are maintained and sign posted. Because the trails are often narrow and winding, skating is not practical. Snowshoeing, biking, walking and dogs are explicitly discouraged on the trails in wintertime. There’s plenty of room for these activities on the Bruce Trail, which runs just to the north of the forest.
The Uplands have a wide variety of terrain including hardwood, softwood and cedar forests, rivers, beaver swamps and open meadows. There are no major hills but lots of ups and downs. Most trails have whimsical names: some, such as ‘Wild Mouse’, make sense when you ski them; others, like ‘Mount Dhaulagiri’, not so much. ‘Red Death’ may be inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe short story in which Prince Prospero attempts to avoid a dangerous plague. Just like the story, this trail is short … and scary!
Kolapore Wilderness Trails Association does not actually charge a trail fee. They ask that you buy their map, become a member or simply donate to their organization as a way to help fund their trail maintenance costs. And with 50km of trails spread across 60 square kilometres, it’s a good idea to have a map.
There are several entry points. The most popular is on Grey County Road 2 (GPS: 44.4211475, -80.4054136) where there is a parking lot and a portable toilet. Be warned that this lot can be busy even in ‘normal’ times. In pandemic times, especially on weekends, this lot has often been full and people have parked illegally (and dangerously) on the shoulder of Road 2. There’s another parking lot on the west side near Metcalfe Rock entrance (GPS: 44.4141457, -80.4415901) and a smaller entrance on the unpaved Osprey-Blue Mountains Townline (approx. GPS: 44.3818754, -80.4209775) with shoulder parking.
With no bus this year, some of you might be looking to make your own way up to the trails. But, one of the benefits of the bus is that you really did not have to know where we were going. Trakkers took care of it. So, maybe you are wondering how you can get to those trails by yourself? If so, here is a guide.
First, this is what you should expect regarding COVID-19 protocols and making sure everyone is safe. If you drive your own car, it is possible to do a ski trip with no indoor and extended interaction with anyone.
As I write at the end of December, the entire province is in lock-down. Downhill skill hills are closed, but cross-country trails are open. The rules can change, so you will need to check in often.
You should prepare to be outdoors the entire time. The chalets are closed. I recommend bringing warm clothes for before and after skiing. Some chalets are open for washrooms only, while other places have outside trailers for washrooms.
Second, check if the location is open and if there are restrictions on who can purchase a trail pass. Many resorts are giving preference to season pass holders, and might make access exclusive to season pass holders.
It should be possible to purchase a trail pass from an outside window with a glass barrier. Some places also have an electronic kiosk. Masks should be worn and 2 metres distance maintained in areas where people are purchasing tickets or taking on/off skis.
All places must do active screening and contact tracing the day you plan on skiing. Most will have an app or a website, where you must answer questions and sign that you have experienced no symptoms, have not travelled, and have not been in contact with anyone with COVID-19. Your contact information is tracked so you can be contacted in case a positive COVID case was at the trail when you were there. Look at the website of the trail you want to go to before you leave, but on the same day. You will need to either fill out a form at home (when you have good cell service), or expect to fill one out at the trail. Some places have a QR code you can scan that will take you to a website. So bring your phone.
Most places I have looked at are not doing ski rentals, given that fitting requires close interactions. It might be possible to rent fat bikes or snowshoes.
This gives you a rundown of what seems to be the norm and what you should expect.
Again, check the websites before you go. There are links below.
Here are some ski trails Trakkers frequently visits, roughly categorized by geography.
These places are more likely to have snow earlier and later in the season because they are a bit farther north and/or on the Niagara escarpment.
Located on the top of the escarpment and close to Georgian Bay. The 24 km trail network offers skiing for beginners to experts. The trails are groomed and track-set daily for both classic and skating techniques. There are 7.5 km of snowshoe trails.
You might have gone here with Trakkers for an early departure. At this time, the trails are open to members only.
Near Parry Sound, with more than 30 km of trails winding through lush forest, Georgian Nordic offers great cross country skiing for the novice through to the expert. Georgian Nordic offers performance (combined classic and skate), back country and single track trails and snowshoe trails. https://gnoac.com/
Hardwood Ski and Bike
A popular location, Hardwood has classic and skate ski trails with 8 different loops ranging from 3.5 to 22 km, plus 12 km of snowshoeing trails, rolling trails through hardwood and pine forests.
Located at the edge of the Copeland Forest and at the junction of 2 snow belts, there are 40 km of groomed and track set trails through scenic rolling woodland. The trails are suited to all abilities, including 9 km of trails for snowshoeing.
Huntsville / Kawartha
These are two places that would likely be early departures because they are a bit farther afield.
Arrowhead Provincial Park
Located just north of Huntsville, Ontario, on the beautiful Canadian Shield, there are a total of 33 km of groomed ski trails (22 classic and 11 skate).
The large visitors’ centre is closed, but washrooms facilities available.
Located 40 km north of Peterborough. there are 34 km of classic trails and 13.5 km of skating trails plus, for snowshoers, 10 km of wilderness trails following a loop through beautiful Canadian Shield terrain. https://kawarthanordic.ca/grooming
Want to try some new places?
There are places Trakkers typically does not go because of difficult logistics with bus parking and large groups. This might be the year to explore some other places. Here are a few suggestions, and more will be coming soon.
Ganaraska Forest Centre
40 m trails for snowshoeing & classic ski. No skate ski. The trails are not yet groomed as of the end of December.
Haliburton Highlands Nordic Trail & Ski Club Association
This is not one place (which is why Trakkers does not go on bus) but three different places. Glebe Park is 13 km of challenging and technical trails; Moosewood is 12.5 km of gentle, rolling hills; and Twin Lakes offers 7 km of skate and classic (where you can take your dog).
Located on Highway 11, north of High Falls Road, there are 16.5kms of groomed trails for classic cross country skiing (however reports say trails yet to be groomed as of last week of December). There is no fee.
Next year we hope to be back on the bus and you won’t have to think about where we are going anymore. But if you are aiming to get some skiing in this year, hopefully these descriptions and links will help you out.