Wheeler XCountry Ski - Kananaskis - Skiing Alberta

 

Cross-country skiing near Kananaskis Lakes in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

The objective is to learn to cross-country ski.  We have chosen Elk Pass Trail near the end of Kananaskis Lakes Road.  After a humiliating tumble trying to ski the 15 m (50 ft) from the parking lot to the trail-head, I am poised to enter the groomed ski tracks.  The day is crisp, with a breeze, but forest shelter makes the start comfortable.  Following a short distance on rolling, uphill trail, and two more humbling spills, we retreat to find an easier trail. 

Learning a new sport is always humbling.  I am struggling to maintain a sense of humor while alternating marginal skiing with falling onto the hard surface of the nicely groomed trail.  Ironically, there are stick man pictures of me on the trail sign.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The second decision will ski from the Elkwood parking area, a bit further north on Kananaskis Lakes Road.  During a recent snowshoe of the Elkwood Loop, the gentler trail may be more suitable for an initial ski experience.  At trail-head, two skiers, who are very familiar with the prolific cross-country ski routes in this area, provide valuable insight and advice.  We choose to ski south on the Wheeler Trail.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The trail-head at the Elkwood parking area in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The beginning of the Wheeler Trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada 

 

This is much more encouraging.  The entire 0.4 KM (¼ mile) distance, to the Amos Trail  junction is completed without falling down.  The trail is relatively flat and pine needles in the ski tracks are helping to improve grip.  Friend and colleague, Jen, is dutifully instructing me in uphill and downhill technique and doing everything humanly possible to assist me to keep myself vertical. 

Past the junction, a tumble occurs on a slight downhill.  Almost every movement is different from anything experienced previously.  Balance, and brain to muscle communication, is compromised.  Often the reaction is wrong, or too late, and it is a struggle to remain vertical.  My falling down technique is improving.  There is motivational sun on the trail ahead.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada At the Wheeler Trail junction with the Amos Trail, a map rates the numerous cross-country ski trails for difficulty and distance. We continue straight towards Marl Lake.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Signs at trail-side identify a more difficult trail component.  Jen is skiing forward trail reconnaissance and providing the option to decide.  I choose to walk the difficult component which drops more sharply into a hairpin turn near Marl Lake, followed by a steep rise up to a forest-lined ridge, with flat trail, where I begin skiing again. 

There are picnic tables and viewing platforms to magnificent mountain views.  2,973 m (9,754 ft) Warrior Mountain looms above frozen Fossil Falls, wedged between massive 3,174 m (10,414 ft) Mount Sarrail and 3,082 m (10,112 ft) Mount Lyautey.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Jen

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Views along the ridge top portion of the Wheeler Cross Country Ski Trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

One of the trail-side picnic tables along  Wheeler Trail is adjacent to an open, sunny area with amazing mountain views.  Our stop, for a rest and snack, is immediately attended by a Whiskey Jack (Gray Jay).    For the next few minutes we bond with nature.  

Jen crumbles small portions of an energy bar into her palm and extends her hand.  It is only a few moments before the Gray Jay flies to her hand and perches on her thumb to feed delicately from her palm.  The Gray Jay flies away into the forest, but returns in less than a minute with his mate, who is smaller, but equally comfortable, feeding gently from Jen's palm.  The birds take turns enjoying Jen's buffet lunch.  Always a rewarding experience.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada  

 

A short distance further south, we reach another difficult component prior to the second junction with Amos Trail and decide to return the way we came.  Our one-way distance is about 2 KM (1¼ miles).  Once again, skis through the more difficult section of the route near Marl Lake.  Attempts to ski uphill, even on gentle slopes are challenging.  The waxless skis will simply not stick to the icy surface, even with the benefit of evergreen needles in the track.  I wonder if my naiveté is compounded by the camber on the ski.  On the final section, which is flat followed by a gentle descent, I am beginning to establish good rhythm and I complete my first ski adventure with a satisfying finish.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Final views along the return ski of the Wheeler Cross Country Ski Trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

Wheeler Trail Cross Country Ski - Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Jen and I make the very short drive to enjoy our lunch inside William Watson Lodge, perched over Lower Kananaskis Lake with Mount Indefatigable consuming the skyline to the west. 

William Watson Lodge is a very special place which offers comfortable and attractively priced accommodation to senior citizens and handicapped residents of AlbertaWilliam Watson Lodge is similar to an upper end, elaborate and meticulously maintained hostel. 

Following the indoor, dining room lunch, Jen and I walk on the sidewalks past the cottages.  Some offer two bedroom accommodation with a fireplace.  Families can assemble here in this incredibly beautiful place.

The drive home to Calgary is enhanced by waning light turning hay fields golden. This skiing initiative has been challenging.  Jen is an accomplished outdoors woman and a more than competent rock and ice climber.  Jen is also a Registered Nurse and it occurred to me there was a good chance I might need medical attention.  Thank you, Jen, for your help and for an outstanding and memorable day.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

It is my plan to hold off on the 90 m ski jump tower at Canada Olympic Park until next year. The next goal is to get healed up from the multiple tumbles. My falling had improved quite a bit towards the end of the day. I was able to fall in different directions and spread the damage around. There is one bruise about a foot in diameter. Quite amazing, really, like a miniature supernova. I will get out and do some snowshoeing and tackle the skis again under favourable conditions. I am aiming to ski a full 100 m on flat trail, with a nearly indescernible curve on it, for a full 200 m without crashing. No guts, no glory. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition ;-) Good to hear from you, Bill. Thanks for your comment.

I think you're ready for the 90m now.

We shall suffer together. It was a humbling experience and in hindsight would have been better tackled when my balance and centre of grivity were better positioned. In spite of my difficulties, I learned a lot and, when I heal, I am confident my next attempt will be substantially better. I have no problem with being specific about the nature of my experience. After all, these are my personal journals. My friend, workplace colleague, and instructor, Jen, was outstanding in every way imaginable. Perhaps, my experience is not overly inspirational but there were a lot of proficient people out there enjoying the Kananaskis Country winter and I am confident I will be able to keep up and subsequently manage the transition to back country skiing. If I can do it, nearly anyone can do it. Like every other sport, and like life itself, one of the most redeeming abilities is to maintain a sense of humour wherever and whenever possible. Thanks for your comment, Andra, and for letting me know I am on track. Perhaps we shall glide into one another.

Thank you so much for this post! I can't stop laughing at your expense! I know exactly what you are experiencing. I took x-c ski lessons this time last year through the University and I am not making much progress at improving. I am an obstruction on the trail so try to go early and finish up and get out of the way so others can ski safely. Good for you Barry for giving this sport a try. Hope you have better luck then me at improving the required skills to stay up while smiling the whole time. Thank you again for this fun post.

There are definitely muscles unique to cross country skiing. When I heal up, I am certain my second effort will be substantially better. My longer term objective is to back country ski so I can get to places beyond the range of snowshoes. Perhaps I will be inspirational for others to follow my body prints in the snowbanks along the trail ;-) I learned a lot on my first outing and I am looking forward to the second attempt at cross country skiing. Thanks for your comment, Charlie. Your Alberta Fence Series is excellent and highlights the simple and powerful beauty of the rural west.

It is true Whiskey Jacks are common in Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country. I remember a pair followed me dowm Sulphur Mountain one winter a few years back. I am always amazed at how gentle they are when resting on a hand and feeding from the palm. Their touch is barely perceptible. It is always a good experience. Thanks for your comment, Leigh.

Skiing used to be one of may favorite things to do and is still a fun thing for me. I just need to get back into skiing shape and get out more :) Thunder Bay (where I grew up) has great terrain for cross country skiing. I've found a few close to Edmonton that are fun so I have no excuse not to get out more. When it came to outdoor sports I never thought I'd find something that I could do better than you Barry. But I am sure you'll overpass me soon :) thanks for the post :)

I love skiing this area and a get a charge from the birds showing up within seconds of stopping no matter where you are.

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