Cross-country skiing near Kananaskis Lakes in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
Today's 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.
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.
The trail-head at the Elkwood parking area in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
The beginning of the Wheeler Trail in 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.
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.
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.
Views along the ridge top portion of the Wheeler Cross Country Ski Trail in 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.
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.
Final views along the return ski of the Wheeler Cross Country Ski Trail in 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 Alberta. William 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.