This is the winter for distanced outdoor activity. I mean, it’s the winter to stay home as much as possible but also for mental health breaks—safely go get that fresh air and stay physically active outside if you’re able.
A lot of you knew this—that’s why cross-country skis sold out back in October 2020 ahead of the season.
We’re honestly so lucky we’re still able to explore outside during the pandemic.
Maybe it’s walks around the neighbourhood, or cross country skiing in the river valley. Maybe you’re skating at rinks in and around town. Or perhaps taking a day trip jaunt to the mountains—staying within the province (and following physical distancing and gathering restrictions. And do not ‘jaunt’ if sick).
I lucked out finding a pair of used cross-country skis and boots after everywhere was sold out and hope to use it a lot this season. I also got a new pair of ice skates for Christmas and have been breaking them in too.
Edmonton has a number of skating rinks you can work your way through (see conditions and open/closed rinks here). In neighbouring Spruce Grove, the skating loop at Jubilee Park is so lovely!
I’ve been researching easy (beginner) cross-country ski sites in town and will be visiting spots like Gold Bar Park and the Victoria Golf Course and Park (see cross-country ski trails and conditions here).
And if you’d like to drive a little further (or you’re near the Calgary area—these spots will be close to you!) Kananaskis Country and areas near Canmore and Banff have some wonderful cross-country ski trails and bubble lakes set to stunning mountain backdrops that work great for day trips!
If you’re looking for cute mountain backdrop beginner cross-country ski and ice skating day trip ideas, I’ve got two suggestions for you!
Day Trip Adventures: Rocky Mountain Cross-Country Ski Trails and Bubble Lakes in Kananaskis Country / near Canmore, Alberta
Easy (Beginners) Cross-Country Skiing in Kananskis Country
As a major cross-country ski beginner, I was looking for something really flat, well-groomed (that’s a snow sports term for flattening snow so you can do recreational activity on it lol) and ideally pretty secluded so I wouldn’t have any embarrassing wipe-outs or hold up other cross-country skiers.
There’s a great Explore Canmore article with beginner trail suggestions which is what I used to decide on cross-country skiing at the Wedge Connector / Wedge Pond. This trail is located 40 minutes from the Town of Canmore, just over 1 hour from Calgary, and about 4 hours from Edmonton.
It is 2.4 km one-way with double tracks so you can ski behind each other or next to each other! It also connects to different trails that are apparently more hilly (for the more advanced—also this is probably why it’s called Wedge Connector lol).
Mike and I were the only ones using this trail mid-week morning. Entirely surrounded by forest and lovely views of “The Wedge” Mountain and Mt. Kidd. It was a perfect place to test out my new/old skis and fall a few times without feeling pressure from or hold up other skiers.
If you are skiing in Kananaskis, now you’re also encouraged to buy a parking pass through a new pilot program to help pay for the ski trail grooming in the area. This is new because the Jason Kenney UCP government cut funding that used to be spent on maintaining these trails. Grooming costs are supposed to be free but the UCP is making Albertans pay for it (among the very long list of many things they’ve cut and Albertans are suffering from).
Admittedly, we didn’t know any of this when we went (and only realized while I was doing additional research for this blog post!) It definitely makes learning and enjoying winter activities in the mountains easier when there are maintained trails, but my Canmore adventure friends informed me that visitors have never been asked to pay for using or keeping the trails groomed in Kananaskis until Kenney’s cuts.
Another spot we were debating cross-country skiing at in the area, that came highly recommended by our Canmore adventure friends, was the Canmore Nordic Centre, which also has lights on at night if you want to do a pretty enclosed, safe, nighttime skiing.
And: if you weren’t able to snag new or used cross-country skis this season, the nice part about cross-country skiing in this area of Alberta is that there’s plenty of rental shops with gear available for you!
We were missing a few cross-country ski pieces that we were able to rent at GearUp in Canmore.
- We also picked up treats for the road from the Canmore Rocky Mountain Bagel Co. and drinks from Eclipse Coffee Roasters. (The Rocky Mountain Bagel Co. has drinks too but we just wanted to support a few different spots!)
- I had wanted to show off a past Canmore favourite to Mike—Le Fornil Bakery, but it for some reason is closed on Wednesdays lol. Highly recommend you stop there too though if you adventure on a non-Wednesday.
Mountain Backdrop Ice Skating in Kananaskis Country
Now for skating in the Rocky Mountains!
Mike and I chose to skate at Gap Lake (on recommendation again by our Canmore adventure friends).
This lake is located near the hamlet of Exshaw near the Bow River, accessible off the Bow Valley Trail, just a 10 minute drive from Canmore and also just over 1 hour from Calgary and about 4 hours from Edmonton.
This lake has bubbles! Yay~
The much coveted winter mountain lake bubbles that most people head to Abraham Lake for, can actually be found at a number of different lakes near Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise, including Gap Lake.
Earlier in the season there were lots of crowds gathering at Gap Lake and it ended up being a dangerous situation because the parking lot was full so people would park on the highway. That’s VERY dangerous. Don’t do this!!! Luckily when we went (mid-week, mid-day), there was still ample parking left in the lot. I’d estimate maybe 20 people out across the entire lake when we were there so it was really quiet and easy to keep a distance.
Like Abraham Lake however, the winds are something fierce at Gap Lake (bubble lakes apparently attract fierce winds lol). In some directions the wind will just move you along the ice, you don’t need to actually even skate so be prepared for that.
The ice was kind of rough in some areas, and some areas of the lake closer to the the parking lot were covered in snow, but for the most part the wind had swept most of the snow off so you had lots of ice to skate on and more importantly (lol)—take photos with.
The handy part about Gap Lake is that it’s also on the way out of Canmore and back to Edmonton (or Calgary) so you could do cross country skiing first thing in the morning, skating in the early afternoon, and be home in the evening.
Bonus: Off Leash Dog Park with Great Mountain Views
If you’re in the Canmore area with your pup, we also recommend a visit to the Quarry Lake Dog Park. There’s two official off leash areas in this dog park—a meadow area and a pond area (well it’s frozen in the winter), and they’re both set to some pretty stunning mountain views.
Please stay safe if you’re doing day trips or other exploration of Alberta during this time. Stay up to date on current restrictions. Please do keep your distance, mask up, and be sure to stay home if you’re sick!
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I don’t enjoy skiing but I do enjoy skating and with that backdrop – I’m all in. This reminds me of my last trip to Banff and Jasper. This is a very helpful post and one I hope to use at some point this year (finger crossed). Looking forward to some time out of the city.