Monday, February 13, 2017

Family Cross Country Ski Trips - Our Favourite Destinations near Calgary

We've had many beautiful awesome ski days as a family. We've also had many disastrous days I wish I could take back and erase. Fortunately, the older my son gets, and the better he gets on cross country skis, the more good days we tend to have consistently.

Ski Day at Kananaskis Village, one of our favourite places to ski

Location and choice of trail are two of the biggest keys we've discovered for making cross country skiing easy, fun, and doable with kids. We like to start from a warming hut, cabin, or lodge so that we start skiing with warm hands and fingers. We like places that have a variety of trails (because you never know what kind of day your child is going to have until you're ON the trail.) We also look for places where we can have a good Après Ski experience (somewhere to warm up in before driving home, a cozy spot to have a snack or even a cup of coffee, and a place kids can run around for a bit before climbing into the car.)

The three ski areas I'm featuring are our favourite places to go skiing as a family. They have it ALL and give you a good fighting shot at having a GOOD ski day with the kids. They are also all within an hour's drive of Calgary which is VERY important to us so that we can spend more time skiing and less time driving!!

And if you read to the bottom, I've also included three destinations for awesome overnight x-country ski vacations (for those times when you want to drive further.)

We've come a long way since this photo was taken at Kananaskis Village when my son was 5 (three years ago)


Top Three Day Trip Destinations



West Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area 

Referred to most often as just "West Bragg," The West Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area has a fabulous trail network for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking. In the summer it is a mountain bike "mecca" and also popular with hikers.

The trails are maintained and cared for by the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association and all ski trails are groomed and track set by a dedicated group of volunteers.

Winter wonderland in West Bragg Creek on the Hostel Loop

Reasons for Families to Ski at West Bragg Creek:

One. The Trail System. There's a great trail system with choices for all ski abilities. Many of the loops are blessedly short too so you can easily cut your losses if you're having a bad day. One of our favourite loops is to ski out on West Crystal Line until we get to the Moose Connector. We take that trail to the Mountain Road and then ski back down to the parking lot. The full loop is under 4 km and is great for novice skiers with a few hills to practice on.

Easy skiing on the Moose Connector, West Bragg Creek

Another loop we've been working on is the Hostel Loop (much hillier) which is another short practice outing around 4 km in distance. Finally, my son loves the gradual descent down the East Crystal Line Trail (lots of double polling) so sometimes we climb up the big hill on East Sundog just to do the fun run down East Crystal Line. Again, this loop is under 4 km in distance.

Skiing across the meadow on East Sundog

Two. Proximity to Calgary!! I can reach West Bragg Creek in 45 minutes from my house in West Calgary. This makes it easy for us to come out on a Friday afternoon if my son gets out of school early or for us to head out for a relaxed ski day if we don't want to wake up super early.

Just note that the parking lot can become a zoo on weekends so you might have to arrive early if you want a spot to park. The trails never seem that busy though because skiers, snowshoers, and bikers tend to spread out on their own trails.

Easy skiing on the Mountain Road

Three. Skiing, Snowshoeing, and Biking - all in the same spot! There are dedicated ski trails, snowshoe trails, and fat bike trails here. The mountain road is the only "multi-use trail" where you can enjoy all three activities. In theory, this means you could bring both skis and snowshoes and do a little of  both.

Fat Biking on the Mountain Road (photo: Polar Stroller)

For information on trail conditions, to see maps for the trails, or to find out more about this area, please visit the West Bragg Creek Trails Association website. I also suggest making a donation at lease once per season if planning on skiing here. Your donation goes towards the purchase of new grooming equipment and helps with maintenance of the trails. Without donations, we wouldn't be skiing, snowshoeing, or biking here. You can either donate on the website or you can leave some cash in the donation box at the trailhead.

And want the inside scoop on trail grooming at least once a week? You can sign up for the GBCTA newsletter by going to their website and scrolling down to where it mentions the newsletter and donations, both in the right hand side bar of the site.

Working on hills on the Sundog Loop

The Canmore Nordic Centre

While I don't like having to pay trail fees to ski,  there are a few great reasons to still plan a ski day at the Canmore Nordic Centre (and it's a lot cheaper than downhill skiing before one should protest too much about the cost of the day passes here.)

The trails here are always immaculately groomed and it's a great place to ski early or late season when other trails lack snow.

Gorgeous scenery in the Mine Meadow at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Reasons for Families to Ski at the Canmore Nordic Centre:

One. The Day Lodge Building. I'm a huge believer in starting out warm. I like to put my ski boots on inside a warm building, I like to add final layers inside, and I like to give my son a pre-trip snack before we head out. I pack everything into a duffel bag and haul it all into the Nordic Centre main building. We stash the duffel bag and our winter boots under a table or in a corner somewhere and then head out to ski.

Usually my husband is with us and so he can take the skis out to the front of the building while I'm hauling everything else inside. Even on my own though, I manage to get the skis and everything else to the lodge in one trip from the parking lot.

Overall, it's just much more comfortable having a beautiful day lodge to stage your ski trip out of rather than bundling up and getting ready in a cold parking lot. (Guaranteed somebody will be crying as you try to get ready from the parking lot when hands or feet start to get cold.)

When you're finished skiing you'll enjoy the day lodge for a post-trip snack and a cup of coffee from the café. It's also a great place to hang out with younger kids while one parent might want to go for a longer ski with older kids.

Skiing back to the day lodge across the Stadium

Two. The Meadow Warming Hut. The meadow hut is absolutely gorgeous and it's the perfect spot to ski to with young kids for lunch. At a distance of roughly 5 km round trip, most families should be able to ski as far as the hut before having to turn around.

The promise of reaching the nice warm hut is a great incentive to keep kids skiing and it's accessible via a very easy green trail that has few hills. Skiing Banff Trail to the hut and back is a great trip for novice skiers and families.

For a longer ski you can do the full Banff Loop with Banff Trail, the Banff Loop Trail, and Lynx.  The loop is roughly 6km in distance and is easy other than a few big hills on Lynx. Families with older kids can try taking the Meadowview Trail back to the day lodge (adding height and hills.)

Mine Meadow and the new Meadow Hut

Three. Rentals and Lessons on Site.  Families can rent skis and even a pulk (ski sled for toddlers) at the Trail Sports Centre on site if you want to try cross country skiing before committing to buying the equipment. The Centre also rents fat bikes and snowshoes, and has drop in ski lessons. You can book a group lesson too for the whole family if you're new to skiing. (How cool is that?!)

Skiing across Mine Meadow with a ski pulk

Four. Skiing, Snowshoeing, Sledding, Skating and Biking - all in the same spot! Yes, there is nothing you can't do at the Canmore Nordic Centre except perhaps downhill skiing. (Some of the hills might make you wish you had downhill skis though!)

There is a free skating rink and sledding hill on site and you'll find dedicated snowshoe and fat bike trails if you have a non-skier in your group (or if you're spending a weekend in Canmore and want to try a variety of sports.)

For full information on skiing here, visit the Canmore Nordic Centre's website which has a trail map along with details on day passes and hours. 

Easy skiing on Banff Trail

Kananaskis Village Ski Trails

While there is no warming hut or trail centre here, I can overlook that for what IS here: The Kananaskis Lodge with its gorgeous fireside room, café, and skating rink. There's also a sledding hill and if you stay overnight, a beautiful swimming pool with waterslide. Really, there's nothing not to like about these ski in/out accommodations.

Regardless if you stay overnight or not, you can still warm up after skiing inside the lodge, grab a coffee, and unwind after with a short walk around the property, a stop at the playground, or some skating on the pond.

Easy skiing on the Terrace Trail from Kananaskis Village

Reasons for Families to Ski at Kananaskis Village:

One. The Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge. As just mentioned, we go inside the lodge after skiing anywhere in the Kananaskis area. We buy a coffee and some fresh baked goods from the café, and then we sit down beside the fireplace in the giant fireside room. Kids can run around (within reason) and warm up, I can upload a photo or two to my FB or Instagram account, and we can just relax for a bit before the drive home.

And while there is no warming hut or anything where you can get dressed inside, you can park beside the Mount Kidd Manor (the closest parking lot to the ski trails) which has bathrooms and an area inside the lobby with chairs and sofas. You can at least put your boots on here if you want and grab a quick snack before you start skiing. (We often do.)

Fireside Room, Delta Kananaskis Lodge

Two. The Wide Assortment of Activities on Site. Face it, you won't know what kind of ski day you're going to have with kids until you start out. Fortunately, the Terrace and Terrace Link Trails form a short 4 km loop and then you can call it quits for one of the other activities at the Village. Bring the skates, a sled, your winter boots for a short walk, or even the snowshoes and you'll have plenty to do here for a whole weekend. Good thing there's a hotel on site!

Skating on the Pond at Kananaskis Village

Three. Ski in/out Lodging. There are two options for lodging here. You can either stay at the Kananaskis Lodge (the more $$ but decadent option,) or you can stay at the HI Kananaskis Hostel down at the Ribbon Creek ski area below which has three private rooms. Both options give you ski in/out options and from the hostel you can easily ski out the door and up to Troll Falls in a short 4 km return trip outing with Hay Meadow. (Note if you stay at the hostel, you can cook your own meals too saving money on eating out.)

Skiing along the Hay Meadow Trail below the Village

Four. Variety of Trails. Families can ski the Terrace Loop from the Village in a short 4 km return trip. Start from Ribbon Creek below and you can ski to Troll Falls and back in as few as 3 km return.

Other options are plentiful though and we like doing the Terrace Trail from the Village to Kovach and Aspen. Then we descend back down to the village on a very fun downhill section of Kovach. We've tried this trail in both directions and we definitely prefer doing it counter clockwise so that we get to go DOWN the Kovach Trail hills at the end. Going up was not much fun last time. This full loop is roughly 6 km and is made up of beginner and intermediate trails.

Family Skiing on the Kananaskis Village Ski Trails

Five. Rentals on Site. You can rent everything from cross country skis to ski pulks, skates, sleds, and snowshoes, and fat bikes at Kananaskis Outfitters. They also offer great tours.

Ski, Hike, or Bike to Frozen Troll Falls below Kananaskis Village

For more information on skiing, open this PDF document on the Ribbon Creek and Kananaskis Ski Trails.

For more on staying overnight here, visit the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge website

To read more about Kananaskis Village in Winter, read this story I wrote: Ten Reasons to Spend Time at Kananaskis Village this Winter.

To read about staying at the HI Kananaskis Hostel, read this story I wrote:  Affordable Family Ski Vacations in the Canadian Rockies.

And you can visit the HI Kananaskis Hostel website directly too.

Ski in/out Accommodations at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

Wanna go further? Top Three Overnight Destinations

There are a LOT of amazing places to ski that have not been mentioned in this story but I really tried to limit it to destinations that are reached in roughly an hour of driving from Calgary (or less.) Any longer than that and I start looking into lodging so we can make a weekend of the trip.

Below are three awesome destinations if you want to plan a ski weekend and want to find some sweet ski in/out accommodations for cross country skiing.

Plan a Ski Weekend with Ski in/out Accommodations (photo: Emerald Lake)

Cross Country Ski Weekend at Lake Louise

We love skiing the Tramline Trail from Lake Louise down to the Village. The trail loses 200 metres of elevation and is a great trail for practicing your glide with gravity in your favour. The only problem is that somebody will have to ski back UP to get the vehicle after (and it's not going to be your children.)

Read more about the trails here: Family X-Country Skiing at Lake Louise. 

Stay overnight at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre and you can ski down from the lake, right up to the Alpine Centre door! Then while you hang out with the kids in the large fireside room, send a second adult back up for the vehicle. (If you've come out with another family, you can set up a shuttle so that you have one car at each end.)

Skiing down the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

We recently stayed at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre and you can read about our adventures here: Family Guide to the Lake Louise Ski Resort. The Centre is a hostel but has plenty of family rooms and private dorms. It also has a large kitchen so you can cook your own meals.

Lake Louise Alpine Centre, Ski in/out accommodations at Lake Louise

Alternately stay overnight at the Baker Creek Mountain ResortThe resort has cozy cabins and suites, many with kitchenettes and all with fireplaces (including wood burning fireplaces in the cabins.) The largest cabins fit up to 5 people.

By staying at Baker Creek, you'll also be very close to either the trails at Lake Louise or the trails near the Town of Banff. 

Baker Creek puts you right on the ski trails along the Highway 1A as well which run between Baker Creek and Castle Junction. Total distance is 15.7 km one way from the resort to Castle Junction but you can ski as far as you want before turning around. 

Skiing on the trails near Baker Creek

Cross Country Ski Weekend at Nipika Mountain Resort, BC

Nipika Mountain Resort is located on the border of Kootenay National Park and is a true gem of a place for cross country skiers. Stay in a cozy cabin (or rent the Rocky Mountain House which sleeps 12 people) and enjoy ski in/out lodging on an amazing trail network of flawlessly groomed trails. And there are roughly 100 km of trails here so while you could visit for a day, you really want to spend a weekend.

Nipika Mountain Resort is a great destination for a family ski getaway

Also on site is a skating rink, sledding hill, snowshoe trails, and fat bike trails. Rentals and guided tours can be arranged, and I know for fact that there are two kids' fat bikes for rent (a 20" bike and a 24" bike) because I was there the day they were purchased and added to the rental fleet.

Fat biking at Nipika Mountain Resort (rentals and dedicated trails on site)

We've stayed here as a family a couple of times (both winter and summer, for biking) and I've enjoyed a couple of girls' weekends here. There's never a bad weekend at Nipika and you'll enjoy skiing to one of three warming huts (including the day lodge beside the day use parking lot.)

Visit for the day and you can still use the day lodge which aligns with my philosophy of starting out your trip warm! Put your boots and extra clothes on inside, have a snack, ski out to the first warming hut, ski back for another snack or lunch, and then continue with more skiing if you want.)

The first warming hut at Nipika Mountain Resort

Families love Nipika with the wide variety of trails that are perfect for all ski levels. Loops can be made to accommodate skiers of all ages and thanks to the day lodge (or the on site cabins,) you can always return early with a younger child while a second parent skis with the older kid(s.)

To read more about Nipika Mountain Resort, read my story: Everything for a Family to Love at Nipika Mountain Resort. 

And check out my newest story on Fat biking at Nipika Mountain Resort.

It's always a winter wonderland at Nipika! (Rocky Mountain Cabin in the background)

You can also read The Ultimate Girls' Ski Getaway at Nipika Mountain Resort.

And to plan out a summer biking trip, read Kids On Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort

Ski in/out Lodging at Nipika Mountain Resort

Cross Country Ski Weekend at Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park

From Lake Louise, head over into Yoho National Park and spend a weekend at Emerald Lake Lodge. Enjoy ski in/out lodging on beautiful Emerald Lake, decadent dining, and a cozy lodge with fireside lounge you can play games in over a hot chocolate after skiing.

Ski in/out Accommodations at Emerald Lake Lodge

We recently stayed here for a weekend and enjoyed cross country skiing and snowshoeing around the lake, relaxing in the outdoor hot tub, hiking up to see frozen waterfalls, and exploring a natural bridge.

Scenic skiing at Emerald Lake, BC

You can also visit Emerald Lake for a day trip but it's a long drive from Calgary so you'll appreciate an overnight stay with kids more. Plus, if you stay overnight, it's easier to base your ski adventures from a cozy base camp. You can take turns skiing with the kids or heading out for a short solo ski as an adult. Finish your day at the hot tub and alternate between short ski outings or hikes around the property.

To read about our adventures, read Family Weekend at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park.

Skiing across Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

See you on the trails and let me know if I missed your favourite place to ski.

Other recommended reading 

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