Thursday, November 08, 2018

The Best Early Season Trails for Cross-Country Skiing near Calgary

This might actually be the biggest reason I love November. My skis FINALLY come up from the basement. We get so excited for this that one year we were practically cross country skiing on dirt at Kananaskis Village  - and the last couple of years our ski season started in October!

Early season skiing in Kananaskis (October 30th)

For those who like cross country skiing, there are a few places you'll want to check out if you aim to ski in November. 

Surreal skiing with leaves still on the trees (October 4th, 2018!)

Early Season Skiing at Lake Louise

If you want early season grooming, Lake Louise is your best bet. The Moraine Lake Road is usually groomed and track-set by early to mid November, and it's safe to say you could plan an annual trip to Louise around the second weekend of November - and have plenty of snow to ski on. 

November skiing at the Great Divide, Lake Louise

The Great Divide is also normally groomed and track-set early November and is another early-season favourite. Being an old road, it doesn't take much to cover up the pavement for skiing (as is the same with the Moraine Lake Road.)

Most of the other trails still need a few weeks before they're ready to go.

Current Trail Conditions for Banff and Lake Louise

Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise 

Cross-country skiing at Lake Louise

Stay overnight for easy access to the trails at Lake Louise 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 (perfect for accessing the Cascade Fireroad as well.) 

November skiing in Paradise Valley at Lake Louise

Early Season Skiing in Banff 

We love skiing the Cascade Fire Road up the Cascade Valley in Banff in November. It requires very little snow to be enjoyed on skis and we've often skied it on the third weekend of the month (which happens to be the same time as the Banff Santa Claus Parade.) 

The trail starts from the Lake Minnewanka Parking lot and follows a section of the Lake Minnewanka loop road (closed to vehicles in winter) before heading up the Cascade Valley. We usually ski as far as the bridge and back for a 14 km return outing. (We got our son up here a few years ago by towing him up with a rope. He loved the ski down.)

Current Trail Conditions for Banff and Lake Louise

Parks Canada Guide to the Cross-country ski trails in Banff

November on the Cascade Fire Road in Banff

And for some early season ski touring in Banff, check out the Boom Lake Trail. It usually gets a lot of snow early in the winter, and we've skied it as a family.

Read more: Family Backcountry Ski Touring in Banff (Boom Lake Trail) 

Snowy bridge on the Boom Lake Trail in Banff

Early Season Skiing in Canmore

The Canmore Nordic Centre is one of the few places where you'll find snow making for x-country trails. This means that the main Banff Avenue Trail can often be open for skiing quite early in the season.

Until the ski trails are ready to go, you can also try a few laps around Frozen Thunder, an early season trail that uses snow from last season, stored up through the summer. This trail is open to the public in the afternoons after 12:00 every day starting in October, and is usually around 2 km in length.

Most years Frozen Thunder is open by October 18th - 20th. 

Early season skiing on Frozen Thunder at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Note, trail fees are charged to ski Frozen Thunder as well as on the groomed trails once tracksetting has begun.

Current Trail Conditions for the Canmore Nordic Centre

Read more: Family Cross Country Ski Trips - Our Favourite Destinations Near Calgary

Cross country skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre 

Early Season Skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis

This has become my absolute favourite place to ski before December and our destination is always the Kananaskis Lookout Trail.

The Lookout Trail is only 1.7  km long (one way) but packs a punch with 200 metres of height gain. Climb up on skis and you'll feel your muscles the next day. 

The biggest challenge is that the Lookout Trail is accessed from the Pocaterra Trail, and there's no easy way to reach the junction of the two trails. The shortest way starts with a long climb up the Whiskey Jack ski trail for a total distance of 6 km (one way) to the top of the Lookout from the Boulton Parking Lot. (And Whiskey Jack also gains 200 metres of height, so you're looking at a 400 metre climb!)

Kananaskis Lookout in November 

Fortunately, in November, there's a 
"secret" way to reach the Lookout without having to do the climb up Whiskey Jack. Skiers can sneak on to the Pocaterra Trail from an unmarked pull off on Highway 40 (past the winter road closure, hence why you have to do it in November before the highway closes on December 1st.)

The unmarked pull off to access the Pocaterra Trail is roughly 8 km past the Highway 40 winter gates on the right hand side. You'll be well on your way to Highwood Pass before you reach it. Pull over, cross the little bridge, and ski for a short distance (less than half a kilometre) until you reach the official Pocaterra Trail. Turn left and ski for another half a kilometre (at most) to the Whiskey Jack Junction - where you'll marvel that you've made your way to the TOP of Whiskey Jack by car and not by climbing.

Skiing on the Pocaterra Trail in November

From the Whiskey Jack junction it's another half a kilometre to the Lookout Junction. And your grand total distance for the day will be no more than 6 km round trip. (with no more than 250 to 300 metres of height gain.)

I've done this as a "girls day out" and we've done this as a family outing a couple of times now. The first year with our son, we carried his downhill skis with us in case he needed them for the descent. He started out in cross-country skis and would have been fine in them the entire time, but this was one of his first ski trips of the season and there was a LOT of fresh powder (with no recent grooming.) His cross-country skis were also really skinny and we knew it was still early season (with questionable conditions.)

Downhill skis for the decent worked very well in the end, and my son had a blast ripping down the steep trail through all the fresh snow.

Downhill skis were a lot of fun on the way down from the lookout

And if you have more energy, you can also ski across Pocaterra and Tyrwhitt to Elk Pass, and then ski down the Elk Pass Trail (with a car shuttle) ending much lower than you started. We did this last winter as a family and it was a lot of fun! 

Kananaskis Fire Lookout in November

Want an easier day? You can just ski the Pocaterra Trail from Highway 40 (skipping the lookout) and turn around anytime you want. 

The Pocaterra Trail is a very easy early-season ski for kids

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park ski trail brochure

Read More: Winter Adventures in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis 

Kananaskis Lookout in November

Early Season Skiing in the Spray Valley, Kananaskis

One November we spent a weekend at Mount Engadine Lodge and skied to Watridge Lake while there. The snow was thin and the trail a bit sketchy, but we made it and I don't think we hit any rocks. Wait until early December and you should have no problems with the ski to Watridge Lake.

The trail is 7.5 km round trip and is relatively easy for families, being a wide open road with gradual elevation gain.

Current Trail Report for Spray Valley Provincial Park

Read more: Family Winter Getaways at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis 

Early season skiing to Watridge Lake in November

And for a great early-season ski touring experience, try Chester Lake, which we have done as a family.

Read more: Introduction to Family Backcountry Ski Touring  (Chester Lake, Kananaskis) 

Getting a free tow across the meadow below Chester Lake (my son used downhill skis to descend this trail)

Early Season Skiing at Kananaskis Village

Kananaskis Village is a nice close options and I've skied here most years in November. Don't expect "amazing" snow until later in November, but if you really want to get out, there should be some track setting up by early December at the latest (packing before then.)

Usually we just start with the short Terrace Loop or extend to include a loop around Kovach for a nice easy 5 km outing.

Desperate for snow early one November at Kananaskis Village

Trail Brochure and map for the Kananaskis Village and Ribbon Creek Ski Trails

Current Trail Report for the Kananaskis Valley 

Read More: Exploring Ribbon Creek in Kananaskis on Skis  (one of our favourite trails!)

Read more: Family Cross Country Ski Trips - Our Favourite Destinations Near Calgary

Once groomed, we love the Ribbon Creek Ski Trail

Early Season Skiing at West Bragg Creek 

West Bragg Creek is another close option and I've definitely skied here most Novembers (and in October a couple of times.) You won't usually get "amazing" snow until later in November, but the volunteers here are superstars at getting the trails ready to go as soon as they can.

October XC skiing at West Bragg Creek 

Early season skiing at West Bragg Creek close to Calgary 

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