CampsGeneralLifestylePlaces to SkiNovember Skiing in Canada: Where The (Skiable) White Stuff Is

Gerry Furseth Gerry FursethNovember 29, 2016
Len Valjas, Graeme Killick, Knute Johnsgaard, and Bob Thompson at the start of a classic sprint heat (Photo: Jenn Jackson)
(From left to right) Bob Thompson (NTDC Thunder Bay) chases Lenny Valjas (Canadian World Cup A-Team), Graeme Killick (AWCA/NST B-team), and Knute Johnsgaard (AWCA/NST U25 Team) at the start of a classic sprint heat at 2016 Frozen Thunder in Canmore, Alberta, on Nov. 1. (Photo: Jenn Jackson)

As promised, the Canadian version of “Where the (Skiable) White Stuff Is” (a.k.a. November skiing) is here, minus the bit about where to ski at Thanksgiving. Canada doesn’t usually have much snow at Thanksgiving, mostly because Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October. But by the time U.S. Thanksgiving rolls around in late November, there is an abundance of reliable snow to choose from in Canada.

In addition to major camps and well publicized early season track setting, there are a lot of places in Canada where people quietly start skiing when there is snow. Whitehorse in the Yukon is one of those places where “early” doesn’t have the same meaning as it does in the south. No one will advertise October skiing at Barkerville, British Columbia, but the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club in Prince George can tell you about it. FasterSkier’s West-Coast based Canadian contributor was on snow Oct. 8 this year.

All of the western venues mentioned here were affected by the same weather pattern than forced the cancellation of the Bozeman SuperTour. A heatwave rolled in on Nov. 3, starting with a very warm classic sprint in Canmore, Alberta, and ending in spectacular flooding near Whistler, B.C. It has been a better start in the east.

This article will focus on reliable set track and camps open to the public in November — in Canada (for the U.S. version, click here).  If your favourite early season spot isn’t featured, you are in good company. Let us know in the comments below.

And if you are visiting Canada, remember that the U.S. dollar is worth $1.35 up here.

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CAMPS

XC SuperCamp

Where: Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre and Silver Star Mountain Resort, Vernon, B.C.

SuperCamp at Sovereign Lake/SilverStar (Courtesy Photo)
A trailside photo from 2015 SuperCamp at Sovereign Lake/Silver Star (Courtesy photo)

SuperCamp has evolved over 30 years, but its always been held on natural snow and it’s always run camps in November. Four of this season’s seven camps are in November, and biathlon options were offered this month as well.

“SuperCamp is a very comprehensive nordic experience,” Shane Landreville, SuperCamp coordinator, wrote in an email. “Trail passes are included, as are lunches, off snow programs, wax sessions, massages, and ski demos.”

Ski-in/ski-out accomodation and restaurants are available at Silver Star. Vernon, a 20-minute drive and 1,200 metres lower in elevation, offers a wide range of food and lodging alternatives. Some of the November camps sold out in mid-October when registration opened.

Glenn Bond XC Ski Camps

Where: Labrador City, Newfoundland

Glenn Bond XC Ski Camp at Menihek Nordic on November 3rd, 2016. (Courtesy Photo)
The 2016 Glenn Bond XC Ski Camp at Menihek Nordic on Nov. 3. (Courtesy photo)

The four-year old Glenn Bond XC Ski Camp program travelled to Menihek Nordic in Labrador City, Newfoundland, for a November camp on natural snow.

“[This camp] was November 3-6 with 70-80 cms of snow and big smiles,” Bond wrote. “Menihek Nordic wins the prize for best early season xc ski conditions this year hands down.”

(Longtime SuperCamp attendees remember Bond from his time with that program.)

NATURAL SNOW

Menihek Nordic

Where: Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador

50 cms (20") of natural snow at Menihek on October 23rd, 2016. (Courtesy Photo)
Fifty centimetres (roughly 20 inches) of natural snow at Menihek Nordic in Labrador City on Oct. 23, 2016. (Photo: Menihek Nordic)

Mention ‘Lab City’ to a national team member from the 1980s and you will see the good memories scrolling behind the smile. In the glory days of Pierre Harvey, the national team would kick off its season at Menihek before moving on to Silver Star for an early season elevation camp. After that national team stopped visiting the venue in 1988, it quietly dropped off the radar, to the point that FasterSkier missed this October skiing opportunity in last year’s guide.

Labrador City is not visited by many tourists. It’s at least a 13-hour drive from Quebec City, which is the nearest major population centre. But there are some big-name skiers that have visited, including Sweden’s Gunde Svan, Americans Bill Koch and Tim Caldwell, Norway’s Anette Bøe, and the Firth sisters from Canada’s Northwest Territories. Menihek Nordic hosted the 1983 World Cup Final, the 1985 World Cup opener and was a national training centre from 1981 to 1988. Mining communities are often multicultural: the World Cup hosts were able to find local translators for 20 languages from a population of less than 10,000. Koch designed some of the trails in 1981.

What makes this venue unique, other than reliable October-to-May skiing?

“Labrador is unique in that it is nearly the last frontier,” Menihek Nordic Ski Club President Gerry Rideout explained. “There is a certain magic about Labrador, it gets in your blood.”

This season, Menihek opened on Oct. 23, held four camps in November, had the full 34 k system set on Nov. 3, and plans to stay open to the first week of May (as usual).

Sovereign Lake/Silver Star

There were lots of smiles during US Thanksgiving at Sovereign Lake. Laura McCabe's group of 30 kids skied over the top from SilverStar and FasterSkier caught her as the group started back. Locals know to start at Sovereign and grab a croissant in SilverStar village to fuel the second half of the ski. (Photo: Gerry Furseth)
There were lots of smiles during U.S. Thanksgiving at Sovereign Lake. Methow Valley Nordic coach Laura McCabe (a two-time Olympian) led 30 kids over the top from Silver Star and FasterSkier caught them on the way back. Locals know to start at Sovereign and stop for a croissant in Silver Star village to fuel the second half of the ski. (Photo: Gerry Furseth)

This destination is actually two ski areas. The Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre (also Sovereign Lake Nordic Club) has been operating since the 1930s under a variety of names, while Silver Star Mountain Resort is more recent, opening as an alpine-skiing area in 1958.  The two organizations have 105 kilometers of interconnected nordic trails and a surprisingly good relationship between the commercial resort and the volunteer-based club (which is one of the largest cross-country ski clubs in B.C.). Silver Star hosted a World Cup in 1991, Sovereign Lake in 2005.

Daily track setting runs from November to early April, with the full 105 k usually available from late November to mid-March.  Sovereign Lake reopens in May for team camps and diehard skiers.

This season, both sides opened 10 days late on Nov. 20, with 57 k set by Nov. 25.

We are still well below our average snow pack for this time of year, but are optimizing our small machine grooming to create great tracks and corduroy,” Sovereign Lake manager Troy Hudson wrote in an email on Nov. 24.

There were at least eight private camps in November, ranging from a master’s women’s group to biathletes to a combined U.S. club camp with the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, Methow Valley Nordic and Momentum Northwest from Oregon and Washington.

MANMADE & STORED SNOW

Frozen Thunder

Where: Canmore Nordic Centre in Canmore, Alberta

Canmore is perhaps the best known of Canada’s nordic venues. Between the 1998 Olympics, reoccurring World Cups and last season’s final stages of the Ski Tour Canada, it is famous beyond the skiing world. Each October, Frozen Thunder opens a small loop with a combination of stored snow and manmade snow.

This year, Frozen Thunder opened on Oct. 22 with a 1.7 k loop. The regular season began on Nov. 19 and is scheduled to run to April 30.  So far, Canmore has hosted seven days of cross-country ski races and three biathlon races in November. All the camps were private, with the Ukraine biathlon team traveling the farthest to Canmore.

 Boreal Glide (Glisse Boréale)

Where: Forêt Montmorency, owned by the Université Laval, in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Quebec

Skibec skiers on the Boreal Glide at Forêt Montmorency north of Quebec City. (Photo: La Forêt)
Skibec skiers on the Boreal Glide at Forêt Montmorency north of Quebec City. (Photo: La Forêt)

Located 45 minutes north of Quebec City and belonging to Laval University, the ‘Boreal Glide‘ is an early season favourite in Quebec. Set in the largest teaching and research forest in the world (at 412 square kilometers), La Forêt Montmorency has 2.5 k of early season trail using stored snow and a larger system that depends on natural snow. As of Nov. 20, it had 20-24 inches of packed snowed and track groomed for both skating and classic.

“If I had to invest my money in one single cross-country skiing area in North America, I would honestly choose the Forêt Montmorency,” La Forêt’s Director of Operations Hugues Sansregret wrote in an email. “The fact that it sits on top of the Laurentian mountains is the best guarantee for early skiing.”

Boreal Glide opened on Oct. 28 without any official camps or events — just skiing. Can’t argue with that.

Callaghan Gold

Where: Whistler Olympic Park, Callaghan Valley, B.C.

Callaghan Gold on November 7th, 2016. New this year, the loop includes the biathlon range. (Courtesy Photo)
Callaghan Gold on Nov. 7, 2016, at Whistler Olympic Park in Callaghan Valley, B.C. New this year, the loop includes the biathlon range. (Courtesy photo)

Canada’s other Winter Olympic venue has created Callaghan Gold, an early season loop of stored snow. The regular season opens on Nov. 24 (U.S. Thanksgiving) and ends in early April.  Located in a cool valley surrounded by rainforest, this venue has been known for lots of snow in non-Olympic years. Weather has been a challenge in the fall of 2016, eased by two last-minute storms that expanded the stored snow loop to 21 k during the opening weekend.

In the project’s four-year history, Callaghan Gold has met some challenges. In its experimental year, the stored snow came out ‘gold’, coloured by the sawdust insulation. In 2014, the storage methods were improved and an 800-metre loop of lovely, white snow greeted skiers on opening day. In 2015, record-setting warm weather melted all the snow in March, leaving nothing to store. In 2016, Callaghan Gold opened on Oct. 29 with 600 metres of trail, expanding to 1.4 k on Nov. 4.

“The warm temps and significant rainfall of November took its toll on the Callaghan gold trail depth but we feel it held up well considering,” managing director Tim Hope wrote in an email.

Nakkertok Nordic

Where: Gatineau, Quebec

Nakkertok snowmaking in action for the first time in November, 2016. (Courtesy Photo)
Nakkertok snowmaking in action for the first time in November, 2016. (Courtesy photo)

With two sets of ski trails just outside Ottawa and Gatineau, Nakkertok is the newest addition to reliable November snow. This month, one of the country’s largest ski clubs recently turned on its brand-new snowmaking equipment (which was largely funded by from its Project Play grand prize) and opened for skiing on Nov. 25.

According to Nakkertok Head Coach Kieran Jones, the club turned on five snow guns for the first time on Nov. 20 and was excited to test its new system and equipment. That night, the trails received an additional 15 to 20 centimeters of natural snow.

“Winter has definitely come to Ottawa-Gatineau, which is awesome!” Jones wrote. “Our initial goal was to create an 800m loop that covered our stadium, and extended out both ends. At that point we could then begin to push snow further to create 1 km of skiable terrain with a couple of quality climbs as well.”

He hoped they would have 1 k open for skiing by the end of last week.

“For now, the focus is on making sure we can have skate grooming,” Jones added. “Classic tracks will depend on the depth of snow that we’re able to produce. Nakkertok isn’t officially open to the public for day usage of the loop yet, but we’ll let you know as soon as it is!”

The Nakkertok Early Season Ski Loop (NESSL) is an important step for the region.

“It is great for the club, other clubs in the region and should allow a quality early season race site in the East,” Nakkertok fundraising mastermind Toni Scheier wrote in an email. “It will also ensure snow for the Easterns where clubs from across the country attend, (700 plus competitors) and for our Nationals bid, likely 2019.”

— François Léger Dionne contributed reporting

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Gerry Furseth

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