general snow

The Grande Tour of the Nordic Centre

The Grande Tour of the Nordic Centre started off as a vague idea I had, that I should really ski all of the trails at the Nordic Centre. And that it should definitely be possible to ski them all in one day. And then I went and mentioned this idea to a couple of fellow lunatics who considered that this may well be a worthy thing to attempt.

When it came down to it though, the day we had chosen had the unfortunate problem of TOO MUCH SNOW. It is something you feel terrible complaining about, but it really makes for awful skate skiing when you’re wading through inches of ungroomed fresh powder. Nontheless, the other two were happy to start with the attempt, and so I felt compelled to join them.

Fresh tracks through powder, hurray!… No, hang on, not hurray.

We starting skiing not long after 9am. Conditions were not fast. And if Miles and I were smarter, we would have been on classic skis, at least at first. I’m not sure what Miles’ excuse was, but mine is that classic skiing irritates my hip flexors.

Knocking off a bunch of the black trails early on.

I had a route all planned out, based on five separate loops of the trails. Of course the whole thing was complicated by the fact that a huge chunk of the trail network was closed off for the Winter Olympics qualifying races (amongst other things), and they wouldn’t be re-opening until around 3.30pm. So we were re-routing on the fly. And then re-routing some more when people came up with cunning plans. While simultaneously trying to keep track of the mess of trails, and which ones we had and hadn’t skied.

The snow may have been slow, but it was still fun!

The idea of actually finishing all the trails seemed fairly unlikely. The skiing was such hard going that I stopped even bothering to check how far we’d gone. It was just too depressing. By the time we returned to the daylodge for lunch, we’d only managed to ski 27km or so in over three hours (for reference, a few days later I easily managed 16km in one hour).

Still lots of snow around, but the sun is out!

After lunch we lost Alaric to family skiing time, and so the remaining two musketeers set out to conquer the green loop – Salt Lake trail, and what was left of the biathlon trails. The snow was packing down as it warmed up and more people had been skiing it – so the going was getting marginally easier, and we were skiing a little faster.

Somehow instead of returning to the daylodge for more food after finishing that loop, we kept going. And started to get hungry. Rationing was in force and I was feeling shaky, low on water and out of food.

A driving desire for moral superiority led to the decision to ski up and down Bruin Cub, an ungroomed connector trail that for some reason is on the map and has a sign and a name

The descent on Bruin Cub didn’t treat me kindly, and I created a wonderful cloud of snow as I crashed

It was on the home stretch of the last of our far loops that Miles let me know that his back had started to cramp, and that he didn’t want to push it. At the same time, we were beginning to realise that it wasn’t a safe bet by any means that we’d make it to the daylodge before it closed at 5pm. And so I put my head down to ski the rest of the loop, and huzzah, made it back to the daylodge at 4.59pm.

Heading out on our last outwards loop, the sun is lower in the sky now

After retrieving the duffel bag full of useful things, like food and headlamps, I graciously relieved Miles of most of his brownies, then sadly waved him goodbye and got ready to set off into the darkness of the Olympic loops. After eating I felt tired but ok, and mainly I really didn’t want to let all of the hard work that morning-Megan did go to waste. I pulled out my iPod, started some songs playing (ska!) and got ready to head off.

But then I got a message from Lincoln – he could come ski with me! I waited 20 minutes for him to finish up at work, and we set off together at 5.40pm.

The final 11km required a ridiculous level of concentration and route finding. Another added ‘benefit’ was that the trails around Centennial and Olympic that hadn’t been raced on (but had been closed to the public) were ungroomed slogs. The race trails on the other hand, were nearly all set with 4 classic tracks, or were hardpack icy doom. Or both. I managed to avoid hurting myself or losing my iPod, and we only ended up missing one short connector trail that I’d meant to ski.

Finally, I was done at 7.25pm.

Distance travelled: 74.5km
Elevation gain: 1,767m

Things I learned

  • It’s best to have out and backs out of the way early on. Later on, you’re tired, and less committed to map reading, and just want to focus on skiing.
  • Always carry lots of food.
  • Don’t leave your duffel bag in the daylodge unless you’re 100% certain you’ll easily make it back before closing.
  • Carrying a headlamp is always a good idea.
  • Having crazy people for company when you’re setting out to do something crazy makes the whole endeavor much more enjoyable.

Here is a before and after map, with the five coloured loops. The one on the left is the track of where I skied. The one on the right is how I’d try and do it next time (although it still has a couple of things that need to be fixed up, it’s a bit easier to read than the original, and has a few better route options). If you click on them, they’ll embiggen to full size, so you could use them for your own attempt – if you do, please let me know :)

canada general moosling

Before it got cold – where we find a Christmas tree, and go for a walk

The Christmas Tree gang

The enthusiasm when the walk begins – keen to carry the backpack

Out along the Bow River, it’s snowy, but not too cold. The sun never gets very high in the sky this time of year, spending most of the time skirting the mountains and peeping out at us.

Possibly the longest set of stairs in the world

Through the forest and over the hill, and up the mountain we go

Carrying the boy through the dogpark, because the dogpark is a bit scary

A Christmas tree on the Highline trail

And a Merry Chrismukkah to you all

canada general snow

Lunch break skiing down Main Street

Skiing and races over lunch break.

(photos aren’t mine)

bikes canada general

Legacy Trail to Banff

Probably my last ride along the Legacy Trail before the weather turns and covers it with just enough snow to make it un-rideable, but probably not enough to make skiing the whole thing a fun idea (I have dreams of them grooming it for skate-skiing, that would be just awesome.

Photo taken with fancy new phone – amazing camera!

canada general hiking

Hiking the Middle Sister

There seem to be Three Sisters rock formations all over the world. Canmore’s hang above town looking picturesque and a little formidable, but there’s actually quite a nice walk up the back of the middle one – the back one is a bit of a scramble, and the littlest one in the front is a low grade climb (on nasty limestone though).

We had another late start, not getting away from home until well after 10am, then trying to get through the golf course, only to be turned back. Cursing the fact we hadn’t just ridden from home, we walked along the road up to the turn off up towards Stewart Creek. Having biked it before, the walk seemed interminable. It couldn’t last forever though, and eventually we were wandering up the hill, and then hopping back and forth across a rather dry Stewart Creek.

The trail climbs steadily as you wander up the creek, and then gets steep and rocky, and a little vertical. We dived off to the left and made our way up through the trees. After a lunch stop half way up, we finished the tree/meadow ascent (the steepest and most awkward part of the whole hike) and were spat out into the huge scree-filled bowl beneath the Big and Middle Sister.

Looking at all that scree and cliff above us, I was wondering whether we’d be able to make it up with baby in tow. But after the first few hundred metres the scree became more and more civilised, and although we were walking near cliffs from time to time, there were never death-defying steep scree slops to scramble across (with a cliffy doom your reward for failure).

Once we hit the shoulder between the Big and Middle Sister I began to relax – it was almost just a flat wander from here! And the views were already gorgeous. Although we could have done without the wind.

little sister from middle sister

Looking down on the Little Sister from the summit of the Middle Sister, then out towards Calgary

At the summit we took it in turns to huddle in the wind shelter with the baby, and jump out and get some photos while trying to avoid being blown off the mountain.

bow valley and canmore

Bow Valley and Canmore from the summit of the Middle Sister

path back to the saddle and the big sister

The path back down to the saddle, and the view up to the Big Sister

Then it was a quick scree gallop down again, to the meadows and the trees, and down along the creek, back down the track and to the car. Not the best hike of the Summer, but definitely top five. I think I’d read a few reviews of the hike where people complained about the Stewart Creek portion, and how long and awful the hike is, so I was expecting the worst, and really – it’s not many places where you’d have people complaining about a hike this good!

back down stewart creek

Back down Stewart Creek and out to the Bow Valley

Distance: 19km return
Mountain height: 2,769 m (9,085 feet)
Elevation gain: 1,400 m
Total time taken: 7hr15min