Hitting the Trail
Enjoying winter’s scenic touring sport
Story by Brandy Kiger Shreve
Shush, shush, shush. The cross-country skis slip easily through the deeply-grooved tracks on the edge of the trail, and all I hear as I glide along is that momentary brush of the blade against the hard pack snow. When we stop, it is silent.The trees looming over us stoop like old men under heavy burdens. The snowfall has been heavy this year, even in low-lying areas on the mountains, and the winter’s weight has settled. Here at Manning Park in British Columbia, the trails are well packed from constant grooming. Every now and then, I hear the creak of a branch and a tuft of powder falls to the ground.
I take a moment to look around, adjusting my daypack and sipping water from my water bottle. It’s my first cross country ski outing of the year, and I can feel the day’s motion in my hips, back and shoulders even on this low-impact trail. After a few hours, and a couple of falls, I’ve loosened up and even managed to break a sweat.
I think about taking a layer off, but decide that it’s probably not necessary. The thermometer was at 7 degrees Fahrenheit when we hit the trail but, as the sun has dropped, so has the temperature.
My hair is frozen and has now turned platinum from my breath catching and solidifying in the cold air. My friend laughs and snags a photograph when she turns and sees my crystalline locks.
I grab my poles from the adjacent snow bank and suggest we keep moving so we can stay warm as we work our way back along the gently sloping path. The highly aerobic gliding movement raises our heartbeats and temperatures quickly as we move along.
Usually, we hit Mt. Baker for our afternoon jaunts, but the lure of new snow and a chance to explore Canada has brought my friend and me a little farther north into the Northern Cascades. It’s a little bit of a drive from the Bellingham-area, but totally doable for a day trip if you get up early enough.
I learned to ski in Montana, where it was either learn a winter sport or stay holed up for the duration of the snow season. It’s served me well here in the Pacific Northwest. Since then, I’ve tried to infect as many of my friends as I can with the joy of this touring sport.
For the most part, I’ve succeeded, and managed to gather a nice network of recreational skiers who hit the trails out of a love for the time spent communing with nature and the desire for a winter sport that doesn’t carry quite so much of an adrenaline rush. From Highway 20 to Manning Park and beyond, we’ve found the Northern Cascades to be the perfect place to play, especially this winter season.
According to Fairhaven Bike & Ski, a local rental hub for all things cross-country, we’re not the only ones who’ve found the conditions ideal to get a little Nordic exercise in. They reported that the demand is high for the sport this season. “We’ve had a busy rental season this year,” said sales manager Wesley O’Neill. “The stretches of no new snow have been great for skiers to get out in the tracks.”
It’s true in Canada. The trails at Manning are perfect and fast for our tour. The classic skis glide easily, and it’s not so icy as not to be enjoyable. We hit the Beaver Pond Trail first, a 5K loop that takes us deep into the winter wilderness surrounding the resort. “It’s a great beginner trail,” said Manning Park Nordic instructor Stephanie Blue. “It’s great for a casual ski and a nice wander through the woods.”
Gail Garmin, the Nooksack Nordic Club’s Salmon Ridge coordinator agreed. “Manning Park’s a great place for beginners or people who want to take a day or overnight trip,” she said. “It’s pretty flat and there’s a lot of good terrain there. It’s a great place to learn.” The full-service resort (complete with cabins, restaurant and Loon Lagoon) boasts 30 kilometers (18 miles) of groomed trails and over 180 kilometers (111 miles) of backcountry trails and trails that are suitable for beginners to the most adventurous of the Nordic crowd. Rentals and guided tours are available, and there are warming huts for skiers who want to take a break en route. “There’s a free shuttle to our higher trails and there’s usually pretty primo conditions up there,” Blue said.
Those primo conditions have found their way to Whatcom County as well this season, with the record snowfall giving the low-elevation Salmon Ridge Sno Park a most welcome snow cover for the season, and allowing skiers to stay close to home. “The weather has been fantastic,” said John Hauter, Fairhaven Bike & Ski owner. “There’s lots of snow at Salmon Ridge.” Hauter said the shop has completely rented out their inventory several times this season.
“It’s been amazing. We’ve seen a huge increase in people coming out for cross-country skiing,” Garmin said. The club maintains and grooms the 15 miles (24 kilometers) cross country trail systems at Salmon Ridge Sno Park and nearby areas on Mt. Baker Highway.
Visitors to Manning Park need to purchase a trail pass at the Nordic center office. Sno Park permits are required for the Salmon Ridge Sno Park and Baker Lake on Highway 20. Visit manningparkresort.com or nooksacknordicskiclub.com for more info on trails and trail conditions.
Brandy Kiger is a photojournalist and outdoor enthusiast. An avid skier, hiker, kayaker and runner, she spends as little time indoors as possible. Visit her at brandykiger.com.X
Brandy Shreve is a photojournalist and outdoor enthusiast. An avid skier, hiker, kayaker and runner, she spends as little time indoors as possible.