Story by Jody Robbins
CANMORE, ALBERTA — Let’s say you’re a city dweller of average health. You’re an outdoors enthusiast for sure, but if really pressed, you prefer shopping for winter apparel rather than plunging into the chilly activities that warrant the fashions. Suppose also, you’re somewhat obsessed with crossing things off your bucket list and being a new year, you want to get a leg up on those many resolutions you’re sure you’ll achieve in 2013. And when skate skiing is at the top of that list, there’s only one thing for a gal to do: visit the Canmore Nordic Centre, of course!
Skate skiing is trendy, fast and fun. Because of this, it has surged in popularity over the past 10 years. Fortunately, rentals, instructors and more than 100 kilometres of trails are available at the Nordic Centre, a provincial park that was one of the venues for the 1988 Winter Olympics.
With this type of skiing, the warmer the weather the better, but you don’t want to be skiing on mashed potatoes, either. Canmore resident Amy Gagnon learned how to skate ski in minus-20 Celsius degrees (minus-4 Fahrenheit) and hated it, but that all turned around when she finally slid into a warm day (as in hovering around freezing) in the Rocky Mountains. “I felt like a super hero. My cheeks hurt from grinning,” she admits.
Slip Sliding Away on Skate Skis in Canmore
Now I’m not a ripped athlete like Gagnon. I’m more of an après-ski type, with a penchant for learning things the hard way. So while I shouldn’t be surprised to discover that skate skiing isn’t as easy as it appears, I’m still dumbfounded.
I wonder just what I’ve gotten myself into as I implant my face upon the snowy ground for the umpteemth time. John Gallagher, my instructor and manager of Trail Sports, reminds me skate skiing isn’t a sport you can just jump into.
“It’s easier to pick up for somebody who already has the balance from classic skiing. But figure skaters and alpine skiers don’t usually have a problem with it either,” he says.
As I’m neither a former figure skater nor much of an alpine skier, I don’t have much to go on. I would’ve been better off starting with a classic skiing lesson, but since I’m all geared up, we make the best of it.
We practice poling twice while balancing on one ski. I lose the poles and tap the heels of my boots together — quite a feat when one of those boots isn’t touching the ground and the other is sliding wildly out of control. Most importantly, I learn how to stop. Not just any old snow plough will do. You’ve got to keep your bum tucked in and position one ski outside the track.
Despite a decade of ballet lessons (albeit more than 20 years ago), I’m frustrated that picking this up isn’t happening as quickly as I expected. It’s hard work and very deceptive — one doesn’t glide as effortlessly as you might think. Yet teems of people (half of them Olympians, I’m sure) gain graceful momentum as they propel themselves across these woods in a motion similar to what biathletes use in the Winter Games.
I’m focused, concentrating my gaze on the frozen ground until Gallagher tells me to look up.
“We have different scenery than in Calgary, you know,” he reminds me.
When I muster the courage to take a glance, I’m rewarded with a stunning view of the Three Sisters Mountain Range. It’s a crisp, clear day and the white of the snow-capped peaks contrast brilliantly against the turquoise sky.
I’ve been concentrating so hard on grasping the technique of skate skiing, I forget to have fun and enjoy the beauty right in front of me. The Nordic Centre is nestled along one of the most stunning spots in the Bow Valley corridor. Besides Three Sisters, Ha-Ling and the Rundle Mountain range all tower above me.
Encouragingly, Gallagher tells me I’ve taken to skate skiing much quicker than the other writer from Toronto, who was giving it a go the previous week.
After we’re finished, my weary legs take me into the day lodge, where I quickly tick off “try skate skiing” from my list. There was never a more satisfying check mark made.
More About the Canmore Nordic Centre
Location: 1988 Olympic Way, Canmore, Alberta (see map below)
Rates:$20 for a two-hour skate ski rental, $25 for a two-hour classic ski rental, $6-$10 for a day pass; free for kids under 6 years old.