An Adrenaline Gateway
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Alberta’s north is the perfect winter wonderland setting for all kinds of snowy outdoor recreation: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, sledding, and it's home to seven ski hills! Follow along with us and don’t forget to tag #SkiNorthAB to tell us what you’ve discovered.
Hinton opens the gates to adventure
HINTON, AB - From the Athabasca Lookout in William A. Switzer Provincial Park near Hinton, sun emblazons the Rockies pink and gold, and hastens on a full day of adventure for Kayla Watson and Ben Shuttleworth.
The viewpoint is a steep, short climb and you have to get an early start, but the reward is worth it. The couple’s legs are warmed up now and ready for some skiing, and the Hinton Nordic Centre’s groomed trails are just a couple kilometres back down the gravel access road from the Lookout trailhead.
The pair have a busy day ahead and this is just the beginning. Since meeting while working together on a cruise ship in 2016, the two have traveled extensively together. But when it came time to set down roots, Watson convinced the UK native Shuttleworth to return to her hometown in Hinton, AB.
Like a lesser-known version of Canmore, Hinton is positioned at the gateway to the Rockies. While many just drive through on their way to Jasper, others like Watson and Shuttleworth have discovered a wealth of outdoor opportunity right out their own backyard.
“My first time seeing the mountains coming up from Edmonton, it’s quite picturesque,” Shuttleworth says. “My first impression was just ‘wow.’”
“It’s such a hidden gem” says Watson, of her hometown. “There’s just so much here - outdoor activities, restaurants, hotels, there are just so many options. We’ve been back here for over a year, and there’s still so many hikes and things I haven’t gotten to yet.
Take the Nordic centre, which was recently upgraded to meet elite level criteria for hosting national and international competitions, while still accommodating all levels of skiers. Watson and Shuttleworth pass a local elementary school group, out for a morning of learning to ski, and then climb winding turns among spruce and pine before racing to a photo finish back down at the lodge.
Hinton holds its own when it comes to well-developed and maintained winter trails. Next to the Nordic centre the community-built Hinton Bike Park is easily among the town’s best attractions, drawing riders from around the region. A 10-minute ride up the hill from Vicious Cycle, the local bike shop, and the two adventurers are bombing flow track on well packed, purpose-built trail.
Yet more trail extends along the upper bench through the Happy Creek trail system and the Beaver Boardwalk. In summer the marshes are only navigable by boardwalk or by the trails ringing the upper banks, due to the beaver activity (thus the name). In winter, you can explore the marshland and frozen lake by snowshoe, skirting cattails and marshes, and the snowbanks pushed up around the pond hockey clearings.
After a full day of snowshoeing, skiing, hiking and fat biking, Watson and Shuttleworth wind it down with brews and poutine at Folding Mountain Brewing. Late afternoon sun floods the room through the big west-facing windows, looking off towards the Rockies once again.
There’s a feeling here, at the gateway to the mountains, of being always on the precipice of a new adventure. The high lounge chairs at Folding Mountain are a great place to drink it all in (pun intended).
“I never get used to the views,” says Shuttleworth, the UK import. “Coming from a different perspective, you can really admire where you are and what you get to do.”