Building the Nordic North

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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. 

Ski scene grows community in Bonnyville 

BONNYVILLE, AB - Cresting the rise as it opens onto Muriel Lake Lookout, and the endless view of snow-covered lake and prairie beyond, Trevor and Amy Schaffrick break into smiles. 

The rare satisfaction of skiing gradually uphill over several kilometres, then reaching your objective and being rewarded by a view the likes of this is one which has to be experienced to be truly appreciated. It’s a hard feeling to re-create, reserved for those who make the journey (there is literally no other way to get there in winter).

That feeling is something Les and Sarah Parsons know intimately. When you’ve lived the Nordic lifestyle as long as they have, you see the opportunity in every trail and clearing, and every new community. 

In Bonnyville, cross-country skiing is a quiet, often solitary activity. Folks like Mitch Sylvestre, of Sylvestre’s Source for Sports, have long been clearing their own trails and enjoying the solitude of a winter glide. 

“We are lucky here, we have some really good trails,” Sylvestre says. “I’ve skied just about every day this year.” 

Through his shop, Sylvestre has been doing his part to encourage outdoor activity since he first opened in the late 1970s at the age of 21. 

When the Parsons came to town, they saw a way to build on that. For Les, it was an extension of the mission he’s lived most of his life: growing the Alberta Nordic community and engaging more people in healthy, active, outdoor pursuits. 

Bonnyville AB Cross Country skiing Muriel Lake Campground #SkiNorthAB
Photographer: Paul Lavoie
Les Parsons coaching at Muriel Lake MD Campground near Bonnyville.

Les Parsons is a skier and a former coach to Olympians Beckie Scott, Alex Harvey and other national team skiers. He’s also spent over 20 years building the grassroots level across Alberta, in Vermilion, Camrose and Canmore, among other places—all ports of call on a growing list of Alberta’s Nordic destinations, along with Bonnyville.

These days, he works with SpiritNorthXC, an initiative that engages indigenous youth in cross-country skiing. Together with his wife Sarah, they formed the Bonnyville Nordic Ski Club, to engage locals in skiing. It was actually Sarah, a passionate skier in her own right, who got the inspiration. 

Discover all the ways you can #SkiNorthAB

“It was one of the many nice days, when the grooming is great, the weather is awesome, you have good kick—you’ve matched your wax correctly—and it feels so perfect, almost too good to be true,” she recalls. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be so nice to help more people get out on skis and enjoy this?”

For Trevor and Amy Schaffrick, and their kids, getting onto the trails with Les and Sarah has helped reinvigorate their enthusiasm for winter. It’s an activity they can all do as a family, something to challenge them and keep them active throughout the season.

Bonnyville AB #SkiNorthAB Muriel Lake Campfire
Photographer: Paul Lavoie
The Shaffrick family enjoys s’mores at Muriel Lake Lookout near Bonnyville.

The same ethic that goes into sport building is evident across the Bonnyville region, in places like the newly opened Journey North Cider Co. Alberta’s newest cidery features a bright, spacious main floor taproom with a central hearth, creating a warm and inviting feel. 

Notes of apple, pear, blueberry, haskap berries and oak punctuate a flight of Journey North ciders, each different from the next. Paired with their signature charcuterie board, it’s the perfect spot for a Nordic apres. 

In the fledgling orchards behind the mill, the owner has plans to groom ski trails. In the last two years the cidery has planted over 2000 trees. “We’re breaking some ground here,” says Ryan Fieger, one of Journey North’s four partners. “We’re not sure what apples grow up here that will translate to good cider so we’re trying to grow whatever we can and experiment.”

Ryan Fieger teaches Trevor and Amy Schaffrick about cider fermentation at Bonnyville's Journey North.

You can feel the ripples from that spirit of innovation and community building across the region, and the community is just beginning to see the fruits of their labours. “For me, it’s getting a community of people together. There’s nothing better than a ski and a potluck meal with like-minded people who enjoy nature,” says Les.

In the end, though, it’s not about the rewards but the journey. “Our hope is just to build a community and connections with people of all ages; it’s family-friendly, affordable and it’s lifelong. There is no finish line.”

Bonnyville #SkiNorthAB skiing northern lights
Photographer: Paul Lavoie
Skiing under the northern lights in Bonnyville.

Check our #SkiNorthAB Experience Series for package deals and great rates on accommodations, dining and activities.

Make a circuit of it, with a loop including Vermilion, to the southeast, and Lac La Biche,  to the west. It’s the perfect nordic trifecta. 

Try a unique stay at Chatwin Lake B&B or Hamilton House B&B, two restful nature retreats among Bonnyville region’s array of local accommodation providers.


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