Lac La Biche Ski Magic
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Archer is ready to go skiing. He’s so excited his body is shaking. As he moves from one to the other of our group, he nudges us, looking at us imploringly, as if to say, “Are you ready now? Are you ready now?”
His human companion, Jaclyn Denman, patiently gets her skis on and gets him clipped on to her harness. Here in Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, as in all provincial and federal parks of course, dogs are required to be kept on leash. But Archer doesn’t mind. With a long lead and eight kilometres of trail to pull Jaclyn along, he is one happy dog, and his excitement is infectious.
You'll find solitude cross-country skiing on the lake.
Although you can still see the urban centre of Lac La Biche in the distance if you squint carefully, SWCPP is separated from the daily bustle of Lac La Biche. Once you cross the causeway to the island, you are disconnected both literally and figuratively. No traffic, few if any people, and absolute quiet. It’s the perfect place to discover the meditative potential of Nordic skiing. Skis gliding along snow, forest spreading out along lake, mind sailing on ahead.
Unlike more action-packed, adrenalin-charged downhill sports, skiing cross-country is usually slower, flatter and quieter. If that sounds like a knock, it’s not. Clip in and take a few strides along the trails at Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, and your cares quickly shed away. The rhythm of it - arms and legs alternating in the push-stride of classic skiing - focuses attention on the moment. The landscape of lakes and islands, and the sheer vast expanses of white, make it easy to empty the mind of distraction.
The cabins along the lake provide a place to warm up after a day of Nordic skiing.
With Archer in the lead, though, there are also enough humourous distractions to keep things light and fun. As Jaclyn and the rest of our group enjoy the time together out on the trails, Archer gives the occasional tug that leaves Jaclyn lurching, and sometimes taking a powder in the fresh snow that lines the sides of the groomed trails.
After a couple hours’ ski, we stop in one of the 10 cabins overlooking the lake. Inside the cabin it’s cozy and warm, with full dining space, kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms and living space, and soon everyone is stripping layers, laying food and hot drinks out onto the table and settling into big, cushy armchairs.
The cabins are set along the lake and provide beautiful views.
Open year-round, these cabins offer cross-country skiing right from your doorstep for only $100/night during the winter. Up to eight people can sleep in one cabin (and dogs are welcome).
Too soon for a nap, but just soon enough to beat the creeping lethargy that can come on after a picnic lunch in a warm cabin, Archer is ready to go again.
For the afternoon, we decide to head to Shaw Lake, located in Lakeland Provincial Park (about 30 minutes east of Lac La Biche) for a bit more challenge. With 30 kilometres of groomed lanes that dip, turn and meander up hills and down, these trails are a local favourite, says Brian Deheer, vice-president of the Lac La Biche Ski Club. At the end of Shaw Lake, stocked with firewood, is a chalet offering a mid-ski warm-up point.
One of the benefits of meditation and skiing alike is the feeling of wakefulness that can infuse you with energy and enthusiasm. Fresh off the trail, it’s natural to feel an increased desire to socialize and celebrate life, and this is the root of apres-ski.
Fat Unicorn Brewing celebrates its Russian heritage with a tasty Russian-style stout and other interesting beers.
With its burnished wood decor and large, bright windows, walking into Fat Unicorn Brewing Co.’s newly opened bar and restaurant feels like a roomier version of the Nordic cabins, only with fresh-brewed craft beer on tap. Drawing on his Russian heritage, owner Paul Reutov brews fine beers in several styles, the most popular of which are their Amber Ale and Dirty Blonde Lager, but there is also a fine Imperial Stout in the Russian style for the beer connoisseur’s searching palate. (Pairs well with the Siberian dumplings, an FU Brewing specialty.)
With a fine meal and some beer sampling, the tired satisfaction of a good day’s skiing sinks in. Even Archer is ready to settle… for now.
When You Go
Toques off to friends at the Lac La Biche Nordic Ski Club, out maintaining the trails; keepers of the Lac La Biche cross country ski magic. Consider a membership or make a donation to support their work as they groom some of the best trails in Northeast Alberta.
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Learn more about what Northern Alberta has in store for you this winter by visiting our #SkiNorthAB page, where more stories and videos will be coming out all season long.