Ski Like an Olympian, Après Like a Vermilionaire
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Vermilion's Olympic heritage and provincial park setting make it a great place to enjoy a late season cross-country ski (or fatbike) and then après in style in this cool prairie town.
Vermilion, AB – The only sound to be heard as we glide along the cross-country ski trails at Vermilion Provincial Park is our own huffing and puffing, and the whoosh of our skis in perfectly set tracks.
We’re revelling in this utter mid-day silence because these moments don’t happen very often in our busy lives. But they’re in ready supply in this serene community, just two hours east of Edmonton, with a recreational oasis for Nordic skiing, fat biking or hiking on its doorstep.
The sky is a brilliant Alberta blue and the snow is powdery soft as we follow the trails through thick stands of aspens and spot chickadees, woodpeckers and nuthatch flitting among the leafless branches. This is wintry perfection; it's so calm here you'd almost forget there was an Olympic connection on these trails (more on that later).
After a couple of hours of winter bliss, we’re ready for something to warm us up, and head back into town to seek food and a hot drink at Hubkins Grill.
“I’ve just gotta go and rescue a customer,” restaurant manager Randy Riley says, excusing himself to help a nearby driver who’s stuck in the snow.
You can feel the ease of conversation among Riley, whose family has lived here for more than 100 years, and the folks stopping in for some homestyle cooking, and homemade pies.
The gregarious Riley calls Hubkins the “after-everything place.” It’s one of the places in Vermilion where locals catch up on local gossip and the weather, or to debate the best way to cook a cut of beef. (The shop sells locally butchered steaks, which you can pick out, and they’ll cook up in the kitchen.)
You can easily linger over a hot brisket or pulled pork sandwich with a selection of in-house made barbecue sauces and soups. If you’re in the mood for an all-day meal, check out the hearty Ukrainian breakfast.
Historic photos of the town are tacked to the wall, and there is a broad array of kitsch – a plaster pig wearing a necklace of faux sausages, old-timey snowshoes and hockey skates – and an original menu that shows a deluxe hamburger once cost 55 cents.
Hubkins is housed in the first building on a block where many of the old buildings have been restored. But old-fashioned flair is everywhere, right down to the angled parking on main street.
People come downtown after cross-country skiing at Vermilion, a day of work, or to warm up after sledding on kilometres of nearby trails.
It’s all about keeping it local, says Riley, a running theme for many businesses here. When you escape the urban noise for a less-populated mini-holiday, there are plenty of things to do on a weekend visit in Vermilion:
Cross-country skiing at Vermilion Provincial Park
Vermilion Provincial Park is home to the Vermilion Nordic Ski Club. Cool fact: This is where Olympian Beckie Scott grew up and trained to become Canada’s most successful cross-country skier, with 17 medals.
At the western edge of town, the park hugs the Vermilion River valley, with 15 kms of groomed cross-country ski trails. There’s a mix of easy loops and longer trails with downhills that will get your adrenaline pumping. You can easily spend a good part of the day here, gliding along the aspen and pine-tree lined trails, as the sun glints off the snow. Don’t ski? You can enjoy a nature walk or fat bike on the trails as well. Check out the trail map here.
The Red Brick
Homey vibes and delicious aromas waft in the air as you enter The Red Brick, a popular spot on main street for its daily home-made soups, baked goods, locally roasted specialty coffees and teas. The name of the restaurant is an homage to the town’s history, when the Vermilion Brick Company used clay from the river valley for brickmaking. You can grab-and-go or sit for a bit with comfort food, like grilled cheese and tomato soup, or other rotating specials of the day.
If indulging in a bit of retail therapy is your thing, you’ll want to head to Craig’s Cornerstone, not just a cool retro building, but also home to a collection of seven shops on Vermilion’s main drag. You’re sure to find a cozy new toque or sweater or your new favourite winter boots at one of the shops. The building also provides a homey setting for Upper Level Pottery and Art Gallery, which features a rotating roster of Alberta artists.
Burnt Rock Adventure Company
Housed in the former home of Vermilion’s old newspaper, The Standard, (now the Vermilion Voice in another location) Burnt Rock Adventure Company is the place to check out if you need anything from a new cozy plaid shirt or boots to cross-country ski gear or snowshoes. The shop also stocks bikes of all kinds and offers bike tune-ups.
Copper Cork Distillery
You won’t find a cheerier way to warm up than at Vermilion’s Copper Cork Distillery after a day of playing in the snow. Built on main street to look like a 1930s era prohibition speakeasy, it’s owned by four friends – Todd Ree, twin brothers Ron and Randy Fadden and Tom Hartwell. It has become a bona fide success story for their creatively crafted spirits, that use prairie grains and local fruit, like Saskatoon berries or rhubarb, infused with their house-made vodka and gin. “We try to stick with what’s familiar to prairie people,” says Ree, the master distiller. They also make whiskey flavoured beverages, coffee liqueurs and specialty cocktails.
Where to stay
You’ll be comfortable at Vermilion’s newest hotel, the Pomeroy Inn and Suites. Located on the edge of town, the hotel has standard king and queen rooms, plus suites with fully equipped kitchens. It’s dog-friendly, has a laundry room, as well as free wi-fi and breakfast is included in your stay. The Pomeroy and other local accommodations are offering special #SkiNorthAB rates - find details here.
All together, with uncrowded natural spaces, cool local places and a vibe that's unmatched, Vermilion makes for a cozy winter experience.
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