Sled, ski, shop, apres
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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.
A perfect Whitecourt weekend away
Past the chain link fence, the billboards advertising rig services, the machinery of industry, a little piece of the Laurentians lies tucked away along the Athabasca River valley in Whitecourt, AB. Willowy birch and lodgepole pine cast Robert Bateman shadows onto the snowy slopes. (Narrate this, if you like, in your best David Attenborough voice.)
It’s such a pastoral woodland scene you can almost imagine birds singing, flutes playing and doe-eyed deer poking their heads out from behind trees, until Kristy Tuts and Petra Pohankova carve through, gleefully tearing up the canvas.
This is Eastlink Park, a community ski hill that until recently didn’t command much attention. Quietly over the last two years, though, the non-profit ownership has expanded terrain along the gentle slopes of the valley, weaving through the mixed-growth forest.
“It used to be only that magic carpet, that was pretty much it,” Tuts recalls. “They’ve opened up that whole other area, which makes a humongous difference. “There’s more diverse terrain to ski, even in the terrain park they added more features so it entertains the kids longer,” She says, surveying the layout from the crackling fire at the top of the new t-bar. “And they opened up the trees more so you can go through the trees. Having that feature right in our backyard is amazing!”
The two women are out on a little bit of a local getaway, mixing it up with some skiing, shopping and sledding over a couple days in town. With the new t-bar and expanded terrain giving the hill a whole new feel, there’s good reason to make the trip out to Whitecourt for a weekend, or a day trip, to get those mountain legs under you. The glades are like few you’ll find in Western Canada - on the beginner to intermediate side, with undulating hills and wider spacing between trees to hone those jedi skills.
Of course, it wasn’t skiing that put Whitecourt on the map. Guinness World Record snowmobile parades and extreme sledding stunts did that. The Snowmobile Invasion has long been Whitecourt’s claim to fame, and the Whitecourt Trailblazers’ snowmobile rally remains the town’s biggest annual draw for good reason.
Early next morning Tuts and Pohankova are out catching first tracks just minutes from town. From the outskirts of Centennial Park, they climb the winding Centennial Trail up to a lookout above town, before following the Silver Summit Trail north, eventually opening onto the McLeod River for some wide, banking turns.
This is just a taste of the extensive trails maintained by the large, active Trailblazers club. The volunteer group maintains over 400 kilometres of trails, including a large section of Alberta’s Golden Triangle, a snowmobiling loop that connects from Whitecourt to Edson, Fox Creek and Swan Hills.
When it’s time to ease off the throttle, the women head back to town for some retail therapy—which, in Whitecourt, is a real thing. No big box outlets, no traffic, no stress: shopping here means popping into Beaver Creek General Store, or White Wall Handmade. Think locally-made birdhouses, fresh handmade fudge and crafted goods and apparel from Alberta designers.
At every turn, whether on sleds, skis, skates or street, there’s a feeling of community underpinning a Whitecourt escape, and a sense of ease.
WHEN YOU GO
- Check our #SkiNorthAB Experience Series for package deals and great rates on hotels, dining and activities.
- From the Microtel Whitecourt or the Days Inn, you can sled almost from your door.
- McCully MotorSports rents snowmobiles and offers guided tours to help you get to know the legendary Whitecourt trail network.