Cross-country skiing for beginners in Ontario
Besides offering a fantastic workout, cross-country skiing (also known as Nordic skiing) allows you to explore the winter woods while developing a new skill.
And once you become proficient at it, cross-country skiing provides the sensation of flying through a snowy landscape on winged feet.
Ontario has some of the best cross-country skiing opportunities in all of Canada, with a season that usually runs from early December through late March.
Three styles of cross-country skiing
- the classic technique of cross-country skiing employs a diagonal stride pattern of poling and gliding that matches a jogger’s form and requires excellent balance and timing for the greatest efficiency
- classic skis are designed with a grip component in the base: either a rub-on wax that’s selected to match the snow temperature or a serrated fish scale pattern or carpet-like skin on the ski base that provides no-fuss grip regardless of snow conditions (the former offers the best performance while the latter is the type of ski usually favoured by beginners and rental shops)
- classic skis work best on trails with tracks for the skis groomed into compacted snow, but they’ll also work in ungroomed conditions
- classic ski poles are measured from the ground to the skier’s armpits
- skate skiing is a highly aerobic activity that parallels the body mechanics of ice skating, only with the addition of poling to maximize efficiency
- skate skis are slightly shorter than classic skis and are meant to glide, without the grip wax, fish scale or skin bases of classic skis
- skate skiing poles are longer, generally measured from the ground to the skier’s nose
- ski sizing for both classic and skate is determined by the user’s height and weight; it’s best to consult a professional to determine the proper length and stiffness or flex of ski for your body type and intended use
- renting is a great way to try different brands and styles
- backcountry touring is a niche of Nordic skiing that’s growing increasingly popular; these skis are wider, shorter and designed for off-trail use in soft snow
- backcountry skis give you the freedom to ski almost anywhere there’s snow, without the need for groomed tracks
- these skis almost always feature fish scale-grip bases and can be equipped with removable skins for additional grip while climbing steeper slopes because backcountry terrain can range from flat to hilly
- while natural athletes may pick up the techniques of classic and skate skiing by emulating experienced skiers and practicing by trial and error, all beginners will benefit from lessons from an experienced instructor to shorten the learning curve and develop good technique
- as a first-timer, you’ll also likely want to rent cross-country ski gear before investing in your own equipment
Beginner-friendly cross-country ski trails in Northern and Central Ontario
Walden Cross Country, Sudbury
Walden Cross Country not only maintains some of Sudbury’s finest Nordic ski trails, but the club also offers expert instruction for beginners, including children and adults, with custom packages for individuals, couples and groups.
Walden offers 23 kilometres of groomed classic and skate ski trails from its headquarters on Highway 55 in Naughton, just west of downtown Sudbury.
- most lessons take place on a gentle three-kilometre circuit that’s also lit for night skiing
- both classic and skate ski rentals are available on-site, and the club offers waxing clinics and instructor training programs for more advanced skiers
- you’ll find plenty of trail options at Walden Cross Country to keep you busy once you’ve taken a lesson or two, then you may wish to explore some of Sudbury’s other cross-country ski trails, including Kivi Park, a 480-acre (194-hectare) wilderness area just south of Highway 17 that also provides rentals
- take a break from skiing and enjoy a hand-crafted coffee at Kuppajo Espresso Bar, a Sudbury cafe featuring local art
- Apollo Restaurant is a classic Sudbury tavern serving pub fare and a selection of local microbrews
- get a sense of Sudbury’s history by booking a spacious room at Legacy Suites
Hiawatha Highlands, Sault Ste. Marie
Is it any wonder there are so many expert cross-country skiers in Sault Ste. Marie?
Hiawatha Highlands offers a world-class network of trails barely 10 minutes from the city centre, with excellent options for beginners.
- rentals are available on-site, as well as custom classic and skate ski instruction with CANSI-certified instructors to meet your schedule and aspirations, whether you wish to learn as an individual, with a friend or group, or introduce your kids to Nordic skiing
- once you’ve got some training, check out the Pinder Trails, featuring 10 kilometres of forested paths with gentle grades
- Hiawatha also offers a two-kilometre lighted trail for night skiing
- Sault Ste. Marie’s Quattro Hotel offers you the good night’s rest and calorie count you’ll need, with comfortable rooms and a restaurant that serves homemade wood-fired pizza
- get energized for a day on the trails at The Breakfast Pig, a favourite eatery in downtown Sault Ste. Marie
- Outspoken Brewing and Northern Superior are two microbreweries serving up locally-inspired beer and pub fare
Lappe Nordic, Thunder Bay
The enthusiasm for winter at Lappe Nordic is palpable, capturing the distinctive northern vibe of Thunder Bay.
It’s no surprise this vibrant ski club with a comfortable chalet and 13.5 kilometres of carefully groomed trails on Kam Current Road, 20 minutes from downtown Thunder Bay, offers some of the best cross-country ski instruction in the province.
- each Saturday in December and January features kids and adults “Try-it” sessions, focused on small-group, beginner-friendly instruction for both classic and skate skiing techniques
- rentals are available on-site
- once you’ve developed the basics, you can progress to specific techniques and training sessions
- Lappe offers one of the longest lighted cross-country ski trails in the province, with 6.5 kilometres available for night skiing
- the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel and Suites in downtown Thunder Bay has great views of the city’s historic harbour and iconic Sleeping Giant skyline
- for healthy and trendy vegetarian and vegan fare, check out Bonobo’s Foods
- you’ll find locally brewed Sleeping Giant Brewing Company beer served in many Thunder Bay restaurants, as well as at the brewery’s own taproom in the heart of downtown
Bellevue Valley Lodge, Goulais River
If you’re looking to learn the techniques of backcountry skiing, Bellevue Valley Lodge is a small, family-run chalet just north of Sault Ste. Marie. They offer a great introduction to backcountry skiing in wilderness terrain for those with a solid background in classic skiing.
Owners and hosts Robin MacIntyre and Enn Poldmaa have shaped a backcountry ski culture in the snowy Algoma hills.
While their focus is often downhill powder skiing, the massive area offers great options for more mellow ski touring as well, and Poldmaa offers guided backcountry ski tours catering to beginners and novices.
- a limited number of rental backcountry skis and boots are available for guests to use
- an increasingly diverse population has kickstarted a vibrant dining scene in Sault Ste. Marie: check out Georgie’s Shawarma and Tandoori Gardan for authentic Syrian and South Asian cuisine, respectively, both located in the downtown core
- Bellevue Valley Lodge offers wonderful ski-in, ski-out accommodations, but you’ll have to book early to secure a suite in the chalet
- for last-minute accommodations, check out Glenview Cottages on Highway 17, just north of Sault Ste. Marie
Arrowhead Provincial Park, Huntsville
This wildly popular wintertime park located just north of Huntsville on Highway 11 is home to the Arrowhead Nordic Ski Club, one of Ontario’s most vibrant groups of cross-country ski enthusiasts.
The club takes advantage of Arrowhead’s 33-kilometre network of perfectly groomed cross-country ski trails to deliver instruction for both classic and skate techniques for all levels of skiers.
- Arrowhead Nordic offers private lessons for beginners, as well as a popular Ski For Fitness program that will help you develop efficient techniques; courses are offered throughout the winter
- visit Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville for an excellent selection of rental cross-country ski equipment
- stay close to nature (and within a short drive of Arrowhead Provincial Park) at Limberlost Forest, which features a variety of cabins and cottages to suit the needs of larger groups and families, as well as on-site cross-country ski and snowshoe trails
- Farmer’s Daughter is a popular butcher and bakery on Highway 60 that offers on-site dining, with everything from homemade baked goods and coffee to charcuterie boards and meals-to-go
Scenic Caves Nature Adventures, Collingwood
It’s no surprise Ontario’s favourite winter destination is also a great place to learn how to cross-country ski.
Collingwood’s Scenic Caves Nature Adventures maintains 27 kilometres of groomed trails for classic and skate skiing, traversing the crest of the Niagara Escarpment with spectacular views of Lake Huron and a 200-year-old forest.
- rentals are available on-site and accredited instructors offer custom packages for individuals, couples and groups of up to four skiers
- a great place to learn the basics of cross-country skiing, you can start with a morning lesson and set off exploring and practicing your new skills in the afternoon
- Highlands Nordic in nearby Duntroon offers 25 kilometres of cross-country ski trails and an impressive lodge, with ski rentals and instruction also available
- there’s no shortage of places to stay and eat in Collingwood: try the VanderMarck Boutique Hotel for a unique suite in a century-old home in the heart of downtown
- the Northwinds Brewhouse and Kitchen offers locally brewed beer and pub fare, the Tremont Cafe offers European-style dining and Fish and Sips is the place to go for fish and chips
Last updated: December 13, 2023