Before I had kids, I got out for winter rides pretty regularly. In particular, there were two years in a row when I got out there a lot. I had a good mtb bike for it, outfitted with fat, knobby tires, and tons of warm riding gear to keep the chill out. That said, I don’t want to make myself sound like I was set to run the Iditarod, cause I’d really only go out if it was -15 or warmer.

In general, I enjoyed it. I’d connect with other winter riders – we’d hop on the snowy trailers for 2 hours or so and then converge back on DaCapo for coffee and pizza. In many ways I miss it. But now, with less free time on my hands I just don’t get out there anymore. I’ve deferred back to the indoor trainer in the basement. Such is life. The pain cave in the basement isn’t so bad though, as long as you set yourself up properly with a fan, a TV, and a good menu of training videos and movies to watch or music to listen to. The other key I’ve found is to keep the sessions short. No more 2-3 hour spins in on the stationary bike for me – just honest, hard, short efforts for no longer than an hour. I’ll even jump on for as little as 30 mins, if I feel up to really hammering. It hurts like hell, but it’s the kind of hurt we cyclist crave.

I used to look at the off-season as a chance to improve my fitness – to make gains, but now I really just look at it as a time to do what you need to just stay fit and not lose everything you’ve built during the race season. With that in mind, there is less pressure, with no harm in taking a week off here and there, or in cross-training to keep things fun. Recently, in an effort to get outside, I pulled out the cross-country skis. We’ve had tons of snow, making it a great year for it. So far, I’ve only been out 5 times, but I hope to find the opportunity to get on a more regular basis. It’s an incredible workout, and like my short sessions on the bike trainer in the basement, I can burn myself out on the skis in 45-60 mins no problem, making it a much shorter outdoor activity alternative to those long winter rides I used to go on.

All in, I’m finding XC skiing a great way to mix it up in the off-season, and to get my butt outside, even in the coldest weather. Last weekend, I was out in -29 and had no problem staying warm, getting a great workout in and having a good time.

If you’re living in the Edmonton area, and looking to give XC skiing a try, I can recommend the following ski areas:

Goldbar and Goldstick in the Capilano park areas. These areas offer a well-tracked course with lots of hills and turns. It’s pretty advanced, but fun. Goldbar is also lit for night skiing until 11pm making it a great mid-week option.

Riverside Golf Course is a truly beautiful area to ski in, peaceful, well-treed and sheltered. It’s less advanced and would cater more to the novice skier. No lights here, so best to be sure you have enough daylight before you head out.

Hawerlack Park is a great little loop around the lake, that’s nice and flat with easy turns making it a really good track to start on for the beginner skier and for working on your glide. There are some lights here, so night skiing is ‘possible’. The downside is it’s a short track loop, and it’s pretty wide-open and can be windy.

Link here for the City of Edmonton XC Skiing info site.

If you have any other XC ski locations to suggest in either the Edmonton or Calgary area, please let us know.