Groomed trails await skiers in Cold Lake Provincial Park

There are groomed ski trails again in Cold Lake Provincial Park.

Volunteers affiliated with the Bonnyville Nordic Ski Club (BNSC) have filled the province’s training requirements and the club has satisfied the requisite insurance requirements. As of January 16, skiers can enjoy the beauty of the park all winter long.

Cold Lake Provincial Park joins Moose Lake Provincial Park, Bonnyville Beach, Cold Lake Golf and Winter Club, Hamilton House, Jessie Lake, and Muriel Lake M.D. Park as prime areas for local skiers. 

Other nearby opportunities are offered through the Lakeland Cross Country Ski Club in St. Paul, including St. Paul Golf Course and Westcove Recreation Area.

The Alberta government stopped grooming trails in the provincial parks a dozen years ago as a cost-saving measure. Local skier Les Cote set track on Long Bay in the meantime, and this year he and two other volunteers—Howard Polinsky and Cam McLeod—got the green light to maintain ski track in the park’s extensive trail system.

“It’s a beautiful place to ski,” Cote said. “You’ve got trees, you’ve got hills, you’ve got lots of protection from the wind. And it’s just gorgeous.”

“And so the desire has always been to use these facilities a little more in the wintertime by setting tracks. There’s a lot of skiers around, so we felt it was important for us to work toward gaining access and help with the community and help out other skiers. And help out ourselves as well, give us a good place to ski.”

The process involves two snowmobiles. One grooms the trails by evening out the surface, while the other sets the parallel tracks used in classic-style skiing.

The wide groomed trails are suitable for skate-skiing or for people to walk along, as long as they are careful not to damage the set ski tracks. Similarly, the volunteers ask sledders on Long Bay to respect the ski trails—it’s okay if you have to cross them, as long as you don’t travel along them and destroy lengths of track.

The edges of the bay are a pleasant place to ski, but the park’s wooded trails offer a variety of scenery and different levels of challenge for skiers. In all, there are over 30 kilometres of ski tracks, with almost half of them inside the park.

Cote estimates that 75 per cent of the trails would be rated as easy, and another 15 or 20 percent intermediate. Five per cent would be considered difficult.

“Pretty good hills with trees at the bottom,” Polinsky said, adding “there are picture opportunities when you’re with other guys.” 

He said the park trails add scenery and shelter to the skiing experience. So far, the response from local skiers has been enthusiastic. “Nothing but accolades,” Polinksy said.

Cote has heard the same. “One guy said it’s the best skiing he’s done in the park in 40 years. He just really enjoyed it,” he said.

A labour of love: volunteers put in hours every week to groom the region’s ski trails. JEFF GAYE