We have some very hardy skiers in Whitehorse who think nothing of skiing in the minus 30s and will even venture out at minus 40 or colder. But, generally, cross-country skiers lose interest when it’s below minus 20.
The two biggest problems that I find with skiing in extreme cold are the lack of glide and the problem of regulating body temperature so you don’t overheat. Skiing on cold snow is like skiing on sand, so you lose the enjoyment of the glide. And the lack of glide increases the amount of work for each stride, so you tend to get hot and then sweaty, and then you have problems dealing with the minus 40 temperature.
But it’s so nice to get outside, even for a short time, no matter how cold it is. I guess you can just go for a walk on the Millennium Trail, but it is more interesting to explore the trails on snowshoes and look for tracks and other signs of wildlife activity. And snowshoeing is no more difficult than walking, once you are used to the idea of something strapped to your feet.
Although I have done a little snowshoeing over the years, I finally came to the realization last year, during our prolonged cold spell, that snowshoes have a place in the skier’s equipment list.
Snowshoeing has always been allowed on the Mount Mac trails, but it is becoming more enticing because of the development of single-track mountain-bike trails. The single tracks are very appealing to snowshoers because they are narrow and traverse some challenging terrain.
This year, it will be easier to find the snowshoe routes because small signs have been added to guide you along the way. Here are just a couple of sample routes for your enjoyment.
I like to head out of the chalet and head north onto Olympic Trail. For a really short but interesting half-kilometre outing, you could follow the Twisted Adventure Trail that starts at Olympic and winds through the stunted, twisted pines to an excellent viewpoint looking over the mayhem of Two Mile Hill.
For the longer version, I continue on Olympic to the Ramp and then look for the signs for Rocky Canyon Trail or follow the “snowshoe signs”. From this point, it’s a gentle climb that takes me across the World Cup 5K and then the 7.5K.
After crossing the 7.5K, the trail levels out and then winds its way through the Rocky Canyon. There are impressive rock walls and some big (by Yukon standards) spruce and birch to admire as you pick your way along the trail.
The trail descends to meet the World Cup 10K. I’m always careful, here, to watch for skiers flying down the S Bends. However, if it’s minus 30 or minus 40, I’d only expect to see slow motion, frost-coated apparitions coasting down those hairy turns.
At minus 40 I think I’m more likely to see a moose browsing on the willows, at this point.
I take a right and follow the 10K to the KK Connector, where it’s another right and then follow the signs back to the chalet. That takes about an hour, which is just about right when it’s really cold.
For longer adventures, it’s possible to use the Sarah Steele trails and then tie into the Bouncing Bunny single track and even the 24 Hours of Light trail. They are marked on the ski trail map. The longer routes are recommended only for very fit, experienced snowshoers.
The key to enjoying the snowshoe outing is pacing.
You can travel at a pace that keeps you from sweating. You can dress to keep warm by wearing winter-weight boots and big mitts, but you also need to wear layers that can be adjusted as you warm up or cool down. You can speed up the pace to warm up, or go slower if you’re getting overheated.
I like to use ski poles when snowshoeing, to exercise the poling muscles and for help on the uphills. But I prefer the old-styled loop straps so that I can get them over the bigger mitts that I use at minus 40.
If I’m going for any longer than a half-hour, I take water and snacks. In extreme cold, there’s a lot of moisture lost through breathing so it’s important to keep replacing that moisture, even if you don’t feel very thirsty.
I can’t wait for the next cold spell. I’ll give my skis a rest and explore the single tracks that I haven’t seen since the last mountain-bike ride in October.
Mike Gladish is the manager of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club. Contact him at info@xcskiwhitehorse or 668-4477. Or you can visit the website at www.xcskiwhitehorse.ca.