Atikokan, 200km west of Thunder Bay, is home to the Beaten Path Nordic Trails ski club, boasting more than 50km of trails, so I made sure to wedge my cross-country ski gear into the car on a pre-Christmas visit to the in-laws. To be honest, the conditions were merely ok: low grey skies, temperature right around the zero mark, and a brisk wind blowing fine snowflakes around. Still, I had been craving a ski, and the fact that my four-year-old had just received a toy microphone for a gift confirmed my decision to get some fresh air for an hour or so.
I stopped by Voyageur Bait and Tackle on Hwy 11B (the spur that links the town of Atikokan to Highway 11) and picked up a $15 day pass. Then I drove another minute or two west on Highway 11 to the Kemuel Lake trailhead, parking in the ploughed and clearly marked Beaten Path parking area.
The Kemuel Lake trail was the only one open in the trail system, as there wasn’t nearly enough snow in the bush to ski. Fortunately, the lake was covered with an inch or two of snow, with only a few patches of easily dealt-with slush. The 4.5-km loop, groomed for both classic and skate skiing, winds around the rocky shoreline fringed with jack pine. It’s an iconic Northwest Ontario scene, and a relaxing easy ski—under an hour if you’re classic skiing as I was, half that time if you’re skate skiing.
Back at the trailhead, I chatted for a moment with two local women who had been out just ahead of me with their dog, and one was planning on returning with her toddler in a jog stroller equipped with skis. “Great day for a ski!” they said, and I could only agree.
The Beaten Trails club is an active one, with some dedicated volunteers and innovative races and tours. Events in 2015 include the Sawmill Lake Classic Tour on January 17 (a 24-km group ski through Quetico Provincial Park; the Candlelight Ski on February 6 (an evening event at the Little Falls Golf Course, illuminated by candles); the Chocolate Cup Challenge on February 7 (offering plenty of chocolate prizes); the Trans Canada Loppet on February 28 (featuring several tours of various lengths); and the Cross Quetico Ski Tour on March 21 (a rugged 35- to 60-km ski, dog-sled or skijor across Quetico’s frozen canoe routes, dubbed “one of the coolest adventures in Canada” by explore magazine).
Visit www.skibeatenpath.ca for more details.