I’m trying to embrace winter a bit more this year. Lately, there are days where I really need to get out of the house. Spending time outside is especially important for me in the midst of this pandemic. On Sunday, I woke early, packed my gear in the car, and drove just over 2 hours from Calgary to Moraine Lake Road in Banff National Park—14 kilometres south of Lake Louise. The trail was freshly groomed and track set, and the weather couldn’t have been better! It was the perfect time to go.
Moraine Lake is a popular spot all year around. I’ve heard that the cross-country skiing on Moraine Lake Road tends to be the best conditions in Banff National Park. It’s certainly one of the earlier track set trails near Calgary. Whether you’re a beginner, an olympian, or just a slow recreational skier like me, you’ll be right at home on Moraine Lake Road trail.
Moraine Lake Road Trail in Banff National Park
Location: Banff National Park, 14 kilometres south of Lake Louise
Distance: 13 km one way (26 km out and back)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate (due to length)
Elevation: 250 metre elevation gain
Time: 4-5 hours
Features: Moraine Lake Road is an accessible cross-country ski trail in beautiful Banff. There are some nice views of surrounding mountains, including Mount Temple. This is a relatively flat trail that is perfect for all skill levels.
Don’t forget your Park Pass. You can purchase online or as you enter Banff National Park.
Cross-Country Skiing on Moraine Lake Road
First things first: I didn’t finish the entire trail. This was my second cross-country ski of the season, and I decided to finish at 17 kilometres out and back. I’ll plan to go back for the full trail later this year. That’s part of the beauty of this place; it can be what you want it to be. Since it’s an out and back trail, it’s easy to choose whatever distance you want. The trail stays fairly flat with a gentle incline of 250 metres in 13 kilometres. That makes this a perfect trail for beginners or families with young kids.
I arrived a 9am on Sunday, and was surprised to find an incredibly quiet trail. Pleasantly surprised. It’s great to see people out enjoying the snow and fresh air, but it was also nice to have some quiet and stillness on the trail. By noon, there was much more action. There’s classic and skate ski grooming, with both recreational and pro skiers. I even saw some cyclists and hikers.
How Do I Prepare Before XC Skiing?
When you’re playing outside in the winter time, you gotta be prepared. I always try to pack my gear the night before, especially if I’m leaving early in the morning. This makes it easy to get up and go, and I also usually remember to pack everything I need.
This time of year, it’s all about layers. I typically run fairly warm, but I always make sure I have enough layers to stay warm. If I twist an ankle or get injured in some way, it could take a while before any kind of assistance arrives. I wear a merino wool t-shirt, a long-sleeve base-layer, a lighter down vest, and my favourite shell. In my pack, I bring a down jacket just in case (but I usually don’t need it).
Whether I’m hiking, biking, or skiing, I usually carry my Osprey Hikelite 18 day pack. This is seriously the best day pack I’ve ever owned. In my pack, for XC skiing, I bring water, snacks, first aid kit, matches, portable charger and phone (with GPS map), bivy tarp, toilet paper (you never know…), water filter, Jetboil, thermos with hot chocolate, knife, extra mittens, sunglasses, and bear spray. I try to pack enough to survive for a little while, at least.
Aside from bringing the right stuff, I always check the trail conditions before I go. I considered going to West Bragg Creek because it’s way closer to home, but the trails weren’t ready. SkierBob is one of the best available resources for real-time trail reports in Calgary, Bragg Creek, Kananaskis, and Banff areas. I also found 10 Adventures to be a helpful resource for Moraine Lake. As Alberta Parks likes to say, “Know before you go!”
I really enjoyed skiing on Moraine Lake Road. I was worried that it would be overly crowded on Sunday morning, so I went early enough to have the trail almost completely to myself. It didn’t feel crowded at all, even after more skiers arrived before noon. This is a popular spot, but Lake Louise was much busier. I can’t wait to get back out there, and next time I may just finish the whole thing.
Do you enjoy winter sports like cross-country skiing? Where do you tend to go? I’m always on the hunt for new ideas. Leave a comment below!
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