Nordic skiing experiences in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia

by Vince Hempsall 

I grew up cross-country skiing in the Prairies and after moving to the West Kootenay region of British Columbia almost two decades ago, I gave it up for the perils and pleasures of backcountry and downhill. But after seeing my oldest child scoot around part of the Nelson Nordic Trail Network my interest in the sport was reignited. And rightfully so! Unlike the wind-blasted, scenically challenged trails of my youth, the cross-country ski areas in this region are some of the best in Canada because the scenery of the forested mountains and river-strewn valleys is stunning, the temperatures are mild, and the season is long. It’s not unheard of for skiers to spend the morning on the trails before descending into the valleys to enjoy après on sunny patios.  

Then, of course, there’s the snow. An average of 20 feet of the white stuff falls in the West Kootenay mountains each season and because temperatures hover around 23°F with little humidity, it makes for perfect cross-country skiing.  

There are three Nordic ski clubs in the region’s largest communities of Nelson, Castlegar, and Rossland, located just north of the U.S. border. The Black Jack Ski Club maintains over 28 miles of classic and skate skiing trails just north of Rossland that include a loop with a biathlon range, three warming huts and 1.5 miles of lit trails for night skiing. The Castlegar Nordic Ski Club is responsible for 33 miles of interconnected trails on the Paulson Pass, 21 miles west of the city, which range from easy to challenging, classic to skate and there are multiple warming huts strewn throughout.  

As for the Nelson Nordic Trail Network where my son learned to ski, it offers two main areas on either side of Highway 6, about 6 miles south of the city. The Apex trails on the east side of the highway are flat and perfect for beginners while the Busk trails on the west side include challenging hills, forested loops and creek-side out and backs. 

Cross-Country skiing at the Black Jack Ski Club in Rossland

In the Slocan Valley there are four Nordic associations including the Slocan Valley Heritage Trail Society (SVHTS), the Arrow Lakes Cross Country Ski Club, the North Slocan Trails Society and the Valhalla Hills Nordic Ski Club, all of which help maintain six networks of trails offering over 50 miles of groomed skiing. Most are located near the village of Nakusp and the best feature of all of them is they’re located within a short drive of Nakusp Hot Springs and Halcyon Hot Springs so you can enjoy a warm soak after your ski.  

In the southern half of the valley, the 32-mile-long Slocan Valley Rail Trail runs alongside the Slocan River for most of its length and it’s common to spot otters, eagles and trumpeter swans year-round. It has seven trailheads between the Dam Restaurant and the village of Slocan and, when conditions allow, it is maintained and groomed by the SVHTS.   

For itineraries and more information visit Kootenay Nordic 



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