No mountains, no problem: The basics of cross country skiing in Manitoba

Manitoba may not be known for its elevation, but you don’t need a mountain to get a full-body workout on a pair of skis. Manitoba is a prime place to cross-country ski, with groomed trails throughout the province featuring fun dips and dives, and plenty of tough straightaways to get your heart-rate up and your calories burning.


The essentials

Bundle up, we’re going cross-country skiing! Even though you’ll be working up a sweat on the trails in Manitoba, dressing for the weather will still ensure you get the most of an outdoor outing. Here are a few essentials to consider when heading out for
a short day on the trails.


1. Dress in layers

Layers are a must when cross-country skiing. You may start out feeling chilly but as you start moving you’ll heat up quickly.

A base layer with long johns or tights is a good place to start. Your next layer is for insulation — polar fleece or wool will keep you warm (jeans won’t!). The outer layer comes last and should be windproof and breathable so you’re protected from the elements without overheating or trapping in moisture. You may be tempted to bulk up even more with a large winter coat and ski pants but smooth movement is important for cross-country skiing and heavy clothing can be restrictive and often lead to overheating.

The one exception to layering is your feet. Wear just one good pair of wool socks. Contrary to popular belief, adding more won’t keep you warmer. You should be able to wiggle your toes in your boots so they stay warm.

Heads, hands and neck are the next spots to keep warm. A good toque that covers your ears will keep your noggin cozy. A balaclava or neck warmer works better than a scarf. Keep your fingers together and toasty in a pair of mittens.

And finally, bring a friend! Don’t head out on a ski trip alone, especially if the trail is new to you. Plus, having someone to share the experience with always makes it better.

Now that you and your ski buddy are bundled up, you’re nearly ready to head out. But first, the skis of course!


2. Buy or rent skis

There are a few places in Winnipeg that rent cross-country skis, boots and poles. Head out for a day on the trails with help from these stores:

• Mountain Equipment Co-op has friendly and knowledgable staff to help you gather everything you need for a ski day. They rent cross-country ski packages with boots, skis and poles included and if you’ve forgotten one of the essentials mentioned above, they also sell outdoor wear.

• Woodcock Cycle Works specializes in biking in the summer and cross-country (or Nordic) skiing in the winter. They have three different types of cross-country skis for rent so it’s a great stop if you already have some knowledge of the sport.

Other locations around the province sell skis, both new and used, so if you want to race full speed into cross-country skiing, there’s plenty of opportunity to find a pair of used boots and skis that can last years.


The trails await

There are over 100 cross country ski trails in Manitoba. We obviously can’t list them all here, but we can recommend where to get started.

For first-time skiers there’s generally no better place to begin than Windsor Park Nordic Centre in Winnipeg. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the clubhouse is closed for this season, but normally they rent skis on-site and also offer lessons, ski programs for kids and weekly meet-ups welcoming new and experienced cross-country skiers. The centre is continuing to groom their 15 kilometres of trails and has heated portable toilets available. They are looking forward to seeing everyone back in their clubhouse next season. Visit to purchase trail passes.

Meanwhile, there are many great resources online that can teach you how to cross-country ski.

Once you’ve got your footing, Birds Hill Provincial Park is a great place to start skiing without instruction. It’s just 20 kilometres outside of Winnipeg meaning it’s close to the rental locations and perfect for a short ski trip. It has five designated cross-country ski trails, totalling 38 kilometres, which are groomed regularly. The natural beauty of the park itself makes you feel as though you’re much farther from the bustling city than you are.

When you’re ready to branch out and explore even more of the trails in the province, check out the Cross Country Ski Association of Manitoba’s website at where they have detailed information on most of the cross-country trails in the province as well as up-to-date ski conditions.


Races and meets

Now that you’ve honed your cross-country skills, consider participating in a Loppet! A what? A loppet is a long distance cross-country ski race.

The Manitoba Loppet is the longest running race in the province at 45 years. It has four race categories with distances from three kilometres to 30 kilometres, all taking place in Manitoba’s beautiful Whiteshell. It started as an event for families and has developed into an important event for cross-country ski enthusiasts across the province.


Something a little different

An added challenge jumps into the snow with skijoring. Derived from the Norwegian word for “ski-driving” it’s essentially dog sledding except you’re on skis instead of in a sled and there’s usually just one or maybe two dogs pulling you along the trails. The key to a good skijoring run is having a well-trained dog. You don’t want your pup dashing off into the woods if they see a rabbit.

There are specific trails for skijoring in the province, most notably at Birds Hill Provincial Park. Snow Motion has training lessons for human and dog duos, meet-up events and races for skijorers of all skill levels if you’re interested in taking your cross-country skiing to another level.

The snow is here and the trails are groomed, so grab your skis and get going!

And wherever you travel throughout the province, please remember to continue to practise physical distancing and be COVID careful.

— For more Manitoba travel ideas please visit