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Why your next ski vacation should be to go cross country skiing in the wilderness

A few reasons to ditch the resort skiing.

By: Rachel B + Save to a List

Chances are if you grew up in North America, you're familiar with the idea of ski vacations. Surely many of us have had the experience of cramming into a small musty smelling condo that boasted it was ski in/ski out yet is not. One that was thoroughly overpriced, so much so that bodies of weary skiers take up every surface possible: beds, pull out sofas, and living room floor space. 

I've certainly had those times where I lived off tasteless chilli or poutines with 12 of us sleeping in a 1 bedroom condo all excited to cram in the condo building's communal sauna after a day of gliding across champagne powder conditions. My husband has resorted to sleeping in a car in an underground parking lot when every hotel was either sold out or so overpriced his student budget couldn't bear the cost. 

We're a little older these days, but the draw of the ski vacation is still strong. Waking up with mountain views and getting fresh tracks before lunch beside a wood fire stove sounds like magic. Resting my weary knees while consuming copious amounts of hot cocoa (or another beverage that warms the belly...) is an ideal end of day ritual in these cold and dark months of winter.

But every time I start planning my ski vacay to the usual resorts of BC, Washington, Alberta and so on, I gasp at the price. $100-$200 a day for a lift pass. $200 - 500 a night for a budget hotel. $20 for a carb filled lunch of fries and a burger that have been mashed together by someone with two days experience as a cook. Those prices hurt. 

But there is a better way to get out and enjoy the snow with two skis on your feet. If you haven't already discovered cross country skiing, you really should.

Unlike backcountry downhill, cross country skiing is generally very tame, safe, and doesn't require a lot of experience to enjoy it. If that doesn't win you over, another win over resort skiing is that cross country is either cheap or free. 

Here are just a few other reasons you should make the switch:

Photo: Skiing Kluane National Park, Yukon


Yes, you aren't at the top of the mountain looking into the valleys unless you really work at it, but you typically are in valley looking up at the mountains that surround you. Ply your way through snow ghost looking forests, across frozen lakes, and down frozen river valleys with jagged peaks in every direction. 

Variety is the spice of life, and at the slow pace offered by beginner cross country skiing, you have time to enjoy it and seek out areas that are not limited to chair lifts and boundary ropes.

Photo: Skiing Alsek Trail, Yukon


These are the days when we want to escape the crowds and feel like we've gotten away from it all. It is easy to find trails that feel almost all yours, save for the set tracks in the snow you'll follow out of cell range, leaving your news feed behind. 

While you are relishing at your escape into solitary oblivion, you'll never have to worry if a faster skier / snowboarder will come up behind you causing a crash or a heart attack on the slopes. 

Just peace, quiet, and skiing.

Photo: Skiing Annie Lake Road, Yukon

No waiting for lift lines

After several years of resort skiing at Whistler, I would cringe if I had to estimate how many hours I spent waiting in line. 

With COVID protocols in place, many of these resorts not only have you booking specific lift lines with socially distanced queues that are still backed up, but now having to reserve your timing in the lodge for that warm up hot chocolate. No thanks. 

Cross country skiing in the wilderness allows one to go their own pace, pause when they want, and never worry about getting frost bite while while waiting to get to the next run.

Photo: Skiing Tagish Lake at Southern Lakes Resort, Yukon

Cheap or free tickets mean extra cash for you

Do the math. If a lift ticket averages about $100 a day at smaller resorts, and goes up to $160+ at larger resorts like Whistler, a week skiing in a resort for one person can easily be $1000 plus food and accommodation. 

Now eliminate that day pass cost.

Take that money, buy a flight to somewhere, bring your skinny skis, rent a cabin in the woods, have a bottle of champagne, make your own charcuterie board, and feel like royalty with a little cash left over.

Photo: A Gold Rush Cabin in Kluane National Park, Mt Logan Lodge, Yukon

Accommodation that is truly unique

Ever wanted to find a secluded yurt in the woods with its own private hot tub? Good luck affording that in ski resorts like Whistler or Vale. 

But if you seek out small towns or wilderness resorts near unmaintained forest roads or cabins backing onto lakes, you'll be able to have a home base with an unique flare to set out for your ski day. 

Before setting off on any cross country ski vacation, research destinations with nordic trails by Google searches. Many small towns  have ski clubs or snowmobile associations with volunteers that groom areas the residents use and regularly post which trails in their town are maintained via Facebook groups. 

Also, search for listings like the one I did for our Yukon Ski Adventure can be found right here on The Outbound.

Photo: Skiing in Kluane National Park, Yukon

Get a serious work out without even realizing it

Once you've figured out the kick and glide motion of classic skis or find yourself pushing to the higher speeds of skate skiing, you're sure to get a sweat on. Not as hard on the joints as downhill or park skiers, cross country is good fun for the whole family. 

Some days, the only way you'll know you're getting that intense workout is by the small amount of layers you're wearing on a cold winter day.


Have a question or want to follow along our adventures in real time? 

Find me regularly on Instagram @meandertheworld.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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