Why Southern Yukon is a Cross Country Skiing Paradise

From beginner to advance skiers, the Yukon is full of spots perfect to get your glide on.

By: Rachel Bertsch + Save to a List


Truth be told, I didn't know much about cross country skiing (or XC skiing) before landing in Whitehorse. I was a dedicated snowboarder, who's idea of a good time in the snow was two feet firmly strapped to a board feeling the world slip past me turn after turn in soft powder on steep slopes. Whitehorse has a ski hill that has sufficiently enough runs to keep even advance skiers and snowboarders entertained, but it has a wilderness that begs to be explored.

A long winter means that as of November, sometimes even October, there is usually some form of skiing available and that season lasts all the way up until April. The snow is so good so early in this region of Canada's North that our National Alpine Teams and Olympians regularly venture to Whitehorse year after year for early season training.

But it isn't just the early season turns for downhill and park that should be luring in those who get their kicks from skiing. Cross country skiing in the Yukon is a serious love affair with many of the locals, with roof racks around town all winter all loaded up with skinny skis ready for a sunny afternoon zip off into the woods. 

Here is a list of a few of the best spots to get out onto the trails:

Photo: Miles Canyon in Whitehorse


Whitehorse

The Nordic Centre and Cross Country Ski Club offer 85km of groomed trails and is such a staple in the small community with a population of less than 30,000, that over 1300 people are devoted members who ski regularly on these trails. 

Outside of the pay to play groomed trails, there is also a huge network of voluntarily tracked trails that weave through the wilderness that surrounds Whitehorse. Of the 700km+ hiking trails that are maintained in the summer, nearly 100km is maintained by the snowmobile association and other passionate volunteers who pack down, groom, track, and clear debris from these scenic trails that are found on frozen lakes, forested hills, along the Yukon River, and surrounding nearly every neighbourhood in town. 

What does that mean? 

You're never more than a few minutes away from a cross country trail even in the capital city, even if you are staying in one of the downtown hotels.

Photo: Slims River in Kluane National Park


Haines Junction and Kluane National Park 

The small village of Haines Junction is nestled beneath the foothills of Canada's tallest mountains. River valleys and old mining roads provide easy access to incredible peaks, many of which are protected within Kluane National Park. 

Both St Elias Ski Club and Parks Canada track trails for beginners to experts and the massively family friendly community means every age will have something to enjoy.

Best to check for bear warnings in the early season, and always have a few layers on hand in case the weather proves windy, but if getting into the groove of pre-set tracks isn't your forte, there are numerous valleys and frozen lakes to see. 

My favourite tracks are at Mush Lake and Pine Lake, while my favourite routes to follow are at the Alsek and Slims River Trail.  Staying at Mount Logan Lodge, the owners of the lodge and Yukon Guided Adventures kindly packed down the Alsek trail for us with their own snowmobiles the day before we planned to go, making for a scenic and peaceful ski without another soul around.


Photo: Dog Sled Trails above Tagish Lake at Southern Lakes Resort

Southern Lakes Region

If you look at a map of Southern Yukon, you'll see the southern half is nearly completely connected with bodies of water and mountain ranges. 

Massive glacial lakes with tiny rivers and streams were once the highways that steamships used in the early gold rush days, but now create an endless opportunity of flat expanses to get your ski on. 

We based ourselves at Southern Lakes Resort for a few days to follow the dog sled trails through the forest and a frozen arm of Tagish Lake beneath some massive peaks during the day, while keeping an eye out for the aurora to light our nighttime skies while we rested our legs. 

A remote old forestry camp, it's an ideal place to base yourself if you want easy skiing without ever having to drive again once arriving.

But for those who like exploring different options around, on the way there from Whitehorse, take a detour along Annie Lake Road to explore beyond the maintained section of 4x4 tracks that weaves along the Wheaton River. A few small cabins are available to rent along this road as well, which has skiing available right out of the door of your off grid haven.

If you decide to venture further South, Log Cabin is a pretty famous Yukoner ski site, near the Chilkoot Trail and in the Chilkoot National Park that once had hundreds of thousands of stampeders making their way into the Yukon and heading for the Klondike Gold Rush. Log Cabin also normally holds an international ski classic race and has over 25km of trails that are track set for classic or skate ski in the Coastal Mountains near the border of Alaska. 

Known for huge snow amounts, you'll find these trails in the aptly named White Pass with no sign of civilization other than a lonely border crossing but plenty of scenery. 

Photo: Atlin Village Trails


Bonus: Atlin

While Atlin isn't technically in the Yukon, you can only access it via the Yukon so we'll add it in this list. It's another pioneer town at the end of a 100km dead-end road and sits on the shoreline of Atlin Lake, a massive freshwater beauty that has glacial ice fields connecting to Alaska, and the tallest peak on an island found within a natural freshwater lake in the world.

It also has a dedicated volunteer run ski association that tracks loops on mostly flat terrain. Check the Facebook page for Atlin Ski Club for updates on where has been groomed. Note that the lake doesn't freeze until later in the season due to its large size, so don't plan on doing any lake crossings before February and always check with a local before stepping out onto the ice.

Photo: Kluane National Park, Yukon


Logistics of making this trip happen

If you don't have skis of your own, there are a few outfitters in Whitehorse that can get you set up for cross country skiing. Buy at the local sports store, Coast Mountain Sports for higher end gear or Canadian Tire for entry level. Rent gear at either the Mount MacIntyre Nordic Centre for around $20 a day, or three days from Changing Gear for around $65. 

All the trails or regions mentioned above would be good for cross country classic or skate skiing, but a few do offer the chance for backcountry trips with more touring on slopes. That's another article all on its own.

You'll need a car for everything on this list beyond what is in Whitehorse, and you should be comfortable with winter driving, as well as understand that most ski locations are not in cell service. 

The only large grocery stores for self catering are located in Whitehorse. Some lodges offer food but you must ask a few days ahead of arrival. The meals at Mount Logan Lodge are among the best in the territory.

Be prepared for cold weather (normally -15C or lower) and shorter days if going between November and February. By March, the Yukon has 12 hours of light and more reasonable temperatures. The whole season has the chance to enjoy northern lights.

Also, since we are in COVID times, keep up to date with travel entry requirements or restrictions by following this link.



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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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