Drayton Valley ranks among best in Alberta for Nordic skiing
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It’s a little-known fact - except perhaps to hardcore Nordic skiers – that Drayton Valley ranks right up there with Canmore’s Nordic Centre when it comes to a stunning setting and premier facilities for cross-country skiing.
The local Pembina Nordic Ski Club, with about 300 members, oversees the track setting at Eagle Point/Blue Rapids which has 20 kms of trails for every level of skier. Set on seven quarter sections, the treed trails follow the meandering North Saskatchewan River with stellar views of the river valley.
“Our grooming is second to none,” says Curtis Buchan, club president. “And our location is absolutely beautiful with thousands of iconic views of the river.” Minus the mountains, Buchan says, “We like to call it Canmore North.”
The club also sets tracks for skate skiing and next year will be ready to welcome fat biking enthusiasts, who can currently use the snowshoe trails to ride through the snow.
It’s all part of a bigger plan for Drayton Valley to become a magnet for outdoor recreation enthusiasts all year long. Just 90 minutes southwest of Edmonton and about three hours north of Calgary, it’s an easy winter weekend escape without the crowds of the big city or the Canmore Nordic Centre.
That feeling of wide-open spaces is part of the appeal to local winter enthusiast Grant Lang, who lives north of Drayton Valley and was born and raised in the community. He and his wife, Deanna, are volunteer cross-country ski instructors for Pembina Nordic Ski Club's Jackrabbit group, ages 3 to 16, and have seen growing enthusiasm for cross-country skiing, which has led to a waiting list for lessons.
Lang, a talented local blacksmith, who crafts mainly decorative works at his shop Accurate, spends his winter weekends soaking up the beauty of the area.
On a typical Sunday, you’ll find him up early and out for a run between Rocky Rapids and Drayton Valley. Then he goes back home to pack up his family, along with his wife and 12-and 13-year-old kids, and heads to the cross-country ski trails at Eagle Point Provincial Park.
They’ll generally ski for a couple of hours and then head to the chalet for a hot chocolate and a snack. The Pembina Valley Nordic ski Club has two chalets, one featuring a rustic log building, and a newer outdoor education centre that just opened.
Both are equipped with wood-burning stoves to warm up hands and toes. “It’s awesome,” says Lang, adding the newer education centre is “luxury” because it has running water.
It is all about the skiing and surroundings for Lang. “You glide along the bank of the river with amazing views. The trails that are cut through the trees are shaded from the sun, so the snow stays longer.”
Lang says people from Edmonton have commented that the region’s snow is better. “It looks like snow to me, but they seem to really like it.” The bonus for winter lovers is that the area also gets snow both earlier and later in the season making for a nice, long ski season.
Although he’s new to the sport, Lang recently tried fat biking at Eagle Point, something he says he’s keen to try again. For now, fat biking can be done on the snowshoe trails, but with plans for an exclusive fat biking trail next year, he says there are bound to be more people riding out this way.
After a day out on the trails, he and his family might pop into the Drayton Bakery, a local cafe, known for its doughnuts, but also home-baked bread, sandwiches and sweets. Lang says he remembers the bakery as a kid, and it hasn’t changed. “It’s an iconic business in the area.” It’s wise to get there early before they sell out of their most popular items, he says.
Another favourite local eating out spot for Lang and his family is the White Bull Café, which has been in Drayton Valley since 1956. It’s a popular all-day breakfast joint with a massive menu, as well as for a hearty dinner or lunch for classic diner specialties and burgers. It also claims to have the most robust gluten-free menu in the area.
If you’re looking for a place to warm up to winter with wide-open spaces, plan a trip to Drayton Valley.
When You Go
Looking to stay the weekend? Be sure to mention #ABWays2Winter at the time of booking at any of the Drayton Valley Hospitality & Tourism Authority partner hotels for preferred rates.
These links will help you plan your visit to Drayton Valley.