There’s something about the prairie landscape that lends itself well to surprises – treasures tucked behind a low hill or down a river valley. In Grande Prairie, the best surprise is discovering how the drop between the plateau and the riverbed creates exceptional cross-country skiing on rolling hills and snowy forest trails.
Located 8.5 kilometres south of the intersection of Hwys. 40 and 43, Grande Prairie’s Wapiti Nordic Ski Club is a premier cross-country and biathlon facility. Here you’ll find everything that makes cross-country skiing fun: smooth, groomed trails winding through forests of black spruce, tamarack and willow, fresh animal tracks decorating virgin snow, gradual inclines for beginners and steeper climbs for more experienced skiers. The modern, bright three-storey Steve Cooper Lodge, complete with wax room, crackling wood stove and hot chocolate counter, is named for a long-time club member who was instrumental in expanding the facility for Grande Prairie to host the 1995 Canada Winter Games – the smallest city ever to do so.
On the west side of town, at Saskatoon Island Provincial Park, beginners and families can explore a 6.5-km maze of gentle groomed trails by ski or snowshoe. You might even spot a moose grazing among the bountiful saskatoon berry bushes.
For all the comforts of home, and then some, check into Maple Meadows Inn. Set on two hectares next to a bird and wildlife sanctuary, the roomy home was designed and built to be a B&B, with one suite and three country-style guest rooms, each with a queen-size bed, fireplace and private bathroom. The smiling owners, Helene and Barry Mottus, whip up scrumptious breakfast waffles daily. For ultimate relaxation, book the suite and soak in the Jacuzzi tub, or curl up with a book after a day of skiing or snowshoeing. Only then will you realize that northern Alberta is a perfect destination to escape the hectic pace of life back home. (780-539-4568)
The Inside Track
Hill thrill: Try the Peace Country’s newest extreme sport, natural luge; sledding on an ice track at Nitehawk Recreation Area ski hill (780-402-8977) Dino discovery: Meet Piper the Pachyrhinosaurus, a life-sized animatronic dinosaur at the Grande Prairie Heritage Discovery Centre (780-532-5790). Art of the prairie: Check out the Peace Region’s largest public collection at the Prairie Art Gallery (780-532-8111). Time travel: Step inside a covered wagon and imagine travelling the way the region’s earliest settlers did at the Grande Prairie Museum and Heritage Village (780-532-5482).