Last Call for Winter

Cross-Country Skiing in Thunder Bay

In Duluth, Minnesota, all of the snow has gone in less than a week and on Saturday it was sunny, 60F (15C) and with warm south winds.....

Personally I am not ready for that.

My buddies Jim and Tony were in the same mindset. We found ourselves nodding heads and saying, "yeah" a lot...lamenting and dreaming. Somehow it just came to a point where we decided we should load up and drive north until we hit good skiing, it would most likely be our last chance.

That drive took us up the North Shore, over the Canadian border and back to what is becoming a favorite town for me, Thunder Bay.

We left Duluth and folks were wearing shorts.

However, by the time we hit the border it had started to spit snow and when we rolled into Kamview it had dumped an inch or two on the ground.

Lucky for us Kamview Nordic Centre had lighted skiing and had been keeping up with their grooming.

While the skiing was by no means fast, it was a gorgeous night and we skied until lights out and then headed for the Prince Arthur Hotel down on the Lake, another place I am growing more fond of every time I come up.

We found out that the Canadian National Nordic Ski Championships were being held in town and the hotel was teaming with nordic racers. Luckily, or gracious host Kory at the hotel was able to find us a nice room and we dumped our stuff in it and ran for the The Sovereign Room, some beers and Duck Poutine.

Sleeping was easy after all of that.

The morning dawned bright and cold and that was a great thing for us.

Had the warm weather followed us that night, skiing would have been less than awesome that morning and the rush north unwarranted.

The cold temps though had us hitting another old fave early (the Hoito) and then blasting off for The Sleeping Giant.

My buddy Casey and I had been at many of these places earlier in the season so they are now easy to find and get in and get out. On my last visit I had hoped to make it up on top of the Sleeping Giant but we ran out of time. This trip I was determined to get up and check out that view. Instead of Fat Bikes we opted for skis.

Our crew had a weird assortment of gear.

Me, hoping for turns, had light touring tele gear, with 3-pins. Tony had wax-less nordic track gear and Jim had S-Bounds with NNN BC. The tour, which took us most of the day, ended up having good and bad situations for every gear choice which made it a fun and interesting day as well.

Driving out we were super, super stoked to see that there was 3-4 inches of new snow on the ground and that temps had been cold enough that it was still acting like powder should.

Again, after the trip that Casey and I had a couple of months ago, I had a good idea of where we wanted to hit. The Tee Harbour trail was the fast access and we popped on our gear on and pounded our way out to the Harbour.

It sure was a LOT faster than when Casey and I had been pushing our Fat Bikes!

Once we gained the Lake we realized that we could skate ski on the ice. It was pretty amazing to be skating along on Lake Superior and looking up at the daunting face of the Giant!

What a gift the day was.

Eventually our group hit the trail to the top of the giants tail. With skins I could tromp up most of it, but eventually it was steep enough where hiking was mandatory. At that point we all shouldered our skis and marched up the escarpment.

The sun, the new snow, the hiking.... man it put me back to my misspent youth in Vermont. I could almost taste it all again, but of course this was not VT!

This was Northwest Ontario and while I had good intentions for my gear choice it was obvious that at least at this location and snow depth, I was not going to be doing much turning at all. That mattered little however as just the view warranted all the effort, regardless of gear.

We sat up top and watched the ravens soar while eating Scandinavian candy that we bought at the Scandinavian Deli across from the Hoito. The sun on our faces and the raw Lake Superior in front of us, it was hard not to smile. I was not missing the warm weather in Duluth at all!

Eventually we had to come down. We made the descent, laughing, falling, sometimes skiing, and generally loving it.

We re-traced our steps and skated away from the setting sun in time to beat it back to T-Bay. All of us were more than hungry upon making it to town. I had heard of the Thai Kitchen, which was only a two block jaunt from the Prince Arthur so we walked over for dinner.

Whew, did that place satisfy! We pounded down about five plates of food and could have done even more if the place had not been closing!

Satiated we waddled back to the Prince Arthur to recover, drink Kokanee's and watch TV. We were all dead to the world in less than an hour upon our return.

When I was a senior in college, Thunder Bay was revving up for the 1995 Nordic World Championships at Big Thunder. I grabbed a crew of UW students and we came up for the 1994 Pre-Worlds. It was a very inspirational and interesting time. There was open access to the trails, to the athletes and to watching the races.

All the big kids were there and we were able to watch Dahlie, Smirnov, Ulvang and also meet them as well. It was also fun to watch the Americans and locals race as well and I remember seeing the Bauer Brothers racing that day too.

I recall that because it needs to be noted that Thunder Bay knows their Nordic skiing. They do it right.

However, we were not interested in watching skiing on this trip, we were interesting in doing it. So we headed to Kamview Nordic Centre. Kamview was meticulous and perfect. Saturday night the temp dropped below freezing, so we got up early had a sweet breakfast at Rooster's Bistro and then hit the trails.

They of course, were perfect. I was not surprised. You pay for what you get and at Kamview a day pass is $19 CAD per day on the weekend. We did not hesitate to pay it and because we did we had access to some noteworthy skiing.

The snow had been tilled the night before so instead of icy skiing, we had edgeable, icy skiing (a big difference) and because of that distinction we had some of the fastest skiing of the year. 15km went by like a magic carpet ride. All the downhills were super fast, yet we were in total control. Hoots and hollers were quickly followed by hard skating and scrambles as we crested small hills and blasted up big ones.

This is why we came, to fly over the snow one more time and Thunder Bay and Kamview made it well worth the drive.....

About Hansi Johnson

Hansi is a life long Outdoor Industry professional.  Recently stepping down from a job with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Hansi now works with the Minnesota Land Trust as their Director of Recreational Lands, working primarily with the City of Duluth to maximize its Outdoor Recreational infrastructure.  In his spare time, Hansi is also a photographer who has had images in Powder Magazine, Outside Magazine, Bicycling, Dirt Rag and Mountain Flyer.  He lives near Duluth, Minnesota with wife Margaret and son Tae.

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