Algoma’s Secret Backcountry

Earn your turns north of Sault Ste. Marie

After years of roaming the wilds of Algoma with my friend, Enn Poldmaa, I should know not to doubt his sense of direction. But as we trundle uphill on backcountry skis in the midst of an intense, Lake Superior snowsquall, I’m convinced we’re headed the wrong way. I thrust a map and compass in his face. “See, we’re here,” I implore, gesturing with my ski pole into the snowy hardwood forest. “We’ve got to go that way.”

Enn barely takes note of the map. “No way, man,” replies the co-owner of Bellevue Valley Lodge, a bed and breakfast specializing in backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, located a half-hour drive north of Sault Ste. Marie.

Enn and his partner, Robin Macintyre, offer instruction, guided tours and rentals; they maintain trails in a 500-acre parcel of land adjacent to the lodge, featuring beginner to advanced terrain. They also host an annual grassroots skiing and snowshoeing festival, which celebrates its 20th year in 2017. Once the domain of a small cadre of experts, Algoma is becoming an increasingly popular destination for ski touring and snowshoeing. Downhill skiers also visit Bellevue Valley Lodge as a low-key alternative to the groomed runs of Searchmont Resort. With no chairlifts, backcountry skiing is a fantastic workout.

Today, Enn is scouting terrain. He’s like a bloodhound, sniffing out a steep, treeless slope we glimpsed from afar during a break in the storm. We bypass dreamscapes of natural moguls and fluffy powder that’s at least a meter deep. Meanwhile, I imagine Enn’s computer-like brain cataloguing the potential runs while navigating by internal compass to the crown jewel. At last, the forest thins out and we’re right on target. There’s a break in the flurries, revealing a steep apron of immaculate snow. Higher up, a gullet parts a granite buttress.

After a long ascent, the climb becomes impossibly steep. We shuffle back and forth, gaining mere meters of elevation. I reflect on the backcountry skier’s mantra, “Earn your turns.” It would be easy to descend from here; logical even, to not bother with the remaining 20-odd meters of elevation. But the beautiful gauntlet draws us upwards.

Finally, we linger at the top, watching the snow clouds part and the sun light up the ice-covered expanse of Lake Superior. When a gust of wind blows in the next squall, we drop into the best run of the winter.

Hilltop lookouts afford backcountry skiers and snowshoers sweeping views of the Algoma Highlands and Lake Superior

Bellevue Valley Lodge’s annual Snowflea Telefest, a backcountry (telemark) ski and snowshoe festival, attracts more than 50 winter sports enthusiasts. The event features lessons, guided tours, meals, a Scandinavian-style sauna, musical entertainment and on-site accommodations.

From the summit of Batchawana Mountain, one of the highest points in Ontario, an ancient mountain range stretches in all directions.

Earn your turns: The thrill of backcountry skiing is achieved through hard work climbing through deep powder.

Enn Poldmaa is the co-owner of Bellevue Valley Lodge, located in Goulais River, just north of Sault Ste. Marie.
About Conor Mihell

Conor Mihell is an award-winning environmental and adventure travel writer based in Sault Ste. Marie. Read his work in the Globe and Mail, Explore, Cottage Life, Canoe & Kayak, ON Nature, and other magazines and newspapers. He's been a sea kayak guide on Lake Superior for close to 20 years, and has paddled from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. 

Recommended Articles

Stimulate Your Motorcycle Senses

Ride Ontario’s Grand Algoma Fall Tour

Choo-Choo Choose Adventure!

Ride the rails with the Agawa Canyon Tour Train

Fun Family Fishing Vacations

Ancient Art Galleries

Exploring Algoma’s sacred pictograph sites.

A True Mountain Experience

BIG Vistas

Five Hiking Adventures in Northeastern Ontario

Top 5 Things To Do In The Soo

Your guide to the best things to do in Sault Ste. Marie

Don’t Miss the Parade of Power

Poker Run in Sault Ste. Marie

Can’t Get Enough of Killarney

My love affair with Killarney

Black Bay Perch

Top 5 Things To Do In Restoule Provincial Park

Discover one of Explorers' Edge’s best-kept secrets

The Polar Bear Necessities

A Journey to Cochrane’s Polar Bear Habitat

You Don’t Have To Rough It To Enjoy It

Discover luxurious lodgings in Algonquin Park

A Dozen Ways to Fill Your Days

Exploring Samuel De Champlain Provincial Park

Arrowhead's Winter Wonderland

Sun’s Out, Water Guns Out

The Ultimate Algoma Beach Road Trip

Paddling Adventures in Northeastern Ontario

Discover hotspots near Sudbury, Timmins and North Bay.

Picturesque Adventures in Explorers’ Edge

Explore the beautiful Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve

7 Ways to Stay Warm in the Soo

Tackling the Trails of Explorers' Edge

Discover amazing trails in Loring-Restoule and Almaguin Highlands