a peek inside the fishbowl

09 Jan, 2011

Embracing winter, and trying our hand at cross-country skiing

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Easy ways to make kids happy|Ottawa

This is the SECOND time I’m writing out this blog post. I lost the first in a technological mishap. Gah. 

I’ve always maintained that if you want to survive an Ottawa winter with all of your marbles intact you have to participate in Ottawa winter. Get some skates/skis/boots, invest in some woolies, and get outside, otherwise, mentally, you’re going to be a mess. Hiding your whimpering little self up in a electric blanket cocoon is no way to spend five months out of every year. My advice to anyone who asks (not to mention, my new slogan) is Accept Winter, Or Winter Will Kill You.

Many moons ago, long before there were children on the scene, Mark and I bought ourselves some cross-country skis. It snowed heavily that year. And I remember Mark and I taking the skis out for a test run on Christmas Eve. We skied down the street, where his parents were living at the time.

In Ottawa, or trails of choice were always within the Stoney Swamp network near Bell’s Corners. Woody, chimpmunky, mostly flat… it was perfect for two skiers who liked to ski but weren’t actually very accomplished. One time we even endeavoured to go on a moonlight ski. I can’t believe we did that. It was pretty and scary in equal measure. The woods by day: pretty, full of living things! The woods by night: scary, full of evil animals and kidnappers!

I found out I was pregnant with Emma in the fall of 1998. I didn’t want to ski while I was pregnant. Ferchrissakes, I could run into a tree or something! And then she was a little babe. I COULD technically strap her to my back, what what if I fell and crushed her! And so on and so on.

Once the girls got old enough – say four or five – every year we declared that THIS would be the year we took up skiing. And we never did. WELL. This year is finally the year. We took up skiing. But I tell ya, it was quite a conundrum. Should we invest in downhill skiing (flying down steep hills at fun and terrifying speeds?) or cross-country (gliding through forests, enjoying nature)? There are many pros and cons that we had to consider. Both are fun, family activities. (In fact, this is something I really like about skiing. I see families with teenagers skiing together all the time, and I think that’s really cool.)

Downhill skiing is a bigger financial investment and requires a greater time committment, whereas cross-country is less expensive, and I think there’s greater opportunity to do a “pick-up and go” at a moment’s notice. There are lots of trails nearby, many of which are totally free.

Trailhead was promoting kid’s ski packages before Christmas, and it sealed the deal for us. Don’t quote me on prices, but it was about $250 per kid; boots, skis, bindings, poles. You pay half, and you can turn the skis in at the end of the season and not pay any more (thus,  making it a rental of sorts) or keep the equipment and be billed the second half of the lump sum. Pretty good for those of us with kids who insist on GROWING TALLER AND TALLER.

Mark and I already have skis (albeit 15 years old), and there was technically no good reason to buy anything for us. I looked longingly at the cool new boot and ski styles. My boots are so ugly I could die.

The first thing we did with the girls was take them out in the backyard so they could get the hang of it. The second thing we did, by coincidence, was take them to Calabogie Peaks, a popular downhill ski resort. Mark had some work do to there over the holidays so we tagged along. The girls had a private lesson, which was amazing. (Thank you Calabogie. You are the tops!) I didn’t realize how much it would help them with their cross-country. Stopping, turning, slowing down … these are all skills they were able to apply on Saturday when we finally took them out XC-skiing for real.

Our destination: Westboro Beach. I know, it’s not a place that comes to mind for great skiing, but as soon as we stepped out of the car I was glad we’d come.



It was a very gray day; incredibly misty and still. This beach that we know so well in the summer was totally transformed:

Westboro Beach in winter

Westboro Beach in winter

We parked at Kirchoffer Ave and skied towards the beach, and then took a right along the pathway (towards the parking lot and the ruins).

We had the whole place to ourselves. You couldn’t hear anything but the shush shush of the skis sliding over the snow, interrupted by the odd crow or chickadee. We saw evidence of warmer seasons we once knew, like snow-covered picnic tables and bird nests of summers gone by:

ex bird nest

… and park benches and their shadows of weary pedestrians who once lingered here:

by the Ottawa River

It felt like we were on the edge of a wintery dusk. It was heavenly, so white and beautiful, the snow meeting the sky in grays and whites that made everything seem like a faded old photograph.

Ottawa River

The vista was spectacular. It took my breath away.

The girls were great. They took to skiing like, dare I say, ducks to water. Speaking of which, we saw a duck in the water, a male mallard perhaps, pictured below as a tiny dot in front of a nearly hidden interprovincial bridge:

Ottawa River

At our self-imposed halfway point we stopped for a break. Sarah brought some leftover Christmas chocolate to share with her sister and dad:

Sarah eats a chocolate

Here’s a tip for ya. Turn back while you still have energy reserves! When kids (and, um, adults) get tired they’re more likely to tumble, and no one wants a face full of snow or a twisted ankle.

Our trail wasn’t going in a circle, we just went in one direction and then double-backed, towards a very dim circle of sunshine:

near Westboro Beach

Thankfully, we had enough juice left to take a few trips down the sledding hill. (The same one we visited over Christmas. Remember the eyeball incident? Gah.)

We stayed on the fluffy side of the hill, away from the steeper middle part which had been trodden down by young sledders. The snow here was thick and deep, especially near the bottom, where it felt like my skis were cutting snow like scissors through paper. It was incredibly satisfying and happy moment.

A word about hills. They’re hard to climb when cross-country skiing. It takes a lot of effort to get up a hill, but coming down, man, that’s fun. (A good metaphor for life, don’t you think? Good things are work working for.)

Emma's victory hill

That was our Saturday! Pretty neat eh? I can’t wait to go out again. Next time I’m bringing hot chocolate.

What about you? Do you like to ski?

21 Responses to "Embracing winter, and trying our hand at cross-country skiing"

1 | bushidoka

January 9th, 2011 at 10:55 pm


Gawsh I miss XC! My skis and boots have disappeared over the years. :-( I went looking this week at kid packages but they were too dear for my unemployed self. Incidentally, Fresh Air Experience has a good trade up program for kids.

If anyone happens to be reading this and is getting rid of XC skis for kids or adults, let me know. I’ve got size 43 feet (8.5)

2 | Ryan

January 9th, 2011 at 11:08 pm


My whole family skied for a number of years together (XC) when I was a kid. I remember it being both fun and a chore, as we were also part of some kind of club with levels and such that required a certain amount of skiing to achieve a certain level. But I enjoyed the activity itself a lot and look forward to taking it up again sometime in the future!

3 | bushidoka

January 10th, 2011 at 9:03 am


Oh, that’s another thing I forgot to mention – there are some good clubs around that among other things teach XC. They even have kids classes

4 | andrea

January 10th, 2011 at 9:31 am


Ryan: It can definitely feel like a chore. We’re working hard to make it fun for the girls with short outings for the time being.

bushidoka: Yes! There’s a club called Nakkertok (website here) that has been highly recommended to me. They maintain a set of trails and offer lessons. Apparently their junior program is really good. The club operations on a co-operative basis. This means that “…adult members are asked to spend two days per season helping with various volunteer tasks, including trail clearing, ski instruction, race organization, facility repairs and social activities. Members who do not have time to volunteer contribute a fee in lieu of their volunteer activities.”

5 | Javamom

January 10th, 2011 at 11:11 am


I grew up skiing downhill in the Swiss Alps on the annual winter vacations (usually in February if I remember correctly). For a kid living in an apartment building, having the entire Swiss mountains at her disposal was awesome! Hubby however grew up in Scarborough, Toronto next to a huge park (Rouge Valley) where he and his senior citizen dad went cross country skiing regularly. That was something the old guy could do with his young son when he wasn’t playing hockey…so this is something we’ll keep in mind as the kids get older. Perhaps 5yo Benjamin is almost ready to start…thanks for the tip!

6 | Anna

January 10th, 2011 at 11:32 am


There are many great X-country ski clubs in town, of which two are in Chelsea/Gats. The benefit of both those clubs is that they are more likely to have snow for their classes. The City classes at Terry Fox are also very good, track setting is done by Lafleur!

We belong to Chelsea Nordiq, a little more low key than Nakkertok. Their Jackrabbit program is excellent!


7 | Sasha

January 10th, 2011 at 12:01 pm


Ha! Exactly my conundrum. Want to take up skiing again – both kinds – but not particularly accomplished at either (and out-of-practice & out-of-shape to boot), so baby in a carrier freaks me out (for cross-country, of course). Hoping to get out soon, leave babe with a sitter while I gain some confidence, then get one of those bike trailers with skis. Is there a map or something of local trails? I know of one NCC trail (P11), and now Westboro Beach (thanks!). 
I also love the idea that this could be a family sport (we always loved watching little kids bouncing down the ski hill – fearless and made of rubber :). And a great way to get active in the winter. And that’s great about Trailhead! Will definitely check that out! I wonder how young you can start. I guess 2yo might still be a little young :). 

8 | Anna

January 10th, 2011 at 12:08 pm


Here’s the winter map for the Gatineau Park (NCC):

I would recommend a pulk over a Chariot with skis. The Babyglider is lower to the ground, doesn’t get stuck in tracks and works better for free-style skiing. You can rent one for $20 at the Chelsea visitor centre.

9 | Annie

January 10th, 2011 at 12:47 pm


Andrea, I would have to say that your motto for surviving an Ottawa winter is one that ALL Canadians (and those living in Canada) should adopt…

Just over 8 years ago, when my now husband moved to Canada from Venezuela so that we could live happily-ever-after, I knew that the only way to keep him here would be to get him to LOVE winter! We got the guy some XC skis (my mother’s Christmas present to him that year!), lots of really really warm clothes, and then went and lived on the North Shore of Lake Superior while I was working at Pukaskwa National Park (take a man from the Caribbean and dump on Northern Ontario – YIKES!). He spent most of our 2 winters up there, outside playing in the COLD!

Now that we live in Peterborough (and he spent 3 years working at our amazing outdoor store where he loaded up on WARM winter gear), he is now a skilled snowboarder and XC skier (the crazy guy has even survived a couple of winter camping experiences over the years!). I can safely say that if he had not adopted the same motto that you suggest, he would have been back in the Caribbean, long ago…

10 | Sara

January 10th, 2011 at 1:23 pm


Our boys – aged 3 & 4 – have xc skiis we purchased at Mountain Equipment Co-op which strap on to their regular snow boots. They are not the highest performance skiis :) but they do the trick for the preschool set and are priced right ($40 I think). We look forward to family skiing adventures as they get older…

11 | Sara

January 10th, 2011 at 1:53 pm


I grew up in the country and our family were avid cross-country skiers. We haven’t had the boys on cross-country skis yet but will take them downhill skiing this winter for the first time because its a past time DH loves. Even I’m going to learn alongside them :)

I will need to keep my eyes out for used cross-country skis. We have a huge side yard where they could practice before hitting the trails.

12 | Ginger

January 10th, 2011 at 7:43 pm


The pictures are beautiful. One day, when I visit the north, I am going to visit in the summer and also in the winter. I want to go really far north and see the aura borealis and also try some skiing. We certainly never have enough snow for skiing here!

13 | FireMom

January 10th, 2011 at 9:02 pm


I like to ski — downhill. I don’t know about crosscountry! But you made it sound lovely!

14 | binki

January 10th, 2011 at 10:10 pm


XC skiing is to Downhill skiing as Soccer is to Hockey.

Personally, I like XC and soccer.

15 | Sarah (mrsgryphon)

January 11th, 2011 at 1:37 am


I grew up XC skiing in the woods behind our house, but have only skied once in the last 15 years! This year, though, we got my husband and the 5 year old skiis and so far she loves it! She was doing really well in the backyard, so he’s going to take her out to the golf course trails soon. I’ll maybe hike along with the baby in the backpack, and wait my turn for skis (maybe next year!).

16 | Sarah (mrsgryphon)

January 11th, 2011 at 1:39 am


P.S. I don’t get the kids outside to play nearly often enough in the winter, but it’s really hard with a baby and the cold Alberta wind chill! Next sunny warm-ish day, we’ll hit the sledding hill, though!

17 | In which bigger is not better >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 12th, 2011 at 10:11 am


[…] we went skiing at Westboro Beach the other day I grabbed my camera and walked up the street from where we parked in order to snap a […]

18 | Jodi

January 14th, 2011 at 11:43 am


Another good place to XC ski in Ottawa is the Mer Blue Conservation area. Lots of trees, quiet, birds… beautiful in the winter (and summer!). My kids (9 and 7) ski at Nakkertok and love it mostly because they are with a group and usually a friend or two. It makes all the difference in getting them out there when they’re young (and a few treats along the way also helps!)

19 | kathleen

January 21st, 2011 at 12:37 am


What a lovely, lovely post! I remember learning to ski with my parents in the snowy hydro field near our home in Scarborough. I think I was 9 or 10. Like your girls, my brothers and I took to skiing right away and loved it. We started going XC skiing for a few days as a family over the Christmas holidays every year. It wasn’t long before we kids left our parents on the easy trails and were off on the black diamonds. As long as we stuck together and came back to the lodge for lunch, we had total freedom to rock out on our skis. Some of my favourite childhood memories!

As avid skiiers, my husband and I have taken our kids skiing since they were babies. That’s fun too, but there’s something special about starting when the kids can quickly pick it up.

20 | Susan

January 10th, 2012 at 10:01 am


We love XC skiing! You are so right – if you don’t embrace winter, you will just wind up depressed.

For a quick “get up and go” ski, we often go to NCC Trail #10 at Shirley’s Bay (park at P2 on Carling Ave). It’s a 4.7km mostly flat loop. It takes us about 50 mins going at a leisurely pace with no stopping.

Also – don’t give up on night skiing! Try going on one of the parkways in Gatineau Park. It’s very wide & much less creepy than a backcountry trail. We like to park at P10 and take the Fortune Parkway to the Keogan cabin for a candlelit dinner by the wood stove. The trip there is slightly uphill, but the trip back is all downhill! It’s such a special experience!

21 | Checking out a new cross-country ski trail in Ottawa >> a peek inside the fishbowl

December 29th, 2013 at 4:08 pm


[…] renting skis for the girls for the past few years (you can read more about cross-country ski rental in this past post) and it was fine, but I’m happy that we finally have our own skis and don’t have to […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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