If downhill skiing is not your thing, it's easy to feel left out of the fun in our winters. You can't partake of après-ski hot toddies unless you actually strap some on, right? Thank goodness for cross-country. Hey, it counts – and carries far less risk of plowing into a tree.
So, whether you're looking to try something new this season or just want to expand your Nordic horizons, here's the lowdown on five great destinations in Ontario.
For fitness-focused families
Horseshoe Resort in Barrie has launched its Multisport Academy to encourage families to incorporate fitness into their lifestyles. (It's also intended to help build long-term athletic ability by focusing on core skills, such as balance and co-ordination, but that probably won't sell to the kids.) In addition to offering affordable cross-country lessons and programming for all ages, the resort has relocated the Nordic facilities to the main property, providing closer access to dining and lodging and allowing families with divergent schedules to more easily reconvene when coming in from the trails. horseshoeresort.com
Rates: Lesson/program pass/rental from $240 for BunnyRabbit program (ages 4 and 5) to $260 for the Active for Life program (16-plus) for eight weeks.
For nature lovers and cross-country enthusiasts
Algonquin Park was voted by Canadian Geographic Travel as one of Canada's 10 best cross-country skiing getaways. The three-trail network spread across Algonquin Park comprises two groomed trails and one back-country trail. Difficulty levels range from beginner to advanced. The only drawback is its distance from major cities. But if you are up for a few hours' drive – or, even better, can spring for a night or two at a nearby hotel – it's worth it for the spectacular views from Leaf Lake Trail alone. algonquinpark.on.ca
Rates: No admission fee. The daily vehicle permit fee is $16. No rentals.
For the cross-country skier
All-inclusive Stokely Creek Lodge was built specifically for cross-country skiers and sits 30 kilometres north of Sault Ste. Marie. Days are spent traversing trails with stunning vistas of area lakes (including Superior), stopping along the way at one of five warming cabins to refuel with hot chocolate. At night, guests are served elevated lodge fare at candlelit communal tables in the recently expanded dining room. The technology-free environment encourages convivial après-ski ambience. Lest novice skiers be deterred, manager Jamie Martin promises that Stokely is not strictly for experts. "Most of the people that come here just want to explore the outdoors." stokelycreek.com
Rates: Midwinter season packages (Jan. 12 to March 1) from $130 to $195 per guest per night, based on double occupancy; includes room, board and ski. Full-day ski rental $22.50. Lessons start at $35 a person.
For a winter weekend getaway
Residents of the Ottawa area are so enthusiastic about skiing the Greenbelt – a band of wildlife, wetlands and farmland surrounding the city – that two area ski clubs have taken on grooming its trails. Parking and access are free so all you need is gear to enjoy a leisurely afternoon of skiing and exploring the biodiversity of the region. Trail 51 in the Mer Bleue sector is reopening this year, adding 10 kilometres to the 40-kilometre network. Time your visit with the Winterlude Festival (Jan. 31 to Feb. 17) to round out a getaway to the nation's capital. ncc-ccn.gc.ca
Rates: Free parking at any of the 26 trail head parking lots. No gear rentals.
For beginners and skate skiers
Albion Hills Conservation Area is less than an hour's drive from Toronto and features 27 kilometres of beginner and intermediate trails that are ideal for first timers. Prices have changed this year: A reduced all-day rate and lower rental fees make it more affordable for skiers looking to spend a full day outdoors – although a midday warmup in the heated chalet is a must. Lessons can be arranged for a separate fee with Ski for Life (skiforlife.net). For anyone looking to go beyond the classic method, 6.5 kilometres are dedicated to skate skiing. trca.on.ca
Rates: Adults: $14.60 (extra $17.25 for full equipment rental). Family: $35.40 (child gear rentals are $12 each).
Clarification: The room rate given for the Stokely Creek Lodge is per person, based on double occupancy. This version has been updated to make that clear.