A Grande Winter Rejuvenation

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Alberta’s north is the perfect winter wonderland setting for all kinds of snowy outdoor recreation: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, sledding, and it's home to seven ski hills! Follow along with us and don’t forget to tag #SkiNorthAB to tell us what you’ve discovered. 

A Nordic daytrip from Grande Prairie to Grande Cache

GRAND PRAIRIE REGION, AB - Windswept diamonds glitter on the trail as Nathan Smith and Caroline Seip pause to gaze at the glistening whitecaps in the wide blue beyond of Grande Cache, AB. Today, this vista is theirs and theirs alone; they haven’t seen another living soul on the ski tracks above town. 

The couple are ski coaches at the Wapiti Nordic Club in Grande Prairie. After an evening coaching session, they decided to get out of town for a quick ski escape, departing just as the sun begins to climb the following morning. 

At less than two hours drive, the trip from Grande Prairie to Grande Cache is eponymous. Few words are as fitting as “grande” to describe the landscape that unfolds, uninterrupted for 180 kilometres, as you make your way down Highway 40.

Yearning to take their place within this epic landscape, the two disembark at Labyrinth Park in the sleepy town of Grande Cache. From here, 360-degree mountain views bathe the senses. Time stills. 

One weekend a year, each August long weekend, thousands of ultramarathoners and their entourages descend on Grande Cache for the Canadian Death Race. For the remainder of the year, particularly in winter, this is a place to go when you want to get some breathing room, away from the crowds that rush to bigger mountain destinations.

Grand Cache AB Labrynth Park #SkiNorthAB
Photographer: Paul Lavoie
Time stills at Labyrinth Park in Grande Cache.

From Labyrinth Park, it’s five minutes’ drive to the looping ski trails above town at the Grande Cache Municipal Golf Course and Campground. Smith and Seip unload their gear and hit the trail.

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Not far from the Smoky River Nordic Club trail map, Seip spots animal tracks. As a wildlife biologist, Seip studies caribou migration in Alberta’s north. She knows that impressions in the snow tell stories, and that we are never truly alone in the wilderness. There’s an exhilaration in being surrounded by nature and its mysteries on all sides. 

Grande Cache AB Nordic Ski Labrynth Park
Photographer: Paul Lavoie
Hitting the Nordic trails is easy at the Grande Cache Municipal Golf Course and Campground.

For Caroline, that access to secluded nature is one of the big appeals of the Grande Prairie region. “It’s cool to get out and get into some pretty remote places where there really aren’t a lot of people, compared to more touristy places that have a lot of people on the trails,” she says. “You can get out and find some quiet trails without anybody on them.”

Smith, a former Canadian national team cross-country skier, shares her sentiment. After years of training in Canmore, he’s excited to explore new territory since moving to Grande Prairie just a couple of years ago. 

“There’s so much you can do that has yet to be done,” he muses, with a glint in his eye. “There’s so much unknown out here.”

Grande Cache Alverta Sulphur Gates Lookout
Photographer: Paul Lavoie
Looking out over Sulphur Gates in Grande Cache.

Even those places with some mild notoriety, like the twin promontories of Sulphur Gates through which the Smoky River passes, are different in winter. From the jagged buttress, Smith and Seip study the intricate clockwork of ice and water far below, the ageless peaks beyond. There are few witnesses to the passage of time in this place. 

As the winter daylight weakens, the pair take their leave and make the short voyage home. A warm hearth and refreshing ales awaiting them at the Grain Bin Brewing taproom, where they can relive their adventures as they gradually re-immerse into civilization, rejuvenated by a winter’s journey.

A well-earned beer at the Grain Bin Brewing Company in Grande Prairie.

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