Lac La Biche lakes and trails give room to breathe
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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.
Wide-open spaces ripe for exploration
LAC LA BICHE, AB - As David Schultz and Heather Maekelburger emerge from the forest onto Shaw Lake, their skis gliding over the snow, a sundog casts them in silhouette. Against the bountiful white expanse of the lake, the hot white-gold ring of the parhelion (as it’s called in meteorological terms) instills a sense of place within the largesse of the universe.
Maekelburger is a recent arrival to Lac La Biche, AB, having moved here from lower mainland B.C. after she and Schultz got engaged. Aside from the obvious, some of the things that attracted her to the region, she says, were the bright, sunny days and open skies, in any season or temperature.
Today, on this lake, with the sun’s attention seemingly beamed right at them, refracting through ice crystals in the atmosphere, the sense of space seems to bring them closer.
“I don’t miss the city,” says Maekelburger. “I thought I would but there’s just really good people here, and I love that the outdoors is so accessible.”
Over the 2020 offseason, Alberta Parks upgraded the warmup cabin and widened trails at Shaw Lake Provincial Park, enhancing the ski experience. At less than 30 minutes from town, it’s an ideal place to find some solitude—one of many reasons why it’s a perfect stop along a Nordic road trip loop (along with nearby Bonnyville and Vermilion). The region features an abundance of lakes and trails, all ripe for exploration.
With such vast land in all directions, the active potential of the area is still largely untapped. But locals like Norman Charest have been making their own quiet forays for years. Charest rents snowmobiles and runs guided tours through his company Off Road Rentals, and together with some other locals, founded the Lac La Biche Backcountry Riders Club.
Weaving through willow stands and old birch along Tom’s Trail (one of a handful of locally known cut trails), Maekelburger wraps her arms around Schultz and leans in, while he navigates the hairpin turns. Soon the trail opens out onto a bay of Lac La Biche and they both grin as Schultz opens it up, the engine growling to life as they skim across the bay.
As they go, they spot white-tail deer along the shoreline. Smoke wisps from the chimneys of ice fishing huts that dot the banks as ravens circle high above.
For Schultz, who grew up here, these places and these sights are a reminder why he chose to return to his hometown after a sojourn abroad. “At some point you want to spread your wings,” he explains, “but you don’t realize how amazing here is until you see other places that don’t have the open spaces and the friendly community that we have here.”
Later, over dinner at Fat Unicorn Brewery and Tap and Grill, the lingering glow of fresh air and exercise will still suffuse their faces as the pair enjoy some hearty fare. Savory Siberian dumplings, rich black Imperial stout and heavy, filling portions betray the owners’ Russian heritage and hospitality, perfect after a day of activity.
For now, Schultz pulls the snowmobile into a secluded bay and kills the motor. Stillness envelops the couple as the vastness of space spreads out before them. They join hands and walk out into the infinite white room.