Discovering Manitoba

Beyond the Slopes

From the top of the ski slope at Mystery Mountain, “you can look in three directions and see no footprint of man.”

The prairie landscape doesn’t conjure up visions of a downhill skier’s Mecca, but don’t be fooled. There are also sorts of enticing slopes once you leave the Trans Canada Highway. On any given winter weekend, snow bunnies can be found mobbing resorts such as Holiday Mountain at La Riviere or at the increasingly popular Asessippi ski resort near Russell.

Holiday Mountain
LaRiviere has also targeted soft-core ski bums looking to enjoy a more complete list of winter activities, with management fostering a close relationship with Asessippi Parkland Tourism and local resorts. Similar winter retreat possibilities can be found throughout the province, unheralded, unexpected, and glittering like hidden gems just above the snow.

The Whiteshell
One of those is Falcon Ridge Ski and Recreation Area at Falcon Lake in the Whiteshell; the down hill skiing has become a major point of attraction for guests at Falcon Trails Resort, where you can stay in a lakefront cabin with private hot tub. Manager Lauren McWilliams says that many return guests say they were unaware of the ski hill, but are thrilled to discover this added winter activity. The facility boasts two tree-dotted hill faces and eleven runs.

McWilliams says that the park has also earned a fantastic reputation among the province’s snowboarders, who consider it one of Manitoba’s best terrain parks. Guests get cross-country skis for free, and can enjoy 20 km of groomed trails, including some right on Falcon Lake. There are trails available for both skate skiing and the classic technique, and so exceptional is their quality that they are used by biathletes for both training and competition.

One of these trails takes you past High Lake, where facing the water is an ideal option for the environmentally conscious vacationer: a pair of solar-powered, stoveheated, eco-friendly luxury cabins. Quiet and remote, guests are encouraged to reach them on cross-country skis, in order to experience the full effect of escaping into nature.

Mystery Mountain
For those looking for a true wilderness encounter, a more unconventional alternative is Thompson’s Mystery Mountain Winter Park, which also offers tubing, cross country trails, and snow- boarding terrain. Hardcore down hillers won’t be disappointed, though: the quality of the snow, says former president Volker Beckmann, is as good as anywhere in Canada or Europe. Indeed, it’s ideal natural powder: soft, dry, and loose. For that matter, the park has some of the best cross-country terrain in Western Canada, a fact previously testified to by the national cross country team.

And then there’s simply the sheer beauty of this northern resort. “When you’re up at the top of the slope, it’s an incredible vista,” says current past-president Geoff Lamontagne. The view of Mystery Lake on the horizon and the beauty of the snow-dusted boreal forest carpet is something that takes many visitors’ breaths away.

Yet the park doesn’t do much marketing in Winnipeg; in fact, there is some trepidation about doing so. Because the facility is primarily volunteer-run, it cannot necessarily guarantee the same service expected of a larger facility. If the lifts break down the hill may have to close for the day. “If we were within 250 km of Winnipeg, this would be a gold mine,” Beckmann says, adding that organizers don’t want to risk damaging the hill’s existing reputation among an existent but limited non-local base. Whereas in the past, these visitors would be up north on business, many are now there on “True North” wilderness adventure tours.

According to Mark Matiasek of Thompson Unlimited, wilderness adventure tours have become more popular and, although they are beginning to be marketed by Travel Manitoba, it is primarily for the summer months. Winnipeggers may be unaware of the possibilities for a unique experience here at home in the winter. There’s more than just skiing, too: ice fishing, snow-shoeing, and especially snowmobiling are just three options. It’s the sense of True Wilderness, Lamontagne says, that distinguishes the region, and Mystery Mountain in particular. From the top of the ski slope, “you can look in three directions and see no footprint of man.” Nearby Millennium Trail, used by both snow-shoers and cross country skiers, overlooks the Burntwood River in complete silence. No sound penetrates from the nearby town. “You are more than likely to encounter a fox, lynx, or even a wolf.

“There’s so much beauty in the North that people don’t even know about,” Lamontagne sums up. It’s time we began to explore the possiblities.

- By Kenton Smith

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